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  • Broadband project sees some funding

    3 NEWS Broadband GraphicGraphic courtesy of Pixabay

    By Chris Edwards

    LUFKIN – A project that has been three years in the making for the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) moved from the planning stages into one signaled by a green light.

    Broadband funding for the 12-county East Texas region that DETCOG services has been high on the council’s list of priorities since 2018, and last Thursday, a chunk of a $32 million round of General Land Office funding for various projects will be allocated toward a broadband project in northern Newton County.

    “We are thrilled to learn that our grant application to construct a rural broadband network in northern Newton County has been approved,” Lonnie Hunt, DETCOG’s Executive Director, said.

    He called the Newton project’s funding award “a significant step toward realizing our ultimate goal of ensuring every home and business in Deep East Texas has reliable and affordable broadband.”

    The project claims $9,008,688 of the overall pie, and Hunt said that DETCOG is awaiting word on another larger grant application, which if approved, would enable the agency to construct a rural broadband network in all 12 member counties.

    “It’s very, very doable,” he said last week on a conference call before the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce Stakeholders and added that the larger grant application may take a couple of months.

    Hunt described the project as intimidating, even scary, when DETCOG first began the initiative in early 2018, but now it is a must. “It must be done here in Deep East Texas,” he said.

    All of the DETCOG member counties signed resolutions in support of the initiative. The Newton County-specific request came from funding after flooding in 2016. The other grant DETCOG is awaiting an answer on is from the GLO’s Hurricane Harvey recovery funds.

    Hunt acknowledged the state legislature, which has placed priority on broadband access throughout the region.

    Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) filed identical bills in the Senate and House (SB 506 and HB 1446) to address the issue by forming a state broadband office, creating a comprehensive statewide plan and identifying which areas have the greatest need.

    Hunt said that broadband access is a big project, which will take time to complete. With the Newton project, he said a contract will have to be put in place with the GLO, and then there is additional engineering work and environmental assessments before any construction can begin.

    “We will move as quickly as we can but will also take the time to make sure this project is done right. Since we began the DETCOG broadband initiative three years ago, we have sought out the best experts available to make sure we have a solid plan that will be successful. We already have our engineering and grants management teams in place and ready to start once we have a contract in place,” he said.

  • DETCOG five-year transit plan summarized

    DETCOG Cunningham 052721ALTON PORTER | HCC Mark Cunningham, above, of DETCOG, presented a summary of the entity’s five-year transit coordination plan for residents in its 12-county region who have transportation needs or know of available services.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Staff members of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments & Economic Development District (DETCOG) have held public meetings in the 12 counties the entity covers, including Houston County, to offer and receive information on transportation needs and services in the region.

    The meetings drew small attendances, according to DETCOG Regional Disaster Economic Recovery Coordinator Mark Cunningham, who came to Crockett last Tuesday, May 18, to present the Deep East Texas Regional Public Transportation Coordination Five-Year Plan and collect information from Houston County residents who have transportation needs or know of available services.

    Low turnouts at the meetings is not stopping DETCOG staffers from attempting to spread information about the plan and collect information from regional residents, Cunningham told the Courier at the Houston County meeting.

    “Some of our counties do not have any public transit,” DETCOG Regional Planner Bob Bashaw was quoted as saying. “In some of our counties you can call and schedule a ride a couple of days in advance. Some of our cities have fixed bus routes. The planning process gives us an opportunity to look for better ways these resources could be used.

    In addition, the press release states, “Anyone providing transportation is also encouraged to provide information on their services at the meetings. Matching up available rides with needs is an important part of the plan.”

    Persons who have needs or know of services and were unable to attend any of the meetings “can also submit comments and information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,” Cunningham stated, adding they may also call the DETCOG office in Lufkin at 936-634-2247. Also, “they can call 211—the 211 program—and they can be referred,” he said.

    Cunningham said, “We contracted with TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) to create a five-year regional transit plan. It’s one that we do every five years through TxDOT. It’s for the DETCOG region.

    “The contract was finalized before Jasper (County) was moved to the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission. So, they’re still included in this plan.”

    Cunningham explained, “Right now, Brazos Transit District is the designated public transit provider in the DETCOG region. They operate demand-response transit services in Houston, Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. And then, they do fixed-route bus services, where the buses just make regular routes in the cities of Nacogdoches and Lufkin.

    “So, you can call them for the demand-response, or you can go online—btd.org. Then, the fixed-route bus services—you can find out more about those at btd.org, as well. As of right now, there aren’t any known public transit services in Jasper, Newton, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby or Tyler counties.”

    Cunningham continued, “So, those counties don’t have the bus services from BTD or any others that we know at this point, which is why we’re having these meetings. We’re having the meetings so that we can learn of anybody that is providing transit services to veterans—to anybody, really.

    “So, that’s really the whole purpose of these meetings that we’ve been having in each of the 12 counties that makeup DETCOG. We go out in the communities; we ask people if there are people providing that services. We’re making sure that people have the information that they need and making sure we can get to the information so that we can pass it on to TxDOT so they can have it as well.”

    Cunningham added, “There are a few providers, like Nacogdoches has a taxi service and Lufkin has a couple of services, as well. But BTD is the main public transit.”

    He said the main needs DETCOG and BTD staffers have heard about in the region are medical needs and veterans’ needs, but he was not aware of any in Houston County. “That’s why we’re holding these (public meetings) so that we can hear from the public; so that anybody that has unmet needs, anybody that has ideas of needs, they can go through.”

    The Houston County public meeting was DETCOG’s ninth one, Cunningham said. Meetings also were held last week in Angelina, Trinity and three other counties. Meetings were held in the six other DETCOG region counties week before last.

    The message Cunningham said he would like to distribute to residents in the region is “just if they know of needs and have ideas of what can be used, to contact us—to reach out to us—and we can pass that along. We want to be able to provide as much help as we can—just to get the word out and to make sure that they can get that (help). We’re here to make sure that we can get that feedback. We are required to have the meetings, but we just can’t stress enough that people need to reach out with anything they’ve got.”

    Jo Marlow, of Bryan, BTD’s vice president for marketing and communications, who was present at the Houston County meeting and attended several others, according to Cunningham, confirmed Cunningham’s statement that Brazos Transportation District provides transit services in several counties in the region.

    “We provide a demand-response service. It’s a door-to-door service where people can—we would pick them up from one location and take them to another location. Here in Crockett, the majority of our transit needs are mainly medical—people getting to and from doctors’ appointments or hospital visits—something like that—or a pharmacy.

    “Our services are available to anybody,” said Marlow. “You don’t have to be disabled to use it. We’ll take you anywhere you’ve gotta go within Houston County.”

    To request BTD’s services, a person must first fill out a short application; “and then, if you want to call or schedule a ride, we’re going to need your pick-up location and your drop-off location, and if you’re going to an appointment or something, we need to know what time you need to be there,” Marlow said.

    The phone number to dial to request services is 979-778-0607, BTD’s main office number, and the caller will be transferred to its dispatch office to talk to a dispatcher to get setup for their trip, she said. “You can call up to a week in advance. As soon as you know when you’ve got an appointment, I would suggest calling because we do fill up pretty fast.

    “We do offer same-day service, but that’s just based on availability if we have the space and the drivers available, but I would suggest that you do it as soon as you can.”

  • Weatherford named to Burke board

    Bryan Weatherford 020421 copyMUGSHOT Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford was named to the Burke Board of Trustees as an ex-officio, or non-voting, member.

    The Burke network services the 12-county deep East Texas region, serviced by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) and provides mental health services. Weatherford, along with another law enforcement leader, Sheriff Jason Bridges of Nacogdoches County, were named to the board, with appointments resulting from Senate Bill 632 of the 86th Texas Legislature.

    The bill promotes cooperation between local mental health authorities and law enforcement by appointing sheriffs or sheriffs’ representatives, to their local governing boards as non-voting members.

    “I am honored to have been elected to serve as a Burke Center Trustee,” said Weatherford. “This position will allow me the opportunity to represent not only Tyler County, but all 12 counties in the DETCOG region.”

    According to a news release from the Burke organization, Weatherford was appointed to represent the smaller counties of the region and Bridges will represent the larger ones.

    “I want to make sure the citizens of Tyler County and East Texas continue to receive the necessary mental health care treatment,” said Weatherford.

    The Burke network was established in 1974 as the Deep East Texas Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services, as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, which is governed by a nine-member Board of Trustees.

    The network has grown from a small organization, which offered limited services, into a major behavioral health provider, which serves more than 5,000 people annually, through a variety of services, according to its website.