Looking back at the top 10 news stories of 2019

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With the calendar turning over a new year and a new decade, The Sealy News is taking a look back at the events that topped the news locally in 2019.

Sealy and Austin County had no end of news events in 2019 that have and will impact the lives of the people who live here for some time. What follows are the top 10 stories The Sealy News reported last year:

10. Chip Reed appointed commissioner

Chip Reed was sworn in Jan. 10 to serve as Precinct 4 Austin County Commissioner. Reed, who served as the precinct foreman for 18 years, replaces the late Commissioner Doug King, who died in an accident Dec. 17.

“It was a huge loss,” Reed said.

King, 49, had recently been re-elected to a third term, running unopposed. Reed is running unopposed for election to the seat in 2020.

9. Child porn arrest

A Sealy area man who pleaded guilty to three felony charges of promotion of child pornography on July 31 was sentenced Oct. 9 to 15 years in prison. Michael Jack, 37, was sentenced in the 359th District Court in Montgomery County by Judge Kathleen Hamilton.

In February, Detective Serratt with the Montgomery County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office was conducting an investigation into the exploitation of children. Serratt met Jack when he was acting in an undercover capacity online. Jack sent numerous images and videos of child pornography to Serratt during the course of the investigation.

Detectives with the Internet Crimes Against Children’s Task Force, Department of Public Safety, along with special agents assigned to the Department of Homeland Security, executed an arrest warrant and search warrant in Sealy. As a result of the two-year investigation conducted by Serratt, Jack was arrested for promotion of child pornography. Hundreds of additional images and videos of child pornography, as well as images of bestiality were found as a result of the search warrant.

8. Main Street changes

Sealy’s Main Street is undergoing several changes, both physically and politically. Currently, Main Street is partially torn up as Vaca Construction oversees a $3 million project to install a 12-inch waterline from the water tower to FM 1094, and along parts of Fowlkes and Fifth streets. The project started in September and is expected to take up to 10 months to complete.

It's plans for Main Street, however, that have downtown merchants upset. City Manager Lloyd Merrell, Assistant City Manager/Planning Director Warren Escovy and other city staff members have been working on for several months to revamp the historic downtown district. The item of most concern to the merchants is the proposal to remove median parking in the middle of the street. They say the loss of parking downtown will hurt their businesses and force many of them to close or relocate. Merrell said his primary concern is safety. Escovy showed the merchants plans that include the installation of more parking spaces downtown than what would be lost by eliminating median parking.

The Sealy Main Street Program, which has been dormant for about a year, was renewed with the hiring of a director and the appointment of a revamped board of directors. Larry Penn was initially hired as the director but then fired a couple weeks later due to complaints about his behavior. It was recently announced that Bobby Seiferman has been hired as the new Main Street Program director. He will start Jan. 7.

7. China trip questioned

A delegation of Sealy officials participated in a controversial 12-day economic development trip to China Oct. 28 to Nov. 9. They reported that the trip far exceeded their expectations.

“We feel that the amount of money we spent, if we had spent it on an ad we wouldn’t have had any fruit but we are already showing the fruit of what’s going on and we believe that in the next two to three years there’s a possibility there may be several other fabricators and facilities within the city of Sealy limits that will invest in our community,” Wyn McCready, president of the Sealy Economic Development Corporation, said in a report to the Seay City Council.

McCready, Sealy EDC Director Robert Worley, and Sealy ISD Superintendent Sheryl Moore made the trip as part of a delegation from the Greater Houston Partnership. City Manager Lloyd Merrell was slated to go but backed out at the last minute due to illness.

The trip garnered controversy when members of the city council questioned its financing and chided Worley about forcing it on them without adequate time for them to respond. They also questioned having the city pay for Moore to attend since she is not a city employee. The trio spent a lot of their time working with officials from Hailiang, a company that is locating a copper tube manufacturing facility in Sealy.

6. Bellville Hospital goes solo

After CHI St. Joseph Health System announced it was going to cease its contract with Bellville Hospital, there were many questions and concerns floating around. All of those apprehensions converged on Bellville High School’s auditorium, where a town hall forum hosted by representatives from the hospital district and foundation boards as well as the new management system answered the community’s inquiries.

Tony Causey, president of Bellville Hospital District, Juanita Romans, new CEO of Bellville Hospital, Larry Hancock, representative of ERH II, LLC, the new management service, and Dr. Don Bosse, M.D., longtime practicing doctor in Bellville, responded to distresses and incited confidence in the community that this rural hospital wasn’t going to be joining the list of the 21 others that have closed their doors in the last four years.

The only thing the Bellville Hospital Foundation Board asked of the community was their full support.

“I think growth is in the future, we need the community, we need the doctors, we need the loving staff to create the atmosphere for us in the future,” said Romans.

“It’s really an opportunity,” she continued. “It’s a chore of love to be able to take all of my years of healthcare experience and help Bellville Hospital become what it should be and that is a strong, vibrant community hospital here in Bellville.”

5. Drainage projects

Sealy city officials announced the receipt of a $2 million grant to improve drainage in the area and also want to move forward to protect the Westview Terrace subdivision from flooding.

The Community Development Block Grant application was submitted in September of last year to fund two storm water drainage projects – the Front Street project, which flows from the storm sewer on Eighth Street to the south along the west side of Front Street to Jason Street, and the Front Street ditch project includes grading of the proposed ditch, driveway cross culverts, roadway repair and restoration.

“This project will provide conveyance relief to the alleyway ditch,” City Manager Lloyd Merrell said in a statement. “The alleyway ditch will be reconstructed from the outfall located south of Eighth Street to US-90. The alleyway ditch project includes reshaping the ditch, providing a concrete trickle channel for conveyance, one driveway culvert crossing and restoration.”

The Westview Terrace drainage project is separate from the grant, as CDBG funds must be used in low-income areas.

4. Show steer killed

Just 10 days before Cory Barrett was supposed to take his steer to show at the Austin County Fair, someone shot it to death. Barrett, 18, a senior at Sealy High School, came out Sunday morning to trim his steer Hawkeye when he found him dead in a trap pen behind the barn.

“When I walked out there, I found him lying flat and he was bloat up and when I saw that I knew immediately he was dead,” Cory said. “I hollered at my stepdad to come here. We rolled him over and we found a hole behind his left front shoulder where the bullet has gone through. At that moment we knew somebody had shot him. We called the sheriff’s and they came out and investigated on it, took pictures.”

The shooting devasted Cory, who has worked with the calf since March to get him ready for the fair. The case is still under investigation by the Austin County Sheriff’s Office.

3. Elections result in new city

As the dust settled on May’s municipal and school board elections, the sun rose the next morning on a new city in Austin County. The residents of Gloster, located east of Sealy and south of Brazos Country, voted to incorporate as a city and elected a mayor and two city commissioners.

The vote created the City of Gloster as a general law Class C municipality. Laura Meyer became the city’s first mayor by defeating Brandon Hawbaker. The city’s first commissioners are Henry Mlcak and John Couch. In November, voters in Gloster voted to change the city’s name to South Frydek.

In the other elections, Sandra Vrablec won re-election to her Place 3 seat on the Sealy City Council and Adam Burttschell unseated incumbent John Hinze for the Place 6 seat.

In San Felipe, Mayor Bobby Byars held off a challenge by Cynthia L. Kelly. In the race for alderman, Derrick Dabney won re-election, and challenger Larry Gentry unseated Jeffrey Zeigler.

In the races for the Sealy ISD Board of Trustees, Kristen Novicke beat Bradley Miller for the vacant seat in Place 1. Incumbent Brian Owen won re-election to Place 2. Place 3 Trustee Ryan Reichardt was unopposed.

After Wallis Mayor Steve Bockel abruptly resigned as he was being sworn in for another term, a special election was held Nov. 5 to replace him. That election was won by Dennis L. Diggs.

2. Interstate 10 expansion

The long-awaited expansion of Interstate 10 from the Brazos River through Sealy finally began and will continue for three and a half years.

Clayton Harris of TxDOT gave the Sealy City Council an overview of the 10-mile project and said they are doing their best to mitigate the impact on traffic as the highway is widened from two lanes in each direction to three.

“The strategy that we’re seeing right now is constructing all of the frontage roads. We want to put all the main lane traffic on the frontage roads once we get them constructed,” he said. "With traffic diverted to the frontage roads, work will commence on widening the main lanes and replacing nine bridges from the Brazos River to FM 3538,” he said.

Harris said TxDOT wants to make the construction zone as safe and convenient as possible.

“We want to maximize the shoulder that we have on our temporary main lane. What we want to eliminate or avoid … is the tunnel effect. We want to allow the drivers as much room as possible. We want to avoid that tunnel effect throughout the entire project,” he said.

1. Sealy’s Asian invasion

Two Asian companies made announcements to locate businesses to Sealy in 2019. It was announced last summer that China-based Hailiang Copper purchased the former BAE Systems facility and will build a new 500,000-square-foot facility on the 200-acre site to produce copper water pipes, coils, refrigerating air conditioning pipes, insulation pipes, and other conduits.

The company is making a $165 million investment that includes fixed assets and equipment worth $134 million and $30 million in working capital. The company is expected to bring 250 jobs to Sealy, phased in over the next few years.

In September, South Korean-based Remitite made a surprise announcement that it had purchased land next to the Hailiang property and plans to build a large manufacturing and research plant in Sealy. It also announced plans to build at large shipyard on the Texas coast, but those plans are currently being re-evaluated and scaled down.

Remitite America, makers of adhesives and sealants for the oil and gas industry, pans to have a $8.2 million investment in their facility and projects $12 million a year in sales, eventually reaching $102 million annually. Team manager Danny Han said the facility will ultimately employ 550 people.

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