Monday, December 28, 2009

Commissioner Escobar Urges Preservation of Castner Range

In a letter to Mr. John Barrera of Fort Bliss, County Commissioner Veronica Escobar urges the Army to preserve Castner Range in its natural state. Escobar states that such preservation "would be mitigation for the inevitable destruction of natural habitat caused by the expansion of Fort Bliss".

As an advocate of green space and eco-tourism, Commissioner Escobar believes that preserving Castner can best be done by a conservation conveyance. Preserving the space will also "create more nature-focused outdoor opportunities for children growing up in El Paso."

Click on image to enlarge

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Miracle: Jobe To Turn Over 41A

Click to enlarge

I do not know all of the details yet. However, it appears that Stanley Jobe has agreed to turn over FEMA Flowpath 41A (Mountain to River Arroyo on the GLO land).

Here's the news from Charlie Wakeem:

Dear Friends,

We may have a wonderful Christmas present this year. First, I got a call from Rick Bonart, then Rep. Ann Morgan-Lilly this afternoon about great news for our city, the Open Space Plan, the Mountain to River Trail, and the Franklin Mountains. Stanley Jobe has agreed to turn over FEMA Flowpath 41A (Mountain to River Arroyo on the GLO leased premises) for preservation. However, Mr. Jobe must first get permission from the GLO, but Rep. Lilly said that should be no problem. She told me she's been in talks with Mr. Jobe for about a month, but that it's now OK for everyone to know about this positive turn of events.

Mr. Jobe will meet with key people and groups after the holidays to discuss the details of his offer. Rep. Lilly also told me he will repair and improve bike trails and wants to turn the property over to the PSB and not to the Parks Department, which I agree is the right thing to do.

We don't know exactly how much of the property will be dedicated at this time, and if it will include more than just the FEMA 41A stream bed. That will be determined in talks at a later date.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy & Healthy New Year.

Charlie Wakeem

Of course, if Jobe does not mean rim to rim, this is an empty gesture. For now, the news sounds promising - a true Christmas miracle.

Preserving Castner Range

One of the major efforts of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is the preservation of the Castner Range as open space. The goal is to make that range part of the Franklin Mountains State Park once the Army has cleared it of unexploded ordnance. Clearing will require a lengthy process of site preparation. Following a site assessment in early January, the Army will hold a public meeting on January 14, 2010 at the Radisson Hotel at the Airport.

This email was sent regarding the public meeting:

From: []
Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 2:38 PM
Subject: Castner Range: WAA Site Characterization Update

***This email is being sent on behalf of US Army Garrison, Fort Bliss***

The US Army is currently performing various activities at the Fort Bliss Castner Range (west of US 54, north and south of Transmountain Road) as part of the Wide Area Assessment Field Demonstration Project. The project team has suspended site preparation activities until 5 January 2010. Upon our return, the team will finalize site preparation activities for the geophysical surveys. We plan to fly low altitude helicopter-borne magnetometry the week of 11 January 2010 and deploy ground-based geophysical teams later in the month. Local residents should not be surprised with the flurry of people and activities.

As a reminder, we have scheduled the second Technical Project Planning Meeting for 14 January 2010 beginning at 9:00 am at the Radisson Hotel, El Paso Airport.

If you have questions about this project or the MMRP, please contact Mr. Ron Baca, Program Manager, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works, Fort Bliss, at (915) 568-7979; or Ms. Kimberly Watts, U.S. Army Environmental Command, at (410) 436-6843.


Victoria Kantsios
Victoria Kantsios
URS Corporation
2450 Crystal Drive, Suite 500
Arlington, VA 22202

(703) 418-3030 (Office)
(404) 702-1141 (Cell)
(703) 418-3040 (Fax)

This e-mail and any attachments contain URS Corporation confidential information that may be proprietary or privileged. If you receive this message in error or are not the intended recipient, you should not retain, distribute, disclose or use any of this information and you should destroy the e-mail and any attachments or copies.

FMWC urges the public to attend the meeting and support preserving Castner Range and open space.

The Coalition will recommend that the Army specifically include in its plans that Castner Range be preserved in its natural state. This would be a mitigation for the inevitable destruction of natural habitat caused by the expansion of Fort Bliss. The ideal mechanism for this process is a Conservation Conveyance.

Judy Ackerman, a Coalition board member informs us that Fort Bliss is soliciting currently comments:

Fort Bliss is soliciting comments on their Draft (EIS) for Fort Bliss Army Growth and Force Structure (GFS) Realignment. The full document on line:

(You may encounter several security warnings, but no worries, click continue.)

Send written comments no later than December 29, 2009 to:
• John Barrera, NEPA Program Manager/ Attn: FB GFS EIS/IMWE-BLS-PWE/Bldg. 624, Pleasonton Rd., Fort Bliss, TX 79932; or by email:

Requests for additional information may be sent to:
• Ms. Jean Offutt,
Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office, IMWE-BLS-PA, Fort Bliss, TX 79916-6812;
Tel: (915) 568-4505; Fax: (915) 568-2995; email:

Ackerman wrote this comment to Mr. John Barrera:

"The following are Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement Analyzing the Potential Impacts of Army Growth and Force Structure Realignment at Fort Bliss from The Frontera Land Alliance.

"We understand the need for national defense and necessity to train military personnel. We appreciate the economic benefits that the Fort Bliss expansion bring to our area and support El Paso’s partnership with the military.

"As Fort Bliss expands, there has been, and continues to be, significant habitat destruction. We recommend that as a mitigation for the past and continuing environmental damage, Fort Bliss actively seek permanent preservation of Castner Range as natural open space. The appropriate end state would be when Castner Range is cleared of unexploded ordnance and the property is transferred to the Franklin Mountains State Park.

"Preserving Castner Range benefits all El Pasoans including military members and their extended families. This project could be completed in phases starting with a conservation conveyance. This is a natural follow on to the Wide Area Assessment that the Army Environmental Command is currently conducting on Castner Range.

"At a minimum, Fort Bliss should commit to a long range plan that specifies that Castner Range should be preserved in its natural state."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Take the Development Survey for the City of El Paso

Destruction of Mountain - Jobe/Cemex Quarry at McKelligon Canyon

Unsustainable overuse of rock in neighborhood landscaping project - 2700 block Memphis Avenue

The City of El Paso Community and Human Development Department currently has a survey that it is asking El Pasoans to take until 5 p.m. Friday, January 22nd. The statement given with the release of the survey says:

"The Department of Community and Human Development is in the process of developing the five-year Consolidated Plan for the City of El Paso. In this plan, we must identify community needs and priorities and discuss how we will address them over the course of the next five years. City Council will use this Plan to help them decide how to spend CDBG funds, and other grant funding during the five-year period. We need input from the community in order to identify needs and priorities, and the survey below is a tool we are using to receive community input."

You can find and take the survey online. At the bottom of the survey is room for personal comment.

Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition board member, Judy Ackerman, commented this way: "El Paso needs to focus on preservation of open space, especially around our mountains."

You might also want to consider adding that El Paso and El Pasoans must stop building and landscaping with so much rock. The mountains are not sustainable. Develop but develop sustainably!

Montecillo and Cement Lake

Cement Lake

Cement Lake spring

The planned Montecillo development along Mesa just north of Executive Boulevard is a model of walkability and sustainability. This urban village is certainly a radical shift for El Paso builders who prefer to use up every inch of desert land. City Council voted to provide Montecillo developers with some tax incentives.

One issue remains a concern: the developer does plan to build homes in an arroyo leading to Cement Lake.

Acting Open Space Advisory Board Chairman, Charlie Wakeem, said: "Our concern would be whether this development could contaminate and/or cut off water altogether to the lake, and whether it is in violation of the Clean Water Act (Section 404).

Mr. Wakeem had expressed the same concern to Mr. Conde, one of the developers. According to Wakeem, Mr. Condee said that he was planning to build homes in the arroyo.

The issue is on the agenda for the regular December 28th Open Space meeting at 12:30 p.m. in the 4th Floor Engineering Conference Room at City Hall.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A new quarry on arroyo 41A

Of 42 desert arroyos stretching from the Franklin Mountains to the Rio Grande, only one, number 41A, is undeveloped. The El Paso City Council declared arroyo 41A part of the official “Mountain to River Trail” in the Open Space Master Plan in 2008. 41A can be seen from Franklin Mountains State Park’s Upper Sunset Trail. Recently, a large segment of the arroyo appeared to be enclosed in a bulldozed rectangle, containing hundreds of acres, which marks the boundaries of a new rock quarry.
If the quarry becomes operational, it could drastically alter the landscape and life of the Franklin Mountains and adjacent lands. To envision these potential changes, take a look at existing quarries in the area. Several can be seen while driving east on US 62/180 toward Hueco Tanks, and then there is the massive 750 acre McKelligon Canyon quarry. The first change is likely to occur when vegetation is removed. Native wildlife, such as the Lesser Nighthawk and the Texas Horned Lizard, depends on vegetation for cover, food sources, and nest sites. Some plants of concern, the Night-blooming Cereus and Sneed’s Pincushion Cactus, for example, need stable soil conditions to grow. The effects of a quarry could compound the difficulty that wildlife and native plants have surviving in our increasingly urban setting. We have enough species of concern as is. Drilling and blasting can send particulates into the air. Particle fallout could coat vegetation so that growth is hampered and food supply for deer and other plant eaters is diminished.
Tiny particles in the air can sink into human lungs as well. Depending on wind direction, particulates can impact air quality around schools and homes. According to an El Paso Times report from June 22, 2006, airborne particulates in the Montana Vista neighborhood near a far East quarry were associated with widespread breathing problems in adults and children and concern that lower property values would result. Further, the Mine Safety and Health Administration website ( ) describes the dangers to mine workers themselves from fine particulate matter.
Water quality and flow issues are also possible. Runoff from rain events naturally follows arroyos to the Rio Grande. However, if these conduits are altered, as arroyo 41A may soon become, enhanced flooding can occur, as in August 2006 (
The quarry could also dramatically alter the gateway to the city. As seen from I-10 heading south toward El Paso, the quarry could mar the natural beauty of its Northern Chihuahuan Desert setting and prompt visitors to wonder about the city’s values and priorities. The majesty of the Franklin Mountains is a reason to live in El Paso. If the magnificence of the mountains is marred, our city’s economy may suffer.
Should the quarry develop as planned, it may bring about some uncomfortable changes in our lives. I urge you to talk with your city representatives to find a solution before we are faced with what could become a matter of compromised public health and safety. For more information, please see the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition website at

Ursula Sherrill

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Breach of Contract?

On May 3, 2005 Jobe signed a mining lease with the General Land Office for the land next to the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. (The lease is signed by Irene Epperson, a Member of Jobeco L.L.C., the general partner of Jobe Materials, L.P. Jerry Patterson signs as the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

Provision 24 of the lease states:

24. SURFACE USE LIMITATIONS: LESSEE shall not drill or mine, erect buildings or conduct any mining operations within three hundred (300) feet of the improvements without reasonably compensating the owner of said improvements.

The hike/bike trails on both the GLO and Franklin Mountains State Park properties are improvements. Sources tell me that such improvements are valued at $5.00 per linear foot. Jobe deliberately bulldozed those trails on the GLO property and within 300 feet of the State Park. In doing so, he may have encroached on the state park itself.

Pay attention: This could be a breach of contract.

By the way, Jerry Patterson has been a favorite candidate of Stanley Jobe. On July 19, 2005 (2 months after the lease was signed) Patterson received two contributions from Jobe, the individual: $35,000 and $1,340. In 2006, Patterson got another hefty amount of $20,000. Jobe PAC money also went to Patterson. On December 9, 2008, Jobe gave Jerry another $10,000.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jobe in Violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act

Jobe is in violation of section 404 of the Clean Water Act in his attempt to destroy Arroyo 41A, the Mountain to River Trail. Here is a report that I received yesterday:

The EPA Region 6 Wetlands Coordinator in Dallas has been out to Arroyo 41A (planned Mountain to River Trail). Jobe violated section 404 of the Clean Water Act by not having a permit to grade the arroyo. EPA won't fine Jobe since this is his first violation. However, the Army Corps of Engineers is requiring Jobe to mitigate the damage and he will likely have to obtain a 404 permit to quarry the arroyo. The city, county and public may be able to comment on the sufficiency of the mitigation and also comment on the permit process.

According to a local Corps official, if Jobe wants to remove fill from the arroyos he can without a permit, as long as he doesn't store fill in the arroyo. Also, according to the same official, commenting on mitigation may not be an option specifically allowed by statute (although statute does not prohibit such either).

The above should also pertain to the developer of Desert Springs who intends to fill in much of 41A. The goal would be to work with the Corps so the permit mandates the least environmentally destructive alternative be selected.

Go here to be notified by email about any public notices through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Unanimous Again

City Council members voted unanimously today to accept the proposal of the Planning LRC and the resolution of the OSAB to expand the duties of the Open Space Advisory Board. A new ordinance codifying those duties will be drafted for final approval by the Council probably in January.

New OSAB Chairman, Charlie Wakeem, will work with Parks and Recreation Department Director, Nanette Smejkal, and Jim Carrillo of Halff Associates and the wordsmith of the document "Toward a Bright Future", to help hammer out the details of that ordinance before the next OSAB meeting at the end of December.

Commenting about the presence of open space advocates and OSAB board members at the meeting today and earlier at the Planning LRC meeting, Representative Beto O'Rourke said that they are "one of the most dedicated groups of citizens in El Paso."

Monday, November 30, 2009

City Council to Consider Expanded Roles for Open Space Board

At the November 19, 2009 Planning LRC meeting, committee members (Ann Lilly, Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke) unanimously recommended to the Mayor and City Council that action be taken to expand the role of the Open Space Advisory Board. Here is their full recommendation:

Click on image to enlarge and read

At the November 23, 2009 City of El Paso Open Space Advisory Board meeting, board members unanimously to make the following recommendations to the Mayor and City Council:

  1. Reinstate verbatim Paragraph Two, Article One, sub paragraphs a. through e. of the El Paso Mountain Committee enabling Ordinance 014790 in order to transfer all the duties previously enjoyed by the El Paso Mountain Committee to the Open Space Advisory Board. [To see the enabling ordinance, go here. To see comment, go here.]
  2. Apply those duties and expand oversight of the Open Space Advisory Board to projects in the Open Space Master Plan, new Open Space acquisitions, the Mountain Development Areas, and the hill side Development Areas.
  3. Permit the Open Space Advisory Board to participate in prioritization and budgeting of the Storm Water Fees and other revenue sources allocated for Open Space Projects.
  4. The Board shall be advisory to the Department of Planning, Research & Development, the City Plan Commission and the City Council.

Board members in their resolution also made it clear that they were fully aware and willing to increase the number of meetings necessary to satisfy any statutory development guidelines.

The Board requested the above changes in order to effectively implement the Open Space Master Plan and Council's policy regarding open space.

Tomorrow, December 1, 2009 the Mayor and City Council will hear the recommendation of the Planning LRC as well as the Resolution of the Open Space Advisory Board. It is Item 15B on the regular agenda.

OSAB Chairman, Rick Bonart, stated: "If Council approves this item on Tuesday, it will place day to day supervision of Open Space in the hands of passionate citizen advocates and not with staff and developers."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Mount Franklin" by Eula Cates Oliver

From the ridge above Fusselman Canyon looking south

Enjoy the poem below by Eula Cates Oliver from the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Park Master Plan and Long Range Development Plan of the City of El Paso, Texas. It is simply titled "Mount Franklin".

In the dust time and the dawning
Old Mount Franklin, gaunt and bare,
Holds a wondrous compensation
From the desert's heat and glare.

Etched against the blazing skyline,
Sunset paling into night,
Purple shadows lovely vistas
Vying with the holden light.

Sunset sprays the sky with splendor
Mount Franklin's topped with glory rare,
Slowly dying, crimson shadows
Bring the hush of ev'ning prayer.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

GLO's Respect for City Zoning Ordinances Not Pressed in the Case of Jobe Lease

According to a State of Texas document, the "GLO [General Land Office] almost never exercises its immunity from local zoning ordinances . . . " If that is the case, then why can't the City of El Paso assert its zoning requirements over the GLO land which includes the planned Mountain to River corridor now leased to Jobe Materials? In fact, the land in question is governed by some of the strictest ordinances in the City of El Paso. Again, if so, shouldn't the GLO not exercise immunity in this case as well.

Decisions about such land "are made publicly and with ample opportunity for public input." That hasn't been done in the case of the Jobe leased land that would destroy Arroyo 41A. In fact, some of the public input should come from nearby schools: El Paso Community College and Canutillo High School. Even the Jenna Welch and Laura Bush Community Library is nearby.

Environmental activists are asking how it can be good for school children (the very people the GLO oversight is supposed to benefit) to be so close to the pollution of a quarry. Even the vibration from the blasting will be near a major gas pipeline!

I suspect that some City of El Paso officials well understood that the GLO would respect City zoning laws. Nevertheless, they didn't say a word when Jobe signed the lease or when the City adopted the Open Space Master Plan and, even earlier, the Mountain and Hillside Development Districts. Hmmmm . . .

Thursday, November 19, 2009

City Council Members See First Hand What Open Space Board Contends With

I am so elated by today's Planning LRC (Legislative Review Committee) of the El Paso City Council. This committee is chaired by Representative Ann Lilly. Also present were Representatives Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke.

It was apparent from the beginning that the Council members want the Open Space Advisory Board to be more pro-active and less reactive and that they see a need for the Board to become more empowered to carry out its mission of reviewing information and making recommendations to the Mayor and City Council regarding preserving, protecting and acquiring open space for the benefit of all El Pasoans. Mr. O'Rourke clearly voiced that Council wants the Board to be able to have "power and purview" to get to where the City needs to go and to be able to implement the Master Plan and stay on an ambitious schedule.

Representative Susie Byrd made it clear that the intention of Council when giving OSAB the duties of the sunsetted Mountain Committee was the inclusion of the broader responsibilities of the Mountain Committee. The language used by legal when writing the ordinance actually passed by Council had not reflected the intention of Council.

When some staff members tried to minimize the value of the Mountain Committee duties, developer Richard Thomas spoke of his experiences developing an area - an area that withstood the flooding of 2006 because of the MC advice as opposed to the problems experienced at other developments. Mr. Thomas is also a member of the OSAB.

Most of all, Council members got a first hand experience of the kind of contentiousness by staff that members of the OSAB have experienced from the very beginning. I'm not going to go into all of the gory details now - but various staff members kept objecting to the legitimate concerns of the OSAB. I myself pointed out how an action item requested by the Chairman for the next meeting was arbitrarily taken off of the agenda by Parks and Recreation Liaison, Shamori Whitt and that time was of the essence to put it back on the agenda in order to meet with public notification laws. With a copy of the most current agenda in hand, Chairman Rick Bonart and I were able to correct the record when Parks and Rec Director told the Council members that the agenda had been taken care of when it had not.

My example was the least of the problems. Again, Rick Bonart and Charlie Wakeem gave a presentation that included the solutions that will empower the OSAB to fulfill its duties to Council. The LRC directed the City Manager's office to re-do the enabling ordinance for the OSAB to include all of the suggestions made by Dr. Bonart and Mr. Wakeem.

I will post more later. For now, I'm so happy and excited. Let's chug some Fosters and celebrate that today the good guys won. Here's another rousing Waltzing Matilda:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Welcome Home, Judy Ackerman!

Hope you like the Queensland Version of Waltzing Matilda. The Seekers are one of my all time favorite groups and this rendition is one of the best.

Of course, there is this by Slim Dusty:

Great to have you back!

Why Is the Open Space Advisory Board Being Hindered from Preserving Open Space?

The City Council of El Paso passed the ordinance which created the Open Space Advisory Board because it deemed that doing so "will benefit the City in preserving and acquiring open space, which will benefit the residents of El Paso."

Unfortunately to reach the goal to protect and preserve open space, there remains some lingering obstacles. The Chairman of the OSAB, Rick Bonart, enumerates:
  1. The enabling ordinance of the Open Space Advisory Board does not allow the board to provide any input into the development process to implement the Open Space Plan.
  2. The Ordinance transferring duties of the Mountain Committee to OSAB removed authority to 'review and comment' creating barriers that block effective input necessary to protect the Planned Mountain Zone.
  3. The only source for open space funding is 10% of the stormwater fees; yet OSAB is not allowed to review or comment on the budget or expenditures of these monies. Understand that the Storm Water Committee has yet to reconvene and has no fiduciary authority over the fees either. Therefore, no citizen oversight exists for these important quality of life funds.
  4. Current Ordinances are incapable of persuading developers to preserve open space, eliminate large ponds and cement-lined channels. The City has to rely on handouts from the development community.
What are the solutions? Bonart suggests the following:

  1. Replace OSAB duties with those from the old Mountain Committees' enabling ordinance to include the review, monitoring and expenditure of open space funding especially stormwater fees.
  2. Expand duties so that the OSAB has purview not just to open space assets in the Open Space Master Plan and to Planned Mountain Development (as part of the ordinance transferring duties of the Mountain Board to OSAB) but also to the Hillside Development Zone as one City plan suggests.
  3. Amend the drainage design manual to require submission of alternate drainage plans with the Public Improvement District and Stormwater.
  4. Amend subdivision code to include standard methods for calculating open space requirements and to quantify 'substantial change' (suggest push-pull type test) that prohibit vesting and require new applications.

There was an attempt to make Rick's first solution a reality when Council abolished the Mountain Committee at their regular September 22, 2009 board meeting. The planned ordinance was to move the duties of the Mountain Committee to the City Plan Commission. Bonart and others had convinced Representative Susie Byrd that those duties would be better placed under the OSAB. She moved to do just that at the Council meeting and her motion passed.

So far so good until the next Open Space Board meeting when members were told that the ordinance did not contain any of the duties enumerated in Ordinance No. 014790 that changed the duties of the Mountain Committee to read as follows:

"Review and make recommendations on proposed changes of zoning, detailed site development plans, special permits, subdivision plats/replats, land studies, righ-of-way dedications or vacations, and other land development applications received on property within the Mountain Development Area. In its recommendation of these items, special attention shall be given to drainage and flood control, open space requirements, grading impacts, and developmental controls, etc."

In other words, what Council may have thought they were doing was possibly changed by legal since the hard copy words in front of Council had been amended and the hard copy ordinance that was substituted a day later was different. (See pages 4 and 5 of this document.) The ordinance before amendment (the one that would transfer duties to the CPC) simply transferred the duties of the Mountain Committee to the CPC without the added verbiage of the document of the ordinance actually passed that watered down those duties.

Was Council's intent met? My opinion is that it was not and I suspect legal knows that it was not.

Item #3 on tomorrow's Legislative and Review Committee for Planning and Development agenda is the discussion and action on clarification of the role of the Open Space Advisory Board - an item requested by Representative Susie Byrd. It certainly will entail more than the duties of the Mountain Committee and whether the ordinance written as a hard copy after passage is correct.

The Open Space Board has been denied several duties that are critical if it is to "benefit the City in preserving and acquiring open space, which will benefit the residents of El Paso." These duties are:

  1. Earlier input in the development process.
  2. The ability to review and comment at appropriate stages to the CPC, various departments and Council
  3. Expanded review to all open space categories, Planned Mountain Development Zoning and foothills development
  4. Inclusion in the budget oversight for the 10% stormwater fee.

LRC meets tomorrow at 9 AM tomorrow in the City Council Chambers on the 2nd Floor of City Hall.

By the way, as Chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board, Rick Bonart wants the members of that Board to discuss and act possibly by a resolution to City Council on the issue which will be discussed at the LRC meeting tomorrow. A city staff member, Shamori Whitt, attempted to short circuit his privilege to have this item on the agenda for its November 23rd meeting. In an email to Bonart and others dated yesterday, November 17th, she writes:


The way it works with the LRC is that they decide if matters need to be forwarded to City Council as a whole, almost like a pre-trial. This is done so that City Council meetings flow more efficiently. Typically, if the Planning LRC wants to take action on an item it will be sent to the City Council to be heard at a general meeting. Then, City Council will direct the City Manager how to proceed with their wishes and she will delegate responsibility to staff. In the event the LRC were to take action on the OSAB item at the LRC, it will not be heard by the entire City Council prior to the OSAB November meeting. (Provided we're not asked to return to the LRC.) Therfore, I think any action from the OSAB on the matter would be pre-emptive. City Council is to dictate to us how to proceed.

For the information of the OSAB, I am happy to add a report on the outcome of the 11/19/09 LRC.


Please add 'Report on the outcome of the Open Space Advisory Board item from the Nov 19, 2009 Planning LRC'

Maggie is Maggie Binkley, the Administrative Assistant who acts as Recording Secretary for the OSAB.

I don't want to dissect Ms. Whitt's comments too much except to say that a citizen's board (advisory or otherwise) has every right to let City Council know its position (it provides recommendations to the Mayor and Council not to staff and/or a department) and a resolution made next Monday will be in time to reach Council by next Tuesday when it may hear the findings of the LRC.

Rick Bonart responded to her and Nanette Smejkal, the Director of Parks and Recreation, in an email also dated yesterday:

Nanette and Shamori,

My concern is that all members of OSAB probably won't make the LRC; further, OSAB members attending the LRC (including myself) can only speak as individuals, as this issue has not been formally discussed by the Board.

I think the Board should have the opportunity to hear and act... ie, resolution to let Council know their position, as this is their charge.

With all due respect,

Please amend the agenda one more time and allow this to move forward as a discussion and action item so the Board can deliver a formal opinion to Council in a timely manner.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

No amended agenda with Chairman Bonart's request has been sent out to OSAB members as of this posting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Media Begins to Wake up to Jobe Quarry Threat

Jobe bulldozer cut through arroyo next to Franklin Mountains State Park

Last Thursday Hector Montes had Master Naturalist Sal Quintanilla and environmentalist Maria Trunk on his talk show on KHRO, 1150 AM. I had been invited to call in and inform the audience about the planned quarrying next to the State Park. It would seem from the follow-up calls that we got some good coverage.

Prior to the talk show, Robert Gray wrote an article for El Paso, Inc. Quarry next to the state park? No problem! Hector Castro authored an enlightening piece in El Diario de El Paso: Genera polémica cantera de gravilla.

Since Castro's article is in Spanish, Franklin Mountain Wilderness Coalition newsletter editor, Kathy McConaghie, with Castro's help translated it. Both she and Castro gave me permission to print the translation:

Gravel Quarry Generates Controversy

A deposit of gravel located on the western slope of the Franklin Mountains is the center of controversy. Several city environmental groups point out that Jobe Material’s company practice of extracting minerals from the soil can create serious environmental and health problems in addition to the deterioration of the local landscape.

The quarry operation, property of the magnate Stanley Jobe, has a 20 year lease contract on a 480 acre area that belongs to the Texas Permanent School Fund. The property is administered by the General Land Office (GLO). According to GLO press secretary Jim Suydam, the principal motive for leasing to Jobe is simply economic: the purpose of the lease was to collect funds for the School Fund.

Nevertheless, several non-governmental organizations of El Paso expressed their dissatisfaction with Jobe Materials, among them the Sierra Club, headed by Laurence Gibson, who states that the principal problem with this quarry is that Jobe Materials is working on land that is a cultural bastion of the city, besides the fact that there are no guarantees that the environment will not be affected by the excavation.

“The only one responsible is the GLO since this entity does not have any sense of belonging within our habitat and little worries about the local environment”, Gibson declared.

Other organizations such as the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition are also opposed to the quarry and urge the local government and political leaders of the city to relocate Jobe Materials to an area where an important ecosystem will not be harmed.

“The GLO delivered an area that includes arroyo 41A, a treasure that links the Franklin Mountains to the Rio Grande which will logically be affected by the quarry. This property is part of the recreation and tourism plan of the city of El Paso, but now it is compromised for economic purposes,” said Jim Tolbert, a board member of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, in a written statement.

El Diario of El Paso tried to obtain a statement from Stanley Jobe but received no response from his office up to the moment this edition closed.

Without Hope

Despite this disagreement with the location of the quarry, the possibility that it will be relocated are minimal at this time, and presently the only possible recourse is to exercise pressure on Jobe Materials to leave the area the way they found it after completing excavation.

“I am very disappointed by the location of the quarry, it is practically impossible that the area will remain intact, and little by little we are going to see pernicious consequences of this mistake. I believe that there is nothing which can be done and it is lamentable that our environment suffers because of the economic interests of a few”, stated Susie Byrd, District 2 representative of the city, in a telephone conversation.

Stanley Jobe met recently with some members of the Borderland Mountain Bike Association and offered to pay the costs to build new bike trails in the vicinity of the quarry, a move that generated disagreement among participants who think that moving the trail would turn into an ecological fault difficult to correct.

“The impact of this quarry to the environment and the landscape of El Paso is huge. Soon we will begin to see rock accumulation in the sector which will damage the image of our mountains. There is no benefit for the residents of the city. Jobe Materials is destroying the ecological system and nobody is doing anything to prevent it”, stated Dave Wilson, president of the cyclist’s association.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Keep El Paso Beautiful Holds Gift to the River Clean-Up

Keep El Paso Beautiful held its annual Gift to the River (GTR) Clean-up on Saturday, November 14, 2009. It is one of the four citywide annual clean-ups sponsored by Keep El Paso Beautiful in partnership with Environmental Services, the El Paso Street Department, the El Paso Fire Department and local volunteers.

The focus of GTR is to raise awareness and educate local high school and middle school students regarding the importance of having a clean community and its direct impact on everyone's quality of life.

According to Katherine Palafox, Director of Keep El Paso Beautiful, more than 425 students and community volunteers participated cleaning up El Paso this year. "The majority of the volunteers that participate in the GTR clean-up are are high school and middle school students," reported Palafox. "All tools and trash bags used in the clean-up were checked out from the KEFB Community Tools Sheds located at Fire Stations throughout El Paso."

Participating schools were: Franklin High School, Lincoln Middle School, Chapin High School, Radford and East Point Elementary. Additional volunteers were from the Stiles Garden Neighborhood Association and the Police Explorers.

Keep El Paso Beautiful's next citywide clean-up will be Gift to the Mountain in February 2010.

For additional information, call the KEPB office at 915-546-6742.

Pictured above: Mawby the dog, Nehaa Sohail, Jonie Fashing, Sarina Davidson, Treestran Vera, Tamara Vera, Tania Vera, Alejandro Dragon, Dustin Thorstad, Xavier Cooper and Julia Gilbert, Assistant Principal, Radford School

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Quarry at McKelligon Canyon formerly operated by Jobe

Here's a picture of what the land next to the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park will look like if Jobe Materials quarries on land owned by the People of the State of Texas. The picture is the Cemex Quarry at McKelligon Canyon just off of Alabama Street. It was previously owned by Jobe.

Don't let this happen again on our mountains! Sign the petition sponsored by the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. There is a link to that petition in the upper right hand column of this blog.

Here is how the petition reads:

"The City of El Paso's Open Space Master Plan calls for a mountain to river trail using Arroyo 41A, the last unobstructed arroyo connecting the Franklin Mountains to the Rio Grande. This arroyo can provide a unique setting for recreational activities for El Pasoans and visitors as well as maintain important wildlife habitat. Quarrying activities planned on General Land Office leased land adjacent to and including parts of Arroyo 41A threaten the integrity and viability of that trail and a portion of Franklin Mountains State Park. We the undersigned urge our political leaders to work with the quarry operator to prevent quarrying from occurring on land in or adjacent to the planned mountain to river trail and to maintain the original design of this valuable recreational and wildlife corridor."

Sign the petition because here is what we want to see:

Beautiful Arroyo 41A

We also want to see:

Javelina in the Franklin Mountains

Mule Deer in the Franklin Mountains

Why do we want to save javelina and mule deer (not to mention foxes, coyotes, horned toads, ring tail cats, bobcats, snakes and more as well as the plant life native to our Chihuahuan Desert)? A wildlife and environmental expert answered the question this way:

"We as humans are connected to the ecosystem. All parts of the ecosystem have a role to play in the bigger scheme of things. If we eliminate the natural world from our lives and try to survive on an earth dominated by buildings and concrete we simply will not be able to survive. Our connections with nature are too many and too great. And, if the world becomes unsafe for animals and plants, it will not be a safe place for people."

He suggested that we all take time to read the Living Planet Report 2008.

Please sign the petition to help save El Paso's Franklin Mountains.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Is Sustainability a Goal or Just Words?

The City Council of El Paso recently approved a sustainability plan. The mission plan is:
"By 2014, El Paso will be a model of sustainability and smart growth by building on its roots as an international hub, promoting sustainable enterprises and wisely using natural resources."
2014 may be too far away. Judging by the overuse of rock and gravel in private and public landscapes all over the City, the possible overbuilding of public facilities and Jobe's plan to quarry next to the largest intra-urban State Park in the country, El Paso is far from wisely using natural resources.

One wonders whether master plans such as the Sustainability document are not just words. After all, Arroyo 41A was designated to be preserved as the Mountain to River corridor. Once the General Land Office leased property containing a portion of that arroyo to Jobe Materials, public officials acted much like ostriches with their heads in the ground. Now that Stanley Jobe has made it abundantly clear that he intends to quarry all 480 acres, City officials say that there is nothing that they can do - City zoning laws apparently do not apply to State of Texas land managed by the GLO even if that land is within the city's limits.

Recently, Public Service Board/EPWU officials proposed an Alternative route for the Mountain to River Trail. One of the top officials of the EPWU told me that they had decided on the route once they realized that Jobe intended to mine limestone in Arroyo 41A. The implication was that the realization was fairly recent. However, they must have known that he would do so when they gave him access to the land. By law you can't landlock someone else and so El Paso Water Utilities had to grant Jobe an easement through their property to the GLO land and did so on May 20, 2005.

It would appear that EPWU/PSB officials have known for a number of years now that a portion of the proposed Mountain to River corridor could very well be mined. If they knew, then shouldn't the City Council also have known? After all, Mayor Cook is a board member of the PSB. If City Council knew so early on, what was the point of accepting in its entirety the January 2007 Open Space plan ("Towards a Bright Future: A Green Infrastructure Plan for El Paso, Texas") that called for preserving all of Arroyo 41A?

Click on image to enlarge

The alternative route is the light blue line on the map above. Note that only a small - yet critical - portion of 41A goes through the very bottom of the GLO land leased to Jobe. One wonders why pressure cannot be applied from elected and other officials and the public at large to make Jobe forsake that small portion of land. If sustainability and the wise use of resources is the goal, why not start right here?

Of course, there is yet another threat to Arroyo 41A a bit west of the GLO/Jobe Quarry: the Desert Springs development currently plans reducing the 1200 foot arroyo to just 120 feet, concreting the sides and building some roads over it in several places. To say that the developer's plans may be grandfathered so that he doesn't have to comply to codes requiring keeping the arroyo to at least 300 feet, is still missing the larger point that El Paso envisions one thing and does another.

An insider recently informed me:
"Individual City staff may or may not be in favor of "economic development" as exemplified by Jobe and the homebuilders' style of growth. The staff is mainly concerned with staying out of trouble, and the developers can make big trouble if any legal boundaries are crossed.

"The zoning and subdivision codes are the legal tools that have to be followed. The developers worked very hard to ensure that those codes were "vetted" by their own lawyers, lobbyists and friends before they were adopted by the City. If the land is zoned for whatever the developer wants, the law allows them to do it. If it's not zoned for what they want the law allows them to request a zone change and the Council can grant it.

"The Open Space plan and the General Land Use Plan are legally just "guides" to decision making by the Council, so they can approve zoning that is not in conformity with the Plans. (There is actually some legal precedent for holding Councils more accountable to such plans, but it is rare in Texas. There may be some precedent on the GLO immunity issue as well, but of course not from Texas.)

"Botttom line- the developers have the law on their side in most cases and there is too much apathy to try to change the laws again. (Look at the all the fighting over the subdivision code rewrite last year that resulted in nothing more than some very minor changes.)"
If El Paso wants to make sustainability and the wise use of resources its goal, it must begin to stand up and, at the very least, use the bully pulpit, or even more, grow a backbone and start standing up legally to those who would destroy riparian corridors and thus cheapen all of our lives and fortunes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Before and After: Mountains and Quarries

In previous posts, I have pointed out the obvious: our mountains are not sustainable. Once mined, they are gone. I've also pointed out that our "zeroscaping", overuse of rock in landscaping our roads and homes, and overuse of cement - all contribute to the destruction of our mountains. No doubt we need materials for our roads and homes and businesses and services. No doubt we are overdoing it. We value our beautiful mountains; but see what we have done to them and are still doing to them:

Sugarloaf on far left of picture - no quarry below it (Circa 1947)

First McMillan, then Jobe, now Cemex - Sugarloaf sadly watches in background

Jobe's Hitt Canyon Quarry below NE Franklin Mountains

Arroyo 41A with Upper Sunset Trail and Franklin Mountains State Park in background

Jobe's bulldozing east of State Park

You've seen the quarries above. Now imagine what the pristine land and arroyos west of the Franklin Mountains State Park in NW El Paso will look like before long. The bulldozing has begun already. It is happening on land owned by we the people of the State of Texas leased to Jobe by the General Land Office. Is this what we want to happen to our land?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Could the GLO Lease Land to Jobe?

Jobe Materials tags beautiful arroyo wall. Click to enlarge.

One big question emerges with the current destruction by Jobe Materials of land owned by the people of Texas next to a State Park: How could the GLO (General Land Office) lease the land to Jobe in the first place?
As far as we now know, there was no cultural or conservation evaluation made. Also an archaeological assessment should have been conducted by the GLO prior to releasing the site for use by Jobe. The assessment would have been done by an archaeologist on the "approved" list of the Archaeology Division of the Texas Historical Commission. Was it?

A long-standing leader in regional real estate commented:

With a planned Mountains to River Corridor running from the Franklin Mountains State Park to the Rio Grande River, why is it that the GLO allowed 480 acres in the middle of the proposed Corridor to be leased to Jobe for a new gravel and rock quarry in Northwest El Paso? Jobe has already posted no trespassing signs and begun grading dirt roads into the area and across the arroyos. Was there a public posting that I missed or was the land deal merely determined between the parties without the public's knowledge? It would seem to me that, where there are environmental concerns, the Public should have full knowledge of the GLO's plans before they're initiated.

Apparently, there was no attempt to make public this transaction between the GLO and Jobe . I would expect Jobe to remain silent as to their intentions. Jobe appears to have little, if any, concern for the environmental impact a planned quarry will have on this pristine area. It is, after all, a privately held company that is looking for the greatest financial return on their investment. Jobe is destroying the only chance for a Mountains to River Corridor that would link the Franklin Mountains Park to the

I am not against development. I am not against any company working to earn an honest dollar. I am against State Governnment Agencies working with private industry without regard for the People, the Environment, Open Space and for the Enjoyment of the Public for future generations. I want the GLO and companies like Jobe to look ahead to the consequences of their actions and work together to bring about responsible development.

I am trying to understand why the GLO allowed a 480 acre quarry to be situated in
such an environmentally delicate area so close to such a beautiful park. I am trying to understand how this could happen without any input from the general public. Isn't the General Land Office an agency of the Texas State Government, and as such, an agency of the People of Texas? Shouldn't the GLO have posted a Public Notice and asked for feedback from the People before allowing this travesty to occur?

By allowing Jobe to lease the land without public notice and feedback, the GLO must be held responsible for the destruction of an area that is a natural extension of the Franklin Mountains State Park and what could have been a beautiful trails system from the Mountains to the River.

As I write this, Jobe is bulldozing roads through the land and through the arroyos. Already, the destruction can be seen from the roads.

It is not too late to protest. It is not too late to bring to the attention of
the People just what is happening to their chances of a better life for themselves and their children, and their children's children.

Call you State Representatives. Call the Newspapers and the Television News. Make you views known. Do not let this irresponsible transaction by the State of Texas destroy your chances for a better life for you and for generations to come.

We can still stop the destruction. It's not too late.

I might add that I too have nothing against business. People need homes. Roads need to be built. Services need to be provided. Jobe Materials meets a demand. It should not meet that demand by destroying acreage that should stay in its natural state such as the land next to the State Park that should be developed into a regional park that preserves the Mountain to River Corridor.

Click image to enlarge

What also should be is this: It is time for all of us to think long and hard about how we use natural materials and how much we use as individuals, home and business owners and as a City. Our mountains and deserts are limited. They are not sustainable. Once mined, that portion is gone forever. Just drive down any City of El Paso thoroughfare or see any "zero-scaped" commercial or residential property and note the overuse of large rocks and gravel in the landscaping. It doesn't have to be that way. But as long as it is, and as long as we want to build more than we need for ourselves and for the services we require, we will be gluttons of our environment.

I have two friends who are now selling their house. It is 2639 square feet. It has 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. The kitchen is huge. The living room has a cathedral ceiling. There's a pool. It is just for the two of them.

We want big box houses, rocked landscapes, roads going every which way. When a study shows that walkability will increase the value of our properties, then El Paso builders say such things are not feasible for El Paso because we don't have a thriving downtown or reliable mass transit. Huh? Neither has anything to do with building walkable communities. The fact is this: builders and developers in El Paso want all the land that they can get their hands on. The City has for too long accommodated them and taxpayers have paid for infrastructure including roads. Roads need materials from Jobe.

I too want responsible development: responsible and sustainable development.

We can still stop the destruction. It is not too late.

It is also not to late for each of us to ask how we contribute to that destruction.

A Desert Without Borders

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition will hold the first annual desert conference in 2010. They are currently looking for sponsors, speakers:

Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition to sponsor Chihuahuan Desert
Conference, November 12-14, 2010“A Desert without Borders”

The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC) is making plans to sponsor the First Annual Chihuahuan Desert Conference on November 12-14, 2010 at the Tech H2O Water Resource Center in E Paso.

The mission of the conference is to promote education about the Chihuahuan Desert and to encourage educators and researchers working in the Chihuahuan Desert to network and share knowledge. The Chihuahuan Desert Educational Coalition is a bridge-building organization that encourages people to come together on behalf of conservation and education of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Kelly Serio, a Park Ranger at Franklin Mountains State Park and a member of the planning committee said that "the goals of the conference include creating opportunities to learn about the Chihuahuan Desert, providing opportunities for people who are doing conservation work or research to network and providing a space and time for researchers to present their findings."

To learn about how to sign up to present a paper or poster at the conference a Chihuahuan Desert Conference Proposal Submission Form is available online at

For more information on the Conference contact Rick LoBello at For sponsorship information contact Judy Ackerman at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Now Is the Time to Save Castner Range

Castner Range Poppies

Those who are interested in preserving Castner Range as open space will want to attend 3 meetings open to the public beginning tomorrow evening. The meetings are sponsored by the military and deal with issues impacting the preservation of Castner Range.

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition has worked tirelessly to secure Castner Range from the military and to preserve it as open space. The efforts of members, Mike Gaglio and Judy Ackerman, were recently written about in a story by Robert Gray for El Paso Inc: To clean and preserve: What's next for Castner Range.

At issue with Castner Range is the existence of unexploded ordnance from many, many years of artillery practice. Before any land can be transferred, it must be "cleaned" of all such "live" ammunition.

Efforts by Gaglio, Ackerman and others have been made through Congressman Reyes' office to convey the land for preservation. A recent update from El Paso Mayor Cook's office of those efforts states:

"There was an appropriations request made by Congressman Reyes for Castner Range. It was made to the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee for $300,000 under the Frontera Land Alliance to maintain Castner Range. The project would focus on preserving open space. The House report does include a full request for the project - $300,000. There is no funding included in the Senate version of the bill. The conference report is not available yet but it is my understanding through conversations with Congressman Reyes’ office that there is a high probability of it being included in the final bill.

"Also, there was language included in the House Committee Report for the Defense Authorization bill. The language reads as follows:

'The committee understands that the Department of Defense ceased operations at the Castner Range Complex at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1971. In testimony, the Army indicated that Castner Range is ‘‘wholly impractical to use for any range activity.'

"The committee is interested in maintaining this land for a conservation purpose. The committee encourages the Department to enter into a lease in furtherance of conveyance with eligible conservation entities."

Here is information about and a schedule for each of the meetings this week:

Wed Oct. 14, 6:30 - 9:00 p.m. Restoration Advisory Board (RAB). 9600 Dyer, Northeast Regional Command Police Department.

Draft Agenda includes:

- Wide Area Assessment (WAA) of Castner Range
- Site Inspection (SI) of Former Maneuver Area 1 and 2 Between Loop 375 and
Hueco Mountains

Thurs Oct. 15, 1-5 p.m. Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP) Site Inspection Technical Project Planning Meeting. Embassy Suites, 6100 Gateway East.

The second Technical Project Planning (TPP) meeting for the MMRP of the Former Maneuver Area at Fort Bliss. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss any outstanding issues related to the Historical Records Review report and to discuss the approach that will be used to conduct the field work phase of the Site Inspection. Please contact Mary Franquemont ( or Gene Barber ( to RSVP for the meeting or if you need additional information. TLI Solutions, Inc., (303) 763-7188 (main), (303) 716-3724 (direct), (Agenda attached)

Fri Oct. 16. 1-5 p.m. Wide Area Assessment (WAA) of Castner Range. Radisson Hotel. 1770 Airway Blvd.

The U.S. Army will conduct a demonstration of “wide area assessment” (WAA) technologies to characterize the presence of munitions on Castner Range, Fort Bliss, Texas. WAA technologies rapidly collect large amounts of data about relative densities and distribution of munitions. The WAA field demonstration project will involve deploying multiple airborne and ground-based systems for detecting munitions and munitions related surface features. The Army invites you to participate in a series of Technical Project Planning meetings (TPP) for stakeholders and interested parties to discuss the project. (Enclosures with maps attached)

Judy Ackerman suggests that, if you can't make all of the meetings, then be sure to make the RAB meeting on Wednesday night especially. Next in importance is the Friday afternoon meeting which will deal with actual methods to clean the range.

Ackerman says:

"I believe that we need to ensure a conservation conveyance before the cleaning. Otherwise, clean land is subject to development. Perhaps we can get the Army to commit (in writing) to convey all cleaned land (some is already clean) to the Franklin Mountains State Park."

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is urging all who can to attend the meetings to show support for preserving Castner Range as open space.
Click on image to enlarge