Two Chambers meet to celebrate East Texas commerce and learn more about Naskila Gaming

Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Officals speak last week as two Chambers of Commerce came together during a Buisness Builders Breakfast last week. (Kelli Barnes Photo)Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Officals speak last week as two Chambers of Commerce came together during a Buisness Builders Breakfast last week. (Kelli Barnes Photo)

by Kelli Barnes

Polk County and Tyler County Chambers of Commerce "met in the middle" at a business builders breakfast Thursday, to learn more about the new Naskila gaming center and restaurant located at Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

Over a full breakfast buffet, chamber members heard from various tribal leaders including marketing coordinator Yolanda Poncho, tribal council chairperson JoAnn Battise, tribal council vice chairman Ronnie Thomas, tribal councilman Clint Poncho, and tribal council secretary Johnny Stafford.

"We just want the opportunity to be self sufficient," said Yolanda. "We can take care of ourselves." And they can. In just the short time Naskila gaming has been open, Alabama Coushatta has employed 210 people, with 190 of these being full time positions. The annual payroll and benefit package exceeds $7.5 million. Forty-three percent of employees are tribal members and the other fifty-seven percent come from surrounding counties in East Texas. The Tribe has spent $9.9 million to develop the venue and operate for the first three months. Of this amount, $7.3 million was spent in Texas and $5.5 million was spent in Polk County.

Quoting the great-great grandson of Sam Houston, Mr. John Murray, Yolanda read, "I know exactly what my great-great granddad would say to the State of Texas...
'leave my people alone! They aren't hurting anyone.'

My family has been passing down the story of the Alabama-Coushatta's relationship with my great-great grandfather for generations. I have a deep respect for the Alabama-Coushatta's...and I love Naskila Gaming."

The "leave my people alone" comment stems from recent legal action filed by the state of Texas asking the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to find that under the Tribe's Restoration Act of 1987, the Alabama-Coushatta cannot offer gaming under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). If the Court ultimately agrees with the State's position, the State further asks the Court to issue an injunction prohibiting the Tribe from gaming under IGRA.

The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) regulates Naskila Gaming, which is a Class II Indian Gaming facility offering electronic bingo.

"We are not being fined $10,000 per day by the state of Texas," said Roland Poncho. Recent reports suggested this, but according to Chuck McDonald, spokesman for the Tribe, the State submitted an amended motion on August 17 stating that if the Tribe is found in contempt of the June 25, 2002 injunction, they should pay any investigation costs associated with this case, as well as any Court costs and attorneys' fees incurred after June 15, 2016. "We will continue to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the Court makes its final decision," said Poncho.

Chamber members on both sides of the Reservation were asked to go to and join the many who have signed on in support of the Tribe's bingo gaming. "Residents of Deep East Texas who enjoy gaming and want to do it in a friendly alcohol-free environment are now able to do so on our reservation," said Battise. "As most of our neighbors know, our Tribe has occupied our tribal lands in the Big Thicket region for more than 200 years. However, what many in the region may not realize, is that our Tribe is a fully functioning sovereign government with a full array of health and human services to support. Gaming offers a stable source of income to sustain and improve these vital Tribal services, while creating jobs for both tribal and non-tribal citizens."

Yellowjacket Volleyball Serves Up a Win

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by Jana Rayburn

The Chester Lady Jacket volleyball team got their first win last Friday, August 19. The Lady Jackets beat Beaumont Harmony and Science on the road in three straight games.

The girls came out confident, made good serves, and communicated. These are some of the things that Coach Dewayne Armstrong and Coach Becki Byrd have been working on in practice the last week. Armstrong says that the team continues to practice hard and are coming together and playing as a unit. He is extremely proud of their positive attitudes and their dedication to getting better each game. Byrd agreed and said the girls are starting to work well in their new positions.

The Lady Jackets will travel to Warren to compete in the Warren volleyball tournament on Thursday, August 25 and Saturday, August 27. Pool play starts Thursday, as Chester plays East Chambers at 3 p.m. They will play Apple Springs at 4 p.m., then Hemphill at 6 p.m. Bracket play starts Saturday morning.

The CHS cross country teams have been working hard every day in anticipation of the upcoming season. The wait is just about over, as the teams head to Corrigan-Camden for a meet on Saturday, August 27. Coach Charlotte Barnes has been impressed so far with the determination and willingness of her runners and anticipates a great season with this large group of athletes.

The Yellowjacket football team met up with Apple Springs at Woodville High School stadium on Friday, August 19 for a scrimmage. Coach Gary Beam initially thought his team did okay. Then he watched the game film and saw a lot of good things. The offense did well moving the ball, going 220 yards in 20 plays is not bad at all. Beam believes they still need to improve on blocking, and we have to be more aggressive up front.

He was pleased with quarterback Clay Thomson, who continues to progress very nicely. Thomson completed two out of three passes for 81 yards and had two touchdowns and one interception. Colten Martin was very impressive and had a great night running the ball. He had seven carries for 70 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Jake Pitre, who had five carries for 53 yards, was awesome as well.

Cord Neal had a reception for a 60 yard touchdown, and Seth Read added a catch for a 21 yard touchdown as well. Read played real well on defense, as did Jake Pitre. Beam also said Junior Henson played well on defense, just needs more reps.

Defensively, there were several good things going on, but there was a lot of confusion on sets, which is to be expected in the first scrimmage. Beam said overall, the team is further along than he thought. Most of the problems can be fixed rather easily, and he expects they will.

"On a positive note, we scored three and gave up one touchdown, and that is a plus anytime," Beam said.
The Jackets will travel to Bryan-College Station on Saturday, August 27 to play Huntsville Alpha Omega at 8:30 p.m. as part of the Allen Academy six-man showcase.

Kristen Westfall to begin serving double life sentence

Kristen Westfall will officially begin serving her double life sentence after a jury convicted her of capital murder on August 18, in Bryan, Texas.

After hearing testimony from both sides, including testimony from Kristen's brother, Cameron, the jury deliberated for 8 hours before coming back with the guilty verdict.

Westfall's mother, Letha, accepted a plea deal in May and Cameron pled guilty to two counts of tampering with evidence, which are 3rd degree felonies. His finding of guilt is being deferred until Cameron testifies in the trials of his family members.

Kristen's father, Paul, is still awaiting trial.

Interstate 14: ‘Forts To Ports’ on its way to Woodville

by Stephen R. Juneau

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 9, at the Tyler County Courthouse, shortly after encountering his constituents and providing answers to their concerns, Congressman Babin took the opportunity to briefly discuss the new Interstate Highway 14 coming to Woodville in the years ahead. He introduced I-14 with a brief history lesson concerning Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President serving from 1953-1961. Congressman Babin pointed out that it was Eisenhower who envisioned the cross country interstate highway systems: though not solely for commuters, travelers and truckers, but "to accommodate military operations" in securing the well-being of the nation. That became the underlying need for a Strategic Interstate Highway connecting as many military bases as possible: that which Interstate 14 sets out doing.
When asked about whether or not I-14 would pass directly through Woodville, he stated, "I could not say for certain at this point exactly where it will pass; however, it will not likely pass directly through Woodville." As is the custom with Interstate Highways under construction, they typically bypass business districts of rural towns; however, the people of Woodville—as well as the people in all other towns along I-14's route—will have to cross that bridge whenever it gets to them.

Congressman Babin co-authored the inception of Interstate-14 with Congressman Blake Farenthold also from Texas. Babin introduced their bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Texas Senator John Cronyn introduced it to the U.S. Senate. Thereafter, it was overwhelmingly approved by congress and signed into law.

Polk County Judge B. Thompson's presentation at Texas Good Roads on July 8, 2014, mapped out Interstate-14. Originating at El Paso to begin with Fort Bliss just off Interstate-10 and heading eastward from there, it will branch off of Interstate-10 a few miles east of Fort Stockton to take on its own route and travel through central Texas and on in to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. There it will reconnect with I-20 at Augusta, home of Fort Gordon.
Texas towns and cities Interstate-14 will connect include El Paso, Menard, Killeen, Temple, Bryan-College Station, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville, Jasper and Burkeville. Crossing over the Sabine River on into Louisiana, I-14 will run through Leesville, Alexandria and there take a slight north turn on into Mississippi. There it will continue being routed eastward through Natchez, Brookhaven, Laurel and Meridian; then into Alabama passing through Montgomery and Columbus. Into Georgia, it will continue on through Columbus then Macon and finally reach its destination at Augusta.
Congressman Babin referred to the new highway as, "a main corridor connecting Forts to Ports." Although not all forts and ports being referred to are directly off the new designated portal, they are indeed within its vicinity for military operations. Strategically routed to intersect a number of major north and south corridors, such as I-45 and I-69, it will be convenient to a number of southern ports as well as other southern military outposts. The military outpost and significant ports along its vicinity include, but are not limited to: Fort Bliss in El Paso, Fort Stockton, Fort Hood, the Port of Houston in addition to the Port of Beaumont –the busiest military port in the US for the deployment of military equipment—Fort Polk, Camp Beauregard, Camp Shelby, Fort Rucker, Fort Benning, Marine Logistic Base Albany, Fort Stewart, Robbins Air Force Base and Fort Gordon just outside of Augusta, Georgia.

Commissioners Court decision appealed over Lake Amanda

by Stephen R. Juneau

Tyler County Commissioners convened to move forward in creating a Water Control and Improvement District for Lake Amanda residents during their Aug. 18 regularly scheduled meeting. The purpose of that creation would be to tax residents for the restoration of the broken dam at Lake Amanda. They also convened to appoint a temporary board of directors to govern it. These were items E & F on their Aug. 18 agenda.

Judge Jacques Blanchette asked for Pct. 3 Commissioner Mike Marshall to brief the court regarding updates on Lake Amanda. Marshall reported: "After hearing both sides and having a lot of discussion, Judge, I think the best thing is to go ahead and put this up for election. So, I make a motion to approve the creation of a water and improvement district." It was seconded.

Judge Blanchette then addressed the crowd on hand with the following: "This is an Administrative Body. It is not a Judicial Body. It has the responsibilities to review information presented to it to render a decision based upon whether it's in compliance with what the law is. Ultimately the decision will be put before first. I will just add in my comment section that we received numerous communications from those both supporting and opposed to this. When we conducted our Public Hearing we received the information to see if there was anything that was illegal in this process which is represented by a body of people who petitioned legally through this. Mike and I met numerous times. It is appropriate for us to do this. We were not informed and did not have the deliberation of any of the other body present with us. This was very serious and very sobering and we came to a conclusion that we have an administrative responsibility to act upon what's been petitioned before the court. So that is going to be the extent of my portion of the discussion regarding this particular matter; and, I feel like it was respectful for us to convey that. Mike and I had that conversation and once it goes before the voting public, then they will have their opportunity to make their own decision about this. That being said, is there any other discussion from the court?" Since none, the commissioners all voted in favor of: Creation of a Water and Improvement District #1.
Judge Blanchette then moved to appoint a temporary Board of Directors to Water Control and Improvement District #1. He said: "There were five names that were put before the court requesting that they be appointed as a temporary board member until a confirmation of this particular district has been set before the people; and then, ultimately the opportunity for any individual who has property in that district to be appointed on the board as well." They were: Don Sousley, Heyward Fetner, Kirwin Drouet, Gene Cappadonna and Kaye Mendoza.

Judge Blanchette pointed out that the Court needed to act upon that portion of their responsibility in appointing them as temporary board members. Commissioner Marshall made a motion to do so and it was seconded. The judge invited discussion before the governing body.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Martin Nash inquired about the legal residency of the five. He was informed that only Don Sousley resided in Colmesneil: home of Lake Amanda. Fetner and Drouet were from Houston; Cappadonna, Conroe; and, Mendoza from Nederland. Judge Blanchette pointed out: "The understanding was that members did not have to be residents." Nash: "I understand that. I am inquiring if we could have a more balanced make up of residents than nonresidents." Judge, "At this particular time, these were the names that were submitted to the court to act upon. That all changes based upon the election. This is just a temporary board until now and the confirmation of the election." The motion passed with Nash dissenting.

However, Amanda Lake property owner, Leigh Cowart, appealed the Court's decision. She stated: "Sec. 51.022 says we can APPEAL FROM ODER OF COMMISSIONERS COURT at the time of the entry of the order." Judge, "Your appeal will need to be filed with the court so we can move forward with your appeal." Cowart, "Thank You!" Judge, "You're Welcome. We will certainly seek some legal guidance as far as operating through your petition." Cowart, "Thank You." Mrs. Leigh then went from there to the County Clerk's Office and put up $2500 bond for her appeal in compliance with the law.

County Clerk, Donece Gregory, cited that the deadline for mailing out ballots is 45 days in advance of an election for military personnel. Because of the appeal process, the County Clerk will be contacting the Secretary of State to determine if the two motions will be on the ballot in the upcoming Nov. 8 General Election.