News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
TXI DUST NOT YET SETTLED
Residents of the Hornsby Bend area got at least an acknowledgement of their concerns regarding a proposed sand and gravel mining project in their neighborhood last week, but not much else. Travis County commissioners, knowing their hands are essentially tied by state laws, called for the formation of a committee to monitor environmental conditions at the quarry owned by Texas Industries Inc., to be composed of neighbors and staffers from TXI and the county. TXI spokesman David Perkins emphasized that the county has "no statutory authority" on the quarry but said the company will try to address neighbors' concerns. "We don't even know if they will go through with it," worried Suzanne McEndree, whose property would be surrounded on two sides by the project. McEndree said she and her neighbors are particularly worried about silica dust and that any health problems it causes might not show up for years – and the TXI quarry is expected to be a 20-year project. "Kids live out here," McEndree said. TXI's Perkins said that the material being mined will already have a great deal of water in it, and he doesn't expect dust to be a major concern. "The bottom line in all this, if it's not gonna be this, it's the ethanol," said 1st Precinct Commissioner Ron Davis, referring to another recent industrial project in eastern Travis. "All these unwanted land uses happening in the unincorporated areas of Precinct 1 has to stop. Unfortunately, it's a case-by-case basis as far as the county because the state Legislature will not grant counties enough authority." – Lee Nichols
PRIMARY DEADLINE LOOMS
With less than a week to go before the Jan. 4, 6pm, deadline for a slot on the March 2 primary ballot – and little indication of a last-minute flood of applications – the opportunity for announced candidates to become real contenders is shrinking. At the state level, retiring Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, removed his name from the list of potential candidates for higher office when he announced Dec. 22, 2009, that he will not be on the 2010 ballot. However, Marc Katz, owner of the never-klozing Katz's Deli & Bar on Sixth Street, confirmed that he will be filing Dec. 30, 2009, to run against former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst next November. Over in the House, travel consultant Marilyn Jackson filed Dec. 22, 2009, to become the first Republican challenger ever to face Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, in his House District 51 seat. Yet the busiest local primary remains the Democratic race for State Board of Education Place 5, with four candidates filed so far. – Richard Whittaker
CRIME DROP IN EARLY 2009
According to early numbers released this week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime in the U.S. dropped more than 4% during the first six months of 2009. The preliminary half-year uniform crime report also reflects a 6% decline in property crime, including burglary and auto theft. A 10% drop in murder led the decrease in violent crime, while a whopping 18.7% decline in motor vehicle theft led the drop in property crime. The newest crime report does not contain information from the Austin Police Department. APD wants to make sure its crime reporting is as accurate as possible, spokesman Cpl. Scott Perry told us in an e-mail, and as such only submits a year-end report "when we know that the data is finalized and accurate." Meanwhile, federal prosecutions rose 9% in 2009, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. The number of federal prosecutions this year (a total of 169,612 cases) reached an all-time high, up 42% from five years ago and an increase of nearly 90% since 1999. A 15.7% increase in immigration cases led this year's increase, with charges of illegal entry and re-entry to the U.S. making up the vast majority of cases, TRAC reports. Interestingly, the number of nonimmigration crimes has actually dropped over the last five years. Drug crimes, for example, currently make up just 16% of all prosecuted federal crimes. – Jordan Smith
THE MORE TEXANS THE MERRIER?
Texas gets a little fuller but no richer: In its last population estimate before the 2010 census, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Dec. 23, 2009, that Texas gained 478,000 residents between July 2008 and July 2009, bringing the total population to 24.8 million – an increase of 1.97%. While that was the largest number of new residents for any state, Wyoming had the largest percentage population growth (2.12% over the period), and California remains the nation's most populous state with 37 million residents. Texas now has its largest ever employable population, with the Texas Workforce Commission estimating a civilian labor force of 12.1 million. However, that population increase may not have translated into a stronger economy. While the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped in November from 8.3% to 8%, sales tax collections fell 14.4% between November 2008 and November 2009, and dropped 5.1% in total for the year to date. That will put more pressure than normal on the pre-Christmas receipts for December, due in early January. – R.W.