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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

September 10, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Monitor. Sept. 8, 2019.

It’s gratifying to see that cooler heads prevailed and Texas A&M University, along with Texas State Technical College, will establish a job training program for tenants at the Port of Brownsville.

Plans to sign a memorandum of understanding between the port and the institutions had been tabled last month after Texas Southmost College voiced its opposition to the agreement.

TSC President Jesus Roberto Rodriguez said that his college could provide all the job training the port needs and deserves primary consideration because it is based in Brownsville and the two entities are supported by the same local taxpayers. After an exchange of letters between Rodriguez and A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, Sharp suggested the university might back out of the deal.

Fortunately it didn’t, the MOU was signed and the training program is back on track.

TSC and the port already have their own MOU for similar job training. Talks with A&M began informally during a workforce summit held this summer at the port. Officials at A&M, one of the nation’s top engineering institutions, suggested that they could help provide training for new industries that are expected in the near future, such as natural gas distribution plants and a steel mill.

There’s nothing wrong with educational institutions fighting over business. And the issue goes beyond competition for potentially lucrative programs.

A strong argument can be made for expanding job training programs at TSC, since most of its students live in the area, and the 5.8% local unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national average of 3.7% and state average of 3.4%. More job training opportunities can help reduce the gap by training local students for port jobs.

At the same time, utilizing Texas A&M’s resources could benefit port industries in ways that TSC can’t. To begin with, there’s no guarantee that enough Brownsville youth will want the kinds of jobs and training the MOU will provide, and TSTC’s 13 campuses across the state give port industries recruitment opportunities that the local college can’t provide.

The preference has always been to offer such opportunities first to local residents, but recruiting beyond the region isn’t always a bad thing. People who relocate to the Valley for new job opportunities bring new investment in the local housing market. They are new taxpayers who will help feed our economy, support our businesses and add to our culture. Those who already live here usually don’t provide such a large initial jolt of new resources when they take new jobs here.

We trust that any competition between the colleges will spur innovation and improvement, and that it won’t preclude the opportunities that surely will arise for them to cooperate on research and other issues when the opportunities present themselves.

Doing so will benefit the schools, port industries and, most importantly, the Rio Grande Valley as a whole.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 9, 2019.

All summer, flaws in the Panther Island project have been exposed — muddled missions, a confusing structure and flawed communications.

But last week’s conflict over a relatively benign issue, work on utility lines, laid bare the deep divide that threatens the project.

The actual dispute is arcane. City officials are reluctant to extend the life of a taxing mechanism. The Tarrant Regional Water District, which is primarily responsible for the flood-control project, wants the tax extension as a guarantee when it sells bonds that voters have already authorized.

But the real problem is that no one has any answers about why the project can’t win federal funding or what to do about it.

So, there they were, some of the most important leaders in the city, county and region, arguing over less than 1% of the project’s overall $1.17 billion price tag and whether a taxing district most residents aren’t even aware of should last until 2044 or a few years later.

We’re 18 years into study and work on this problem, and taxpayers are no safer from a catastrophic flood. But hey, we can marvel at half-built bridges over dry land.

The utility work involves moving and updating power, gas and water lines so the Army Corps of Engineers can begin planning the bypass channel that will divert the Trinity River. It’s a potential tripping point; work on the channel largely can’t begin until the utilities’ locations are clear, and upgrades are needed for future dense development on the island that will be created.

Taken separately, each side has valid points. But the whole purpose of the Trinity River Vision Authority is to coordinate among various governments.

City leaders assure that the utility work will get done. And when we followed up with two leading board members, they finally drove to the real dispute: City Manager David Cooke wants the board to start considering what local governments will do if federal funding is delayed much longer or never arrives at all.

“If that federal money doesn’t come, what’s plan B?” he said.

Jim Oliver, the water district’s general manager, insisted that these kinds of multiyear projects have ups and downs. And he noted that the board had already agreed to the tax extension.

Without federal money, he said, “there is no plan B.”

One of them will be proved right. And the reality is, none of this would be necessary if any federal funding could be pried loose to keep the project moving.

Texas sends more Republicans to Congress than any other state, but none of them seem willing or able to exercise enough clout with the Trump administration to get this project moving.

The utility squabble masked otherwise noteworthy progress on several of the structural issues raised by a consultant’s review conducted this spring.

The board voted to address some of the major flaws identified by a consultant’s review conducted this spring. Among them is moving the entertainment and development functions around Panther Island to the water district and the city so the river authority can become “solely a flood control and public safety organization,” as board president G.K. Maenius put it.

That could be key to the funding question. The federal government is interested primarily in flood control, and the “optics issue” of the board’s involvement in planning festivals and condo construction may have given reluctant bureaucrats a reason to overlook the project.

Squabbling over small-bore issues is a gift to any federal official looking for a reason to delay funding, or simply favor other projects. If the locals can’t get it together, why should anyone in Washington stick his or her neck out?

Mayor Betsy Price has gone to great lengths to improve the project’s profile and try to secure the funding. After a White House visit in July, she sounded hopeful that it would soon come, and her spokeswoman said last week that the mayor’s confidence had not changed.

Price, water district leaders such as board president Jack Stevens and County Judge Glen Whitley need to get closely involved to keep the river authority on track, if that’s what it takes.

Call it a “Catch-22,” as Cooke did. Or a game of chicken.

We call it a distracting blame game. Taxpayers deserve better.

___

Houston Chronicle. Sept. 10, 2019.

Tarzan movies featuring great white hunters stalking exotic beasts in Africa dropped out of popularity decades ago, but sport hunting for trophies killed on “The Dark Continent” has persisted despite dramatic population declines among lions and other animal groups.

It’s logical to assume the threat of lions becoming as rare as a northern hairy-nosed wombat or a pygmy three-toed sloth would make big-game hunters take the king of beasts off their to-do lists. Logic, however, seems to have eluded the Houston Safari Club, which wants to weaken rules that have made it harder for its members to hunt lions.

The U.S. government tightened rules for hunters to bring lion and elephant trophies back to the country in 2015, after a Minnesota dentist killed Cecil, a 13-year-old protected lion in Zimbabwe who had become popular with tourists. “It’s almost impossible to get permits,” John Jackson III, a hunting advocate, told Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace.

Hunters brought 139 slain lions to Houston in 2015, but that number dropped to 97 lions in 2016 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the lions of western and central Africa to its endangered species list. The lions of east and southern Africa were listed as threatened. Only 19 lions have been imported to Houston since the start of 2018.

The decline has spurred the Houston Safari Club into action. It has reached out to the Trump administration to change the rules and formed a political action committee to raise money for candidates who promise to help make lion hunting easier. Jackson said it can take a year now to complete the application process.

He claimed millions spent by groups such as the Houston and Dallas safari clubs help support animal conservation. “Lions and elephants pay the bills,” Jackson said. But Anna Frostic, an attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, said there’s no accounting of how African governments use the money spent to conduct safaris.

Beyond that, it’s counterintuitive to think killing individual lions will help protect the species, Frostic said.

The African Wildlife Foundation says there has been a 43% decrease in the African lion population since 1998, mostly due to a loss of habitat due to human encroachment and poaching. Only 23,000 African lions are believed alive today.

With many of the antelope, zebra and other animals on which they prey also in decline, lions have attacked livestock. In response, farmers have killed lions to protect their animals. That’s understandable, but seeing the lion population further reduced just so some bwana wannabe can boast he bagged a lion does not.

There’s nothing wrong with hunting, but shooting an endangered or threatened species just for the fun of it is reprehensible.

Photo safaris can be just as thrilling, don’t require participants to be experts with a gun and pump money into a local economy. If animal conservation is your goal, you can forgo the excursion altogether and contribute directly to organizations such as AWF, the World Wildlife Fund or Oceana, which would be happy to receive your donation.

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