In both Gregg and Smith counties, early voting for the November election continues at a strong and steady pace, with thousands of residents coming out each day to cast their ballots.
Within four days, Gregg County has seen 15,009 voters come out across its 10 polling sites. For the first three days of early voting, 17,844 Smith County voters came out to cast ballots at seven locations, according to election data from each election office.
For Smith County, early voting is down by 392 during the same time period of time in 2016. A total of 18,236 people voted during the first three days of early voting four years ago.
In Smith County, R.B. Hubbard Center “The Hub” and Noonday Community Center have seen the most turnout from Tuesday through Thursday, with 3,515 and 3,100 people respectively.
Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy said turnout has held strong and steady since the first day, which had 3,959 come to the polls. The first two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, were really high but the lines dropped slightly afterward, she said.
A total of 3,899 people voted on Wednesday, 3,543 voted on Thursday and 3,608 voted on Friday.
There has been an average of 400 people per voting location each day, according to the elections office.
For the first day of early voting in 2016, 3,301 Gregg County residents voted, while 3,006 voted in 2018, according to the elections office.
Nealy said the addition of five polling stations for a total of 10 have helped tremendously. Due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, early voting was extended from two to three weeks this year.
“If we did not have those 10 locations, the lines would have been horrendous,” she said.
She strongly encouraged people to take advantage of the extra locations and time to vote this year.
For those who haven’t voted yet, Nealy said they should come in the second week of early voting rather than the last.
“Take advantage of the second week, whatever you do, don’t wait until Election Day,” she said.
She added people should learn which county they’re registered to vote in before coming to the polls.
The Judson Community Center has been consistently the busiest polling place all week long in Gregg County, while Elderville Community Center dropped slightly after having a big turnout as a new early voting location, Nealy said.
She added one rumor going around is that a ballot becomes ineffective if it has a mark on it; however, the voting clerk must sign any paper ballot.
Another rumor is that votes by mail will not be counted, which is incorrect.
“If you voted and mailed your own ballot, it is safe and secure,” Nealy said. “The post office has been doing excellent job getting ballots to us in a timely manner.”
Nealy added that 99% of voters come into polling sites with masks and that, when offered gloves, 90% of people have chosen to wear them.
Social distancing markings are used at the voting sites, and election officials use hand sanitizer and wipes to clean surfaces, she said.
Nealy said voting machines and computers are working well.
There have been one or two incidents of poll workers requesting people to remove political clothing, but the people ended up removing the items without confrontation, Nealy said, noting most voters have been polite and kind.
Nealy explained that three workers and three machines in early voting are normal for Gregg County, and this also helps limit the number of people coming in the building for COVID-19 safety precautions.
Early voting continues through Oct. 30.
Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki were walking the beaches of Hawaii in 2005 when they saw debris on the beach, and more alarmingly, in the water.
In 2006 they founded B.E.A.C.H. (Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawai’i) to not only work on cleaning up and recycling, but raising awareness and bringing solutions to Hawaii, a state where proper recycling facilities are hard to come by.
Despite setback after setback, Frazer refused to go down. And this week in Tyler, 15 years of work had a happy ending.
Over 1.2 million plastic bottle caps were converted into oil at New Hope Energy. Companies came together and volunteered to have a 40-foot container (it was originally 20 feet, but doubled with more collections) shipped to California, hauled by freight to Dallas, and then delivered to Tyler.
“We were so happy that we found New Hope Energy because this is new technology to convert plastic to oil,” Frazer said. “We’ve been looking at places to do this for some time. Some companies had tried but could not do it. New Hope Energy was able to create and sell oil and continue to operate through the pandemic. We are so grateful and appreciative to get help from a number of sponsors to help ship and transport the plastic.”
Frazer explained, “Here, in the middle of the Pacific, there are no recycling facilities. We can sort and collect, but to ship costs a great deal of money. It’s not very feasible to do a lot of recycling in Hawaii because of the costs.”
That’s where the nightmares began. Frazer and Otsuki would go to the redemption centers where residents receive 5 cents per water or drink bottle. They would see hundreds of bottle caps on the ground. There were also bottle caps in the ocean harming the fish and birds, as well as different plastics all over the beach. They would call a city about recycling and get told it was a county issue, then a state issue and sometimes even a military issue. Then get directed back to calling the city again. Some places were able to incinerate some of the plastic, but it all went into filling landfills.
“The advantage of using New Hope Energy is, we get over 1.2 million plastic caps or lids out of the environment forever. They will never harm an animal or bird. They will not be litter or become plastic ever again. It’s a one-off project that has taken years,” Frazer said. “People say, ‘It doesn’t matter if I throw this little candy wrapper on the ground.’ Well, yes, it does matter. And to get in the habit not to buy those bottles. Use your own refillable bottle.
“It has not been not all smooth sailing and would have been easy to give up. One company said they would pick (the bottle caps) and take them indoors. They left them outside and we had to dump them all out, drain them and clean them,” Frazer continued. “Another company collected 25 barrels and then threw them out. At that point, we realized we could not partner with anyone to make sure recycling succeeded.”
Eugene Royal, special projects manager at New Hope Energy, describes the plastic-to-oil conversion as, “Involving heating the plastic to a very high temperature and depriving it of oxygen.”
Royal said there was no combustion or burning of the plastic. The oil produced is low in sulfur, making it ideal for powering trains and ships, he said.
By using plastic to make oil “rather than digging up pristine areas such as rainforests, the natural environment can be preserved.”
"By using plastic to make oil rather than digging up pristine areas such as rainforests, the natural environment can be preserved" said Frazer.
Frazer said a lot of sorting of caps had to be done because all plastics are different. Hawaii has to deal with litter dumped in the ocean from 20 different countries.
She said, “B.E.A.C.H. made sure that all of the caps sent to Tyler were able to be recycled by training people in how to recycle. B.E.A.C.H. involved school children across the island of O‘ahu as well as volunteers with clubs, businesses and other community groups. More than 30 organizations took part in sorting and cleaning the caps, with many more involved in collecting the caps from home, the workplace and at outdoor events. B.E.A.C.H. is not receiving any payment or funds from the recycling of the caps.”
Frazer and Otsuki said the small plastic litter such as plastic caps causes injury and death to sea birds, particularly Laysan Albatrosses. They spoke to an official at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on Midway Island who estimated about 250,000 baby albatrosses die each year with a stomach full of plastic.
“It’s very tragic that all these birds are dying from ingesting plastic. The plastic ingested includes caps, toys, lighters, fishing floats and other items particularly if they are red, yellow, orange, pink and purple in color because it resembles their food – squid and fish eggs.” said Frazer.
Matson, Union Pacific Railroad, Pacific Transfer, Loup and TRAC Intermodal all donated costs involved in transporting the caps. Frazer said Matson provided free shipping from Hawaii to California and waived the container fee.
Keahi Birch, Matson’s manager of environmental affairs, said, “As a leading ocean carrier serving some of the most pristine environments in the Pacific, Matson has always considered environmental stewardship a part of its business. So, when we were approached by B.E.A.C.H. to support this project, we jumped at the chance. Getting plastics out of the waste stream and out of our oceans is a monumental task and we all have to do our part.”
Pacific Transfer helped reload the new container as well as truck the caps on the island of O‘ahu.
Shelley Choi, director of corporate services at Pacific Transfer said, “We are proud to play a part in support of B.E.A.C.H. and its efforts to raise awareness and educate our community and keiki of the detriments of plastic litter; and in its innovative charge to clean up and protect our island beaches, revered oceans, and local wildlife.”
Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach where the container arrived by ship said, “This innovative recycling project shows how the supply chain can bring people together to help the environment. The Port of Long Beach is pleased to be part of a partnership that found a way to both protect wildlife and conserve resources.”
From the Port of Long Beach, the container was loaded onto a rail car and transported to Dallas aboard a Union Pacific train.
“Union Pacific is committed to protecting the environment and proud to support B.E.A.C.H.’s community-driven effort by transporting its massive collection of plastic caps for recycling,” said Jacque Bendon, Union Pacific vice president, industrial. “Railroads are one of the most environmentally responsible freight transportation modes, making this partnership a natural fit for our team.”
Loup, a Union Pacific subsidiary, arranged the shipping container’s delivery via truck from Dallas to New Hope Energy in Tyler. TRAC Intermodal assisted through waiving chassis fees.
Dan Walsh, CEO of TRAC Intermodal said, “We are honored to support this B.E.A.C.H project and its eco-friendly solutions for the ocean and coastal environment. We hope our involvement will bring about new opportunities to protect wildlife and push towards a new era of sustainability.”
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8)
GLADEWATER — The Gladewater Fire Department will lose eight of its 12 full-time firefighters by Nov. 1, officials say.
Fire Chief Cory Crowell said Thursday that the eight firefighters handed in their two-week notices and will be leaving to join Smith County Emergency Services District No. 2.
“By Nov. 1, we’ll be down to four firefighters,” he said. “We’re scrambling to keep the doors open.”
According to a Tyler Morning Telegraph article in November, voters approved the Smith County ESD No. 2’s request to raise sales taxes in the county with the aim to raise funds and hire additional firefighters for stations across rural Smith County. The sales tax increased from 6.75% to 8.25%.
Smith County ESD No. 2 posted a full-time firefighter position application on its website July 1, stating the starting salary is $46,345.
According to Crowell, the starting salary at the Gladewater department is about $35,823 with annual 2.5% salary increase steps pending evaluations.
Entry-level firefighters in Kilgore earn $39,303 compared with $42,715 in Henderson and $40,064 in Tyler, the News Journal reported in August.
“They’re paying more money — that’s what it comes down to,” Crowell said. “They need to feed their families.”
Crowell said the Gladewater department is having to compete with other area departments in hiring.
Gladewater Fire Department employs a staff of 13, including the chief, with seven part-time firefighters and five volunteers. Crowell said the department will have to utilize the part-time staff and volunteers more, but that will likely not be sustainable.
“Minimum staff is 12, four people per day,” Crowell said. “We’re not going to have that. We need 12 people to effectively do our job.”
Mayor John “J.D.” Shipp addressed the issue Thursday night during the mayor’s comments portion of the Gladewater council meeting.
“I don’t see volunteer firefighters as a permanent solution for us,” he said.
He mentioned social media posts asking why the city did not meet the firefighters halfway with salaries, meaning offering them half of the additional money they would earn in Smith County.
“Half is (at least) $5,000,” Shipp said. “Multiply that times 12 full-time guys, that’s around $60,000 halfway, and our budget can’t accommodate that.”
He noted that $60,000 would be an annual expense.
“We have struggled for years to balance our budget,” Shipp said. “Last year, the first time in many we had a budget surplus of less than $20. This year, we had a budget surplus of a little over $40,000. We think that’s progress.
“We do want to hire men and women of similar character and professionalism as those who are leaving,” Shipp said. The city has already reached out to neighboring departments for assistance during the “staffing challenge ahead,” he said.
Shipp believes that the best solution would be to form an emergency services district with communities including Gladewater, White Oak, Clarksville City and Warren City.
“For it to be financially viable to the fire service in our area, we need all four communities to participate,” Shipp said. “As of today, there does not exist an agreement to discuss it ... because not everybody’s a willing partner to start that discussion again.”
Speakers during the citizens comment portion of Thursday’s council meeting said the firefighter shortage is not only a budget issue but a safety problem.
Gladewater firefighter Jacob Garland works part-time and spoke about his concerns about going to a more volunteer-based department.
“Going volunteer is the last thing that we need in the city,” he said. “Seconds count and seconds matter.”
Garland said the city must have a paid fire department and agreed that an ESD would be a great option.
“But we had an opportunity to keep the guys that we had here,” Garland said. “We are going to have to retrain guys that are not from here, the territory, the town, the people and things. That makes a big difference in the quality of service that you’re going to get.”
Longview firefighter and Gladewater volunteer Claude Dickens said he is concerned about the staffing shortage as he and his family live in the city.
“My family depends on it, your family depends on it,” Dickens said. He wanted more details as to what the solution is in addition to trying to hire more firefighters.
“People don’t want to come here because of the pay, you know. People have family, people have kids,” he said. “You have a plan to compensate the firefighters like they should be? I know you’re not as big as Longview where I’m at. I know you’re not as big as Smith County.”
The Gladewater Fire Department posted job listings on its Facebook page Wednesday afternoon. The listings do not include a starting salary but states that the department is seeking full- and part-time employees.
Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. Nov. 6.