You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Council to vote on controversial Old Lorena Road site for new landfill

The Waco City Council will vote Tuesday on a staff recommendation to place the new city landfill on a 292-acre site on Old Lorena Road next to the Waco Regional Landfill.

The proposed site, which the city already owns, faces fierce opposition from neighbors. But city staff said it scores the best among four potential sites studied in a rate analysis.

It would raise monthly residential rates by 30 cents, compared to others that would raise rates by up to $3.58. Those other sites haven’t been publicly announced.

“The other three final sites all present unknowns as well as significant operational challenges having to do with accessibility, travel time, land acquisition, new area neighborhood concerns, infrastructure (water, sewers and roadway) needs, and permitting,” City Manager Dale Fisseler wrote in an informal report to the council.

The council will discuss the rate analysis in a 3 p.m. work session at the Waco Convention Center’s Bosque Theater. It will vote at the 6 p.m. business session on the Old Lorena Road site and whether to authorize city staff to submit an application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Mayor Kyle Deaver declined to say how he intended to vote, but he said he is looking at more than just rate impact.

“I think that’s a significant factor,” Deaver said. “But we also have to look at operational issues involved at other sites, things like having to condemn property to get access. One of the sites has a railroad to cross, one is closer to a neighborhood than the Old Lorena Road site and one site would require us to drive through a neighboring city. Things like that you really can’t quantify.”

What appears to be the second most cost-effective site would cost $5.2 million to acquire but would raise residential rates by only $1.29 per month, the analysis by NewGen Strategies and Solutions shows. The other two would raise rates by $3.23 or $3.58. Those rates were calculated by looking at increased travel times, fuel costs, repair and maintenance and incremental capital costs.

The Old Lorena Road has met with fierce opposition, in the form of a lawsuit from immediate neighbors and a political campaign waged by a broader group calling itself Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill.

The lawsuit, led by neighbor Wanda Glaze, claims that the current effort would violate a 1992 agreement with neighbors not to expand the Waco Regional Landfill. City officials have countered that the Old Lorena Road landfill would be a separately permitted operation that would open upon the closure of the old landfill.

District Judge Vicki Menard of the 414th State District Court in June denied the city of Waco’s plea to dismiss Glaze’s suit based on governmental immunity, and the city is now appealing that decision to the 10th Court of Appeals.

The Citizens Against the Highway 84 Landfill group has raised more than $60,000 in its campaign against the Old Lorena Road site and recently filed a “friend of court” brief in support of Glaze’s lawsuit.

Opponents argue that a new landfill in that location would harm property values in the growing Highway 84 corridor, threaten Lake Waco’s water supply and bring vultures too close to the McGregor Executive Airport.

“I think it’s preposterous for them to choose a site that has an active lawsuit for which they’ve lost the first round,” said Brad Holland, spokesman for the anti-landfill group. “That shows poor foresight and procedural planning for the whole landfill escapade. … The city promised not to expand and gave Wanda Glaze their word that the current landfill would not get bigger. Now they’re going back on that through a minor technical issue.”

Holland said as soon as the city files for its TCEQ permit, his group will challenge the plans in court, based on everything from the 1992 agreement to the landfill’s effect on McGregor Executive Airport and Lake Waco.

If the Old Lorena Road site is chosen, the permitting process would start in late 2018, and the entire process of permitting and construction would take at least seven years. By then, the current landfill is expected to be nearly filled.

Deaver said if the Old Lorena Road site goes forward, the public will have ample time to raise issues with state and city officials during the permitting process.

“If we move forward with the site, we will want to talk with neighbors to see what can be done to mitigate their concerns,” he said. “Residents still need to know that they’ll have the ability to comment on the TCEQ application.”

Church service massacre
Man opens fire in Texas church, killing more than 20 people
Gunman opens fire in Texas church, killing multiple people

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS — A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding at least 16 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Authorities didn’t identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation.

The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn’t appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday’s attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

An Air Force spokeswoman said Sunday night that Kelley received a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force for allegedly assaulting his spouse and child, and was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement after a 2012 court-martial. Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 a.m.

Found dead in vehicle

The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren’t ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack.

He said 23 of the dead were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Addressing the news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott called the attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history. “There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today,” Abbott said. “Our hearts are heavy at the anguish in this small town, but in time of tragedy, we see the very best of Texas. May God comfort those who’ve lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities.”

Pastor’s daughter

Among those killed was the church pastor’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town in two different states when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP.

“We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends,” she wrote. “Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can.”

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small rural community of a few hundred residents 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI’s evidence collection team.

At least 16 wounded were taken to hospitals, hospital officials said, including eight taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center. Another eight victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center, located in Floresville about 10 miles from the church, including four who were later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio for higher-level care, said spokeswoman Megan Posey.

Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county.

“This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town,” Berlanga said. “Everybody’s going to be affected and everybody knows someone who’s affected.”

Regina Rodriguez, who arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting, walked up to the police barricade and hugged a person she was with. She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn’t been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.

Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, wasn’t at Sunday’s service, but he said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, was among the dead.

“We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday,” he said, shaking his head. “This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men’s Bible study, vacation Bible school. Somebody went in and started shooting.”

President Donald Trump, who was in Japan, where he was on an Asian trip, called the shooting an “act of evil” and said he was monitoring the situation.

“We’re shocked. Shocked and dismayed,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs, a rural community known for its peanut festival, which was held last month. “It’s especially shocking when it’s such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving.”

Later Sunday, two sheriff’s vans were parked outside the gate of a cattle fence surrounding the address listed for Kelley on the rural, western outskirts of New Braunfels, north of San Antonio, preventing a group of waiting journalists from entering. Officials from the Comal County Sherriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers declined to comment or say if they had raided his home.

Ryan Albers, 16, who lives across the road said he heard intensifying gunfire coming from that direction in recent days.

“It’s really loud. At first I thought someone was blasting,” Albers said. “It had to be coming from somewhere pretty close. It was definitely not just a shotgun or someone hunting. It was someone using automatic weapon fire.”

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In a video of its Oct. 8 service, a congregant who spoke and read Scripture pointed to the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting a week earlier as evidence of the “wicked nature” of man. That shooting left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.

1991 Killeen slayings

Until Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in Texas had been a 1991 attack in Killeen, when a mentally disturbed man crashed his pickup truck through a restaurant window at lunchtime and started shooting people, killing 23 and injuring more than 20 others.

The University of Texas was the site of one of the most infamous mass shootings in American history, when U.S. Marine sniper Charles Whitman climbed the Austin campus’ clock tower in 1966 and began firing on stunned people below, killing 13 and wounding nearly three dozen others. He had killed his wife and mother before heading to the tower, one victim died a week later and medical examiners eventually attributed a 17th death to Whitman in 2001.

More border crossers prosecuted in 'new era' of enforcement
More border crossers prosecuted in 'new era' of enforcement

PHOENIX — When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered his get-tough-on-immigration speech in the border city of Nogales early this year, he promised a “new era” in immigration enforcement.

Six months later, some of those promises are taking shape in federal court, but through the expansion of a nearly decade-old program known as Operation Streamline, in which immigrants accused of coming into the U.S. illegally complete a usually monthslong prosecution process in one day. Critics say the program violates due process and does nothing to deter repeat offenses.

In Arizona, federal authorities are now prosecuting first-time border crossers — heavily increasing the program’s caseload — after years of prosecuting only repeat offenders. The move is a small part of the overall increase in immigrant prosecutions that Sessions has called for.

Just how effective Operation Streamline is at reducing repeat border crossings is unclear.

A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office this year found that the way the Border Patrol calculates recidivism rates in programs such as Operation Streamline results in lower figures by only considering whether a defendant re-entered illegally within a year.

The Border Patrol finds only 14 percent of migrants who go through programs designed to deter border crossings reoffend. The Government Accountability Office puts that figure at 29 percent based on its own methodology, which the Border Patrol has declined to adopt.

Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris said the recidivism rate for defendants who go through Operation Streamline was about 8 percent in the 2016 fiscal year.

The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which comprises most of Arizona, is one of four in the nation that still use the program.

In these court hearings, dozens of immigrants who were just caught crossing the border are assigned an attorney, go before a judge, plead guilty and are sentenced all within a day.

In recent years, there were few defendants in Tucson because there weren’t as many migrants caught crossing and first-time offenders weren’t being prosecuted.

As of this spring, when the agency decided to resume prosecutions of first-timers, hearings are held four days a week and with close to the maximum number of defendants per hearing, which is 70.

In August, U.S. Marshals led small groups of mostly men into a federal courtroom. The men stood in front of their court-appointed attorneys and listened to a judge give instructions, tell them their rights and ask questions through a translator.

Still in the clothes they were wearing when they got caught, some appeared confused when asked questions.

All of them pleaded guilty.

Federal prosecutors in California, unlike those in Arizona and Texas, have rejected Streamline, considering it an ineffective drain on resources. Karen Hewitt, the top federal prosecutor in San Diego from 2007 to 2010, is quoted in a 2010 University of California, Berkeley Law School paper, saying that pursuit of more serious offenders was “consistent with what the public (in California) would like to see.”

Border Patrol Chief Rodolfo Karisch, who took over as head of the Tucson Sector in August, said programs like Operation Streamline are necessary to show migrants who cross the border illegally that there are consequences to their actions. He said the program in Tucson has been successful.

“At the end of the day, if you simply arrest someone and nothing ever happens to them, then they just continue to come back,” Karisch said.

But many migrants do come back.

Take Ernesto Dorame-Gonzalez, a Mexican man who was has been arrested for crossing the border illegally multiple times since at least July 2013, according to court records.

He was caught again in October 2014 and prosecuted through Operation Streamline in Tucson. Dorame-Gonzalez was charged with one count of illegal entry and another count of illegal re-entry, a greater charge. In a process prosecutors call “flip-flop,” defendants in Operation Streamline with prior offenses can plead to a lesser charge and have the heavier one dropped.

Dorame-Gonzalez was sentenced to 60 days in prison with credit for time served.

Then, in November 2015, Dorame-Gonzalez was caught again, this time smuggling a group of six Middle Eastern men in southern Arizona.

The men had fled violence in their countries and were cleared of any ties to terrorism.

Dorame-Gonzalez pleaded guilty to a smuggling charge and was sentenced to over two years in federal prison.

Hugo Reyna, a federal public defender who has been working Operation Streamline hearings since they were adopted in Tucson nearly a decade ago, says the program isn’t an effective recidivism tool.

Reyna spoke on his behalf only.

He said attorneys start meeting with defendants at 9 a.m. and have until noon to prep with them. Reyna said most of his clients are farmworkers with limited education and no understanding of the American judicial system. Some are indigenous and don’t speak Spanish.

But in the nearly 10 years he’s been working with Operation Streamline, Reyna says he’s seen little change in migrant patterns.

“When we started here in 2008, it was 70 defendants that were being processed and charged. Today we’re still at 70. So as far as deterrent is concerned, maybe it’s not quite as effective as they had anticipated,” Reyna said.

Mother, young daughter found shot to death near Tradinghouse Lake

A 1-year-old girl and her mother were found shot to death Sunday afternoon in Hallsburg near Tradinghouse Creek Reservoir, and authorities are continuing to search for a suspect, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said.

Authorities were called to McLennan Park 3, off Willbanks Drive near the waterfront, shortly before 1:30 p.m. Deputies found the mother, in her 20s, shot to death outside a car, McNamara said. They found her 1-year-old daughter inside the car, still buckled into a child’s car seat, he said.

“This is just truly heartbreaking, and we are all heartbroken over this,” McNamara said. “Both were shot and killed, and we are still trying to figure out what happened.”

Authorities remained at the scene for several hours Sunday and opened a double-murder investigation, McNamara said. No one was in custody Sunday evening.

“This is a horrible, brutal double murder, and we are not going to let up until we catch them,” McNamara said. “They will be brought to justice.”

The identities of the victims were not released Sunday evening pending notification of family.

In Japan, Trump to try to put human face on NKorean menace
In Japan, Trump to try to put human face on NKorean menace

TOKYO — After easing into his Asian debut with golf and a taste of home, President Donald Trump is trying to put a human face on North Korea’s menace, hearing from anguished families of Japanese citizens snatched by Pyongyang’s agents.

Trump’s meeting Monday promises to elevate these heart-wrenching tales of loss to the international stage as he hopes to pressure North Korea to end its provocative behavior toward American allies in the region.

North Korea has acknowledged apprehending 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but claims all those captives have died or been released. But in Japan, where grieving relatives of the abducted have become a symbol of heartbreak on the scale of American POW families, the government insists nearly 50 people were taken — and believes some may be alive.

Trump has delivered harsh denunciations of the renegade North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, belittling him as “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to rain “fire and fury” on his country if the belligerence continues. But Trump also has begun highlighting the plight of the North Koreans.

“I think they’re great people. They’re industrious. They’re warm, much warmer than the world really knows or understands,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One while flying to Japan on Sunday. “And I hope it all works out for everybody.”

Also on the agenda during Trump’s second day in Asia: an audience with Emperor Akihito, a sit-down with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a state dinner.

North Korea is the critical issue looming over Trump’s 12-day, five-country trip that will include direct talks with Trump’s Chinese and Russian counterparts.

In Washington, a new analysis emerged from the Pentagon saying that a ground invasion of North Korea is the only way to locate and destroy, with complete certainty, all components of Kim’s nuclear weapons program.

“It is the most bleak assessment,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Two members of the U.S. Congress, in a letter to the Pentagon, had asked about casualty assessments in a possible conflict with North Korea. A rear admiral on the Joint Staff responded on behalf of the Defense Department, and said the amount of casualties would differ depending on the advance warning and the ability of U.S. and South Korea forces to counter North Korean attacks.

Feinstein said she was pleased that America’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, was on the Asia trip. “I think if he will stay the course and use diplomacy the way diplomacy can be used, that it might be possible to work something out. The worst alternative is a war, which could become nuclear,” she said.

Abe welcomed Trump on Sunday with an effusive display of friendship that will now give way to high-stakes diplomacy. The two leaders, who have struck up an unlikely but easy rapport, shared a casual lunch and played nine holes at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, joined by professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama.

Abe was one of the first world leaders to court President-elect Trump. The prime minister was the first to call after the 2016 election, and rushed to New York days later to meet Trump and present him with a pricey, gold Honma golf driver.

The two men also met on the sidelines of an international summit in Italy this spring and Trump hosted Abe in Florida. White House officials said Trump has spoken with Abe by phone more than any world leader, aside from British Prime Minister Theresa May.

“The relationship is really extraordinary. We like each other and our countries like each other,” Trump said before dinner with Abe, who for this meal did show Trump traditional cuisine with a teppanyaki dinner. “And I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Japan than we are right now.”