Archive for the ‘Earthquest’ Category

Another round of Earthquest updates.

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

By way of Soapboxmom. And boy howdy, we’ve got a real doozy here.

Update #1:

Don Allen Holbrook continued to receive payments from EMCID for the defunct Earthquest Institute charity that he helped to run into the ground as its CEO and president. Frank “The Bank” McCrady is also withholding documents showing what he has paid in legal fees for the Earthquest debacle being investigated. Disgusting!

I recommend clicking through to the link. As noted, EMCID is still funding Earthquest, “despite the fact that after eight years, the property developer declared bankruptcy, investigations have been launched by the Montgomery County District Attorney, the Texas Rangers and the FBI, and the voting public tossed out two incumbent board members.

The Institute has no board members, no employees, no meetings and no revenue, but EMCID has wired funds or written checks to Holbrook for $42,653.69 in the first five months of 2012 alone. EMCID cash flow statements note payments are attributed to either “EarthQuest Institute” or “Transfer to Don Holbrook EarthQuest Institute.” Board members directed McCrady to stop paying Holbrook at the June board meeting.

EMCID has also spent over $300,000 in lawyers in the first nine months of 2012.

Update #2:

The updates just keep coming:

Thanks for your support!!!

To be honest, I am slightly butthurt by some of the comments in that second link, since:

  1. I am one of the “gun nuts” referred to.
  2. It is always interesting that people who don’t like guns say, “I don’t want to take away anyone’s guns, I just want to make sure that people who have them are properly trained”…and then sneer at anyone who engages in training.

That being said, though, I will give the Pahrump Valley Times editor a pass, since this brings to my attention something I was unaware of.

Don Holbrook’s latest scheme (or, at least, one of his latest) apparently involves getting the county to put $63,000, and the city of Pahrump another $63,000, to fund the expansion of a shooting range/training school. It sounds like the idea is similar to ECMID: create a “tax improvement” district, and the funds will come from sales taxes paid by all the people who flock there. Here’s an article from earlier in the year discussing the plan.

But we’re not just talking about any training facility. We’re talking about Front Sight, run by the man Tam refers to as “Four Weapon Combat Master Dr. Ignatius Piazza“. To put it mildly, Dr. Piazza has a colorful reputation in the gun community, complete with several lawsuits, at least two of which involved accusations that Dr. Piazza is a Scientologist. More here.

I haven’t been to Front Sight, so I can’t pass judgment on their training. (Nor do I want to go: if i was going to travel for training, I’d be going to Gunsite.) I don’t have a problem with Dr. Piazza being a Scientologist (if indeed he is one) as long as he doesn’t try to convert me. I do have a problem, though, with trying to get taxpayers to pay for the expansion of his facility, especially when he’s involved with Don Holbrook.

EarthQuest update.

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Remember EarthQuest, the dinosaur/ecology theme park proposed for Montgomery County?

I’m promoting this from a comment left on my “Contact the proprietor” page. The original can be found here.

Awesome blog about Earthquest. Here is an update:
The Earthquest Institute is now defunct and its CEO (as Don Allen Holbrook LLC) is suing John and Jane Does who have dared to comment about this project and his involvement in it. He is also suing the Tribune, Cynthia Calvert, The Houston Press, Craig Malisow, The Pahrump Valley Times and me (Soapboxmom).
Earthquest Adventures will be remembered for this frivolous, harassment suit filed by Holbrook in an effort to stifle public debate about this matter of public concern. Holbrook apparently thinks the taxpayers should have no say in how their tax dollars are spent.
Please also watch for updates on the Earthquest Facebook page.

I was not aware that Holbrook was suing folks. If so, this is a revolting development. Since I’ve been on vacation the past couple of days, I haven’t had a chance to follow-up with soapboxmom on this, so I don’t know if she and other folks involved have legal representation yet. I assume the Houston Press has lawyers on retainer, but I’m not sure about the other folks named.

(soapboxmom, I would like to follow up with you on that. Please feel free to email me at one of the addresses on the contact page.)

Terra Never.

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Ever heard of Project Rex/Dinosaur City? What about EarthQuest?


Back in 2006, a guy named Don Lessem, who claimed to be both an entrepreneur and a “nationally recognized dinosaur expert” announced plans to build a huge theme park in the southeastern part of Montgomery County. Originally, this started out as Project Rex/Dinosaur City, which was supposed to take up 50 acres and cost $50 million. The project eventually evolved into EarthQuest, expanded to 1,600 acres, and hit a $1 billion cost projection.

Guess what?

Lessem, the brainchild of this great adventure, has left the project, along with the developer, Marlin-Atlantis. No construction is planned; investors are nowhere to be found. Funding to EarthQuest consultants has stopped.

The phone still rings at the EarthQuest Institute, but no one answers. And the site upon which EarthQuest was planned is under the threat of foreclosure. All the while, $7.635 million in municipal bonds issued by EMCID costs local taxpayers almost $600,000 in annual debt service.

(EMCID = East Montgomery County Improvement District.)

It looks like the whole “Project Rex” plan was really a way to get municipalities to pony up land and money for a proposed theme park; the developers would pick up consulting fees, while the locals would take all the risks and front all the expenses:

The RFP stipulations mandated all bidders to: 1) issue revenue bonds for the construction of the project, at their own risk; 2) enact a ticket tax on visitors to repay the bonds; 3) pay for a ‘due diligence study’ at a cost of $100-$125,000; 4) pay for a second study at a cost of $50 – 75,000, if the first study was favorable; 5) pursue tax increment financing for items related to the project; 6) provide a land grant of 50 acres, preferably waterfront.

The hattip on this goes to BlogHouston (good to see those guys active again) which offers an excellent roundup of The Tribune‘s coverage. In another story, Cynthia Calvert discusses the economics of the EMCID’s EarthQuest bonds:

…the total cost and liability of the EarthQuest project is not $10.135 million as previously mentioned, but is more than $21 million due to the future accrual of interest, the payment of which has been guaranteed by EMCID.

And what if EarthQuest doesn’t get built?

…EMCID will have no choice but to repay the principal and interest on the bonds out of current tax revenues. In doing so, the annual debt service on the bonds will significantly impair EMCID’s ability to fund other projects. For example, the total annual debt service of the EarthQuest bonds, by year, is: 2012 – $487,506; 2013 – $550,556; 2014 – $551,506; 2015 – $552,156; and so on.

That’s just the EarthQuest bonds. EMCID has also sold bonds on other unrelated projects, and when you add those bonds into the picture, those figures go up considerably:

…the total, combined annual debt service of all EMCID bonds, by year, is: 2012 – $1,077,494; 2013 – $1,141,924; 2014 – $1,142,849; 2015 – 1,142,133; and so on.

Edited to add: Some possibly relevant links:

  • Houston Dinosaur Park. “Information about the new EarthQuest North Houston Dinosaur Park being developed near New Caney, Texas.”
  • EarthQuest Institute.
  • This appears to be Don Lessem’s personal web site. I debated about including this, since reports indicate that he’s left the project, and there’s nothing about EarthQuest that I can find on his site. But I decided to err on the side of inclusion, especially since Lessem still shows up on the EarthQuest site.

Edited to add 2: Lawrence reminded me that he’d also done a post on EarthQuest. I’ve also been doing some thinking about the $1 billion estimated cost for EarthQuest, and how that compares to Disney World, but I’m not sure I want to post those thoughts yet.