Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bulldozing Interrupts Key Mountain to River Corridor

Bulldozing on Lower Sunset in critical Arroyo 41A Mountain to River Corridor

Looking east from slickrock boundary

Members of the Borderland Mountain Bike Association recently discovered damage to the key arroyo corridor known as the Mountain to River Trail. The damage was done along the Lower Sunset Trail of the Franklin Mountain State Park in NW El Paso. Jobe Materials, which operates a quarry just to the west of the State Park, has admitted to bulldozing the area. Whether the area bulldozed was completely on State land leased to Jobe is being determined. The State Parks and Wildlife office is having their GPS survey analyzed at the State office in Austin. There is also some question whether the bulldozing affected PSB property.

Of course, if all of the area bulldozed was on land leased by Jobe, Jobe would be legally within their rights. What is questionable is whether the action was ethical in light of the need to preserve Arroyo 41A, the critical mountain to river corridor.

I have learned that Stanley Jobe is sensitive about the environmental issue and has promised that there will be no further damage. Jobe Materials has been a frequent contributor to many local charitable events. Some hope that their good corporate citizenship will continue and that they will mitigate the damage done to this arroyo while helping to preserve other arroyos.

Dave Wilson from the bike Association said: "It looks like they took a dozer for a joyride in order to put out boundary markers. The paths go to almost every marker they put out."

Two video clips showing the results of the bulldozing can be seen beginning here.

Looking west

Click to enlarge map. Follow Flow Path 41A

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mountain Committee Duties Given to Open Space Advisory Board

In order to streamline government and save the taxpayers of El Paso some money, City Council at its meeting yesterday eliminated 7 advisory boards or transferred their duties to another board or commission.

In the past the Mountain Committee has been tasked with reviewing development applications in the hillside and mountain development areas which contain the bulk of El Paso's ecologically sensitive land so that development doesn't disrupt the environment in those areas. Staff recommended to Council that CPC assume these duties.

However, some citizens approached board members and suggested that the Open Space Advisory Board take over the Mountain Committee duties. At the Council meeting Sierra Club President, Bill Addington, also spoke in favor of OSAB being the best home for the Mountain Committee's former oversights. Representative Byrd requested the change and Council passed her recommendation.

Charlie Wakeem, a member of the OSAB, was jubilant. He announced to others: "When the item to abolish the Mountain Committee came up, Susie Byrd made the motion to turn its duties over to the OSAB. It passed unanimously!"

Also at yesterday's meeting, the Council approved the appointment of Mr. Addington to the Open Space Board - an appointment made by Representative Rachel Quintana.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Desert Springs: A Land Study That Should Never Have Been Approved

At its August 27, 2009 meeting the City Plan Commission of the City of El Paso approved the Desert Springs Land Study. The question is: Should it have been approved?

Desert Springs encompasses an area of 189.83 acres just about a mile to the west of the line where the Franklin Mountains State Park begins. Its westernmost boundary is roughly Northwestern Drive if Northwestern were currently extended north of Trans Mountain Road. The land is being developed by Mr. Randy O'Leary.

Click on image to enlarge

Running through Desert Springs is Arroyo Corridor 42B, the only remaining corridor that connects the State Park with the Rio Grande. The City Council approved Open Space Master Plan ("Towards a Bright Future: A Green Infrastructure Plan for El Paso, Texas") says of this corridor: "This area of El Paso is on the verge of becoming the next sector for development, and as such, the preservation of this arroyo system should be considered an extremely high priority."

Several of us walked through this arroyo on Tuesday from the gas pipeline road to I-10. On the way we also saw where City of El Paso engineers insist that a 15 acre concrete pond be constructed - a pond necessitated by their plan to reduce a 1200 foot wide arroyo to just 120 feet in violation of the comprehensive plan which specified a 300 foot wide natural corridor in this arroyo - not 120 feet! The City Plan Commission has the authority to accept, modify, or deny a land study if that study doesn't follow the comprehensive plan.

Violation of the comprehensive plan is just the beginning. The Land Study lacks the due diligence called for in 19.02.040 since the opinions of the Open Space Advisory Board expressed prior to the City Plan Commission were not included. Municiple code 19.02.040 clearly states that a criteria for the approval of a plan requires assessment of open space - the purview of the Open Space Advisory Board!

City Engineer, Kareem Dallo, reportedly told a member of the OSAB that a CLOMR (Conditional Letter of Map Revision - needed to build in a floodpath) had been filed with the City Flood Plain manager. However, a Freedom of Information Act request by citizen Charlie Wakeem yielded no such document.

Click on image to enlarge

City staff could not have made a health, safety and welfare decision necessary under code 19.16.050 to modify the arroyo without FEMA input. Mr. O'Leary's proposal is vested under 19.16.050 which simply states: "Arroyos shall be preserved in their natural state, except that improvemnts or modifications may be made in accordance with designs approved by the deputy director of building services when such improvements or modifications are necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare."

Since staff did not have the information needed to make a decision about the health, safety and welfare of the public, and since the Open Space Board's opinion was not included for the CPC members to consider, and since the comprehensive plan was violated, how could the City Planning Commission approve the land study? Unfortunately, they were advised by City Attorney Lupe Cuellar that they didn't have any choice but to approve and not a single member of the CPC raised an objection!

Ms. Cuellar warned the CPC: "If the plan meets the codes, and staff says it does, then legally you have to approve the plan." Staff has full and final authority? Citizens on City boards and commissions have no cognitive abilities other than to respond to a staff stimulus with rubber stamp approval? There were plenty of good reasons not to approve the plan as discussed above.

Ms. Cuellar's advice to CPC is similar to her advice to the members of the Open Space Advisory Board as to how to advise Council which is their duty by ordinance. Ms. Cuellar suggested that the Board tell Ms. Shamori Whitt, the Parks and Recreation staff person who has been appointed as the department liaison with the Board; Ms. Whitt tells the Parks and Recreation Director, Nanette Smejkal, who runs it by the City Attorney's office. If legal okays it, then Ms. Smejkal will give it to the City Council. Again, who is empowered by ordinance to advise Council - the Board or a lenghty chain of bureaucracy? Isn't it more in keeping with ordinance for city staff and attorneys to present to the OSAB (or any other board or commission) which then makes a decision and reports directly to the City Council of the City of El Paso? Does ordinance give de facto veto or amendment power to city staff and attorneys?

Someone might want to raise the issue of the tail wagging the dog. Citizen elected councils advised by citizen boards and commissions set the policies of the City with support of the staff and then implementation by the staff. City staff members are Senate pages, so to speak, not the Senators.

One can also wonder why some city staff members are allowed to continue in their positions when they clearly do not care to implement the policies, vision and values set by the people of El Paso through their elected representatives and as manifested by an open space master plan, a parks and recreation master plan, a stormwater plan, now a sustainability plan and much more - all documents that assert the values of care for the environment and ecosystems and open space. In fact, one wonders why some staff choose to thwart these values at all.

Sadly, as some real estate and landscape experts have shown, there are ways to develop with conservation in mind: ways that will increase a land developer's bottom line.

One such expert said:

"The Open Space Board should become involved in future development by approaching developers before they begin development plans. If the Board could show developers that they could make the same profits or greater by introducing green and sustainable development, then it would be an advantage to all parties."

The approval of the Desert Springs Land Study just represents the tip of the iceberg. There's much more underwater that will rip deep holes in a ship of state and send it to the bottom of the sea. The question really is who captains the ship. We've got a lot of crew acting as skippers and one wonders why.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta This Saturday

Click on image to enlarge

5th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta:

September 19, at Tom Mays Park in El Paso. FREE entry to Franklin Mountains State Park Tom Mays section all day as members of the community come together to celebrate the Chihuahuan Desert (

Drive to the end of the main road into the park. Enjoy educational presentations. There will be information provided by a number of nature, conservation, hiking and environmental groups. Good, clean used hiking and camping gear and books will be on sale to benefit the Franklin Mountains State Park.


10am Kevin von Finger – The Chihuahuan Desert Past and Future

11am Rose Janice – All about the State Reptile of Texas, Texas Horned Lizards

Noon Virginia Morris – Plants of the Franklin Mountains

1pm Rick LoBello – Wildlife of the Franklin Mountains

2pm Cesar Mendez – Franklin Mountains State Park Update

Chili Appreciation Society International has sanctioned a chili cookoff by the State Park. The judged competition will include a public tasting and a “showmanship” category.

The Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition will be giving free tutorials on climbing basics. Join Park Ranger, Kelly Serio for an interpretive presentation on birds. There will be an outdoor equipment and basic skills presentation given by Park Rangers. There will also be free demonstrations of mountain biking. Take a 20-minute instructional ride!

Resler Canyon Update

UTEP Engineering Professor John Walton recently gave a report to the Frontera Land Alliance regarding the erosion problems at Resler Canyon (the Wakeem-Teschner Nature Preserve). On September 7, Professor Walton wrote:

"I went to Resler Canyon this evening and looked over the status of the drainage coming into the upper portion of the canyon. This is a summary of my observations and recommendations.

The upper portion of the canyon is in a highly unnatural state. Storm runoff from developed portions of El Paso comes in at two major areas on the southeast and at least one location in the northwest. These areas are marked by enhanced, ugly, erosion of the arroyo sides. The enhanced erosion extends ¼ to ½ mile down the canyon until equilibrium is established. The damage is not limited to the edges of the property but rather is visible deep inside.

Development in the absence of proper engineering standards that are rigorously enforced causes an increase in peak and total storm discharge. Peak discharge rather than the total volume of water is usually what causes most erosional damage. The storm runoff coming into the canyon also has a low content of suspended sediments. In a natural system there is a dynamic balance between sediment load and erosion. Water with low sediment content is “hungry” and tends to pick up sediments (causes erosion) until a new equilibrium is established. An additional problem is that the slopes in the upper portion of the canyon are steeper than natural slopes because the tops of the arroyo were scraped and pushed off.

The multiple problems (unnaturally steep slopes, unnatural peak discharge, and unnaturally low sediment content) mean that a wholly natural solution will not work. A natural solution will mean essentially sacrificing the upper ¼ or ½ mile of the canyon. Left alone the arroyo will continue to erode at the edges and far into the interior of the property.

An engineering solution of some type will have to be applied at several locations. Given the high peak discharge and low sediment content the water must be slowed while coming into the canyon, the peak discharge will have to be lowered, and sediment will need to be trapped.

Ideally detention ponds would be built on the property of the upstream developments that have caused the problem. Unfortunately this is not feasible.

A realistic solution is:

  • At (at least) the two major water inputs: Ugly engineered structures with energy dissipation above and small, decent looking, detention ponds below. They would have to be better built than the previous attempts.
  • A series of rip rap erosion control structures (leaky check dams) extending ¼ mile or more down the channel to trap sediments and reduce peak discharge to a more natural level."

Earthquakes in El Paso?

Click on image to enlarge

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Franklin Mountains Flora: A New Web Site to Treasure

Senator Eliot Shapleigh has gone the extra mile! If you love hiking in the Franklins and have enjoyed each of the beautiful plants that grow there and wanted to know more about each plant, now you can.

Senator Shapleigh's office in concert with UTEP, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Master Naturalists and others have created a new interactive web site: Franklin Mountains Flora. It is a work in progress but it is a progressive work to help all of us appreciate the plant life, ecosystems and biodiversity we can find on many of the popular trails in our beloved Franklin Mountains.

Claudia Ordaz, Senator Shapeigh's Communications Director, broke the news of the new site with this announcement today:

Dear Friends,

I want to invite you to take a virtual tour through the Franklin Mountains Flora website we have created. The website details over a hundred of the most common plant species in the Franklin Mountains and offers a Google Earth tour of the different trails the Franklins have to offer.

We ask that you link to your website.

Very truly yours,

Eliot Shapleigh

Bookmark the site and keep going back!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

El Paso Pride Environmental Summit

Tech2O gave this summary:
"The summit brings together government agencies, local companies, high school students, environmental experts, and El Paso residents to discuss the different environmental issues in the community, find possible solutions, and implement the solutions. There will be continental breakfast and sit down lunch at no charge. Topic: "A New Day in the Sun" to include renewable energy, solar, city of El Paso sustainability, tires and rubber pavement, and illegal dumping."
Click on the picture to enlarge it for better reading.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Natural Beauty of West Texas

Gary Nored has taken some beautiful pictures of the natural beauty of West Texas. You can see them on Flickr. Above is a sample. Take a moment to view them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Slope Stabilization

Below are pictures of local examples of slope stabilization projects using erosion control blankets and/or turf reinforcement mats along Schuster and Camelot Heights Roads. This kind of slope stabilization would be good for remediating and restoring the slope at Resler Canyon while securing an easement bench road for utilities. Propex Geosynthetics makes products that are useful for stabilization of the kind of steep slopes at Resler Canyon closest to Mesa Street and the Café Italia.

Erosion control blanket being rolled out at Camelot Heights

Desert marigold (dyssodia) growing through blanket

Schuster Street slope after 5 years

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

EPWU Will More Than Remediate at Their Expense

The beautiful Wakeem/Teschner Nature Preserve (Resler Canyon)

Mike Gaglio set the tone from the beginning of Frontera Land Alliance meeting with the El Paso Water Utilities. As board President of Frontera, he stressed partnership, opportunity and creativity with the EPWU. Gonzalo Cedillos, the Stormwater Division Manager, chimed in. After an early meeting which included seven Frontera board members or advisors and EPWU's Mr. Cedillos and Mr. Jose Luis Sierra and a follow-up meeting at Resler Canyon, it was plain to see that EPWU fully intended to do more than just mere remediation.

It was also clear that some surveying to determine utility easement would be required. The question of easement was raised by Mr. Sierra and all agreed that he was on the right track.

Water Utilities officials volunteered to do some temporary sandbagging at points of water spill from storm runoff as a temporary first step. They also agreed to pay for the surveying to determine utility easement. They will work with Frontera to stabilize the slopes in question in an environmentally sensitive fashion. The restoration and stabilization of the slope will be done in consultation with Frontera and consultants it recommends and it will be done by a contractor approved by Frontera.

In short, EPWU showed once again that they are a solution-oriented organization that is willing to work with the public.

Some personal observations: Every time that I have had any involvement with the EPWU/PSB, they have exceeded my expectations. They have shown repeatedly that they want to be good stewards of our environment. One of the difficulties that Mr. Sierra ran into was lack of information from the City of El Paso. That didn't surprise me. One board member suggested that the City has not handled matters properly for many years and, therefore, a relationship with EPWU is welcomed as a means to do things in an environmentally responsible manner. Whereas City engineers and others too often take the stance of "our way or the highway", EPWU and its engineers (including Mr. Cedillos) always are open to new ideas, better solutions and environmental care.