Tuesday, December 28, 2010

KFOX Story: Transmountain Fight Enters Round Two

Daniel Novick's story was aired on KFOX just yesterday. His write-up is available online as is the video for the news story. Judy Ackerman of the Franklin Mountain Wilderness Coalition is prominent and the story gives a good account of our side of the debate including showing our blog graphic posted earlier and shown again here:

You can read the story and see the video here.

By the way, view the video below but imagine that as you drive toward the mountain from the west, you encounter PSB's NW Master Plan in full bloom: commercial buildings crowding the road and obscuring the view.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Rio Grande by Tom Lea, oil on canvas, 1954

Back when I was a boy growing up in El Paso, KTSM produced a show that I believe was called "Look to the Mountain". El Paso icon, Conrey Bryson, hosted the Christmas Star program each year when the star on the mountain was lit for Christmastide. That was when the star meant something besides an energy burning fetish and the sacred cow of El Paso politicians. Famed American artist/author and El Paso resident, Tom Lea, read from his essay, "Old Mount Franklin". Lea wrote this inscription to Bryson when the essay was published in 1968: "There is a deep happiness in sharing this old town and this old mountain with friends like you." All of us who have or who now treasure the mountain and enjoy its trails, ridge and arroyos, know that deep happiness.

Lea concluded his essay this way:

"Above the Rio Grande's ribbon of green, forming one side of the portal of the Pass of the North, Mount Franklin is a presence and a personality. Standing above us, above the build of our town, Mount Franklin is the landmark and the trademark of where we live."

Our "landmark and trademark". Preserve or develop?

May we preserve this "landmark and trademark" and protect its beauty which is the home and habitat of a myriad of plants and animals. May we continue to have the deep happiness of sharing our old mountain together.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TxDOT EA Document "Not an Official Copy"

Mary Telles-Goins from TxDOT's Advanced Planning told me yesterday that the Environmental Assessment currently circulating is a "confidential work product" not ready for circulation. Here is her full email message to me:

Mr. Tolbert, I want to thank you for your call this morning to ask about the comment period for the environmental assessment for the Loop 375 Transmountain project. As I explained, the document has not been released by the Federal Highway Administration for further processing. In fact, we are still addressing comments and the document that you have was for coordination among state agencies and the Federal Highway Administration. Until FHWA releases the document, it is considered to be a confidential work product.

I don't want to put you on the spot and ask outright who has copies, but obviously, it is important to us that the public understand that the copy that was put into circulation by some unknown person/agency is not an official copy and is still being revised. If you could let the people you are aware of know that a revised copy will circulate later, when it is officially released for further processing, I would really appreciate it. The process I explained in an earlier email will still be followed, once we are authorized to release the environmental assessment. A legal notice will be published twice, 30 days and 10 days before the hearing, to notify the public that the document is available for review and purchase at the district office. The hearing would be held, with an opportunity for public comment at the hearing after the formal presentation of the information on the project. A ten day comment period would follow the hearing. Letters are mailed out to the elected officials, property owners and interested public letting them know the same information that appears in the legal notice for the hearing.

Thank you and you know how to reach me if you have any questions. I appreciate your help!

Mary Telles-Goins
Advance Transportation Planning
TxDOT - El Paso District

Ms. Telles-Goins has always been that exemplary kind of public servant who responds to public questions quickly. I've always known her to be upfront. I don't question Mary but I do question those above her and I wonder how much the document will change once "coordination among state agencies" is completed. I suspect that there will be plenty of public comment and plenty of dissent especially if there is a finding of no significant impact.

By the way, Mary Telles-Goins is retiring from TxDOT at the end of this month. Tomorrow (December 23rd) is her last full day at work. For 25 years she has been the epitome of a public servant. Elpasonaturally wishes her all the best and thanks her.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Finding of No Significant Impacts

Click on image to enlarge.

"The engineering, social, economic, and environmental investigations conducted thus far on the proposed project indicate that it will result in no significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and that a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) is anticipated."

Thus concludes the summary of the "Environmental Assessment/Loop 375 (Transmountain Road) from I-10 to 0.479 Mile East of the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park Entrance El Paso, Texas/CSJ:2552-01-033. The date of publication on the cover page is November 2010 along with the logs for the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation/El Paso District. No where on the cover (or anywhere else) does it say "DRAFT". By all appearances the report of which I have a complete PDF, is final.

Yet, when I asked a TxDOT official if the clock was now running for the one-month public comment period, I was told that this was not a final report and was not ready for publication yet. I have every reason to believe that this official was being absolutely honest with me and the distress in her voice not to mention her record of impeccable integrity confirmed that for me.

Yet, one wonders whether it isn't the final report as desired by a cabal of closed door officials and only formalities are now being observed while El Pasoans are being kept in the dark.

The word "Draft" does not appear on the cover page.

Much more later.

Largest Urban Park in the US Threatened by Urban Sprawl

Mule Deer near Transmountain Road will be threatened by PSB's Proposed Sprawl

Below is an informative piece which is currently posted on, a site developed by Rick LoBello the author of the article. It was also posted at the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition site which set off alarm bells at EPWU/PSB, an organization represented in the membership of this independent non-profit organization. Mr. LoBello's essay shows why protecting the Transmountain corridor is not just a matter of scenery:

Largest urban park in the US threatened by urban sprawl

by Rick LoBello

El Paso, Texas. December 5, 2010. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protects the heart of the Franklin Mountains range as part of the country’s largest urban park, Franklin Mountains State Park. One of the greatest challenges in protecting the park and its biodiversity is the ongoing destruction of the desert by urban sprawl developments in the surrounding lowland desert habitat. Over the past 100 years nearly the entire foothills natural landscape has been destroyed by developments from the historic Rio Grande and the downtown area for nearly 10 miles north towards New Mexico on both the east and west sides of the range.

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition has a grassroots effort underway to protect Public Service Board administered public lands as natural open space along the west side of the range along Trans Mountain Road and the Fort Bliss Castner Range in northeast El Paso. On October 6, 2010 the El Paso City Council voted to direct city staff to rezone 900 acres included in the Northwest Master Plan near the boundary of Franklin Mountains State Park so that they cannot be developed.

The El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board, of which the Mayor of El Paso is a member, passed a resolution stating they would pursue all available remedies of law in response to the City Councils action because of their concern that rezoning the land could kill a $80 million highway project in the same area which along with housing developments will end up destroying the last remaining wild and scenic corridor in this part of the Franklin Mountains. The PSB believes that there is no cause for concern highlighting how they have been proactive in protecting the mountains including the transfer of “nearly 8,000 acres to expand the Franklin Mountains State Park.” They also state that there is no mountainside development in the Northwest Master Plan; it’s all on the hillside lower elevation areas and that they are” leaving open space as a buffer between development and the state park.”

The issue was addressed again by City Planning Commission on November 18 when they voted unanimously not to recommend rezoning the Scenic Transmountain Corridor as Natural Open Space.

Many people in El Paso believe that if current efforts to protect the lower elevations of the Franklin Mountains fail the City of El Paso will be hard pressed to live up to an important goal in its Sustainability Plan adopted on September 15, 2009 to “achieve international recognition for successful preservation of our Chihuahuan desert heritage for all time” and many species that depend on these lowland areas will be displaced or die when their habitat is destroyed.

Most biologists familiar with the Chihuahuan Desert understand the importance of protecting all elevations of the eco-region, not just the rugged mountain slopes and peaks. In El Paso many believe that as long as you protect the mountain vistas and have a park like Franklin Mountains State Park protecting 37 square miles of the higher elevations, protection of lower elevations is not a concern. This misconception if far from the truth since many desert species of animals and plants survive only in lower elevations while others with large home ranges need habitat at more than one elevation. For example, in the City of El Paso burrowing owls appear to be declining in numbers because of all the new housing developments being constructed across the city. These owls require low elevation areas where they can nest underground in abandoned burrows dug by mammals or if soil conditions allow in burrows they dig themselves.

In northeast El Paso the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is partnering with the Frontera Land Alliance to protect the Castner Range at Fort Bliss. To help call attention to the importance of protecting this area from proposed developments the Coalition since 2007 has been sponsoring an annual Poppies Celebration in March on the grounds of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology in the heart of the Castner Range. The area is well known as one of the best spots to enjoy the Mexican poppies that bloom in this area.

Last year Congressman Silvestre Reyes secured funding from the Appropriations Bills in the amount of $300,000 to fund a Castner Range Conservation Conveyance Study aimed at preserving Castner Range for conservation purposes. This study will facilitate a conservation conveyance which is a first step for transferring responsibility of 11 square mile Castner Range to the State of Texas. This project will help preserve open space in the El Paso area and supports efforts to expand the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Achieving successful preservation of the Chihuahuan Desert within city limits and the surrounding region with the help of researchers and conservation educators will require the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders including City and County land management authorities, Texas and New Mexico state governments, private landowners and the surrounding community.

There are many reasons why protecting El Paso's Trans Mountain Scenic Corridor is so important to protecting Franklin Mountains State Park. Here are ten of them.

1. The lowland desert areas surrounding Franklin Mountains State Park provide habitat for many species of animals and plants. To survive in this part of the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion many species require these lower elevations for food and protection. Other species require habitat at both low and high elevations.

2. As urban sprawl creeps closer to the boundaries of the park the area's nesting birds will be threatened by domestic cats that many people in El Paso allow to roam freely in their neighborhoods.

3. The new TX-Dot road project and related developments along the three mile corridor on the west side of Trans Mountain Road will destroy the last wild scenic view in this part of the city important to the quality of life for thousands of El Pasoans currently enjoying the area.

4. The loss of the last wild scenic view in West El Paso will hurt the city's ability to expand ecotourism important to the entire region.

5. Campers visiting the Tom Mays section of Franklin Mountains State Park plus those who will someday be able to camp out on backcountry trails will be affected by both light and noise pollution associated with developments included in the Northwest Master Plan.

6. Threatened Texas horned lizards living in the lowland areas of the Franklin Mountains will lose critical habitat which could eventually lead to extinction of the species in this part of Texas.

7. Golden eagles and other raptors in the Franklin Mountains will lose important lowland hunting and nesting areas.

8. Mule deer will not have as many lowland areas to use as part of their overall range important to seasonal food production and protection from extreme temperatures during winter snow storms.

9. Javelina or collared peccaries appear to be expanding their range in this area and developments associated with the Northwest Master Plan will hurt their chances of finding the habitat they need to successfully establish themselves in this part of El Paso.

10. The potential for any future efforts to restore extirpated species like desert bighorn and Mexican wolves to this part of the Franklin Mountains will be impaired by urban sprawl developments.

Make Plans Now for Free Tours of Archaeology Museum in January

Cliff Dwellers Diorama, photo by Nancy Aniszewska, 2010

Make plans now for these free tours in January of the Museum of Archaeology. Here's the press release:

Free Tours of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology

Tours for Families with Elementary-School-Age Children

At 1:00 pm on Sundays, January 9, 23 and 30, 2011

Adult Tours

At 1:00 pm on Wednesdays: January 12 and 19, 2011

These free one-hour, docent-led tours of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology will introduce participants to the people of El Paso’s ancient past from the Paleoindians who lived here 14,000 years ago to the Mescalero Apache people of today. Visitors will also see prehistoric artifacts from several regions of México. Reservations are not necessary but contact the museum if you plan to attend, 915-755-4332; To enjoy the gardens, wear suitable clothing, shoes, and sun protection.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Google Earth map of NW Master Plan land

Same map showing if all goes "according to plan"

The first petition asks that the City Council for an ordinance that "shall preserve, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the land . . . known as 'the West Transmountain Scenic Corridor.'" The pictures above show why such an ordinance is necessary.

The second petition adds the line: "The City shall take all steps necessary to preserve this land and to prevent it from being developed with either private development or major public roadways." This petition makes it clear to TxDOT and others that Paseo del Norte should be "bent" to the west and the flatter area around the Natural Gas Pipeline Road.

The land must be preserved by Natural Open Space Zoning. The argument by staff at CPC was that NOS will create "leapfrog" development. This argument is as bogus as saying that any development around major urban parks or green spaces is "leap frog" development. Preserved natural open space is like any natural park such as the Billy Rogers Arroyo Park or the Franklin Mountains State Park. I don't think that any El Pasoan would call the Franklin Mountains as the cause of leapfrog development. Those who know Arroyo Park wouldn't want it filled in so as to prevent a leapfrog from Kern Place to Rim Road!

CPC was sold a bill of goods. Both Nick Costanzo of EPWU and Matt McElroy of City Planning eluded to a "deal" between Ed Archuleta and Joyce Wilson to use Smart Codes. The word on the street now: Ed Archuleta has reneged on his promise.

"If the area eventually gets developed with no NOS and/or Conservation Easement protection," Open Space Advisory Board chairman Charlie Wakeem points out, "it would wipe out two large hills and an arroyo crossing Transmountain Road near where Paseo Del Norte is proposed, let alone the magnificent scenic beauty of the landscape and mountains."

A recreational area for a population beset by diabetes and its consequences would be gone for the sake of enriching a powerful few.

In the picture above, note the deepening arroyos and steeper slopes as Transmountain approaches the Franklins. Note also the ugly sprawl and vacant land and ponding areas to the south (upper right portion of the picture) threatening the scenic, recreational corridor.

If you are a registered voter residing in El Paso, Texas, please sign the petitions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What Development Will Look Like

Do you want this? Click to enlarge.

Or this? Click to enlarge.

The first image above is the Scenic Transmountain Corridor as seen from Gas Line Road. The view at the bottom is that same corridor showing development per the PSB's Northwest Master Plan. It was created using Google Earth and then superimposing development based on the Master Plan on top of the Google Earth image.

A few people will make lots of money developing the only scenic corridor on the west side which is also a major greenfield. A multi-lane road will be built no matter what. It's a matter of how it will be done. If the highway is built the way TxDOT proposes and the PSB wants, it will take out two large hills, arroyos and the scenic splendor of the desert with the mountains as a centerpiece.

Elpasonaturally has heard that Ed Archuleta of the PSB may now be reneging on his pact with city officials to develop this land using smart code. Did he want people to think that smart code was acceptable to him in order to get a unanimous vote from CPC not to recommend Natural Open Space zoning? Such zoning along with an easement to preserve the 792 acres of the corridor in its natural state in perpetuity is the only way to go.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New look at

Just finished a new look for I hope everyone likes the improvements.

How to Save the Scenic Transmountain Corridor

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is sponsoring 2 new initiative petitions. The first calls for preserving in its natural state and in perpetuity the land known as the Scenic Transmountain Corridor and referenced in a proposed City ordinance now scheduled for a vote by Council on January 11, 2011. The second petition adds the wording that the City "shall take all steps necessary to preserve this land and to prevent it from being developed with either private development or major public roadways." It was thought that a petition with the additional sentence would be helpful to TxDOT as they soon will go through a public hearing process after they complete their environmental assessment.

Here's how you can help save the Scenic Transmountain Corridor. At the top right hand column of this blog are links to documents that you can download: Instructions for gathering signatures, the petition forms, and FAQs. Maps and other docs will be added in the next few days and throughout the petition process to help you answer questions and be able to show potential signers the land in question. Look for them daily. The currently posted documents are also embedded in this post below.

Only registered voters residing in the City of El Paso can sign the petitions. We need at least 1547 signatures so please get started.

Item number 7 on the Instructions tells you where and by when to return the petitions.

Thank you for your help.
Instructions for Petition Gatherers
Initiative Petition Form
Initiative Petition Form2

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Visualize the Vanishing Scenic Transmountain Corridor

Click on this or any of the images below to enlarge.

Above is the scenic corridor as seen from Gas Line road - just about where "Plexxar"will go per TxDOT plan:

Now develop and add traffic and here's your new view of the "scenic" corridor:

Just imagine how ugly that view will be once Paseo del Norte gets built through the Westside Master Plan area that we want to preserve as Natural Open Space. Once that road and intersection are built along with the Ed Archuleta Commercial District, forget the view. In fact, forget the land because creating an arterial like Paseo del Norte will ultimately force development a mile wide on either side or up to the State Park - whichever comes first.

Now, here is the Scenic Corridor and the un-Scenic Corridor side by side:

Seen enough?