updated 7:02 PM UTC, Feb 20, 2020

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Spurger man arrested for UTV theft

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By Chris Edwards
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SPURGER– An outing on a stolen UTV in the wee hours of last Monday morning led to the arrest of a Spurger man on multiple charges.

On Monday, Feb. 10, deputies with the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office received information pertaining to the stolen UTV, a red 2013 Polaris Razor 800S, which they’d responded to a call about early that morning. An eyewitness, with cell phone footage, identified a 26-year-old Spurger man, John Lawrence Conner, as the driver of the stolen vehicle, which was spotted being driven back and forth down CR 4580, according to Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford.

Initially, deputies had been dispatched to a spot on FM 1013, at 4:50 a.m., where the complainant told the deputies he had heard a UTV start up outside his residence while he was getting ready for work.

The complainant looked outside his window and saw someone driving his UTV out of a covered spot on his property. The complainant was able to confront the man who occupied his UTV, but he got away, according to Weatherford.

With the help of Spurger residents, law enforcement officers were able to locate Conner and the stolen UTV. Conner was arrested and transported to the Tyler County Jail, where he remains in custody. He is charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and a parole violation warrant.

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Charge against Matterson dismissed

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By Chris Edwards
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COLMESNEIL – The charge of driving under the influence against Colmesneil ISD Superintendent Angela Matterson has been dismissed.

At Monday night’s meeting of the CISD Board of Trustees, Board President Kris Lindsey read a document from the Archuleta County, Colo., court where the misdemeanor allegation was made against Matterson last October.

Matterson, who announced her resignation last November, will also be working off-campus, Lindsey announced, after the board members returned into regular session from a lengthy executive session.

“She is going to be consulting and working from a remote location for the foreseeable future,” Lindsey said.

Although Matterson will be working off-campus, she will continue to serve as the school superintendent of record, according to Lindsey. She will serve in that capacity until June, when her tenure with the district ends, per her resignation, which was accepted at the board’s November meeting.

Career prep options addressed
During the open forum portion of Monday night’s meeting, Jason Squier, a resident and parent in the district, voiced concerns about what CISD is doing for its student population in terms of preparing them for life after high school. “I think we’re putting out a lot of kids who are not employable,” Squier said.

Squier, a business owner, said that he has seen many recent high school graduates exhibit a lack of focus and work ethic. “We ought to be doing more to try and encourage these kids and let them see the opportunities that are out there in the working world,” he said.

He suggested the district host a career day, and also spoke to the importance of vocational education. He said he wants to give a scholarship opportunity for a CHS graduate to be able to receive vocational education.

Squier’s comments started conversation between some of the members of the public who were in attendance and CHS Principal Walter McAlpin, who was available to listen to some ideas about a possible career day as the board went into closed session.

Other Business
On the regular agenda of Monday night’s meeting, the CISD board approved the 2018-19 Texas Academic Performance Report, which is an indicator of how all campuses within the district are performing. McAlpin said the report for CISD is a good one.

During her regular report to the board, Colmesneil Elementary Principal Yvette Carlton said the elementary playground needs maintenance attention. “It’s something to look at in the future,” she said, and emphasized the use it gets, not only from the elementary students but also from the community.

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Pellets plant information presented at meeting

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By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – State Representative James White welcomed personnel from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and attorneys from two agencies, The Environmental Integrity Project and Lone Star Legal Aid, to Woodville for a public meeting last Thursday at the Wheat Elementary auditorium.

The focus of the event was to present information to the public about Woodville Pellets (formerly German Pellets). The meeting was originally called by a group of residents who live near the facility, located south of Woodville. White brought TCEQ in to present its findings.

Some residents who have expressed concerns about the facility claim that their frequent illnesses and/or respiratory issues are caused by its emissions.

Some of the concerns have also involved alleged illegal emissions. An informational flyer promoting the meeting cited routine bypassing of air pollution controls “causing harmful emissions impacting our community.”

Sarah Kirksey, who works as the air section manager of the Beaumont regional office for TCEQ was the first to speak and addressed the topic of emissions and the stacks at the facility.

The stacks, Kirksey said are authorized for the site, however they are not authorized for emissions.

“The boiler stacks and the furnace stacks do not have authorizations for emissions during normal operations,” she said.

Kirksey said there might be cases and times when the facility is undergoing maintenance or upset conditions when emissions may come from the stacks.

“If it’s a reportable emission event, the facility is required to report it to TCEQ within 24 hours,” Kirksey said. Kirksey outlined the process by which citizens can file complaints with the agency, and how investigations are conducted.

The plant converts trees into wood pellets, which are shipped to Europe and the Pacific Rim to be burned to produce electricity. As the demand for sustainable, economical fuel sources grows, such facilities as Woodville Pellets are a growing industry. The Woodville plant first went into production in 2013 under the name German Pellets. It was acquired in 2019 by European-based biomass firm Graanul Invest. It is currently at full production and produces 450,000 metric tons of pellets per year.

In a report from the Environmental Integrity Project titled “Dirty Deception: How the Wood Biomass Industry Skirts the Clean Air Act,” published in April 2018, the findings on the facility at the time reported that it was emitting nearly 10 times its permitted limits of volatile organic compound pollution since going on-line in 2013. The report stated 580 tons per year. At present, Woodville Pellets has an 18-month window, which began last April, to construct a thermal oxidizer, which is a unit designed to control pollution by decomposing hazardous gases at a high temperature before releasing them into the atmosphere.

Patrick Anderson, an attorney who works for the EIP, and worked on the aforementioned report, spoke at the meeting, and outlined the process of constructing the required device. He also spoke about some of the previous troubles the plant had run into under the old ownership, namely with fires. Within the wood pellet industry, fires are common, he said, as the wood dust is highly combustible.

A statement on the Concerned Citizens of Tyler County Facebook page posted after the meeting acknowledged the pollution controls being put into place. “It’s important to note that no one is trying to shut Woodville Pellets down. We do, however, expect our neighbors in industry to comply with the best practices and standards,” the statement read. The group, which primarily focuses on environmental issues in the county, was initially hosting and promoting the meeting.

There were no representatives from Woodville Pellets present at the meeting, but in the prior week, the Booster was able to tour the facility and obtain information and statements from representatives about the process used to produce the pellets. In a coming issue, an in-depth report will be published about the plant and its process.

According to plant personnel, there are no chemicals used in the process. The plant’s environmental officer Sarah Stephens said the emissions are clean and welcomed the public to come and tour the facility and said she would be glad to answer any questions via telephone.

One audience member who provided some comments was Woodville businessman Lonnie Grissom. Grissom, who previously owned the chip mill that once operated on the land the plant now occupies, emphasized the new ownership aspect of the plant. “They hold themselves to a higher standard,” Grissom said. “They’re not here to destroy your community,” he added.

Grissom, whose company supplies raw material to the plant, also explained the quality of material the plant uses, a higher grade of wood than what the previous owners used.

In his closing remarks, White summarized some of the backstory with the plant, and said that going forward, the new owners are pursuing “the best available technology” to run it. “We can have jobs without dying,” White said.

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County officials gather for workshop

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By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – “We’re here, simply, to tee up a conversation,” Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette said on Friday afternoon before a crowd of fellow public servants.

The setting was a workshop for all of Tyler County’s elected officials held at the Nutrition Center and hosted by Blanchette. He set up the event as a way to address some issues the officials’ have faced and may face in the future, and, above all, to discuss how everyone working in county government can become unified.

He said that the beginning of a new year and new decade, along with the potential for several new officials next year was impetus for having such an event.

One area Blanchette addressed to a great degree is the campaigning process. He explained the effect running for office can have not just on a candidate, but also on family and friends. “We all share that common experience of campaigning, and we’ve all subjected ourselves to public rejection,” he said.

Blanchette noted that some longtime officials will soon be retiring, and there will be new faces among the ranks. Among those who are retiring are long-serving Pct. 1 Commissioner Martin Nash and three of the four county constables.

Blanchette said a ripple effect is made by remaining members of the governing body as to how new officials will assimilate into the group. Some of the officials discussed the transition from winning an election to working with the other officials. “There’s a period of grace we need to offer each other while we do our respective jobs,” District Judge Delinda Gibbs-Walker said.

Above all, Blanchette said it is the duty of the county’s elected officials to serve those who got them into office. “All of us are serving the local taxpayers and we are funded by the taxpayers,” he said.

Blanchette spoke about the functions of the different offices and said that although “each of us have uniqueness,” each office works together to make the county run efficiently.

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