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A total of nine energy efficiency and conservation projects will commence immediately in all four precincts in Hidalgo County thanks to an award of $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez has announced. "One of the long-term goals of the county is to become better stewards of our environment and encourage our residents to do the same,’ said the county judge. "This grant will help us move forward on some projects that we have wanted to do for some time but have not had the resources to take on." See story later in this posting.

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With women the fastest growing category of small business entrepreneurs in the United States, the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, June 17, has scheduled the Women’s Empowerment Conference from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Renaissance Casa de Palmas, located at 101 North Main Street. The event was initially scheduled for June 24, but that date was moved up to June 17. Speakers will address women on leadership, health and wellness, self-esteem and other major important topics that relate to women in the business world. This event also will include a continental breakfast and lunch along with a small style show. Door prizes also will be given throughout the day. For sponsorship, ticket and/or booth information call the MHCC office at 928-0060. Some of the members of the Speaker Committee are featured, first row, from left: Connie Hernández, vice chair of women’s issues; Rep. Verónica  Gonzáles; and Betty Garza. Standing, from left: Letty Garza representing Gov. Rick Perry; Zaira García, vice chair of events; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer; Jeanette Noone; and Diana González. 

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Doctors Hospital at Renaissance recently presented the University of Texas-Pan American a $20,000 title sponsorship check to support the Biomedical Ethics Conference April 13-16 to be held on campus. Promoting ethics and values in health care will be the focus of event, where medical professionals and the public will be able to join in the discussion of these important issues that have drawn attention both locally and nationally. Featured at the check presentation ceremony, from left: Susan Turley, DHR chief financial officer; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president; Carlos Cárdenas, M.D. and DHR chairman of the board; Fausto Meza, M.D. at DHR; Robert Martínez, M.D. at DHR; Ambrosio Hernández, M.D. at DHR; Janice Odom, UTPA vice president for university advancement; and Marissa Castañeda, DHR chief operations officer. Not pictured, but participants in the check presentation, are Dr. Cynthia Jones, UTPA associate professor of philosophy, and Dr. Thomas Pearson, UTPA associate professor of philosophy. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce this week encouraged the public and all of the Chamber investors to commemorate National Walk/Bike to Work Week with an early-morning event that was held on Tuesday, April 6. Edwards Abstract and Title Co., the law firm of Lewis, Monroe & Peña, Inter National Bank, and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce met at the local bank, located at 1502 S. Sugar Road (corner of Freddy González) to walk to work. "We invited other businesses located in the vicinity to join us. What a better way to start your day than with a brisk walk, friends, and doing something positive for better health,"  said Mark Peña, chairman of the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board. Featured, first row, from left: Elva Jackson Garza; Imelda Rodríguez; Dalia Arce; Cindy Martínez; Rachel Arevalo; Diana S. Kaufold; Nancy Lemke; Norma Cano; and Letty González. Featured, back row, from left: Clay Sánchez; Susie Mercado; Bridget Cook; Letty Rodríguez; and Mark S. Peña. See story later in this posting.

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Members of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) celebrated another successful year of operations at a recent networking event in March 2010. Members from companies, colleges, school districts and businesses from across the eight counties represented by the consortium attended to share success stories and plan for another year of developing the region’s rapid response manufacturing infrastructure. Featured, from left:  José Reyes, Director of the Laredo Community College Economic Development Center; Carlos Margo, Regional Manager of South Texas College’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing; Miguel González, Associate Dean of the College of Science and Engineering and Director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science for The University of Texas-Pan American; Keith Patridge, President of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Blas Castañeda, LLC Chief External Affairs and Economic Development Officer; Raúl Ortiz, Administrative Officer, Texas Workforce Investment Council; Dr. Robert Nelsen, President, the University of Texas-Pan American; and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz. See story later in this posting.

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The North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) brings together diverse education partners from across the Rio South Texas Region to develop and recruit the skilled talent needed to grow an advanced manufacturing infrastructure. With access to a wide network of educational facilities and programs and customized training programs, businesses can be sure that the Rio South Texas Region will be the first and only sustainable provider of rapid response manufacturing anywhere in the world. Featured, during a March networking event for the organization, are, from left: Dr. Shirley Reed, President of South Texas College; John Lloyd, Director of the University of Texas Rapid Response Manufacturing Center; Wanda Garza, NAAMREI executive officer; Diana Peña, STC Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services; J.J. Sáenz;  Director, Career and Technology Education (CATE), Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district; William Serrata, STC Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management; and Bonnie Gonzalez, President, Workforce Solutions. See story later in this posting.

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Valley lawmakers, not UT System, will have final say on UT funding for medical school, says Rep. Martínez

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Valley lawmakers, and not University of Texas System officials, will decide how much of the UT System’s financial resources will be used to properly fund a planned UT medical school for deep South Texas, says Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco.

Martínez, who in 2009 was a sponsor of Senate Bill 98 – which authorizes the construction of a UT medical school in the Valley to begin in 2015 – said he was surprised with public comments on March 30 by Kenneth I. Shine, executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the UT System, regarding how to pay for the planned Valley medical school.

In those comments, which are posted on the UT System web site, Shine noted that constructing and maintaining the medical school in South Texas will be an expensive project, to be built in stages, "but not at the expense of current UT academic and health care programs."

Martínez said Shine’s comments raise concerns from other UT campus leaders that state funding and UT resources would be taken away from them in order to pay for the UT medical school in the  Valley.

"Dr. Shine’s remarks serve little purpose except to create fear and opposition, where there should be none, from leaders of other UT campuses throughout Texas," said Martínez.

The full statement by Shine is available online at:

http://www.utsystem.edu/News/2010/UTS-Statement-RioGrandeMedSchool-03-30-10.html

Entire state to benefit from Valley medical school

The veteran Valley lawmaker, whose legislative experiences include serving on the powerful House Appropriations Committee – which shapes the budgets for all state agencies and public universities – said the UT medical school in the Valley will have far-reaching benefits for all Texans.

"South Texas has about 57 physicians per 100,000 residents and the statewide average is 157, but the national average is 220 physicians per 100,000 residents," said Martínez. "The UT medical school in the Valley will go a long way towards helping our state catch up to the rest of the nation."

Gov. Rick Perry, who came to the Valley last September to ceremonially sign Senate Bill 98 into law, noted that the UT Valley medical school also will help increase the number of highly-qualified physicians who are Mexican American.

"The ratio of Hispanic graduates from Texas med schools doesn’t line up with our overall Hispanic population," Perry said during the September 1 event, which was held at the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. "Nearly 36 percent of our state population claims Hispanic origin, while less than 12 percent of our medical school graduates can do the same."

The successful legislative efforts to eventually bring a UT medical school to the Valley began in the the 1990s through legislation carried by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and then-Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

In 1997, Lucio authored Senate Bill 606, which created the Regional Academic Health Center, also known as the RAHC (pronounced "rack").

Hinojosa secured House approval for SB 606, which led to the creation of the RAHC campuses in Harlingen, Edinburg, and Brownsville.

The three RAHC campuses are branch campuses of existing UT medical schools.

Twelve years later, Valley lawmakers took a major step forward to bring a full-fledged medical school and health science center to deep South Texas with the passage of Senate Bill 98.

In 2009, Sen. Lucio was the author of SB 98, while his son, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, was the sponsor of that measure.

SB 98 was co-authored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Along with Rep. Lucio, House sponsors of SB 98 included Martínez, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, and Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, as joint sponsors.

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was a co-sponsor of SB 98.

Harlingen EDC issues positive report

Also on March 30, the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation (EDC) released a report from a consultant consortium of JMWatt Consulting/Altman/Verité from California, outlining a strategic plan to realize the objectives of Senate Bill 98, which was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.

Among the goals of SB 98 is to transform the UT Regional Academic Health Center, with its campuses in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville, into a full-fledged medical school and health science center to be known as The University of Texas Health Science Center – South Texas.

The RAHC in Harlingen provides medical education to third- and fourth-year medical students along with medical residency programs.

The RAHC in Edinburg is a biomedical research facility which is also designed to expand in size in order to provide the first and second years of a medical school.

The RAHC in Harlingen and the RAHC in Edinburg are components of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The RAHC in Brownsville, which is a component of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, provide postgraduate education in public health.

Also according to the Harlingen EDC report:

Michael Watt and David Altman, M.D. consultants to the EDC, and the same medical experts who helped plan and implement the model to develop the RAHC in 1997, presented the report during a briefing and press conference at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.

Community leaders and representatives of the University of Texas System, including Shine and William Henrich, M.D., President of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, were in attendance.

"An extraordinary opportunity"

Watt and Altman made 10 recommendations in their detailed study of medical education in the Rio Grande Valley in what they termed “an extraordinary opportunity.”  

Among those recommendations were:

• Additional residencies, facility requirements for Harlingen and Edinburg;

• The creation of a special admissions track for the RAHC at the UT Health Science Center –San Antonio;

• A designated “team” at UT System and UTHSC-SA to coordinate the planning for the new medical school, housing for students in clerkships at the RAHC;

• The recruitment of basic science researchers/teachers at Edinburg/RAHC;

• The creation of a local consortium to work with UT in planning, a foundation for grants/gifts/philanthropy; and

• The establishment of a local (LRGV) working group with staff to support and assist UT in program and facility development.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell said the report was “a critical roadmap for the City of Harlingen and all of South Texas to follow in supporting the development of the medical school.”

Harlingen donates 35 acres

Boswell and EDC President Armando Elizarde also announced the creation of the South Texas Medical Foundation and the transfer to the foundation of 35 acres of land valued at $2.5 million in furtherance of the objective of establishing a medical school in the Valley. 

“Harlingen has demonstrated its continuing commitment to the dream of a Health Science Center in the Valley and we now ask the rest of South Texas to join us in support of the challenges and opportunities ahead,” said the Harlingen mayor.

Elizarde said, “The Development Corporation of Harlingen is honored to be able to contribute to and support the future expansion of the RAHC into a medical school and medical center complex.  Opportunities like this come along maybe once in a lifetime and will benefit this community and South Texas in ways we can only imagine. The improvements to our quality of life from enhanced educational programs and improved health care are just as important as the enormous economic potential from a health science center.”

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Counting on the hard-to-count

By JUDGE RENÉ A. RAMÍREZ

Your house is on fire. You dial 911 for help but the fire station assigned to your neighborhood can’t respond immediately because they are out on a call that is several miles away and there are no others available in the area. Emergency services are simply spread too thin. Several hours pass and by the time help arrives it’s too late; your home has burned to the ground. It’s a total and complete loss. 

It’s hard to imagine this scenario really happening, that emergency services like fire, EMS and police wouldn’t be there for you in an urgent situation. But if planning and projecting community needs for these public services are based on inaccurate information, then it’s not so far fetched.

So, how can we ensure that city and county planners in our quickly growing community are accurately assessing our public service needs? One important way is through the 2010 Census.  When you receive it, fill it out and mail it in. If people fail to do this, the Valley will go undercounted and that means we can lose out on our fair share of more than $400 billion dollars in federal funding that is spent each year.  

This funding is used on infrastructure and services like schools, hospitals, job training centers, senior centers, and emergency services. These budget items are sometimes referred to as “formula-based” federal programs because they use numbers garnered by the census to calculate and assess community needs. If our 2010 Census counts are below actual population numbers, then we run the risk of being inadequately funded.

 
That’s why during my service as your Hidalgo County Judge, I have made getting an accurate head count of all the people in our community one of my top priorities. Since early 2009, Hidalgo County has been engaged in a coordinated “getting out the count” effort. As your representative in local government I believe it is our job and responsibility to undertake such a task. 

One of the first pro-active steps we Hidalgo County officials took was to bring together community leaders, business owners, non-profit organizations, and concerned citizens from throughout the county to form a Census Complete Count Committee (CCC). Their mission is to develop innovative ways to spread the word about the importance of completing this year’s census form and to outreach to areas in our community that are considered hard to count because of various social and political barriers. For that reason, the CCC is made up of a diverse cross section of representatives from each of the county precincts, individuals from the smaller rural communities, delegates from the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office and representatives from community organizations such as LUPE, ARISE and the Texas A&M Colonia Outreach Program.

The CCC has been extremely active over the past year in making neighborhood presentations, getting Census promotional materials into our community that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, and coordinating outreach with a variety of public and private partners. 

We also have put together the Yo Cuento 2010 campaign in partnership with community leaders committed to raising public awareness about the importance of the census count and increasing local participation in the census.

On April 10 the committee and its partners are planning a Census “blitz” in the areas of the county with the lowest response rates such as our colonias and other small rural communities in the unincorporated parts of the county. Coordinated and targeted efforts like this will help ensure that all of Hidalgo County gets its fair share of federal funding and other public services.

There are a number of ways you can help in this effort. 

First, make sure you complete your own census form and mail it in. There are only 10 questions, making this one of the shortest census forms to date.  Second, make the census a topic of conversation with your neighbors, co-workers, and fellow parishioners. 

Explain that the census does not ask about the legal status of respondents or their Social Security number, and that the information provided is completely confidential and cannot be used against you by any government agency or court.  Do all that you can to encourage them to complete the form.  And finally, join our coordinated effort to reach those hard to count areas. The CCC is in need of additional partners and a cadre of volunteers. You can contact the Hidalgo County Complete Count Committee at cari.lambrecht@hidalgocountyjudge.com or by calling our office at (956) 318-2600.

If you have questions regarding the 2010 Census form or any aspect of the census process, you can visit http://www.YoCuento2010.com or call 1-866-872-6868 for English assistance or 1-866-928-2010 for Spanish assistance. The hearing impaired can dial 1-866-783-2010 for TDD. Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Be Counted Sites are currently being set up all around Hidalgo County and these locations will be publicized soon on our website.

Remember, our community can’t move forward until we mail it back.  Please take this important next step for our children.

(René A. Ramírez is Hidalgo County Judge)

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Hidalgo County receives $3.5 million grant for energy efficiency and conservation projects

By CARI LAMBRECHT

A total of nine energy efficiency and conservation projects will commence immediately in all four precincts thanks to an award of $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The award was recently given to Hidalgo County from funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’  Court has been working for more than six months to identify and plan for worthwhile projects that not only save energy but also promote job creation and retention — a stipulation of the federal Energy Efficiency and Conversation Block Grant program. 

“One of the long-term goals of the county is to become better stewards of our environment and encourage our residents to do the same. This grant will help us move forward on some projects that we have wanted to do for some time but have not had the resources to take on,” said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez. “We live in a rapidly changing environment and we need to embrace innovative means to promote what is best for our community. With this grant we are changing the way we do business by pursuing innovative projects that will result in environmentally friendly practices.” 

The following are some of the projects the County will pursue: 

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy

Hidalgo County will develop the first Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy which will identify methods to reduce energy consumption and promote environmentally friendly practices in Hidalgo County.

In-House Recycling Program

The Hidalgo County Recycling Program will be implemented in county facilities to promote material conservation. Research shows that for every ton of recycled material you save 4,100 KWHrs of electricity and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill.

Commuter Rail Feasibility Study

Hidalgo County will conduct a feasibility study for a passenger rail system to connect employment centers and major destinations throughout Hidalgo County. The study will assist Hidalgo County and the Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District improve mobility, improve air quality, and reduce GHG emissions.

Solar Panel Retrofits

Hidalgo County Precincts 1 and 3 will retrofit administration offices with solar panels.  The panels will convert solar energy into electricity to supply power.

Green Building

Hidalgo County Precinct 2 has begun construction of a new government facility that will be a high performance building and will incorporate solar and wind energy. Grant funding will be used to purchase some of the materials for this energy efficient facility. 

Additional information regarding these projects is available at the Hidalgo County Website at:

http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/greenprojects.  

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Sen. Hutchison will finish her term in 2012 in Washington, D.C "to do what is best for Texas"

By LISETTE MONDELLO

Saying that she has “always tried to do what is best for Texas,” U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday, March 31, announced that she will remain in the Senate to help fight for Texas and against the unprecedented expansion of the federal government.

(Editor’s note: Hutchison was defeated for the Republican gubernatorial nomination on March 2 by Gov. Rick Perry. At the beginning of her race against Perry last year, Hutchison said she would resign her Senate seat in order to campaign full-time against the incumbent Republican Texas governor, but in the end, she declined to do so.)

Hutchison was joined at the announcement by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and her fellow Texan, Sen. John Cornyn, also a Republican.

“For family reasons, I had planned to begin making a transition home to Texas this spring,” Hutchison said. “But it is clear to me that the stakes in our nation’s capitol have never been higher. President Obama’s victory on health care legislation has emboldened those who want an even bigger and more intrusive federal government.”

Hutchison noted that she has heard from significant numbers of constituents and colleagues since the March primary, urging her to stay in the Senate to complete her full term, which ends in 2012. She also received a letter signed by every Republican member of Congress from Texas saying, “if you will stay and fight, we will fight alongside you.”

Hutchison said the ongoing debate on health care, as the true costs come to light over the next months and years, and the proposed cap and trade legislation, which would devastate the Texas economy, promise to get more intense in the months ahead.

“On a personal level, this has been a most difficult decision, but after much deliberation, I have decided to complete my term. I will work alongside our great Texas congressional delegation to repeal and replace President Obama’s massive health bill, to stop cap and trade legislation and to cut the deficit the President is building that is putting our economy in peril.”

Hutchison is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as well as the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.

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Alonzo Cantú  among featured speakers for April 21 entrepreneurship summit in McAllen

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Aspiring entrepreneurs and Hollywood celebrities line up each year to appear on The Apprentice to learn how to channel their inner Donald Trump. But, are residents don’t have to travel to New York or compete in crazy challenges to learn some important tips and tricks to help you make their business dreams a reality. Attending the Rio South Texas Entrepreneurship Summit in McAllen is the ticket to becoming a big business success. 

The summit, hosted by South Texas College’s Business Administration Department, takes place Wednesday, April 21, 2010 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at STC’s Pecan Campus Cooper Center, located at 3201 West Pecan Blvd. in McAllen.

A free lunch is provided to all participants, so attendees are asked to register in advance. 

Speakers includes a variety of business gurus, including Alonzo Cantú, owner of Cantú Construction; Brent Smith, business banking manager for Wells Fargo; Fernando González, executive director of the Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization; and Robert Melvin, vice president of operations and small business advocate for the Emerging Technology Fund. 

Additionally, a panel discussion will offer tips from entrepreneurs to entrepreneurs on how to get projects funded. Participants include David Guerra, president and CEO of IBC McAllen; Leticia Guerra, publisher of Valley Wedding Pages; Bob Pourgol, CEO of SiteSelect McAllen; Steve Taylor, editor of the Rio Grande Guardian; Dr. Marina T. Villalobos, owner of Bella Vista Eye Care PLLC; and Héctor Domínguez, a local agent/owner of an Allstate Insurance branch. 

“STC is committed to its strategic directions, which are focused on serving as the catalyst for regional economic prosperity and social mobility in the counties we serve,” said Mario Reyna, STC division dean of business and technology. “Through hosting free, informative events like these, we hope to change lives and change communities for the better.”

For more information or to RSVP call 956/872-2764 or visit:

http://forms.southtexascollege.edu/events/business_summit/registration.php.  

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Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance presents $20,000 check for UTPA Biomedical Ethics Conference to be held April 13 – 16

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA

Promoting ethics and values in health care will be the focus of a Biomedical Ethics Conference April 13-16 at The University of Texas-Pan American, where medical professionals and the public can join in the discussion of these important issues that have drawn attention both locally and nationally.

The conference will be hosted by the Pan American Collaboration for Ethics (PACE) under the College of Arts and Humanities, in conjunction with the College of Health Sciences and Human Services and the College of Science and Engineering. Sponsors for the event are UTPA, Mission Regional Medical Center, Howard Hughs Medical Institute and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR).

DHR presented UTPA a title sponsorship check for $20,000 to support the Biomedical Ethics Conference.

“I think it’s a natural part of our mission as physicians and health care providers to participate in conferences such as this to help our growth and development as human beings as well as a community,” said Dr. Carlos Cárdenas, chairman of the board of the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

During this four-day conference, there will be five keynote speakers: Dr. Ida Kodner, professor of surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.; Dr. Lawrence Gelman, CEO of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Dr. Michael Lewis, clinical research manager at Washington University School of Medicine; Dr. Linda Pullman, Pullman Consulting Biotech Business Development; and Dr. Stuart Yoak, executive officer, Washington University Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values.

Speakers will facilitate discussion on topics such as ethics and aging, ethical issues in medical education and training, end of life issues, ethics of health care economics, moral right to access medical care, ethics in home health care, nursing ethics and ethical governance in medicine.In addition, speakers will work closely with students in classrooms and labs.

A conference reception on April 14 will also provide attendees an opportunity to speak with health care professionals and researchers.

Dr. Cynthia Jones, associate professor of philosophy and lead conference organizer, believes that because the ethics center is interdisciplinary in its approach, working with different colleges in hosting conferences is important.

"We work with professional ethics in all fields,” Jones said. “Ethical decisions are made in every profession such as journalism, medicine and business. Since we’re an interdisciplinary center, we focus on every college so that professional ethics can be worked into every curriculum.”

According to Jones, the purpose of this year’s Biomedical Ethics Conference is to educate those in attendance on the important ethical issues in health care, biomedical research and health care professionals training.

“We hope to bring the medical community and the community at large into a discussion about health care in the country and health care in McAllen since our area has been targeted as problematic,” Jones said.

Jones’ reference is to a 2009 article, The Cost Conundrum, in the New Yorker by physician and author Atul Gawande, M.D. in which he wrote about the Rio Grande Valley McAllen medical system having the highest Medicare spending in the nation.

The goal of this conference, Jones said, is to spread an understanding about health care education and its complexities and to expose and open the discussion on the different views of ethical practices in medicine and biomedical research.

“Even if you are not planning on a profession in health care, these medical issues and concerns still pertain to you as everyone is a consumer of the health care industry,” Jones said. “This industry deals with people when they are at their most vulnerable, so it’s important to know what is ethical and what to expect from health care providers.”

Cárdenas said the South Texas region has a long history of being under-served and believes that there are a large number of confounding factors at play in practicing medicine in the Valley, for example, a unique culture, endemic diseases like diabetes and a high poverty rate.

“What we hope everyone takes away from the conference is a more enlightened approach on how to deliver high quality health care in an at-risk area such as ours and to learn from this conference things that they can take back to their own communities,” Cárdenas said.

Jones stressed that PACE does not support any particular view point, but is primarily there to facilitate discussion. Her hope is that the university will engage with the community on this issue that concerns everyone.

This event is free and open to all students, faculty, staff, medical professionals, and the community. It will be held at the UTPA Ballroom.

For more information on the Biomedical Conference, visit http://www.utpa.edu/pace or call 956/388-8081.

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South Texas alliance that promotes increased manufacturing marks another successful year

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Members of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) celebrated another successful year of operations at a recent networking event in March 2010. Members from companies, colleges, school districts and businesses from across the eight counties represented by the consortium attended to share success stories and plan for another year of developing the region’s rapid response manufacturing infrastructure. 

“The 2009/2010 academic year was another success with a variety of benchmarks being met,” said Wanda Garza, executive director for NAAMREI. “South Texas College, Laredo Community College, Texas Southmost College and Texas State Technical College trained more than 2000 employees in a variety of skill sets; UTPA’s Rapid Response Manufacturing Center has made contact with businesses throughout the world for customer contracts and has incubated one of the hottest technology companies in the nation. 

“More than 50 companies visited with our economic development corporations and municipalities and many of those prospects are very excited about possibly relocating their operations to the Valley,” she continued. “But our biggest success comes from recruiting new companies to our skills development grant, which brings in new innovative approaches in training companies to move to the next level of world class status.” 

In addition to NAAMREI partners, advisors from the U.S. Department of Labor were on hand for the event, following an annual visit to track NAAMREI’s development and progress. NAAMREI’s operations were originally funded from a $5M WIRED Grant from the USDOL, which is complemented by a $3M Skills Development Training Grant from the Texas Workforce Commission. 

NAAMREI brings together diverse education partners from across the Rio South Texas Region to develop and recruit the skilled talent needed to grow an advanced manufacturing infrastructure. With access to a wide network of educational facilities and programs and customized training programs, businesses can be sure that the Rio South Texas Region will be the first and only sustainable provider of rapid response manufacturing anywhere in the world.

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Journalists and scholars from around the world on April 23-24 to discuss future of online journalism at conference hosted by UT-Austin

Journalists, news industry executives and academics from the United States, Europe, Africa and Latin America will review the state of online journalism today and debate what the future holds at the 11th International Symposium on Online Journalism April 23-24 at The University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Rosental Calmon Alves, the Knight Chair in Journalism and UNESCO Chair in Communication, has organized the annual symposium since 1999. This year, speakers will discuss mobile news (including the use of the iPad and other tablet computers and smartphones), newspapers’ strategies to survive the digital era, participatory journalism, non-profit journalism and innovative international experiences in online journalism.

The symposium bridges the academic and professional worlds by including the presentation of research papers selected in an international, highly competitive, blind review process, and by the participation of editors, producers and news organization executives from around the world.

The keynote speaker this year is Steven Kydd, executive vice-president and head of content at Demand Media, a company that uses algorithms to find topics that people want to see on the Internet, and then produces them in a massive way. It has reached more than 100 million unique users each month with stories and videos produced by more than 7,000 freelancers in an innovative way that has raised admiration and criticism alike.

Participants from more than 20 countries are expected at the symposium, including speakers from more than a dozen nations, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Egypt, Norway, France, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey. The symposium also has attracted the participation of many universities, besides The University of Texas at Austin. Among others, there will be participants from Cornell, Harvard, University of Southern California, University of Oslo, University of São Paulo, University of Brussels, University of Barcelona, New York University, College of Staten Island (CUNY).

Among the panelists: Tom Bodkin, assistant managing editor and design director, The New York Times; Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Dan Gillmor, professor and director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Arizona State University; Scott Lewis, CEO, Voice of San Diego; James Moroney III, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News and executive vice president of A. H. Belo; Jim O’Shea, co-founder and editor, Chicago News Cooperative; John Paton, CEO, Journal Register Company; Evan Smith, CEO and editor, Texas Tribune; Eivind Thomsen, senior vice president of Norway-based Schibsted Media Group; and Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

The program and more information is available online at:

http://online.journalism.utexas.edu/

That Web site also contains videos, transcripts, presentations, papers and other material about the previous 10 symposia. It is a unique repository of the evolution of online journalism in the last decade that has been used by researchers from around the world.

Registration is still open.

The fee is $25 for students and faculty and $50 for others, and can be paid online at the event’s Web site.

The symposium is made possible thanks to the Knight Chair endowment, given to the University of Texas at Austin by the John S. and James L Knight Foundation. The foundation also funds the Knight Center for Journalism in the America, a sponsor and co-organizer of the events. This year, the symposium counts on underwriting by The Dallas Morning News and the support of The University of Texas at Austin’s College of College of Communication and School of Journalism.

The event will take place at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, 1900 University Ave., on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Contact the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at 512/471-1391 or by e-mail at onlinejournalism@yahoo.com for more information.

For more information, contact Erin Geisler, College of Communication, 512/475-8071, or Jennifer Potter-Miller, 512/471-1391.

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Three Cameron County men sentenced for scheme to smuggle firearms into Mexico

By ANGELA DODGE

The last of three defendants charged for their role in a scheme to purchase firearms and sell them at inflated prices knowing the firearms were to be smuggled into Mexico on Tuesday, March 30, were sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Jerry Robinette and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Dewey Webb announced.

Sotero Sotelo, 37, of Brownsville, pleaded guilty to conspiring to export firearms and unlawfully exporting firearms in October 2009.

On Monday, March 29, United States District Judge Hilda Tagle sentenced him to 87 months in federal prison without parole, fined him $6,500 and ordered him to serve a three-year-term of supervised release. In addition to the 87-month term, the court ordered Sotelo to serve an additional 10 months incarceration after revoking a term of supervised release imposed following his 2003 conviction for dealing firearms without a license. 

“We are extremely gratified with the sentence on the Sotero Sotelo case,” said Robinette. “We need to do all we can through our partnerships here and abroad to prevent weapon smuggling and to make sure those who ignore us have the time behind bars to reflect on their actions. ICE continues to work closely with its law enforcement partners to investigate this type of activity to ensure that our borders are not jeopardized by weapons being exchanged into the wrong hands.”

“This investigation is an example of successful law enforcement partnerships,” said Webb. “We will continue to work toward stopping firearms trafficking to Mexico.”

Sotelo, along with Óscar Peña, 28, of Brownsville, and Mark Machado, 53, of Los Fresnos, were indicted together in January 2009 and charged for their roles in an unlawful firearms exporting scheme. Both Peña and Machado have pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges and are presently serving 31-month and 16-month prison terms.

The investigation leading to the charges conducted by ICE and ATF special agents and the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department found that between January 2007 and February 2008, Sotelo and Peña, who were business partners operating the La Cueva drive-through convenience store in Brownsville, conspired to acquire firearms from others including Machado, who purchased firearms via the Internet.

Machado was not a licensed firearms dealer nor are Sotelo or Peña. The firearms were delivered to Peña in Brownsville often at the convenience store. Sotelo and Peña then sold the firearms at inflated rates to individuals they knew would unlawfully export them into Mexico. Sotelo and Peña split the profits of their illegal enterprise with one another. Sotelo and Peña acquired more than 100 firearms during the course of the one-year conspiracy – the majority of which were .223 caliber semi-automatic rifles.

Sotelo was previously convicted in 2003 of dealing firearms without a license and sentenced to a 27-month prison term to be followed by a three-year supervised release term (SRT). One of the standard conditions of SRT is that the defendant must not commit a federal or state crime and this present offense was committed while Sotelo was still serving his SRT.

On March 29, Tagle revoked the SRT term based upon the violation of the standard condition and ordered Sotelo to serve 10 months in federal prison for this violation. The 10-month-term will be served consecutive to the 87 months imposed for this present conviction for a total of 97 months incarceration.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hagen prosecuted the case.

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Bernardo Garza, 44, of San Juan, sentenced to 15 months for lying about buying 18 firearms

By ANGELA DODGE

Bernardo Garza, 44, of San Juan, on Tuesday, March 30, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for lying to buy firearms, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced. Chief United States District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa handed down the prison term, which is to be followed by a two-year-term of supervised release. 

The investigation leading to the charges began on April 17, 2009, when a firearm purchased by Garza was found in the possession of another individual as he attempted to illegally export it into Mexico. A subsequent firearms trace revealed Garza had purchased the firearm six days before. Garza was arrested and subsequently charged with making false statements and representations in connection with the acquisition of a Beretta 9 mm pistol. In September 2009, Garza pleaded guilty to the federal firearms offense.

On March 30, the court held Garza responsible 17 other firearms to which he admitted to making false statements and representations during their purchase. Garza admitted that he knew that the firearms were going to Mexico.

In federal custody without bond since his arrest in June 2009, Garza will remain in custody to serve his sentence.   

The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Steven Schammel.

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Congressman Hinojosa announces $250,000 grant for Edinburg to upgrade drainage

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, April 1, announced $250,000 was awarded to the City of Edinburg by the Texas Department of Rural Affairs for damages caused by Hurricane Dolly. 

The funds, which are made available from the 2008 Supplemental Community Development Block Grant, will be used to install 600 feet of drainage line at the Jackson Road crossing between Trenton and Alberta Road. The area was flooded by excessive rain from Hurricane Dolly and the drainage system will be upgraded with the funds from the CDBG grant. 

“I am pleased to see that this funding will help provide for a better drainage system for the Jackson Road area," said Hinojosa. “Hurricane Dolly left plenty of damage to our area but we continue to rebuild and make our communities better and more comfortable for our residents”. 

Many Rio Grande Valley Cities have been helped by the Texas Department of Rural Affairs since the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly in 2008. 

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Congressman Hinojosa joins President Obama for signing of historic Student Loan and Health Care Reconciliation Bill

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén  Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, March 30,  joined President Barack Obama, and members of Congress, as the Health Care and Higher Education Reconciliation Bill was signed into law.  The reconciliation bill was passed by Congress the previous week. It marks an historic change in health care for Americans and sets a landmark in higher education as the single largest investment in education since the G.I. Bill of WWII.

This bill makes health care even more affordable for the middle class, lowers prescription drug costs for seniors by closing the “donut hole” over time, and reduces the deficit even more than the original health bill. It will also allow children to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26.

Obama called out the name of Hinojosa as one of the members of Congress who most influenced the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). Later after the signing, the President stood side by side with Hinojosa.

“What an honor and a privilege is has been to be a part of history, witnessing our President sign the reconciliation bill into law”, said Hinojosa. “As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, I worked closely with Education and Labor Chairman George Miller in making the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act a reality”.

The reconciliation bill includes the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) —  the single largest investment in college aid in history. It will change the way the student loan system functions by originating all new loans through the federal government’s Direct Loan program, but will maintain competition among private lenders and non-profits to provide top-notch customer service for student borrowers and save American jobs. By reforming the federal student loan system, taxpayers will save $68 billion over 11 years while expanding access to an affordable college education to more American students and building a world-class community college system.

The legislation would eliminate subsidies to banks in the federal student loan programs, and instead originate all federal student loans directly through the government.

“This law makes important and positive changes to the way students and families borrow money for college loans”, said Hinojosa. “The government is investing in middle class students who now can borrow more affordably and apply for larger Pell Grants. This law will strengthen our community colleges and minority-serving institutions, including Hispanic-Serving institutions (HSIs).”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this change would generate $68 billion in savings over 10 years that will be used to boost Pell Grant scholarships, make student loans more manageable for borrowers to repay, and strengthen community colleges. It reduces the deficit by at least $10 billion over 10 years.

Private lenders and banks would still have a role in servicing all federal student loans, which would guarantee borrowers high-quality customer services, maintain jobs in the private sector, and even protect jobs from being shipped overseas. Direct government loans, unlike loans made by banks, must be serviced by U.S. workers.

The federal government already funds 88 percent of all federal student loan volume, between loans that are already lent to students directly through the government and an emergency aid program student lenders have relied on since the credit crisis in 2008.

Specifically these provisions will:

• Make college more affordable for millions of students by investing a total of $36 billion into the Pell Grant program over 10 years, including $22.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant award to keep up with inflation.  The bill increases the maximum award from $5,550 next year to nearly $6,000 over the years ahead.  In the 2008-2009 year, 6.2 million Americans relied on Pell Grants to help pay for college and career training; eighty-nine percent of those students came from middle income families making less than $40,000 per year. 

• Protect students’ Pell Grant scholarships from the upcoming budget shortfall. The provisions will direct $13.5 billion of the $36 billion Pell Grant investment to address most of the gap needed to ensure there is not a dramatic cut in Pell grant funding in 2011. Because the Pell Grant program will be faced with increased costs due to higher demand, the maximum award could decrease to $2,150 from its current value of $5,350.  If this concern had not been addressed, students could see a decrease in aid of almost 60 percent and nearly 600,000 students could lose the benefit entirely. 

• Keeps jobs in America. Rather than force private industry out of the system, lenders will compete for contracts to service all federal student loans, which will guarantee borrowers high-quality customer service and preserve jobs. Unlike loans made by banks, direct government loans can only be serviced by workers in the U.S. Last year, Sallie Mae brought 2,000 jobs back to U.S. soil to win a direct loan servicing contract. Sallie Mae is now one of four private banks servicing 4.4 million direct loans.

• Invest $2.55 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and in Hispanic-Serving Institutions and other Minority Serving Institutions. This bill recognizes the important role that minority-serving institutions like the University of Texas Pan-American and South Texas College play in educating our country’s middle-income families. The funds will allow these critical institutions to recruit and graduate minority students, particularly in the fields of math, science, engineering and technology, that our nation needs to remain competitive.

• Make federal student loans more manageable to repay by strengthening an Income-Based Repayment program that currently allows borrowers to cap their monthly federal student loan payments at just 15 percent of their discretionary income. These new provisions would lower this monthly cap to just 10 percent for new borrowers after 2014.

• Give students the support they need to stay in school and graduate.  The provisions invest $750 million in the College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) program. These formula grants to states help organizations provide services that increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college and manage their student loans, such as financial literacy and debt management skills.

• Prepare students and workers for competitive jobs by investing $2 billion in a competitive grant program for community colleges like South Texas College, Texas State Technical College and Coastal Bend College to develop and improve educational or career training programs. 

• “This legislation offers the most sweeping changes to the federal student loan program in a generation,” said Hinojosa. “It is good for students, taxpayers, and American jobs. The result of this law will be more college graduates;  and by way of this, it will keep our country on a competitive track in the global market”.

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Edinburg Chamber of Commerce promotes  National Walk/Bike to Work Week

By EVANA VLECK

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce this week encouraged the public and all of the Chamber investors to commemorate National Walk/Bike to Work Week with an early-morning event that was held on Tuesday, April 6.

Edwards Abstract and Title Co., the law firm of Lewis, Monroe & Peña, Inter National Bank, and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce met at the local bank, located at 1502 S. Sugar Road (corner of Freddy González) to walk to work. 

"We invited other businesses located in the vicinity to join us. What a better way to start your day than with a brisk walk, friends, and doing something positive for better health,"  said Mark Peña, chairman of the Edinburg Environment Advisory Board. 

The group walked west along the sidewalk on Freddy González Drive to the Edwards Abstract and Title Co. corporate office at the corner of McColl Road and Freddy González Drive. 

The staff of Inter National Bank provided fresh fruit and a variety of juices as walkers met to kick off the Edinburg Walk to Work event. 

"We had about 20 business people that have committed to participate. We are hoping that more Chamber members and citizens will walk or bike to work so that we can promote the health benefits of these exercises and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by not driving your vehicle," said Cris Torres of Inter National Bank. 

According to the California Podiatric Medical Association:

On April 2, 2004 then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson declared the first Friday in April Walk to Work Day. Promoted by Prevention Magazine and endorsed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the California Podiatric Medical Association (CPMA), National Walk to Work Day was instituted to draw attention to the alarming increase in obesity and associative diseases that have risen concomitantly with Americans’ increasingly sedentary lifestyle; and to proactively promote the need to get out, exercise and get in shape. 

“A walk can be an invigorating way to clear your head and ready yourself for the workday. It can also help increase productivity at work. Instead of meeting in the boardroom, head outside with your colleagues – you’ll be amazed at the ideas you generate when your body is in motion.” says CPMA President Dr. Ernest J. Hook a podiatric surgeon who practices in Folsom, California.  

“Walking is just about the best health bargain around. It’s fun, easy to do, it’s  free, and research supports the long-standing belief that taking just a few extra steps a day can improve the lives of all Americans.” says Hook. ”In fact, the cost of our not walking as a nation – and living a sedentary lifestyle – is staggering. Obesity and poor physical fitness are rapidly catching up to smoking as the leading causes of preventable death in the United States.”

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Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV’s Rummage Sale Set for April 17 

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV will hold a Rummage Sale on Saturday, April  17, in honor of Earth Day.

The sale will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wells Fargo parking lot, located at 2808 W. Trenton Road in Edinburg.  All proceeds will benefit Haitian Relief Fund, Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV.  

“This is a great way to contribute to these worthy funds and to pick up some bargains at the same time,” said Sabrina Walker-Hernández, Chief Professional Officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV.

Area residents who wish to donate gently-used clothing, toys, electronics, or household items may call 956/383-2582.

The Boys & Girls Club has played an integral role in the Edinburg community for 39 years, providing daily programs and services to more than 16,000 young people. 

During the school year the club is open Monday – Friday, 3:30 p.m.-8 p.m.,  and during the summer and all ECISD school breaks the hours are 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.  The club offers programs that emphasize character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and sport, fitness and recreation.

More information about the Edinburg club or for donations to the local youth organization are available by contacting Walker-Hernández at  956/383-2582 or by e-mailing her at swalker@edinburgkids.com.

Supporters may text text “CLUB” to 20222 to donate $5.00. 

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Edinburg Rio Grande Valley is a proud City of Edinburg partner and Hidalgo County United Way Agency.

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David Allex reappointed chair of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority by Gov. Perry

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, April 7, reappointed David Allex of Harlingen as chair of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority for a term to expire February 1, 2012.

Regional mobility authorities allow local communities to develop regional transportation priorities and accelerate development and financing for critical transportation projects. 

Allex is owner of Allex International Properties. He is a member of the Border Trade Alliance, and past president of the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, Texas Chamber of Commerce Association, Texas Tourism Council and the Harlingen Industrial Foundation. He is also past chairman of the Texas Travel Industry Association, past vice chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Association, and a past member of the Texas Strategic Planning Commission. 

Allex served in the U.S. Army. He received a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University at Kingsville and attended the University of Notre Dame Institute of Organizational Management.

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Attorney General Abbott takes action against developer of illegal colonia in Cameron County

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, March 29, charged a developer in Los Fresnos and El Jardin, both subdivisions in Cameron County, with violating the state’s colonia-prevention laws.

In Texas, residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water or wastewater services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack basic infrastructure.

According to court documents filed by the state, Manuel J. Montemayor and the M.A.M Family Trust failed to install sewer and water services on residential lots offered for sale or sold in these subdivisions or to post a bond in the alternative to ensure installation of the services. The state also charged the defendants with failing to obtain plat approval from local officials.

“The state’s enforcement action charges the defendants with failing to comply with Texas’ colonias-prevention laws,” Abbott said. “Texas law requires border-area developers to guarantee that basic water and wastewater infrastructure will be installed before lots are sold to purchasers. State colonia investigators have learned that the defendants not only failed to guarantee these basic requirements, but also failed to obtain the county commissioner court’s approval before marketing these lots.”

According to the attorney general’s enforcement action, Montemayor subdivided a tract of land into several smaller lots for residential use without obtaining the Cameron County Commissioners Court’s approval of a plat. He sold at least seven of those lots. The purchasers of the lots have not been able to build their homes due to the lack of basic services.

This is the second time Abbott has taken action against Montemayor for illegally developing land in violation of the anti-colonias laws. In February 2008, a court ordered Montemayor and his company, MG Joint Venture, to pay $30,000 in civil penalties for unlawfully subdividing and selling property without providing sewer and water services for residents and without obtaining plat approval.

The March 29 enforcement action seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to comply with anti-colonia laws and provide water and wastewater services to lots already sold in violation of the law. The state also seeks an injunction preventing the defendants from selling additional lots in Los Fresnos and El Jardin until those properties obtain the necessary water and wastewater services or the financial guarantees. Additionally, the state seeks civil penalties of up to $15,000 for each lot conveyed in violation of the law.

In 1995, colonias-prevention laws were strengthened in Texas. These laws enhanced platting, selling and utilities requirements for residential land sales outside city limits in any county within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Cameron County is located within 50 miles of the international border dividing the United States and Mexico.

The laws also require that residential subdivision developers either install water and sewer service facilities or provide a financial guarantee to cover the utilities’ cost if the installation is not completed by a promised date. Local officials will not approve the subdivision until that infrastructure is created or the required bond is paid.

Before purchasing residential property outside the city limits, border area home buyers should check with county officials to determine whether the property was legally subdivided and whether the developer has made the necessary arrangements to supply water and wastewater infrastructure.

Texans along the Texas-Mexico border and Nueces County can file complaints with the Office of the Attorney General against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the attorney general’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or by calling (800) 252-8011.

The Office of the Attorney General also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, which offers geographic and descriptive data on more than 2000 colonias in 29 border area counties. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the Texas-Mexico Border page on the attorney general’s Web site.

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