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Local
Hawkins Parkway traffic flow to temporarily change this week

Traffic flow on part of Hawkins Parkway in Longview will temporarily change today and Thursday as crews work to begin construction of a new traffic signal.

The city plans to create a new four-way traffic signal at the highly trafficked intersection of Hawkins Parkway and Good Shepherd Way. Hawkins Parkway also will be widened to allow for new left-turn lanes.

“This is a great project for Hawkins,” City Engineer Alton Bradley said.

The construction is intended to address traffic and safety issues on Hawkins Parkway at the entrance to the Institute for Healthy Living, where it lines up with the shared entrance to Home Depot and Lowe’s on the opposite side of Hawkins.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, Hawkins Parkway at the intersection of Good Shepherd Way will be temporarily closed to eastbound, right lane traffic. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Hawkins Parkway at the intersection of Good Shepherd Way will be temporarily closed to westbound, right lane traffic.

Drivers are encouraged to use alternate routes.

Reynolds and Kay, Ltd., of Tyler is constructing the project, which is anticipated to be completed to be completed like in early to mid-July, Bradley said.

To prepare for the construction, the city has been working with utility companies to relocate utility lines along the heavily trafficked parkway, Bradley said. Much survey work has been completed, and today and Thursday, crews will be drilling the pole foundation for the new traffic signal.

More lane closures and modified traffic patterns are expected in the coming months as crews work to widen the road to create the turn lanes.

The city is providing $247,500 for the project while the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NETRMA) is providing a $270,000 grant. Gregg County serves as the pass through agency between the City of Longview and NETRMA, a transportation planning agency that serves 14 member counties in East Texas. Gregg County Commissioners in October formally accepted the funds from NETRMA for the project and pass the funding on to the city.


Local
centerpiece
Liberty City Community Center to be demolished; discussion starts on new facility

LIBERTY CITY — Bo Camp grew up playing tennis on courts behind Liberty City’s community center. A nearby park is named after his father, who served for decades as a Gregg County commissioner.

Today, the tennis courts are unusable, and the nearly 90-year-old community center is soon going to be demolished. As the small, unincorporated community continues to grow, Camp wants to see Gregg County maintain its assets for Liberty City’s future.

“I really just want to see the county take steps to maintain their facilities here,” Camp said this week.

That’s exactly what the county plans to do as it is already in discussion to build a new community center for Liberty City that is designed for the community’s future.

“We’ve actually had discussions with the fire chief out there, because they are talking about building a new fire station and we’re talking about building a new community building. We’re looking at how we can work together,” County Judge Bill Stoudt said. “I think overall it will be a great plan for Liberty City.”

Gregg County Commissioners voted Jan. 28 to demolish the existing community building in Liberty City. Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo abstained from the vote.

The community building has not been in use for at least eight years after being deemed unsafe following an engineering report that found asbestos, black mold and other problems with the aging building.

Prior to being deemed unsafe, the building served as a polling location for elections and a gathering space for residents. Now, residents cast election ballots at a Sabine ISD facility, which now serves as the area’s polling location. Residents have no place to gather now, unless they go the park and sit at its picnic tables, Pat Pickle, a 27-year Liberty City resident said during the Commissioners Court meeting.

“We do need some kind of building where we can have meetings whenever we choose,” Pickle told commissioners.

While the demolition of the existing building was on Gregg County Commissioners agenda Jan. 28, discussion about any sort of a replacement was not. Pickle and Camp both spoke out to commissioners, expressing a desire for a replacement building and a desire for continued upkeep of county facilities there.

Pickle suggested commissioners table the issue and consider repairing the facility or selling it; however, after learning that there have already been discussions about a potential replacement, Pickle said he would support whatever the county chooses to do. Camp echoed that sentiment.

Michael Cavazos 

Pct. 3 Commissioner Floyd Wingo listens to Christus Health Systems CEO Todd Hancock speaks about forming a partnership with Gregg County to become a COVID-19 vaccine hub for the state of Texas, on Thursday January 28, 2021, during a Gregg County Commissioners Court meeting at the Gregg County Courthouse. (Michael Cavazos/ News-Journal Photo)

Pct. 3 Commissioner Floyd Wingo, who took office Jan. 1, said several options have been discussed but nothing firm has been decided. The most likely option is to build a new fire department and community center as Sabine Fire & Rescue already has been looking at building a new facility.

“First we have to find a lot that is big enough to build what the community needs,” Wingo said.

Because the existing community center is adjacent to Sabine ISD schools, it likely is not feasible to build a new fire department and community center on the existing property, he said as he noted it might be difficult for the fire department to respond to calls amid school traffic.

“We’re talking to community members about how big the building should be, what they’d like to see and where it should be located,” Wingo said. “But it has always been part of the plan to build a replacement.”


Biden signs immigration orders as Congress awaits more
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a second spate of orders to undo his predecessor’s immigration policies, demonstrating the powers of the White House and its limitations without support from Congress.

His orders on family separation, border security and legal immigration bring to nine the number of executive actions on immigration during his first two weeks in office. With proposed legislation to give legal status and a path to citizenship to all of the estimated 11 million people in the country who don’t have it, Biden has quickly taken aim at many of former President Donald Trump’s sweeping changes to deter immigration, both legal and illegal, and established a vision that is likely to far outlast his tenure if he’s able to muster enough support in a deeply divided Congress.

Biden rescinded some Trump actions and laid a foundation for more far-reaching repeals depending on the outcome of policy reviews over the next few months.

“I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy,” he said during a signing ceremony.

Alejandro Mayorkas, who was sworn in as Homeland Security secretary after his nomination was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate, will lead a task force on family separation, focused largely on reuniting parents and children who remain apart. It is unclear exactly how many, but about 5,500 children have been identified in court documents as having been separated during Trump’s presidency, including about 600 whose parents have yet to be found by a court-appointed committee.

“We’re going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration,” Biden said.

The review will address the possibility of legal status in the United States for separated families and providing mental health services.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to reunite families, has asked the administration for legal status in the United States for all of the thousands of families that have been separated, as well as financial compensation for those families and attorneys at government expense.

A review of border security will include a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexican border cities for hearings in U.S. immigration court. It is a step toward fulfilling a campaign pledge to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy, known officially as Migrant Protection Protocols, which enrolled nearly 70,000 asylum-seekers since it began in January 2019. Biden asked for “a phased strategy for the safe and orderly entry into the United States” of those already enrolled who are waiting in Mexico for a judge to decide their cases.

Biden ended a policy that held asylum-seekers in Customs and Border Protection custody with virtually no access to attorneys while their claims were quickly decided. He ordered reviews of a nationwide expansion of fast-track deportation authority and of agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for the U.S. to reject asylum applicants and instead send them to those Central American countries with an opportunity to seek protection there.

His order on legal immigration seeks ways to reduce backlogs and barriers to citizenship and considers scrapping Trump’s “public charge rule,” which makes it more difficult for people who receive government benefits to obtain green cards.

Biden didn’t address a freeze on many temporary work visas and green cards while the economy recovers from a pandemic, as some expected.

“That’s a pretty big gap for them not to take action on those visa bans because the impact is so dramatic and significant,” said Greg Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

While immediate changes were limited, the impact of executive orders that Trump issued his first week in office didn’t start to become apparent until a month later when Homeland Security issued detailed enforcement priorities. Those orders laid a foundation for many other of his administration’s hundreds of immigration moves that followed.

Many changes will have to come from agencies like Homeland Security, not the White House, such as rescinding the public-charge rule, Chen said.

The announcements come as Biden aides warn that Trump’s border policies that put asylum increasingly out of reach may take months to unwind — a position that has caused grumbling among some pro-immigration advocates.

Roberta Jacobson, a top Biden aide on border issues, asked Spanish-language media on Friday to discourage audiences from coming to the U.S. border. “It is not the moment,” she said in Spanish, adding that the journey was “very dangerous, and we are in the middle of creating a new system.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki reinforced that message from the White House podium on Tuesday, saying it “remains a dangerous trip” and, “This is not the time to come to the United States.”

The orders demonstrate that, just as Trump remade immigration policies from the White House, Biden can undo them with the stroke of a pen — some more easily than others. More lasting changes would have to pass Congress, a daunting job that Trump and his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush failed to achieve.

In an echo of failed legislative pushes in 2007 and 2013, familiar lines of division have formed with overheated rhetoric. Stephen Miller, a top architect of Trump’s policies, said Sunday on Fox News Channel that Biden’s actions amount to the “end of all immigration enforcement in the United States of America.”

Pro-immigration groups largely applauded Biden’s latest moves, though they were more muted than the almost-giddy reception to the president’s first-day actions.

“The positive steps the administration is taking must be the beginning, not an end unto themselves,” Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, said Tuesday. “Congress should build on these first steps to find permanent solutions to improve our immigration system.”

Kelli Garcia, federal policy counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, said the orders were encouraging but “will not immediately benefit immigrant communities in dire need of concrete action.”

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Spagat reported from San Diego.


Education
Blue is Best: Judson STEAM Academy named Texas School to Watch

Schools in Texas will be looking to Longview ISD’s Judson STEAM Academy as a model after it was named a Texas School to Watch.

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform and the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals each year name Texas Schools to Watch. Judson was chosen along with around 50 other campuses in the state.

Principal Melanie Pondant said there are about 1,600 middle schools in Texas, so the honor is huge for the campus.

“When you walk into this building, there’s something here,” she said. “It’s just a really great culture, a really great climate.”

Judson will be honored as part of a virtual celebration in March with other state schools and nationally in June, Pondant said.

The campus had to fill out an extensive application with pages of data, send out surveys to staff and parents and go through an on-site visit with TASSP representatives. Pondant said the application process alone took about two months.

During the on-site visit, representatives visited every classroom, met with groups of students, teachers and parents and met with administration.

On Tuesday morning, Pondant shared the news with the staff and said the visitors were very impressed with the students.

“He said, ‘We asked the students, if Judson STEAM Academy was gone, what would you miss most?’ What do you think kids would say — band, athletics, whatever, do you know what they said? They said we would miss our teachers the most,’” Pondant said. “That speaks volumes for the staff on this campus. If I take credit in any of this, it’s being smart enough to hire all of you because you truly make this campus what it is.”

Seventh grade English and reading teacher Amy Bruyere said the honor is rewarding for her and her fellow teachers.

“Being a teacher and in education is always a challenge, there’s really exciting challenges and sometimes the challenges of the days where you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got make it though this,’” she said. “But I think these moments are the moments we go, ‘You know, it’s just great to know that you really are making a difference,’ and this year has been even more of a challenge with COVID.”

Bruyere, who is new to Longview ISD this school year, said the school’s commitment to reach all students sets it apart.

“I think they do a really good job here of targeting our students who are learning at all different levels — our students who come from different cultures, our students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said. “I think here, there’s a lot of attention placed on what can we do to reach each one of those groups at whatever level that needs to be, and I see that in academic and social and all kinds of different ways that we try to reach out to students.”

Assistant Principal Mary Taylor said the recognition is validation for the staff.

“It’s great for them to be recognized, and for the students,” she said. “We pride ourselves on being a flagship campus, one that is a model campus for others to look at and say, ‘OK, I want to model what they’re doing.’ I feel like that’s what’s going to come out of this and we’ll continue to grow.”


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