Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Green Cities

Our Green Cities along with Corporate Knights has issued its list of the greenest cities in the United States.  The good news for El Paso is that it has made great strides and is one of the cities that has “exhibited the most changes”. Still El Paso is ranked 33rd in a list of 54 major cities.  Several southwestern cities ranked above El Paso – Denver (4), Albuquerque (5), Phoenix (8) and Tucson, tied with Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth (17). The methodology (criteria) for determining the rankings includes smart growth activities; land-use planning, programs, policies and zoning; transportation planning programs and policies; pollution prevention, reduction and remediation, efficiency and sustainability projects and administration. We are on the right track – but there is more to do. Grow but grow smart.

El Pasoans deserve the pats on the back for conserving water in 2011. But what more is being done to conserve water, recycle water, utilize rainwater? Whenever I discuss rain and water conservation, I get email reminding me of the programs by the City of Tucson which has a number of web pages devoted to rainwater harvesting. Their online publications are instructive. A leading El Paso LEED designer especially recommends the Water Harvesting Guidance Manual.

It’s often thought that a “green” house is quite expensive. However, read about this Washington D.C. empower house that produces all of its own energy and harvests rainwater too.

By an overwhelming 70% El Pasoans said “yes” to investing in projects that will make our great city greater. Among the projects to be financed is the Interactive Digital Wall at the El Paso Museum of History. Exactly what is a digital wall? There’s one in Copenhagen and here is the description.  Also watch this short video.  Pretty cool technology indeed. The question some ask is: Will our wall display El Paso history and culture or be a mere PR piece such as this video recently presented by the Museum of History?  The video is good PR (a savvy friend of mine in New York City liked it), but is short in substance when it comes to El Paso, its neighborhoods, history and culture. It makes me wonder what will be displayed on the Digital Wall. What can be displayed is prehistory, geological history, history of the indigenous, the Spaniards, the Mexicans, the Gringos, railroads, cattle, gunfighters and outlaws – all tied into events, tours, reenactments and more. Like ecotourism, heritage tourism can be a multi-million (some say billion) dollar industry for El Paso. Relish and take pride in what has made us El Paso and El Pasoans. That is why, for example, it was good to see that the City decided to refurbish our old street cars rather than buying replicas. Will the City also refurbish the old trolley barn or a build a new one for $4 million? Will a trolley system provide access for tourists to historical treasures such as the Magoffin Home, a Texas State Historic Site? By the way, streetcars have helped to revitalize city transit in Portland, Oregon, number one on the Greenest Cities list.  Elpasonaturally will be talking more about heritage tourism in 2013.

Finally, get away from electronics (the computer, your cell phone, iPad and so forth) and go backpacking or just take a hike. A recent study indicates that nature nurtures creativity. Of course, creativity can lead to better productivity and efficiency. Hmmm . . . keeping that open space natural may just mean more economic wealth – a tangible metric many can get their arms around and embrace.

Friday, December 28, 2012

First Day Hikes

"First Day Hike" on the Lower Sunset Trail

Franklin Mountains State Park Interpreter and Ranger, Adrianna Weickhardt, relayed this bit of news:  “America's State Parks announced that all 50 state park systems will sponsor guided First Day Hike Programs on New Year’s Day 2013. America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1, 2013 at a state park. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. Currently there are 657 First Day Hikes.”

She added:

“The First Day Hikes are an initiative by State Parks across the country to get people on the right foot for promoting healthy living, new year’s resolutions, and promoting the support of their state parks.  Texas State Parks has more than 40 participating parks so far for 2013, and all three located here in El Paso are among them (Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, Franklin Mountains State Park, and Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park).  Last year Franklin Mountains SP led over 30 people on its first annual First Day Hike; we are hoping to get even more folks out on the trails for the 2nd annual First Day Hikes!  Park staff and volunteers will be leading the hike, providing fun facts and education about our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert, the uniqueness of the Franklin Mountains, and will offer support all along the way.”

Information about the FMSP, Hueco and Wyler Tramway hikes can be found online:

Weickhardt advises that,

“. . . after people start their year off with a Texas State Parks First Day Hike, the next steps would be to keep posted on all of the activities and events going on throughout Texas via the TPWD Calendar of Events page:, and by purchasing a Texas State Parks Pass.  The Texas State Parks Pass is an annual pass that offers many special benefits.  As a pass holder, he/she and their guests can enjoy unlimited visits to more than 90 State Parks, and enter without paying the daily entrance fee. One can also receive exciting discounts on camping, park store merchandise and recreational equipment rentals and be eligible for other specials.”

Call 915-566-6441 for more information about obtaining a parks pass.

Be sure to see all of the January 2013 Franklin Mountains State Park hiking and event schedule.

From Randy Limbird of El Paso Scene:

Friends and family in town? HERE'S THE PERFECT THING TO DO!

Mount Cristo Rey Hike Through Time — A guided hike is at noon Sunday, Dec. 30, at Mount Cristo Rey, Sunland Park, N.M. Length: 5 miles round trip (2-3 hours).  Cost: $5 ($2 for children) donation requested for the Mt. Cristo Restoration Committee. Information: 252-9840. No reservation is required.  A presentation on the history of the monument will be given at the summit. The four-story-tall statue of Christ on the cross was built in 1938-40 by sculptor Urbici Soler. The mountaintop is 4,576 feet above sea level, in Sunland Park, N.M., near the junction of Mexico, Texas and New Mexico.  The hike is sponsored by El Paso Convention & Visitors Bureau and El Paso Scene. Security is provided along the trail and in the parking lot.  The 5-mile hike is easy to moderate, and is suitable for all ages. Free bottled water provided for hikers.  Meet at the large parking lot at the trailhead to Mt. Cristo Rey off McNutt Road (NM 273). Take the Racetrack exit off Paisano and cross the Rio Grande.  NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECAST FOR SUNDAY: Mostly sunny, with a high near 55. East southeast wind 5 to 8 mph.

Get a copy of the January Scene here.

Finally, that ol’ Rio Grande River Rift produces some hot spots underground for sure. The earth’s crust is thinning due to hot mantle material “unwarping” way below our feet. The result in numerous places is thermal water.  Many weekend hikers, travelers, hedonists and health buffs hankering for a hot bath head to the spas such as those at Truth or Consequences (formerly Palomas Hot Springs).  Bobby Byrd owner of Cinco Puntos Press writes:

“For the hot baths, go to T or C.  Sierra Grande and the River Bend motels have hot baths for their clients. When we're traveling through, we get baths at the Indian Hot Springs ($4 a person) but it's real rasquache. We love it, others don't love it so much.”

Besides a good soak, the underground hot water can be a source of geothermal energy.  Ft. Bliss is hoping to tap into that as reported in a recent El Paso Inc. article by Robert Gray: Bliss journey to the center of the earth.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FMSP January 2013 Event and Hiking Schedule

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

The Continued Destruction of Mother Earth

A Facebook friend, Rosemary Pureaverdad Martinez, posted the picture above of the Cemex Quarry at McKelligon Canyon. That operation has torn up way too much of the mountain now. Her caption reads: "The continued destruction of Mother Earth."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Water and a Great City of Great People

My apologies. It has been nearly a month since I last wrote the elpasonaturally e-letter. I started on the 7th – but never finished. A two-week flu/bronchitis bug bit me and, until this week, much has been a blur. In the meantime a number of you emailed and wondered if I had dropped you off the list or I had dropped off the face of the world. I hadn’t, of course. I was just in the never-never land of chills and fever and coughs. And I had the flu shot in September! Anyway – some words before the year disappears.

First, congratulations to John Balliew who has been chosen by the PSB to be the next President/CEO of our water utility. This is great news. John is a roll-up-your-sleeves and solve the problem kind of guy. He’s affable; he listens; and, most important of all, he’s very, very smart. His selection bodes well for El Paso.

And, congratulations to Ed Escudero who has left the PSB where he has been the Chairman and has accepted a position on the board for El Paso Electric. Ed built bridges between the PSB and the conservation community. He brought that community to the table and made sure it was heard. Like Balliew, Ed Escudero took time to go out to sites and see the situations of concern to environmentalists.

One would have to write a tome on the work and accomplishments of Ed Archuleta. I am so glad that he has been appointed to be one of the Board of Governors that will oversee the mess at EPISD. El Paso will benefit greatly for having his guidance.

I know that I often talk about the PSB or about water – but water is the single most critical issue not just facing El Pasoans but the nation and the world.  Because of drought, climate change, bad water practices in the Western United States for over a century, and just living in a desert where water is a scarce resource, its use, re-use, and conservation must be our key concerns. I do not share the optimism of some that we will have water for centuries to come. Sooner not later there must be a regional meeting of County, City, International, Water Utility, urban and rural stakeholders regarding water. Until then, it will do us good not only to continue PSB’s conservation policies but to make our building codes, landscape codes and so forth much more water smart. (Ed Archuleta’s water smart home project needs to come to full fruition.) Any water that falls as precipitation should stay on the ground and not flood through the streets and down outdated, technologically-dumb concrete canals with tiny culvert trash receptacles. If rainfall stays on the ground, it nourishes landscapes that help cool us (or feed us). If it stays on the ground it eventually helps to restore the aquifers below us.

Sooner not later state and national legislation regarding water rights needs to be drastically re-written. Water belongs to all of us. As it is now in El Paso, water is owned by a few agrarian interests, sold to the municipality (EPWU) and piped (the Rio Grande has ceased being a living, breathing creature and has been reduced to a mere plumbing system) to farms that too often grow crops which require large amounts of water. Thousands of people who previously could vote on water district policies were recently disenfranchised and the ability to vote became more difficult – thus leaving ultimate water decisions in the hands of a very few people. This needs to change and so does much of our crop and irrigation choices.

Learn more about potable re-use as well as non-potable use (purple pipe water). The National Academies has this good introduction:

Understanding Water Reuse

Wetlands can become integral parts of sewage re-use. They are already in use in El Paso. But imagine recapturing the vitality of the Rio Grande as a vast ecosystem performing ecosystem services worth millions of dollars to taxpayers. Mike Landis of the Bureau of Reclamation has imagined such. Read his String of Pearls on the Rio Grande:

String of Pearls on the Rio Grande

LEED, Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development, New Urbanism – the tools are there. Development, economic growth – these are good things if they are done smart with our grandchildren’s grandchildren in mind and not just the instantaneous, private profit as its goal. Encourage infill not sprawl.

More to talk about and learn for sure.

Some final thoughts: Today wasn’t the end of the world. (Did anyone seriously think that it would be?) Some talk about the beginning of new thinking. That’s always good. So let’s give up some bad thinking and get some good thinking. By the signs of the last votes on bonds, etc., El Pasoans are doing just that. I’m tired of those who say “we can’t”, “El Paso is too poor”, “it can’t be done here”. Forgive the language . . . but . . . bullshit and baloney. You’re an El Pasoan by birth or by choice. I’m an El Pasoan by birth and by choice. We know that we can get things done. Our question is “what can’t we do as El Pasoans?” The sky is the limit and we have lots of sky. As our exemplar we have Kevin Von Finger who our County Judge and Commissioners just honored as “friend and environmental activist”.  I’m also tired of scapegoating those with lots of money just because they have lots of money. Let me just mention the medical school, the hospital, downtown re-development, etc. I’m grateful not resentful for philanthropy. I am so thankful daily for people like Eric Pearson, President of the El Paso Community Foundation, or souls such as Dr. David and Carolyn Gough. Politics are in philanthropy too; but in American politics we all have a right to speak up. And, speaking about politics (and sustainable living in El Paso), government is only sustainable and stable in its republican/representative form. As a democracy we elect representatives and we protect the rights of each individual even from majority rule. Petitions are great. I can think of more. But, this notion that we should get rid of a representative just because we disagree with a decision he or she makes can only lead to anarchy and failure of our governments to be effective for any of us. Except for cases of misfeasance or malfeasance, we keep people in office, respect them, speak up when we need to.  We elect people not just because we agree with them on some issues, but because we believe that they will make the best decisions on our behalf. Time with patience is our best perspective. You don’t get rid of someone just because you don’t like this vote or that vote. You can’t keep changing policy on whim. An apology restores harmony. Forgiveness sustains that harmony. Move on.

As El Pasoans what can we achieve?  Everything.  Next question.

Kevin Von Finger Proclamation

At its meeting this past Monday, the El Paso County Commissioners honored "friend and environmental activist" Kevin Von Finger with a special proclamation:

Click image to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Balliew Chosen CEO

December 12, 2012

Public Service Board selects Balliew
as President & CEO of El Paso Water Utilities
EL PASO – The Public Service Board has selected John E. Balliew, P.E., to serve as the President & CEO of El Paso Water Utilities.

Balliew, a native El Pasoan, currently serves as the utility’s Vice President of Operations and Technical Services. He oversees operation of the utility’s six water treatment plants, 150 groundwater wells, the system of pipes and reservoirs which deliver and stores water around the city, and the maintenance and operation of EPWU’s stormwater management system.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University, Balliew returned to his hometown and began work as a laboratory technician at EPWU. He rose quickly within the organization, holding several leadership positions before being named Vice President in 2007. He has served the Utility for nearly 30 years.

Balliew is a licensed professional engineer and was named by the El Paso Chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers as its Engineer of the Year in 2012 and its Young Engineer of the Year in 1992.

During his career at EPWU, Balliew has been directly involved in many of the innovative projects which have helped secure El Paso’s water future. Those projects include construction of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, expansion of groundwater resources, and on-going projects designed to mitigate the impacts of the region’s on-going drought.

The board engaged the services of Bob Murray and Associates to lead a nationwide search for the new President and CEO who will oversee EPWU’s water, wastewater, reclaimed water and stormwater divisions. Balliew, who was selected from a field of more than 40 applicants, will replace Edmund G. “Ed” Archuleta, P.E., who is retiring after leading the utility for 24 years. Archuleta will remain on the job into 2013 to oversee the transition. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dave Meslin's antidote to apathy

Although this video is by a Canadian talking about "barriers" in his country to change, the lesson can easily be applied to our own:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Questions for the Candidates for CEO President of EPWU

In less than an hour, the PSB will convene and then move into Executive Session to interview four candidates for CEO to replace retiring Ed Archuleta.

Read more information about the finalists from Chris Roberts.

Here are the questions I want the candidates for CEO to answer and the PSB should ask:

  1. Are you willing to use the 10% of the stormwater fee to purchase natural open space as prioritized by the City’s Open Space Advisory Board rather than funding more (frivolous)park pond projects?
  2. How do you see yourself working with the Open Space Advisory Board?
  3. In what ways do you see preserving natural open space as a land management and a water conservation strategy for the utility?
  4. Recently the State Legislature passed a law disenfranchising thousands of people from voting in the WID#1. Will you work for its repeal?
  5. Mr. Archuleta envisioned a water smart home project. How will you help move that project forward and what do you think makes a home water smart?
  6. What strategies would you employ to postpone or replace the need to import water from faraway to El Paso? What about recycling and reusing water?
  7. Can and should El Paso limit growth and sprawl in the interest of conserving the scarce resource of water?
  8. How will you work regionally to conserve water?
  9. In what ways is water wasted or overused in our region? What can the EPWU do about it?
  10. What are your thoughts about rainwater harvesting? About green infrastructure/low impact development?
  11. Will you fight tooth and nail for every inch of land in the PSB inventory against conservationists/environmentalists or will you work with them?
  12. What is your leadership style?
  13. PSB members often complain that they do not get all of the details and facts before a decision on any matter of great or small value. Are you willing to be more open and transparent with the PSB? With the City? With the people of El Paso?
  14. How do you see yourself working with the City Manager, Mayor, Council and City departments especially on issues affecting water management and conservation?
  15. What improvements can the City and its departments make regarding water conservation?

And, in case you haven't heard, the TEA Commissioner just announced that he has stripped all power from the EPISD Board of Directors and is appointing a Board of Managers which will include Mr. Ed Archuleta. Elpasonaturally believes that Mr. Archuleta will bring the kind of expertise, experience and wisdom that the City and School District sorely need. His appointment is very good news.

Recycle Your Old Tennis Shoes!

Here's a great way to recycle your old tennis shoes and sneakers. One creative Girl Scout is collecting these old shoes to be ground up and used to re-surface playgrounds. Here's her Mom's message and a contact number for them:

Dear Friends,

Sofia is working towards her Girl Scout Silver Award Project. The project focuses in making an impact in improving our communities
Her GS troop decided to collect old tennis shoes/ sneakers that will be turned into grind used to resurface playgrounds.

She is working collectively with her troop however each girl scout has an individual commitment.

We are collecting tennis shoes of any brand any size any gender. This is a great opportunity for all of us to clean up our closets and help.

Let us know and we will pick up the items at your home.
Also if you have any friends and family that you would like to forward this message, we are appreciative of any and all assistance you can provide us.

Kindly note that we will pick up any donations

Please help Sofia meet her individual goal and also help our troop meet the project objective of a 1,000 pairs.

With your help we are confident to meet the goal!

Thank You for your support

Erika Marquez & Sofia

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For the Sake of the Environment - Save the Stacks

Video courtesy of Capstone Productions

By now all of you have probably heard that City Council wants to preserve the stacks but not use any tax money or City indebtedness to do so. Read the Chris Roberts report

A few thoughts:

Tuesday revealed that Puga is not a straight-shooter. He claims that there are buyers for the land if there are no stacks. Of course, some investors may say that they are interested but that doesn't mean a contract. It's all speculation at this time.  In point of fact it will take several years to sell the land and that is plenty of time to work out financing which saves the stacks or do whatever. 

Puga claimed that the entire land had to be sold together. As he was questioned on Tuesday, that claim was modified. The point of the matter is that he has discretion to dispose of the property however he as Trustee sees fit.

I keep hearing that the TCEQ really wants to bring the stacks down. Why? Again, I smell a cover-up - the need for a perfect crime.

Many of my readers were adamant that the stacks be taken down either because they are an eyesore or from a motivation of getting rid of the contaminants. Although I share their motivation - all of us who love the environment are so motivated - I fear that bringing the stacks down won't save us and future generations from nasty contaminants, it will actually make it more likely that those contaminants will compromise the ground water and eventually make their way into the Americas Canal and the Rio Grande. 

There are some environmentalists (and I'm talking about trained biologists and geologists) who don't even want anyone walking over this land ever again. They won't agree with my suggestion that the stacks will be good for marketing potential commercial property and creating tourism. There's nasty stuff in those stacks. It has already been proven and admitted that chemicals used in warfare and radioactive wastes were burned there. HKN and Save the Stacks have demonstrated that the stacks are strong, straight and solid. Keep the poisons locked away rather than bringing them to the ground where, in time, they will contaminate our water supply.

Again the motive behind my reasoning is a love for the environment and the safety of humans and other living things. Unlike similar stacks that have been brought down around the country, the construction of the ASARCO stacks are totally different. Demolish and a malevolent jinn is out of the bottle. Our duty as stewards of the environment is to keep the beast locked up.

What is going to happen. The Byrd motion which passed when the Mayor joined 4 Council members to express the City's desire to keep the stacks will have some weight. What Puga needs to understand is that there are citizens who can find solutions and it will be good to work together. Now that we are talking about this issue in earnest, he may discover that many will realize that it will be much better environmentally to keep the strong, straight and solid stacks.

For the sake of our lives and health and the well-being of our environment I'm not going to leave this issue alone.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Save the Stacks!

There are several items of special interest on tomorrow’s City Council agenda. Let’s take them one by one.

Item 20D on the agenda could simply be called the Save the Stacks resolution. There are back-up documents including the resolution, a response from the Trustee, Robert Puga, a map, and a “review” of the HKN study which disputes the HKN findings that the stacks are “strong, straight and solid.” However, the HKN document itself is not provided with back-ups.  You can read the HKN report and executive summary on elpasonaturally.  I doubt seriously whether City Council members will read it by tomorrow as it is not part of the agenda back-up materials unless, of course, they read elpasonaturally.

Both the El Paso Inc. and the El Paso Times have done stories about the resolution and the City’s consideration of purchasing the stacks in order to save them. Those stories can be found here and here.  The obstacle seems to be Trustee Robert Puga’s insistence that the stacks be torn down come hell or high water. When citizens first were asked about the stacks, a majority voiced a desire to save them. Then it was announced that saving them would mean a $14Million price tag plus ongoing maintenance, liability, yada, yada, yada. The thrust of the HKN report is that saving the stacks will not mean a $14Million fix but only a $4Million fix. $10Million is the amount that Mr. Puga insists the City pay for the entire site since he hopes to prevent the City from buying just the stacks and the area around the stacks for a monument. It is this $10Million price tag that Puga now threatens the City Council with in an effort to carry out the plan to demolish the chimneys.  Some of the stacks supporters on the Council are willing to save the stacks but not buy the entire land. Frankly, I don’t know why City Attorneys can’t compel Puga to sell just the area with the stacks if he is going to continue to change the rules of the game.

The stacks are safe. They are historically significant. They are and can be objects of art. And they can be much more.

Imagine a commercial area with shops and restaurants. Call it “The Stacks”. Beckoning El Pasoans and eager tourists are two very tall chimneys artistically repainted. These chimneys become beacons of economic opportunity and development for the City of El Paso. They attract not just shoppers but millions of dollars of tax revenue for the City. What better marketing can you have then attractively decorated chimneys? Puga is wrong. Any developer or investor with any amount of imagination can see the value of keeping those stacks.  Historic smokestacks in Baltimore, San Antonio and Cleveland “have been converted into attractions that have generated revenue for their owners,” according to Robert Ardovino of Save the Stacks.

What happens if Puga and company drop the stacks? Two things: First, even though the stacks would be collapsed into a ditches created for them and dropped while huge water sprayers attempt to keep down most (but not all) of the dust, there is still the possibility of contamination now contained within the strong, solid and straight walls of the chimneys. Second, as elpasonaturally previously surmised, the “evidence” of more insidious contamination will be destroyed. Some future law suit which would benefit all not just the victims will be impossible, because the evidence of insidious contamination will have been destroyed – the crime scene compromised – the evidence now locked away in the chimneys forever gone.

Bottom line – Save the Stacks.  They are monuments now and can never be used again industrially – never.  Ask your City Council member to save the stacks and to read the HKN reports:

Ann Morgan Lilly:
Susie Byrd:
Emma Acosta:
Carl Robinson:
Dr. Michael Noe:
Eddie Holguin Jr.:
Steve Ortega:
Cortney Niland:
Mayor John Cook:

Item 18 asks Council to approve the same resolution already passed by the PSB to make the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park part of the PSB’s holdings. The plan means more water for the Bosque and millions of dollars of eco-tourist dollars for El Paso. Read the Chris Robert’s El Paso Times story.  Also read Water Prospects Brighten in this month’s Rio Bosque news.

An issue that probably won’t go away any time soon is considered in item 20E. The issue in short is this: Although the City owns the land (and it is part of the PSB inventory and part of the NE Master Plan), the mineral rights beneath a square mile of the land are owned by the General Land Office of the State of Texas. They have agreed to lease that land to Jobe to quarry. Jobe currently operates a quarry adjacent to and north of this land. The Chris Roberts story in the Times provides good summary and insight. See the Council’s back-up material on this agenda item. There is a significant archaeological site on the land which raises the concern that the Texas Historical Commission may still object. Jobe will have to remediate the land that has extensive archaeological materials – something which may take time and great expense. The lease impacts the NE Master Plan. Although asked how much revenue the City may lose, Ed Archuleta, so far has not responded. Another keen observer calculates that the 900 acres of land lost at $35Thousand an acre will be a loss of $31.5Million in  income. If $300Thousand can be recouped each year from royalties, it will take 100 years to make up the difference. Jobe is currently doing a survey to determine how much and what part of the land will be quarried.

Items 14A and 14B are simply an update on the NW Master Plan/petition process.  “We’re finalizing the survey, Low Impact Development, and Dover Kohl regulating plan,” Carlos Gallinar told me.  “The PSB is still finalizing the deal with Texas Parks and Wildlife but still needs an official survey,” he said.  Gallinar will ask Council for one more postponement and will get its final report to council in early 2013.

Finally, an estimated 200 people packed the Mecca Lounge at Ardovino’s Desert Crossing yesterday to celebrate and pay tribute to the life of Kevin Von Finger. See some pictures. Be sure you read the best online tribute to Kevin written by Kevin Bixby of the Southwest Environmental Center.

Strong, Straight and Solid - the Engineering Reports

An engineering study by HKN of El Paso has concluded in the words of Robert Ardovino that the ASARCO stacks are "strong, straight and solid." As historic icons, architectural wonders and potential canvasses for future El Paso Southwest art, the stacks could become beacons of economic opportunity and development in El Paso.

One thing for sure: they can never be used again to burn insidious or any other kind of waste. They are monuments now and not industrial machines.

Here are the HKN reports not included in the back-up material for City Council members as they consider tomorrow a resolution to save the stacks

Structural Analysis of ASARCO Stacks HKN ASARCO Stack Report Engineering Report Executive Summary about ASARCO Smoke Stacks

May the Desert Flourish Where Your Footsteps Walked

An estimated 200 people packed into the Mecca Lounge of Ardovino's Desert Crossing yesterday to pay tribute to Kevin Von Finger. El Paso Preservationist, Bernie Sargent (known for his love of six guns and shady ladies), created a video tribute and "emceed" the event. Kevin's brother, Mark Finger of Chicago, greeted and thanked people for coming. Eddie Holland, a band member of The San Patricios, mused that a drone strike would have wiped out much of of the El Paso region's environmental activists. Kevin Bixby's tribute to Kevin in the Southwest Environmental Center's news says why Kevin was such a conservation champion - sui generis really.

Here are pictures from the event courtesy of Fred Eiland:

Bernie Sargent sets up the video tribute.

Jennifer Barr Ardovino eulogizes Kevin.

 A toast to Kevin

Mark Finger, Kevin's brother - center, visits with John Walton, r, and Maggie and John Moses

 Henry Drake and Marina Ardovino

 Robert Ardovino, left, makes a point with Jamie Ackerman.

Visiting and remembering 

Ardovino's always has excellent, beautiful service.

And this tribute from Bernie Sargent:

Strong, Straight and Solid - So Save the Stacks!

People often ask how I became a proponent of stack preservation.

My history with these stacks started at a young age, with orange skies on the school playground and the taste of sulfur in my mouth.  Many of my friends from this time are no longer here to share their unfortunate stories of how ASARCO affected them.  Inexplicable illness and mortality runs common through the lives of both former smelter workers and the people it affected.  For this reason, I joined a group that helped close ASARCO down – a historic day.

The stack is not just part of my history, but El Paso’s history. The stack represents thousands of families who bettered their lives through hard work, realizing the American dream here on our border. The smelter’s contributions led to the growth and development of our community, including support for the establishment of the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy, later Texas Western College, and now UTEP.

"The stacks are, I think, an important cultural icon in El Paso" - Robert Puga, ASARCO Site Custodial Trustee

El Pasoans recognize the importance of this history.  In June, 2010, an El Paso Times poll put 58% in favor of smokestack preservation.  Trustee Robert Puga stated that the turn-of-the-century Powerhouse would be saved during remediation of the site. Mr. Puga also said, “The stacks are, I think, an important cultural icon in El Paso.” 

"The stack is strong, straight and solid."

Then Mr. Puga wrongly asserted that stack preservation would cost $14 million.  Public attitudes changed on this information - released without an actual stack inspection. Save The Stacks formed, commissioning a $50,000+ engineering analysis of the stack, confirming the stack is strong, straight and solid.  Moreover, the cost of stack maintenance over the next 50 years is now estimated at $3 million – $11 million less than asserted.  Most importantly, the citizens of El Paso – through local funding and local efforts - have met all the requirements Mr. Puga had dictated for stack preservation. 

We should look at our history, actual facts, and public opinion, and weigh all this against an outside interest – namely, the Trust led by Robert Puga – which has no background in El Paso, no interest in preserving our history, and no interest in saving our landmarks.  Even the historic Powerhouse is now slated for demolition. Why commit historic landmarks for demolition?  The Bottom Line.  The Trust thinks it will make more money by selling land free of buildings.  This is not local taxpayer money; it is money associated with ASARCO’s bankruptcy. 

"In other communities . . . historic smokestacks have been converted into attractions that generate revenue for their owners."

In other communities – such as San Antonio, Baltimore, and Cleveland - historic smokestacks have been converted into attractions that generate revenue for their owners. In El Paso, the decisions of outsiders cannot dictate our future.

In 2011, strong city leaders approved a comprehensive plan for a more vibrant El Paso - an El Paso with a vision that is Strong, Straight, and Solid. Recent elections reaffirmed its relevance.  Plan El Paso calls for “restoration and strategic repair of historic structures, which can serve as valuable tourism opportunities. Use these buildings and include new ones to create a rich cultural center for residents and visitors. Museums could potentially honor the History of Asarco and those who worked there, and the industrial heritage of The United States and Mexico.”

We have presented a concept of how this landmark is destined to be recognized as a Historic Monument, memorializing not only the former smelter workers but all the citizens of the region it has affected. 

The tallest monument in the United States is the St. Louis arch, at 630 feet.  The second is the San Jacinto Monument, at 570 feet.  Strong, Straight, and Solid, our monument stands 826 feet Tall!

"Let us keep our history, and not give up that right to one person who has no stake in our community." 

On Tuesday, please support City Council by asking them to stand up for our heritage. Let us keep our history, and not give up that right to one person who has no stake in our community.  We must stand strong, straight and solid in support of what is Our History, and demand that this Stack – our monument - remain.

by Robert Ardovino, leader of many environmental causes in El Paso and Sunland Park, and owner of Ardovino's Desert Crossing with his sister, Marina.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Support the Conservation Easement Incentive

Saving Land: Something We Can All Agree On

Dear Editor:

The Frontera Land Alliance had a recent workshop that discussed the tax incentives that landowners may benefit from if they place their land under a conservation agreement. When December 31st comes, those incentives might be gone if congress does not take action.

Unless Congress acts in the next few weeks, we will be left without something that benefits everyone in our community. Despite remarkable bipartisan support, we may lose an important tax incentive that helps protect clean water, natural areas and working family farms and ranches.  The incentive enhances the federal tax benefits for landowners of modest means who donate conservation easements.  These agreements help conserve natural resources important to west Texas while keeping land in productive private ownership.

The enhanced incentive has proven effective, helping land trusts across the country increase the pace of conservation by a third – to over a million acres per year. The Frontera Land Alliance joins America’s 1,700 land trusts and their five million supporters in calling on Congress to make this important conservation tool permanent this year.

We encourage our local Representative and Senators to find a way to extend the conservation easement incentive as part of any year-end tax deal. Thanks to thoughtful landowners and responsible action in Congress, we'll be able to conserve even more natural and working land in west Texas for years to come

Janae’ Reneaud Field
Executive Director 

To take action, visit the Land Trust Alliance now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Chihuahuan Desert: Our North American Outback by Kevin von Finger

Here is an excellent little video written and produced by Kevin von Finger:

RIP Kevin von Finger

To say that El Paso's conservation and environmental community has lost one of its usual suspects would be a colossal understatement. Not just environmentalists but all El Pasoans lost a giant. The word went out by email and Facebook yesterday that Kevin von Finger had died. A neighbor and 911 respondents found Kevin dead in his home where he had lived alone. He was near one of his legendary and much-admired fish tanks.

His bio on the Frontera Land Alliance web site is short and sweet:

"Kevin von Finger is an ecologist and environmental consultant. He currently serves on the City of El Paso's Open Space Advisory Board, the El Paso County Eco-Tourism Committee, the Southwest Environmental Center Board of Directors, the Paso del Norte Watershed Concil Executive Committee, the International Boundary and Water Commission Rio Grande Citizens Forum Board, and the Keystone Heritage Park Board of Directors, where he also serves as the Habitat Committee Chairman and is actively involved in riparian restoration of the Keystone wetlands."

All of the above is not to mention that he was also, of course, on the Board of Directors for the Frontera Land Alliance.

Kevin was an ecologist. He held degrees from Knox College in Illinois and the University of Texas at El Paso. In 2003 he had retired as the Senior Ecologist for the Directorate of Environment at Fort Bliss after nearly 28 years of service. He became self-employed as an environmental consultant. He also authored a number of scientific papers. 

Wherever I went in the El Paso conservation community, there was Kevin. He frequently asked me how I find time to do all that I do. The fact of the matter is that few match or matched Kevin's activism. Kevin was not a complainer, not an arm-chair environmentalist. Kevin was a roll of your sleeves and solve problems scientist. He had a burly, manly kind of guy persona but a real softness when it came to just being a friend. He could talk business. He could also be personal and caring. Many who are active, take charge, get things done kind of people often miss the people in their worlds. Not Kevin. You mattered to him. 

I missed his last annual party. An arduous hike had made me home bound and couch bound that late afternoon. I figured that I wouldn't be missed. I was wrong. The next time Kevin saw me at an Open Space meeting, he said to me: "You missed a good one." 

I'm missing a great one now. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Melodies Under the Milky Way

Click on image to enlarge. 

The public is invited to “Melodies Under the Milky Way” for an evening of music in the mountains and a mini-program of presentations and activities about the sun, moon, and light pollution.  

Park Ranger Adrianna Weickhardt adds: "We are pleased to be hosting Travis Manning, a musician from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who will be providing musical entertainment including tunes from the classic rock era as well as some surprise 'astro-tunes'.  Hot cocoa and coffee will be available, as well as a few astronomically decadent treats such as Mars bars, Milky Way bars, and Starbursts.  We’ll have at least one telescope out to use after the program concludes to observe Jupiter and the crescent moon.  

This program is presented to you by your park rangers from Hueco Tanks SP&HS and Franklin Mountains SP, and astronomers from the El Paso and Las Cruces astronomy clubs.

After entering the Tom Mays Unit, drive all the way to the end of the park. (Map)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rio Bosque Has Water!

From John Sproul:

Just before 9 a.m. this morning, staff at the Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant switched the discharge of the plant’s effluent from the Riverside Canal to the Riverside Drain.  By 10 a.m., when my Introductory Tour group reached the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park inlet, water was just beginning to enter the park.  By 12:30 p.m., the water had advanced ~400 meters in the old river channel within the park, negotiating its way through piles of tumbleweeds deposited by yesterday’s windstorm. 

This is the first delivery of effluent to the park in 287 days

All of the Bustamante effluent is currently going to the Riverside Drain, and we are diverting as much as possible to the park.  A lot of the water is going to soak in initially, but some should start reaching the park’s wetland cells soon. 

Other Rio Bosque water news:

  • On Tuesday 13 November, the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission is scheduled to begin construction of the short diversion channel needed to deliver water from the planned turnout on the Riverside Canal to the old river channel in the park.  Once the diversion channel is complete, El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 will install the turnout. 

  • On Wednesday 14 November, the City of El Paso’s Public Service Board will meet, starting at 9 a.m.  Item 9 on its agenda (attached) is:

9. Consider and adopt a Joint Resolution between the City of El Paso and the El Paso Water Utilities – Public
Service Board concerning the transfer of the Rio Bosque Park from the City to the management and control of
the Public Service Board and the assignment of the License Agreement between the City and the University of
Texas at El Paso to the Public Service Board.

If adopted by both the PSB and the City Council, the joint resolution (attached) would place Rio Bosque in the PSB’s land inventory.  El Paso Water Utilities could then deliver some water from the Bustamante Plant to the park year-round as part of EPWU operations and without cost to UTEP.  The management direction for the park would not change.  Rio Bosque would continue to be a public park, and UTEP would continue to be the site manager. 

John Sproul
Manager, Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
Center for Environmental Resource Management
University of Texas at El Paso
500 West University Ave.
El Paso, TX  79968-0684
915-747-8663 office
915-861-4361 cell

Friday, November 9, 2012

Deal for Water Almost Complete on the Rio Bosque

Item #9 on the Wednesday, November 14th PSB agenda regards a simple transaction transferring Rio Bosque to the PSB and having the PSB assume the license with UTEP.  It will be drafted in the form of a Joint Resolution between the PSB and the City and has "obtained approval by the Asst. City Attorney and the Parks Director" according to Open Space Chairman Charlie Wakeem.  "This action will pave the way for reclaimed and/or treated effluent from the Bustamante Waste Water Plant to flow to the Rio Bosque in the very near future." Only City Council approval will be necessary after Monday evening assuming the PSB adopts the resolution. However, all signs point to adoption since helping the Bosque became a major issue at this year's strategic planning meeting as reported here at elpasonaturally in an earlier post.

The PSB/EPWU will continue an unchanged relationship with UTEP according to CEO Archuleta in an earlier email to me. "We have no intention of changing the relationship with UTEP and thus would maintain the license agreement as it," Ed Archuleta told me. "This is also the request from UTEP since I have spoken to Dr. Natalicio about this and also Dr. Schoephoerster. [Schoephoerster is the Dean of the College of Engineering at UTEP and a member of the PSB.] We would simply assume the license agreement."

In an email to Richard Teschner, Chairman of Senator Rodriguez's Environmental Advisory Committee, David Ornelas, the Wastewater System Division Manager for EPWU wrote: "The good news is that we are near an agreeement with the City and EPCWID#1 that will result in a water supply for the Rio Bosque that does not require a permit amendment. An announcement will be forthcoming."

John Balliew, EPWU VP, confirmed what Ornelas said: We [PSB/EPWU] have a verbal agreement with Joyce Wilson and a written agreement will be signed shortly. The irrigation district is in agreement."

In spite of a claim by Ornelas that water is already running to the Bosque "no water releases will be authorized until the City and the PSB approve the agreement," according to EPWU CEO, Ed Archuleta.  

However, it is no longer a matter of "if" but "when" the water will begin running.

There is more to this happy saga to report but I shall do so after the ink is dry  on the resolution and all the i's dotted so to speak. It is safe to say that Mr. Archuleta paved the way for this long-awaited solution through a meeting with the water district. That's a story to tell!

For now, those who have long cared about saving the Rio Bosque may want to attend next Wednesday, November 14th meeting of the PSB at 1154 Hawkins Blvd. The meeting begins at 9:00 a.m.