Monday, February 6, 2012

Sierra Club Files Lawsuit to Halt Transmountain West Construction


The Sierra Club has filed a suit today against the Federal Highway Administration and TxDOT over the Transmountain project that will widen that road from just east of the State Park entrance all the way to Interstate 10. The suit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division.

The suit asks the court to find that the environmental assessment done by TxDOT was arbitrary and not done in accordance with the law. If the Court so finds, then Sierra Club is asking that the project be halted.  Sierra Club says that a full environmental impact statement must be prepared before any construction starts. Such an impact study and statement can take over a year to complete.  Sierra argues that the project as now defined will have a very negative impact on people and the environment.

The El Paso Times reported just last week that “Sundt Construction of Tucson has been selected by the Texas Department of Transportation to build the $61 million Loop 375 Trans Mountain West project on the West Side . . . “ The Times further reported that Sundt plans to break ground this month.

By the way, weren’t we told by City leaders that $85 million not $61 million was the cost of the project? These same leaders were so afraid of losing so much money for El Paso – or Tucson – or wherever. Still $61 million far exceeds the initial solution for the project - $15 million.

Know that this project is no mere widening of the road. It will create a 4 lane “freeway” from the State Park to I-10 with four additional frontage road lanes – two north and two south of this asphalt beast.

An earlier story by Chris Roberts published in the El Paso Times and still available online documents how decisions about the TxDOT project were made behind closed doors and prior to any public meetings. [Actually, Roberts’ key story was called “Bypassed” and chronicled how developers and TxDOT corresponded on design of the Transmountain Road project. That story is only available now through an online subscription process.] Roberts wrote:

“Emails obtained by the El Paso Times under a Texas Open Records Act request indicated that TxDOT officials worked closely with developers as they planned a strip of big-box stores on Trans Mountain near I-10. And when public meetings were held in February, ‘plans for Transmountain had long been completed,’ according to an email Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton sent to a City Council member.”

The mere fact that the public was cut out of the process and that public hearings were mere window dressing, gives added fuel to the support of the Sierra lawsuit.

Lawsuits cost money and this one needs your support. A Legal Defense Fund has been set-up to support the lawsuit. If you wish to contribute, make your check payable to “El Paso Regional Sierra Club Group” with a memo that reads “Franklin Mountain Legal Defense Fund”. Mail your check to the El Paso Regional Sierra Club Group, P.O. Box 9191, El Paso, TX 79995.

Other subjects . . . 

Switching subjects and please take note: I got my dates wrong for the public City hearings regarding  action on the City’s Comprehensive Plan Re-Write (Plan El Paso). It is important that the public attend and voice their support for a Plan that was written after more than 2500 people participated in 100 meetings and 20 hands-on-sessions. Plan El Paso has been discussed by numerous groups, stakeholders and the press. Efforts to sink the plan by delaying its passage are underway. I published the corrected dates at elpasonaturally and here they are again (correctly):

Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee
Monday, February 20, 2012, 10 a.m. to Noon, 10th Floor City Hall

City Plan Commission
Thursday, February 23, 2012, 1:30 p.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

Legislative Review Committee
Thursday, March 1, 2012, 1:30 p.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

City Council
Tuesday, March 6, 2012, 8:30 a.m., 2nd Floor City Hall

Please get these dates on your calendar. I will be discussing the Comprehensive Plan Re-Write and publicizing these critical meetings more and more.

As I keep saying, El Paso needs a Green Chamber of Commerce as they have in New Mexico cities. Also, I’ve noticed that Everyday Health recently linked to an article about the new hairstyles that are simple and don’t require blow dryers: Celeb-Inspired Summer Hair. I mention this only because one of the key players (if not the key player) in efforts to water down the new City Landscape Ordinance and now to scuttle the Comprehensive Plan re-write is none other than River Oaks Properties. River Oaks is owned by Helen of Troy founder and CEO, Gerald “Jerry” Rubin.  Of course you know that Helen of Troy makes and markets “personal care electrical products”.  Perhaps not purchasing electrical hair care appliances or even using them makes sense not just for the sake of the planet but for  the sake of El Paso, Texas.

Finally, The 14-week annual training program to become a Texas Master Naturalist begins in just two weeks: February 22, 2012. Persons interested will be trained by experts in urban ecology, geology, botany, mammology, invertebrate biology, ornithology, archaeology, soils, climate and more. Classes are held on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. at the El Paso Garden Center, 3105 Grant Avenue. (Map)   There are also several Saturday morning field trips.  Time is short but applications are still being taken.  To apply for this year’s class you can call the AgriLife Extension office at 915-851-2515 or apply online: http://txmn.org/apply/.  You can also email Matthew Santillan for more information. The cost of the program is $125 to cover books and publications.   The complete press release is available at elpasonaturally.

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