A Houston Appeals Court has dealt a major blow to that Chambers County “backroom deal” giving a company called “STORM” control over half the oyster production in Galveston Bay.
Ever since the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District leased 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay to a company run by a local judge, the huge legal fight has been underway. If the sweetheart deal was approved, the company would control reefs always open to all Texans. STORM would also take over reefs that have been leased from the State of Texas for decades by families who have invested millions to cultivate them.
The battle has been waging over where this legal fight would be fought. Chambers County, where the politicians who cut this deal hold their meetings, or Galveston County, home to the reefs STORM is trying to take over.
Justice Laura Higley of the 1st Court of Appeals has ruled the legal battle over the oyster fight should absolutely remain in Galveston County, including the ultimate fight over whether the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District ever had the right lease the land for oyster production in the first place. The State of Texas has already filed suit, accusing the Navigation District and STORM of cutting an illegal deal.
“Thank God, a victory for the people of Texas,” that was the reaction of Lisa Halili, of Prestige Oysters, one of several oyster companies fighting the legal battle against the Chambers County deal. “We know we will get a fair trial in Galveston County,” says Lisa Halili.
“STORM had a two-pronged plan to make millions,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “First, cut a secret backroom deal with the local good ole’ boy politicians, then fight the battle in front of the home town judge. Not going to happen.”
“Every day we discover more and more evidence that this deal stinks worse than a bucket of oysters left in the sun.”
Soon the commissioners of the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District will have to stop evading the whole story surrounding that back room oyster deal and swear what happened under oath. In the meantime, taxpayers should be warned they are scheming again to use your money to help a private company.
In 2014, a couple of politically connected oyster fisherman in Chambers County cut a secret deal with the commissioners of the local navigation district. Their lawyer gets really mad when we call it a “good ole boy deal,” but I always say “if the shoe fits.”
The deal stunk for taxpayers, but that didn’t seem to be the goal of this deal. A company called Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, LLC., or STORM would get a monopoly on oyster production in 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay for a small fraction of what it should cost. The negotiation was kept secret and no one else was offered a chance to play.
Part of the deal included a promise that when everyone started crying foul, STORM would even pay all the legal bills. Apparently the deal was worth a lot to this Chambers County crowd.
But shucks, now we have a plot twist that should outrage taxpayers.
First, the legal bills are mounting up and taxpayers are getting fleeced. The CLCND legal bills top $128,000, and CLCND has paid it all.
But STORM has only paid the taxpayers back $30,000 so far. Where’s the other $98,000? Who cut that deal?
CLCND blames a lot of the legal bills on public information requests from Dolcefino Consulting, but here’s a tip about that. When you do a backroom deal to make someone’s political buddies rich, people start asking questions. Shocking!
But wait, it gets even better. An audio tape shows STORM lawyer Richard Baker is now trying to cut a new “business” deal with the CLCND commissioners. STORM will pay the legal bills they promised to pay when they got this sweetheart deal in the first place. Then, the CLCND will turn around and sue all the people who have state leases to harvest oysters in those 23,000 acres for trespassing! According to their half-baked theory, all those oyster farmers have been illegally making money on CLCND land for decades. If they win, the CLCND will then get back the money STORM is spending on all these legal fees with the money they make on the trespassing lawsuit, so that local Judge Tracy Woody and his kinfolk don’t have to pay.
Priceless. CLCND Commissioners are actually considering going into the business of filing government lawsuits against people who have invested millions into oysters in Galveston Bay, with the approval of the state and federal government, just to help a private company.
And they complain it is wrong to call that a good ole boy deal?
“Shuck and Jive.” How long can those guys evade the wrath of taxpayers!
Tracy Woody has been in court a lot lately.
The Chambers County Justice of the Peace has been trying, and failing, to find a judge who will let him and his daddy-in-law take control of half the oyster crop in Galveston Bay. Woody got a lease from the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District for his company STORM, but it doesn’t seem to be worth the paper it is written on, and plenty of taxpayer’s money is now being wasted on legal bills trying to educate officials in Anahuac about the law.
The State of Texas was forced to sue Woody’s company Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management (STORM), LLC, and District Judge Lonnie Cox in Galveston has stopped Woody’s company from interfering with other oyster fisherman.
Speaking of wasting money…Who is paying Woody while he spends his day engineering his oyster takeover dreams in the bay?
You, the taxpayers of Chambers County.
Woody is a Justice of the Peace in Chambers County, Precinct 3. Chambers County taxpayers pay him $45,000 a year to handle criminal and civil cases. His courtroom is in the historic Pine Island Courthouse, the one that was renovated with tens of thousands of dollars in federal money after Hurricane Ike.
Based on records released this week the courthouse is collecting dust, and Tracy Woody may have the best government job in Texas. He gets paid as a Judge, who doesn’t Judge anything.
The Chambers County Attorney’s office confirms Woody has not held a single court hearing in 2015, which is just about over. ZERO.
In 2014, just six hearings were held. Let’s do the math.
Tracy Woody is being paid $1,875.00 dollars an hour. Your money.
A Galveston Judge is being hailed a hero again tonight by fisherman along the Texas coast.
Judge Lonnie Cox of the 56th District Court had already stopped a greedy Chambers County oyster company from interfering with oyster fisherman making their living in one of the nation’s best oyster harvesting areas. Now he has stopped the attempt to move the legal battle out of Galveston County and back to Chambers County, denying a motion to change venue.
“It has been clear from the beginning that oyster fisherman wouldn’t find justice in Chambers County, where this smelly political deal was hatched”, says Lisa Halili of Prestige Oysters. “Judge Cox has restored our faith and has saved the public oyster season. Attorneys for the oyster fisherman proved STORM was interfering with state approved oyster leases in Galveston County.”
A company called S.T.O.R.M wanted to stop any fisherman from entering 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay so they would have a virtual monopoly on the lucrative bay oyster crop. S.T.O.R.M got a sweetheart deal last year from the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District giving them a long lease on the bay bottom for 1.50 an acre, and then they tried to keep other oyster fisherman out. The fight has been on ever since to knock some sense into Anahuac politicians that the Parks and Wildlife Department oversees natural resources, not some appointed bureaucrats in Anahuac who don’t know much about oysters.
The State of Texas has filed a lawsuit against S.T.O.R.M and the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District, calling their whole deal illegal. Judges in Austin and Galveston have refused to allow the case to be tried in Chambers County, where this deal was S.T.O.R.M. has a fancy name, Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, and they want the public to believe they are on an
environmental crusade to save oysters, but the guys behind it are simply the operators of Jeri’s Seafood in Smith Point.
“This may be about the color green, but it doesn’t have a darn thing to do with the environment,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “These are public waters. Period. Taxpayers are going to get cheated on this deal and hardworking fisherman are having to fight for their survival, all so a Chambers County Judge and his kinfolk can start counting their money. Nice try, but it’s not going to happen.”
After the latest court rulings, the navigation district should call a special meeting and quit while they are behind.
An Austin State District Judge has sent the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District back to Anahuac with another stinging legal defeat. Maybe it is time for the politicians and their buddies to end their play to get rich from the oyster business.
After stopping the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from giving oyster leases the chance to transplant oysters to safer waters in October, Judges in Galveston and Austin have sent a clear message.
Judge Lonnie Cox in Galveston has issued a temporary injunction to stop STORM, the politically connected company at the heart of this oyster fight, from interfering with other oyster boats trying to make a living in Galveston Bay.
Now Austin Judge Rhonda Hurley of the 98thDistrict Court in Austin has rejected an attempt by Chambers County politicians from getting the State Capitol courts out of this oyster battle.
STORM, a Chambers County company run by local judge Tracy Woody received a lease from the navigation district to control 23,000 acres of oyster production in Galveston Bay, about half the crop. Other companies already have existing leases from the State Parks and Wildlife. The state has gone to court, alleging the lease deal was illegal.
The CLCND lease to STORM. reeks of insider dealing. CLCND leased the land for 30 years, for $1.50 an acre a year, even though the oyster production in this public water is worth tens of millions of dollars. There were no requests for proposals, no competition, and no advance notice of the deal in clear violation of state transparency laws.
CLCND Commissioners are appointed by Liberty and Chambers County Officials.
“We applaud the State of Texas for defending Galveston Bay from this illegal oyster grab,” says Lisa Halili of Prestige Oysters. “Taxpayers in Chambers and Liberty County should rise up and demand these commissioners rescind this deal, or resign. We will not stop until this corruption is fully exposed.”
Dozens of fisherman crowded into the 56th District Court in Galveston Friday morning, worried their livelihoods were in jeopardy.
After Judge Lonnie Cox issued his ruling, some fisherman openly cried. They were tears of happiness and relief.
Oyster fisherman had asked Judge Cox to issue a restraining order against the oyster company S.T.O.R.M and their attempt to seize control of 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay so they could privatize and monopolize the oysters in the Bay.
More than 50 years ago the State of Texas sold the water bottom in the area to the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District, but the documents made it clear the wildlife still belonged
to the people of Texas. That didn’t stop the CLCND from leasing the acreage to S.T.O.R.M. anyway in a backroom deal that did not even allow competition. S.T.O.R.M. is owned by a judge in Chambers County and his politically powerful family. The lease gave them total control over the oyster population.
S.T.O.R.M vowed to keep any fisherman out of the water unless they approved, and the company openly harassed fisherman in the meantime. Judge Cox ordered S.T.O.R.M not to interfere with the fisherman and set a trial for May of 2016.
“These oyster fisherman have made their living in these waters for decades, and the wildlife in the bay belong to the People of Texas”, says Attorney Cris Feldman. “We applaud Judge Cox for protecting these precious resources for the people of Texas.”
The public oyster season begins Sunday November 1st. The court decision guarantees no one will interfere.
10:00 am October 30th
The future of Galveston Bay is on trial tomorrow in Galveston, and Judge Lonnie Cox has a chance to protect the bay for all the people of Texas.
The important 10:00 am hearing in the 56th Judicial District Court involves the efforts of oyster fisherman to seek a temporary injunction against a company called S.T.O.R.M. which claims they now control 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay Bottom, not the State of Texas.
S.T.O.R.M. is run by a local judge in Chambers County and in recent week’s hometown court rulings there killed the entire oyster transplant season in a big section of the Bay. The transplant season is used to move oysters to safer waters. Before the public season begins November 1st. S.T.O.R.M. claims oyster fisherman with legal state leases will actually be trespassing if they come to leases they paid for long ago to harvest oysters.
This battle has huge implications. First, the Parks and Wildlife Department has been in charge of the wildlife in Texas from the start, and imagine the Bays of Texas being privatized so you can’t fish there without having to ask “pretty please with money on top.”
Tomorrow oyster fisherman will ask Judge Cox to keep S.T.O.R.M. from interfering with their boats and leases, and fisherman all along the coast will be watching this decision carefully.
So will State Officials, who have called the S.T.O.R.M deal with unelected bureaucrats in Chambers County clearly illegal. S.T.O.R.M leased the property in a secret backroom deal.
“These oyster families are fighting for their livelihoods, but they are also fighting for every single Texan”, says Attorney Cris Feldman. “We are confident Judge Cox will protect Texans and the vital resources in Galveston Bay.”
The hearing is scheduled for 10:00 am at the Galveston County Courthouse.
You’ve got to wonder what Chambers County Judge Randy McDonald did on his recent vacation, because apparently he came back as an oyster expert.
Earlier this month, Judge McDonald had stopped the oyster transplant program of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The whole idea of the program is to let oyster farmers move oysters to healthier waters so they can filter out bacteria, and thus be safe to eat.
But suddenly Judge McDonald is an oyster medical specialist, claiming in open court, “Concerns about the health and safety of the oysters is a red herring.”
Makes you wonder who “Health Department Scientist” Judge McDonald was chatting with while he was lounging on vacation. What are his seafood credentials?
The Judge even reported the oyster population in those areas weren’t that large this year. How does he know? Maybe scuba diving was part of the vacation?
Before he left for vacation, Judge McDonald had essentially punted the oyster legal battle to Austin, where a Travis County Judge is hearing the State of Texas lawsuit against the plot to privatize a large part of Galveston Bay, so the lucrative oyster crop will essentially be an oyster monopoly.
Have you got your oyster scorecard handy?
A half a century ago the state sold part of the bottom of Galveston Bay to the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District for the limited purpose of handling navigation. For nearly five decades the Parks and Wildlife folks did what they’ve been doing since the beginning of Texas, managing all the fishies in Galveston Bay, including oysters.
Then last year, a couple of politically powerful guys in Anahuac cut a secret deal with the politically appointed navigation district to lease 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay bottom and they claim they are the new Sheriff of the water. They want no other companies who have longstanding legal leases from the state, to come into their water.
The Chambers County company STORM (Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, LLC) got the Chambers County District Judge to stop the state from issuing any permits, and right now that prohibition is still in effect. The Judge even accused the Parks and Wildlife Department of potentially conspiring with trespassers who want to oyster in STORM waters. Judge McDonald wants the legal fight to stay in his court. The Austin courts disagree.
So oyster lovers are in limbo.
The public oyster season starts November 1, which means any of us, including Judge McDonald can get some oysters.
So will they all be trespassers? Maybe I’ll go fishing.
“Judge McDonald got offended last week when I suggested a Chambers County Judge shouldn’t be involved in this smelly good ole’ boy deal,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “Not to pile on, but I sure would like to know who gave him the oyster handbook while he was on vacation.”
Luckily there are only two District Judges in Chambers County. We have already made one of them angry, so let’s make it unanimous.
Today that other Judge in Chambers County has stopped the State from moving oysters in a wide section of Galveston Bay to safer waters. Judge Chap Cain signed an order extending a temporary restraining order against the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, even though Judge Randy McDonald signed an order just the other day, sending the case to Travis County. Of course, Judge McDonald wasn’t at work today, so enter Judge Cain.
Wonder if they talk?
If you have your Galveston Bay Oyster scorecards ready, let’s recap.
The State had given oyster producers just two days in early October to transfer oysters to safer waters to protect public safety. Judge McDonald then issued a restraining order to stop the entire process, without even asking the State in advance. A Chambers County company called STORM (Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management), run by a local Justice of the Peace and his politically powerful kinfolk, got the order. STORM claims it owns every oyster in 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay after getting a no-bid backroom deal from the unelected bureaucrats on the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District Board. The State of Texas has sued both.
After Judge McDonald’s ruling, Dolcefino Consulting expressed concern that “home cooking” in the Chambers County Courthouse was casting a shadow on this legal fight. Diplomacy is our strong suit and we made another friend. Judge McDonald took exception with a long speech on the independence of the Chambers County Judiciary, but transferred the case back to Travis County anyway, along with the news release from Dolcefino Consulting, “The smelly deal” one.
His decision meant the state could go ahead and allow oyster companies to protect the crop. The big transplant was on again, and was going to happen tomorrow, but today STORM found the other Judge in Chambers County to put the restraining order back on, claiming Texas Parks and Wildlife issued permits to transplant this morning, before the original restraining order was set to expire at the end of today. I know, silly, but good enough in Chambers County.
So, no oysters can be moved until after the next hearing on October 19, 2015. That means they likely won’t be safe to eat by November 1st, when the public oyster season begins.
Luckily there are only two Judges in Chambers County!
The future of Galveston Bay may be at stake in a legal showdown this Thursday, October 8th in Judge Randy McDonald’s 344th Disrict Courtroom in Anahuac.
Lawyers for the State of Texas will try to erase a restraining order the Judge imposed last week, stopping the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from letting anyone take oysters out of a 23,000 acre section of Galveston Bay, even companies who have paid for state leases.
“Because of Judge McDonald’s actions, the safety of the Galveston Bay Oyster Crop is in jeopardy,” says Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting, an investigative firm hired to fight this takeover. “This week, oyster companies were supposed to be transplanting oysters to safer waters so they would be safe to eat. This reckless action and this legal home cooking cannot stand.”
This oyster war is part of a legal battle now being waged across three counties.
Judge McDonald issued the restraining order on behalf of a local Chambers County Company called STORM (Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management). STORM claims it has been given the exclusive right to control the entire oyster population in the 23,000 square foot area by the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District, an unelected board appointed by local officials. The owner of STORM is a local Judge and his politically powerful relative.
The State of Texas has declared that lease illegal, and has warned STORM it will pay for any damages to the oyster crop.
Oyster companies that have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and are now being denied the right to move their oysters, went to a court in Galveston County for their own restraining order to keep STORM from touching their oysters.
Galveston Bay has been historically one of the biggest oyster producing regions in the country, and this high stakes legal battle could eventually determine if the People of Texas own Galveston Bay, or whether a private company can control public waters.
The hearing is at 1:30 p.m. in Anahuac.