Family Injustice

oyster

The legal battle over the huge oyster beds in Galveston Bay escalated again this morning. Galveston County Judge Lonnie Cox approved a temporary restraining order to protect companies with oyster leases now trapped in a fight that could affect public health.

The ruling will stop a Chambers County company called S.T.O.R.M (Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, LLC) from touching the oysters in these state approved lease areas. It is the latest salvo in a legal battle that now involves Judges in Galveston, Chambers and Travis Counties.

“These oyster families have invested years of blood, sweat, tears and a lot of money to cultivate these oyster reefs,” says Attorney Dave Feldman. “We will fight to stop this takeover because it will endanger the public health. Galveston Bay belongs to the people of Texas.”

In April of last year, STORM got a 23,000 acre sweetheart deal from the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District and says it now controls half the oyster population in Galveston Bay, including public and private reefs approved by the State. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has sued CLCND and STORM on behalf of the People of Texas, claiming the lease is illegal, warning STORM they will pay for any damages to the oysters.

Last week, Chambers County Judge Randy McDonald helped the politically powerful STORM owners, by stopping the state from allowing oyster companies to transfer oysters to safer waters, jeopardizing the safety of the oysters and risking public health.

Oyster companies then went to Galveston County for help.

The next hearing is Thursday morning (Oct. 8, 2015) in Chambers County, where the state will fight to save the oyster population.

We all want the oysters we eat in our favorite restaurant to be totally safe. Now you can thank a State District Judge in Anahuac if they aren’t!

Judge Randy Mcdonald has stopped the State of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from allowing anyone to touch the oysters in a large swath of Galveston Bay…and he did it without even notifying the State of Texas of the hearing.  

The state had given oyster producers just two days next week to transfer oysters to safer waters to protect public safety so they could be checked out by the health department before harvesting. Judge Mcdonald’s ruling suddenly stops that. Oh, by the way, his ruling also helps another Chambers County Judge heavily invested in the oyster business. Surprise surprise.

S.T.O.R.M, the company owned by Chambers County Judge Tracy Woody requested the restraining order stopping the oyster rescue mission.  S.T.O.R.M claims it is now the boss of Galveston Bay, not the people of Texas or the oyster companies that have paid for the right to harvest oysters.  STORM says it now controls 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay and has issued trespassing letters.

You may remember S.T.O.R.M. got a sweetheart deal from the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District last year to lease 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay bottom for a small fraction of what it is worth.  The State of Texas filed suit, saying the deal was illegal and warned S.T.O.R.M they would pay if oysters were damaged.

Last week a Travis County judge killed an attempt to move the lawsuit to S.T.O.R.M.’S hometown of Anahuac, The state also issued orders for oyster companies so they could have Oct 5 and 6th to move their crops before the November harvesting season. Then Judge Woody found his Chambers County Colleague Judge Randy Mcdonald.

“We expected this home town ambush,” says Lisa Halili of Prestige Oysters. “It is just one smelly deal after another, but we are fighting with the People of Texas to stop this madness. This Anahuac home cooking will not stand.”

The restraining order by Judge Mcdonald calls for a hearing Oct 8th, but expect the State of Texas to go to court in the next 48 hours to try and stop the Judge.

Of course, this is Chambers County where the home cooking runs deep. Stay tuned.

Some folks just don’t want to play by the rules.

When the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District cut a smelly deal to give a local politician a virtual monopoly of the oyster crop in Galveston Bay, audio tapes proved they violated state transparency laws.

So the Navigation District voted again a few months ago, and this time they refused to let the public hear a tape of the public meeting where they did it.

On August 5th, 2014 the Texas Attorney General ruled the navigation district should cough the tape up. The Attorney General cited the law that seems pretty easy to translate, even for those appointed navigation commissioners who appear to need a refresher course on the Texas Open Meetings Act.

“The minutes and recordings of an open meeting are public records and shall be available for public inspection and copying on request to the governmental body.”

As of August 11, 2015 Dolcefino Consulting is still waiting.

“The failure of the Chambers County Attorney and District Attorney to force the navigation district to follow the law should be an eye opener for voters in Chambers County”, says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “I know they are big on home cooking down there in Anahuac, but perhaps they should put down the cookbooks and pick up the law books.”

The State of Texas sued the navigation district last week alleging the oyster deal was illegal. The head of the company that worked out the deal with CLCND is Judge Tracy Woody, who gets a salary from taxpayers even though he rarely goes to the courthouse.

Some folks just don’t like to play by the rules.

On July 28th, 2015 a private company called STORM issued a written warning to the State of Texas.

STORM said their company now controlled 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay, not the people of Texas, and they announced they would stop any other fishermen from harvesting oysters. The acreage represents about half the total oyster population in Galveston Bay.

Before the week ended, the State filed a lawsuit, warning STORM they would pay for the potential damage to the natural resources of Texas, calling their claim to the bay bottom totally illegal.

Now the real showdown begins.

Prestige Oysters has already accused STORM Boats of harassing their boats, delaying the rescue of tens of thousands of baby oysters which have now died. Game wardens have already been monitoring the growing oyster battle.

Prestige has now announced plans to plant the rocks needed to cultivate new oysters on a lease they have from the State of Texas. The lease is in territory STORM claims it now controls.

“My family will not be intimidated. We will guard our investment and we count on the game wardens to protect us,” says Lisa Halili.

STORM owners claim they are now the bosses of the bay, citing a lease they got from the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District. The state sued the navigation district too. The navigation district board members are appointed by local politicians. The owner of STORM is a local judge, who is on the taxpayers’ payroll in Chambers County even though he rarely goes to a courtroom.

Dolcefino Consulting has also filed a lawsuit, accusing CLCND of violating Texas transparency laws. CLCND also refuses to release an audio tape of a public meeting.

“The silence of the Chambers County attorney and District Attorney to this smelly deal is embarrassing,” says Dolcefino.

For months, oyster fisherman have been waging war to stop the smelly oyster deal hatched by the politicians in Chambers County and their friends.

A company called S.T.O.R.M, owned by a Chambers county political power broker and his son the Judge, cut a smelly deal with the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District. STORM was given sole rights to 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay bottom for exclusive oyster production.

No one else got to compete. S.T.O.R.M paid a fraction of what they should have. If allowed to stand, STORM would become the godfather of the bay, deciding who could oyster, even on public reefs that belong to all Texans. S.T.O.R.M. would control half the oyster production in Galveston Bay, one of the biggest oyster spots in the entire country.

Oyster fisherman along the coast have been screaming for the State of Texas to help.

Tonight the cavalry has arrived. The Parks and Wildlife Department have filed a major lawsuit against the navigation district and S.T.O.RM saying the lease is illegal, amounting to a virtual poaching of public oysters.

“Galveston Bay belongs to the People of Texas and I speak for fisherman all along the coast. Thank God the Parks and Wildlife Department has joined the fight.”

Halili says her oyster boats have been harassed by S.T.O.RM. boats, leading to the death of tens of thousands of baby oysters.

The State of Texas, on behalf of the people of Texas, says the Chambers County Navigation District and S.T.O.R.M. must now pay taxpayers for the value of all the wildlife unlawfully killed, caught, taken, or even injured.

For further information, contact Wayne Dolcefino at wayne@dolcefino.com.

GALVESTON BAY “OYSTER WAR ALREADY CLAIMS 100,000 SACKS OF OYSTERS

Oyster fisherman worry rains from Tropical Storm Bill may kill much of the remaining young oyster population in Galveston Bay.

That’s the latest bad news from a summer that has already seen millions of dollars in oysters killed, both by mother-nature and the ongoing war over oyster rights in Galveston Bay.

A mission to save oysters in East Galveston Bay after the Memorial Weekend storm failed, and the results are devastating.

Hundreds of thousands of oysters are gone. Two million dollars-worth.

But the culprit is not just Mother Nature.

Members of the oyster industry are blaming STORM for this seafood mass killing.

“STORM boats illegally harassed our oyster boats as they tried to save these young oysters,” says Lisa Halili of Prestige Oysters. “They circled our boats dangerously close, and their constant videotaping of our fisherman scared them into resigning and refusing to enter the area.”

Before Bill came ashore, Oyster companies were moving their young oysters from legal state leases after recent storms affected salinity in East Bay. STORM boats tried to disrupt this rescue mission. The Chambers County Judge who owns STORM claims he now controls 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay because hometown politicians gave him a lease. The state has told STORM the lease is illegal.

“We have been warning the state to take action to stop the harassment of oyster boats in Galveston Bay for
weeks,” says Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting. “Now we have the added damage done by Mother Nature.”

Prestige Oyster in San Leon are among those oyster companies available to comment.


Dolcefino Communications got the word out about the oyster battle in Galveston Bay and the Houston media responded. Here are two stories below:

Controversy over oysters grows in Galveston Bay
You can eat oysters cooked or raw, and many consider them a delicacy. But they’re at the center of a controversy in Galveston County.

Companies fight for right to harvest oysters in Galveston Bay
A battle over who has the right to harvest oysters in Galveston Bay has reignited – this time because of recent floods.

Read more Galveston Bay oyster fight related posts.

Owners of Oyster plants along Galveston Bay are now seeking criminal charges and threatening potential new lawsuits in the increasingly combative fight over oyster reefs. Some Oyster Captains report harassment, even unsafe boating maneuvers by a company trying to claim they now control a big part of Galveston Bay.

Monday morning, June 8th, Concerned Citizens of Galveston Bay will hold a news conference.

Reporters should arrive at Endeavor Marina at 3101 NASA Road 1 in Seabrook by 9 am for a press conference and tour of the area. Seating on the boat is limited, so if you want to reserve a space please let me know as soon as possible.

The dispute has taken a dangerous turn in recent weeks, in part because oyster boats are trying to rescue oysters from parts of the Bay where flood waters have changed salinity. Those oyster reefs are in now disputed waters. The state has been leasing reefs to companies for decades, but now the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District has given a sweetheart lease to a company called STORM, and they now claim they now own all the reefs, even the ones set aside for the public to collect oysters on. State game wardens have been asked to increase patrols, but some oyster companies now want criminal charges.

Oyster Boats report being videotaped in close range, and even forced into shallow waters by STORM Boats. Some oystermen now say they afraid to go out in the bay.

“The state needs to step in and stop this harassment,” says Lisa Halili, owner of Prestige Oysters in San Leon. “I do not want one of my oyster captains to get shot, and I fear this is where this is heading.”

The Chambers Liberty Counties Navigation District met May 19th, 2015 in open session, a public meeting as required by the State of Texas Open Meetings Act.

Hope you were there, because now the folks who spend your tax dollars refuse to let anyone hear what was said. No, I am not kidding.

The Navigation District has asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to allow them to keep an audio tape of the public meeting secret because they are being sued for past violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

“Even in Anahuac this has to be a first,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “If I had been at the meeting with a camera they couldn’t stop me from videotaping the whole darn thing, but now they want to make something members of the public already heard a secret. Amazing. Attorney General Paxton should send these fools a bill for wasting the people’s time.”

Dolcefino Consulting filed suit against the Navigation District months ago, alleging they violated state law by failing to properly warn the public of plans to issue a sweetheart lease to local politicos to control half the oyster production in Galveston Bay, even public reefs. On May 19th the Navigation District took more action on the oyster front, but even though they did it in public, they now want to keep it a secret.

What is more troubling is that the law firm leading this crusade for unprecedented secrecy is Lloyd Gosselink, a law firm with a bevy of government clients and active in political support in Austin.

“If you pay taxes to a MUD Board or Water District who uses this law firm, you should be worried, very worried.”

Dolcefino Consulting is an investigative communications firm in Houston, Texas run by long time investigative journalist Wayne Dolcefino.

office 713-360-6911 wayne@dolcefinoconsulting.com

MEDIA ALERT

PRESS CONFERENCE

Oyster Boats are reporting harassment in Galveston Bay the last few days, part of a growing tension that is now interfering with a special rescue mission underway to save the oyster population.

State Game Wardens have now been asked to increase patrols of the bay before the dispute escalates.

Tuesday morning, May 26th at 9:00 am Concerned Citizens of Galveston Bay will hold a news conference and media tour to the battleground in the bay.

First the oyster problem. The continuing heavy rains have affected the salinity in Trinity and East Galveston Bay and thousands of young oysters are being moved to safer waters to save them. That special operation is taking place in now disputed waters.

The Chambers County Navigation District leased 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay bottom to a company called STORM, run by two powerful political figures in Chambers County for just 1.50 an acre. The sweetheart deal would give them a virtual monopoly over half of the oyster production in Galveston Bay, including public reefs and private reefs where other companies have invested millions to produce oysters. That backroom deal is already being challenged for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. Concerned citizens call it a theft of the tax-payers resources.

The state says the lease isn’t valid, yet oyster companies trying to move their oysters from the area report they are being harassed and encircled by STORM boats with video cameras and dangerous maneuvers. The company has already sent out no trespassing
letters.

“These Chambers County guys must be drinking alligator cool-aid, says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting and spokesman for the Concerned Citizens”, but they need to back off now.” “And while there at it, perhaps Chambers County Navigation Officials could take a refresher course in ethics and transparency, just saying”.

Reporters should arrive at Prestige Oyster Company at 103 Avenue C and First Street by 9 am for a tour of the area where the oyster population is being moved and the boat disputes are
occurring.

office 713-360-6911 wayne@dolcefinoconsulting.com

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