Friday, January 29, 2010

Another Open Space Plan Moves Closer to Implementation

Click to enlarge

Another recommendation of the City Council approved Open Space plan is now closer to being implemented. Clearly stated in Chapter 6 (An Implementation Plan) is this: "The rezoning of all the currently undeveloped lands that do not have approved master plans or land studies to the Rural Farm (RF) zoning category should occur immediately." The Open Space Plan was adopted in 2007. It is now 2010. About time.

At the December 28, 2009 meeting of the Open Space Advisory Board, motions were made and passed unanimously to recommend the "down-zoning" to the Legislative Review Committee for Planning and Development as well as to the City Council.

The LRC met yesterday and heard presentations. Of course, staffer Pat Adauto, argued against the down-zoning. (Tell me again why there are staff members who oppose the vision and approved plans of City Council even working for the City.) The PSB also opposed down-zoning.

Representative O'Rourke moved and Representative Byrd seconded a motion to recommend down-zoning to the full City Council. The vote was 3 to 1 in favor and that 3 to 1 was something of a surprise: Representative Quintana's was the third affirmative vote whereas Representative Lilly's was the "no" vote.

The proposal now goes to City Council. It does not appear to be on the agenda for the upcoming February 2 meeting of Council.

Open Space Board Chairman, Charlie Wakeem, sent this message to board members following yesterday's LRC meeting:

"I went to the Planning LRC today for the item on down-zoning PSB land to R-F (Ranch-Farm) that the Board voted unanimously to recommend. This was the Chapter 6, A-1 recommendation in the Open Space Plan. In spite of opposition by staff and the water utilities, the Planning LRC voted 3-1 to recommend the downzoning with conditions to the full City Council. It may be on the Council agenda as soon as next Tuesday. I'll keep you posted."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Taste of Frontera Benefits Land Conservation

I urge you to support Frontera Land Alliance. It protects in perpetuity a network of lands that are chosen for their natural beauty, conservational utility, and cultural values throughout West Texas and Southern New Mexico. Frontera cooperates with landowners, donors, government agencies and other organizations to conserve the region’s deserts, mountains, arroyos, canyons and rivers for all. Frontera, the El Paso area’s only 501(c)3 land trust, is a member of the national Land Trust Alliance, and subscribes to the LTA’s Standards and Practices for Land Trusts which set forth a legally and ethically sound program of natural resources transactions and stewardship.

Frontera helped preserve Resler Canyon and today manages the Wakeem/Teschner Nature Preserve. Through a conservation easement, Frontera has taken on the responsibility of conserving Thunder Canyon. Under the leadership of our fellow hiker and a Master Naturalist, Judy Ackerman, Frontera is on its way to preserving Castner Range as open space land.

The Frontera Land Alliance’s second annual gala fundraiser, Taste of Frontera, will be held on Thursday, February 18, 2010 starting at 6:00 pm. at Ardovino’s Desert Crossing in Sunland Park, New Mexico.

This year’s Taste of Frontera promises to be a memorable event with local wines, tasty foods, live music, and a plethora of silent auction items and door prizes. Proceeds from the fundraiser support conservation and restoration of critically important natural land resources in the El Paso region. Congressmen Silvestre Reyes will be the special guest that evening.

Tickets cost $40 per person and will be available at the door. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 526 7725 or 490 8601. For more information about The Frontera Land Alliance, go to their website at

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Don't Keep Out & Don't Go to Jail

Hike and Tamales group prepares to enter the Palisades

Rosario Rivera is an avid hiker and one of El Paso's leading environmental and open space activists. She recently told the PSB that they should buy the land at Palisades Canyon if for no other reason than to prevent El Paso from further embarrassment. Too many visitors and tourists come to El Paso to hike or bike the Franklin Mountains. One of the best entries to the mountains is at the Palisades just off Robinson. For years an ominous sign has un-welcomed visitors: "Keep Out or Go to Jail!" Of course, for years, El Pasoans and their guests have used the trail. However, now that PSB is closing the sale on the land, this new open space will become a beacon to hikers and mountain bikers around the world. After all, the Palisades is El Paso's "central park" as PSB CEO Ed Archuleta has christened it.

Rosario has also begun a series of "culinary" hikes. Her last was "Hike and Tamales" on January 17th. The group enjoyed a hike as well as tamales, pastries and tea.

Keep Out Or Go To Jail!

Pictures courtesy of Rosario Rivera

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cactus Wren

One of the most active volunteers at the Franklin Mountains State Park is Richard Love. Richard built the Wildlife Viewing Area (bird blind) at the Tom Mays unit. He is also an excellent photographer as these images taken on December 2, 2009 prove.

The viewing area is well worth a visit by youth groups, classrooms, clubs, senior centers and anyone else interested in the fauna of the Franklin Mountains.

You can see why it is so important to protect the habitat of all of the precious birds, reptiles, animals, etc.

For more information, visit the FMSP web site.

White Crowned Sparrow

Gambles Quail

Texas Antelope Squirrel

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

PSB Votes to Purchase Palisades Canyon

Dr. Rick Bonart being sworn as new member of the Public Service Board

PSB CEO, Mr. Ed Archuleta, called Palisades Canyon "our central park in El Paso . . . our gateway to the Franklin Mountains . . . a jewel." In his review of the proposal to purchase the 202 acres for $2,465,000 ($12,203/acre), he stressed that time is of the essence and that the property should have been purchased decades ago. After an initial price of over $5million dollars five years ago, Archuleta agrees that the price is fair and he voiced confidence in the appraisal. He said that the purchase is one of the priorities of the City's Open Space Master Plan.

Avid hiker, Risher Gilbert, also expressed that time is of the essence. A commercial real estate attorney, she emphasized the need to work with the current 11 individuals who own the canyon rather than wait for their interests and estates to be scattered eventually among heirs - many who are out of town. She, along with Jack Maxon and others, have worked hard for the preservation of the Palisades for many years now.

Nearly 40 members of the environmental/conservation community were in attendance

The meeting was attended by over 40 members of the environmental and conservation community. Several of them spoke in favor of the purchase including Open Space Advisory Board Chairman, Charlie Wakeem, and Frontera Land Alliance President, Mike Gaglio.

Mr. Wakeem raised a concern that it would be better to amortize the loan over several years so that there is more money available should other needs arise before the PSB has another 10% of stormwater fees to use for purchasing open space that has stormwater needs. After this purchase there will be just $635,000 until 2011. Mr. Wakeem was concerned that there may be a need to act on other privately-held, ecologically sensitive properties in the meantime. However, he voiced his complete support for the purchase if done outright. CEO Archuleta prefers to pay no interest.

Sierra Club President Bill Addington had an additional concern. He believed that the sale price was too high especially since only 40% of the property could ever be developed. (Palisades Canyon is created by 3 arroyos and constitutes a major watershed.)

Mr. Archuleta told the board what needs to be done after approval of the proposal: a complete boundary ground survey, a complete Phase I Environmental survey, an environmental assessment. The sellers have agreed to pay for the surveys and the closing costs. Closing, he said, was expected in 60 days.

New board member, Dr. Rick Bonart, a long-time open space and environmental activist and recent past Chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board, moved that the PSB make the purchase. The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.

Today's meeting was also attended by Elizabeth Ferguson who hiked this area with school children as early as 1929.

Castner Range Conservation Moving Forward

There is plenty of good news to share about the preservation of Castner Range as open space. The House has approved $300,000 for a conservation conveyance. The House Economic Adjustment Committee is in touch with Judy Ackerman of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition.

Additionally, the Army is moving forward with plans to "clean-up" Castner of all unexploded ordnance.

Victoria Kantsios of the URS Corporation sent out this email reminder:

As a reminder, the second Technical Project Planning Meeting will be held Thursday, 14 January 2010 beginning at 9:00 am at the Radisson Hotel, El Paso Airport. Thursday afternoon at approximately 1:00, we will host a site visit at Castner Range to discuss our field operations and allow you to view the geophysical equipment. We will meet in the back parking lot of the Border Patrol Museum, 4315 Trans Mountain Road, El Paso TX, 79924. Sandwiches will be provided.

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.

The public is invited.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

PSB to Vote on Purchase of Palisades

If you can make the Public Service Board meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m. at 1154 Hawkins, do so. It is important to support the purchase of the Palisades property. It is also important the the PSB/EPWU sees a large contingency of the public behind conservation and preservation.

Here's what is up:

The El Paso Times has already announced the pending sale of the Palisades by the Public Service Board. The Times has also endorsed the purchase in an editorial in this morning's edition. [I can't help this aside: the Times can mention the Palisades purchase but has never said anything about the Jobe quarry at Avispa Canyon. El Paso, Inc. even had the story about Mr. Jobe's granting easement to the PSB regarding Arroyo 41A. If I owned a canary, the Times would have some value. Enough of my aside.]

The proposed purchase of the sale is item 5 on the agenda. The supporting document is also valuable to read. Especially look at the maps.

Click to enlarge

In an email Attorney, Risher Gilbert, stresses the importance of coming to the meeting:

Fellow Hikers and Lovers of our Mountain: We have WONDERFUL news . . . Ed Archuleta has notified me that based on the appraisal of the property the EPWU has negotiated a price with the sellers for $2.465 million and the Palisades JV has accepted the price. This will be voted on by the newly expanded Public Service Board next Wednesday, January 13th. The meeting starts at 9am and is at 1154 Hawkins which is a building across Hawkins from the Cielo Vista Mall. It is very important that as many of us attend as possible to show our support for the Board approving this purchase. If you have contacts with others-like the Frontera Group-and the Sierra Club Group-please encourage them to also attend. In my opinion, if the Board approves this purchase it will be a HUGE victory for our Mountain and for our State Park! Thanks so much for your part in working together as a great team to make this happen. I want to especially thank:

Jack Maxon who went with me to many, many meetings over the last 5 years with just about everyone we could collectively think of that might help us with this project, and who participated in the El Paso Inc. article that got this issue onto the communities radar screen;

Rosario who encouraged me to take Ed Archuleta on a hike through this 200 acres and was ever persistent in preserving this 200 acres;

Richard Teschner who set the example for all of us about making personal sacrifices of our time, treasure and talent to preserve our beautiful Franklins and their arroyos; and to

John Moses for being so supportive and hiking with us and other Austin Texas Parks folks as a way to tell our story of the importance of preserving this 200 acres, and for all his great efforts related to trails in the Franklin State Park.

Richard Teshner also encouraged others to attend for an additional reason: to let the Board see the support and strength of the environmental/conservation community. Such a showing may have an impact on another issue: the failure by the EPWU to pay for the damage it caused to Resler Canyon when it dumped tons of dirt in an effort to do some flood control. At first the EPWU said that they would mitigate at their expense. Then, they reneged. The matter has been in discussion ever since. The EPWU should be able to imagine the kind of turnout there will be if they fail to take care of the damage they caused at Resler.

El Paso Water Utilities' refusal to take responsibility reminds me of this great music video:

Open Space Advisory Board Chairman, Charlie Wakeem, does have this concern:

"I also understand that there may just be $3.1M in the budget for Open Space until 2011. If so, $2.45M from $3.1, leaves only $6.5K for open space acquisition for at least a year. Not Good!! Tomorrow I will ask the PSB that if the seller agrees to it, that the $2.45M be made in payments over the next few years so that other critical open space can be protected. The argument for paying in one lump sum is saving interest. However, the advantages of payments would be in time value and preservation of more open space."

Friday, January 8, 2010

More on Jobe's Proposal

There is not much more to say about the proposal beyond what Mr. Wakeem said in his email to members of the Open Space Advisory Board on Wednesday night.

Mr. Jobe proposes to turn over that portion of his leased land that contains Arroyo 41A to the PSB. He stated that he will leave a buffer between the quarry and the north rim of the arroyo thus preserving the arroyo from rim to rim. The GLO will have to agree to grant an easement to PSB and the PSB will have to agree to take it.

At his expense, Mr. Jobe will survey the area in question. That survey will take two to three months. Rim to rim with a buffer is critical. So, where the final stakes are laid is very important to those who want to see the Mountain to River Corridor preserved.

If the PSB agrees to take the land, then they will preserve it in its natural state.

Whether Mr. Jobe was motivated by a sense of public duty or pride (and he didn’t have to be) can not be known. Some have suggested that, by ceding 41A, he will not be required in the future to go through the kind of permitting that will involve public comment. Public scrutiny can be costly and he and his advisors may have thought that this proposal may be the least expense in the long run.

It might also be that there is nothing of great value to mine in and around 41A. Being magnanimous then would be an acceptable gesture. There is little chance of continuing a bike trail at Mile Marker 6 to Arroyo 42. Stanley Jobe intends to mine that area. Anyone who has hiked or biked this area knows the solid limestone bedrock that is there.

Whatever reasons Mr. Jobe may have for making his proposal, it doesn’t matter. That the Mountain to River corridor will be preserved does matter.

Of course, not all are happy and many want to see more land left unquarried or no land mined at all. I know that efforts to oppose quarrying on this piece of land owned by the People of Texas next to the Franklin Mountains State Park will continue.

Nevertheless, if Jobe truly grants an easement from rim to rim and provides a real buffer, then there ought to be cause for some celebration among conservationists.

There is much more here than Stanley Jobe. Our mountains (Franklins and Huecos) will continue to be eaten up as long as we demand “zero-scapes” of rock for our homes, our streets, our businesses and our commercial and public building landscapes. As long as the City fails to contain sprawl and encourages it by keeping all aspects of building cheap, there will be a demand for mined materials.

Few may know it, but GLO’s lease of the quarry now operated by Cemex at McKelligon Canyon goes all the way to the amphitheater in the canyon itself. Viva El Paso!

Until recently, the Open Space Advisory Board had little authority to accomplish the mission of preserving land. There are those who still resent the added duties given to OSAB by City Council and want to thwart OSAB’s efforts. Games were played with the last agenda. They will be played again.

Learning to live sustainably needs to become the norm. We live in a City whose landscapers are mostly rock spreaders and tree toppers. Sand is so cheap that we don’t even think about recycling glass when we should be.

Bottom line: if we want to preserve our mountains, if we want fewer quarries and less mining, than we had better change ourselves and how we relate to this still beautiful and sacred land here in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jobe's Proposal for Arroyo 41 A

I will follow up with more later. For now, here is this communication by email from Charlie Wakeem, Chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board regarding a meeting this afternoon with Mr. Stanley Jobe. Mr. Jobe made his proposal regarding Arroyo 41A which must be agreed to by the General Land Office of the State of Texas and the Public Service Board. It was sent to the Board members with a copy to Parks and Recreation persons: Shamori Whitt, Nanette Smejkal and Rick Garcia; Gonzallo Cedillos of the El Paso Water Utilities who sits ex-officio on the OSAB; City Council Representatives Representatives Ann Lilly, Susie Byrd and Beto O'Rourke; Matt McElroy of the City of El Paso; Ed Archuleta, CEO of PSB; and Stanley Jobe:

Dear OSAB members,

Reps. Ann Morgan-Lilly, Susie Byrd, and Beto O'Rourke met with Stanley Jobe, Ed Archuleta, Mathew McElroy, OSAB co-chair Richard Thomas and me Wednesday afternoon to discuss Mr. Jobe's offer to vacate a portion of FEMA Arroyo 41A on his leased premises with the GLO. He is willing to vacate the 41A flowpath on that property up to the rim directly above it as recommended by the Open Space Advisory Board, and as I understood it, would include a buffer. He stated that the quarry operations will not affect the Mountain to River corridor in any way.

First, the GLO must agree to dedicate the land as an easement to the PSB and the PSB must be willing to accept it. Mr. Jobe will then survey the property. When the stakes are laid out, there will be an on site inspection by the PSB and others with interest in the property to deem it worthy of accepting.

I am very optimistic that an agreement will be reached for the good of the community and all concerned, and that Mr. Jobe should be commended for doing this. I also thank Rep. Ann Morgan-Lilly for working with Mr. Jobe during the past few weeks to help facilitate it.

Charlie Wakeem


Open Space Advisory Board