Thursday, March 28, 2013

No Underpass; No Overpass; Nada

Yesterday I reported a rumor about a possible bait and switch by TxDOT regarding the new entrance to the FMSP - an entrance endorsed by conservation and environmental groups and the City's Open Space Advisory Board.

Here's what I have learned so far and I will update you as I learn more:

TxDOT is not building an overpass instead of an underpass. They are choosing not to do anything with the entrance.

One observer at yesterday's MPO meeting said that the claim is that TxDOT must spend funds that they have immediately.  The design for the entrance is not complete.  Aesthetic "doodads" for the I-10/Transmountain exchange are needed - the kind of banal designs TxDOT is using at 375 and other places - Lone Stars and all of that.  

Here's what the El Paso District Engineer for TxDOT, Bob Bielek, wrote in an email:

Subject: Franklin State Park Entrance Environmental

Based on our teleconference yesterday, and my review of the situation, I have reached the following conclusions:
1.      The purpose and need for the project have been inadequately defined.  It appears that the purpose and need to this point has been focused on some unspecified safety concerns from the public or stakeholders.  We need to subject the situation to a standard traffic engineering analysis taking into account the volumes on the main lanes, the volume on the entrance road, and the end state from the current project, i.e., no left turns exiting the park with eastbound traffic routed to the frontage road and the “Texas Turnaround” at the Paseo del Norte interchange.  We will gather historical information on accident data as well as current and projected traffic to support these analyses.
2.      The loss of funding for this fiscal year provides an opportunity to gather information from the stakeholders and the public on what additional factors, or substitute factors, should contribute to the purpose and need for the project.  For example, is the real purpose to provide a safe path to connect the two sides of the park for hikers?  For wildlife?
3.      For the public meeting, we will show the alternatives that have been developed so far and provide several blank aerials that depict the situation that will exist at the end of the current project to allow the stakeholders and public to offer their suggestions or additional alternatives that should be considered.

I appreciate the work that has gone into this so far and the work you have all done in developing and progressing the alternatives.  Given the scrutiny that projects are receiving today from other members of the public who, for example, question the wisdom of spending money on providing bike lanes on arterial roadways, we need to ensure that the purpose and need for the project are clearly stated and that we are solving a real, and not imagined, issue.

Bob Bielek, DPA, PE
District Engineer, El Paso District
Texas Department of Transportation
(915) 790-4203 Office
(915) 309-0482 Cell

This sounds like BS-ese for we really want a cheap solution that doesn't include animals, has no connection between the two sides of the State Park for hikers and bikers and we really prefer Lone Stars to people safety. Let people and wildlife die on Transmountain.  We just want our cute little Lone Stars.  

An alternative road into the Park via Paseo del Norte has already been nixed by TPWD for archaeological reason.  But, then again, I'm sure TxDOT prefers cheap over the preservation of rich archaeological sites.

TPWD officials voiced shock by the new stance of TxDOT (obviously TxDOT saw no reason to inform TPWD or get their input first).  Fortunately no property has been sold or transferred to TxDOT for the entrance project yet.

A public meeting about the proposed entrance is still scheduled for April 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Canutillo High School. (Map

I understand that the MPO will discuss this in a meeting prior to TxDOT's obligatory public hearing (probably another one of their window dressings).  I'll pass that info on when I get it.

If you have more information, please post here.  I'll update you with more later.

It's Official!

News Release

Media Contacts: Rob McCorkle, TPWD, (830) 866-3533 or

Corky Kulhmann, TPWD (512) 389-4590 or
March 28, 2013

Franklin Mountains State Park to Grow by More Than 600 Acres
AUSTIN -- The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission at its Thursday meeting approved the acquisition of approximately 658 acres to expand a state park in El Paso that already ranks as the largest urban park in the continental United States.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will purchase a parcel of land that straddles Loop 375, also known as Trans Mountain Road, to further extend the Franklin Mountains State Park’s western reach into the surrounding high desert country. The acquisition will bring the state park’s total acreage to more than 26,000 acres.

The El Paso Public Service Board offered the desirable property to TPWD at a bargain sale price. The tract of undeveloped land will provide a buffer from pending new city growth and increase public recreational opportunities through the possible future expansion of the park’s trail system.

After much land use discussion about the environmental impact due to encroaching development on the western flanks of the Franklin Mountains, the El Paso City Council this past summer agreed to the sale. The TPW Commission’s vote was the final action required to consummate the land deal.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

FMSP March 2013 Event and Hiking Schedule

Click to enlarge image.

Click to enlarge image.

Nation's River and Stream Miles in Poor Condition

Please read this press release from Nikki Dictson.  It's a good summary of an EPA survey.  Link to that survey and more is below.

U.S. EPA News Release: EPA Survey Finds More Than Half of the Nation’s River and Stream Miles in Poor Condition

March 26, 2013

EPA Survey Finds More Than Half of the Nation’s River and Stream Miles in Poor Condition

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of the first comprehensive survey looking at the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the country, finding that more than half – 55 percent – are in poor condition for aquatic life.

“The health of our Nation’s rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, and this new science shows that America’s streams and rivers are under significant pressure,” said Office of Water Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner. “We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation’s streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy.”

The 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment reflects the most recent data available, and is part of EPA’s expanded effort to monitor waterways in the U.S. and gather scientific data on the condition of the Nation’s water resources.

EPA partners, including states and tribes, collected data from approximately 2,000 sites across the country. EPA, state and university scientists analyzed the data to determine the extent to which rivers and streams support aquatic life, how major stressors may be affecting them and how conditions are changing over time.

Findings of the assessment include:

- Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels. Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water—known as nutrient pollution—causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.

- Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life. Approximately 24 percent of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy vegetative cover.

- Increased bacteria levels. High bacteria levels were found in nine percent of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation.

- Increased mercury levels. More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system.

EPA plans to use this new data to inform decision making about addressing critical needs around the country for rivers, streams, and other waterbodies. This comprehensive survey will also help develop improvements to monitoring these rivers and streams across jurisdictional boundaries and enhance the ability of states and tribes to assess and manage water quality to help protect our water, aquatic life, and human health. Results are available for a dozen geographic and ecological regions of the country.

Nikki Dictson
Extension Program Specialist II
Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources | Texas Water Resources Institute

1500 Research Parkway, Suite 110 | 2260 TAMU | College Station, TX 77843-2260
p: (979) 458-5915 | f: (979) 845-0662

Texas A&M AgriLife Research
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Do trees fight crime in Philadelphia?

Follow the links on this one for sure.  Do trees fight crime in Philadelphia?

Bait and Switch Scheme by TxDOT?

Is TxDOT planning to do a bait and switch scheme with the new entrance to the Franklin Mountains State Park? Rumor has it that they are.

A plan favored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Franklin Mountains State Park and conservationists and environmentalists may now be doomed by TxDOT.  The plan for a new and safer entrance to the Tom Mays Unit of the FMSP, a wildlife corridor, and hike and bike trail connections was presented earlier to the public and El Paso City Council.  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to give 8 acres of land to TxDOT for the project.

We are now hearing that TxDOT is planning to renege on the deal, pull a bait and switch scheme and do so with the excuse of lack of funds.  Instead of an underpass which guaranteed the protection of the view shed, TxDOT may be planning an ugly OVERPASS and NO ANIMAL CORRIDOR.  If the rumor is true, we have to ask whether this was the intention by TxDOT all along once they had the land in their control.

The new entrance is part of the project to widen Transmountain Road from the State Park entrance to Interstate 10.  

A public meeting about the proposed entrance is scheduled for April 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Canutillo High School. (Map)

If indeed a bait and switch is in the works, let's hope that public outrage will be loud and clear. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Great Day

Today has been a great day for sustainability for three reasons.

First, the Public Service Board unanimously approved a motion by Dr.Rick Bonart regarding the Rio Bosque.  In gist it directs President and CEO John Balliew to pursue, design and construct a pipeline to the Rio Bosque and, at the same time, get a change in the permit from the TCEQ which will allow treated effluent and reclaimed water from the Bustamante plant to be conveyed directly to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  What the motion does in effect is allow a new relationship not just with the Bosque but also with the Water District so that the Bosque can get water in the future.

In addition the PSB awarded a contract to Sanders/Wingo Advertising agency to begin a media campaign for conservation and sustainability and directed staff to create a public service campaign for the same.

All in all, PSB is on the path of sustainability and conservation and matters such as potable reuse are on the table.

Good things also happened at the Open Space Advisory Board meeting today. OSAB's chief role is to recommend to City Council which lands can be preserved in their natural state using 10% of the stormwater fee.  The land must also have a stormwater function which our arroyos definitely do.  At the top of OSAB's priority list for land to be acquired is Avispa Canyon on the northwest side of the mountains.  Today Mr. Stanley Jobe sought approval of a plan which puts Avispa canyon west of the State Park under a conservation easement at his expense.  In return the City Mr. Jobe is asking that the City rezone land which he privately owns to allow quarrying as part of his northwest operations. A motion to accept this proposal passed 3 to 2.  At the top of OSAB's priority list, Avispa Canyon will be preserved in its natural state and not one penny of the open space money will be spent.  That money can be used for other acquisitions.

Finally, and this item has nothing to do with the sustainability and conservation issues of the El Paso region.  However, it has everything to do with the one human characteristic which must be sustained or no other effort for sustainability in other areas will have a chance or even a meaning.  I am speaking about the human spirit - that thing or process or characteristic which attracts us with awe to mystery, to the unknown, to things unseen but certainly experienced.  Without a healthy spirituality, no other human pursuit is possible or worthwhile.  So it was with tearful gladness that today Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina - a man who rides a bus rather than being chauffeured and cooks his own meals rather than be catered - was elected Pope and took the name of Francis - the simple 12th century saint who did indeed rebuild a broken church which had lost its soul.  Francis gave us this prayer:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."

March 13, 2013: a great day . . . a really great day.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Could Begin in Eight Years

Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Could Begin in Eight Years

From El Diario: Environmental Victory

Front page today  "Victoria ecologista: cede la Ciudad 658 acres del corredor escénico a Texas."  

Karla Guevara Walton
El Diario de El Paso | 2013-03-07 | 00:42
La montaña Franklin ha sido un ícono de El Paso. Después de presionar por dos años, los medioambientalistas consiguieron que la vista que las rodea se conserve para siempre, cuando la Ciudad aceptó donar 658 acres del corredor escénico Transmountain al Estado.

La donación fue aprobada de forma unánime por el Cabildo el pasado martes y pone fin a la jornada que emprendió la Coalición de Montaña Franklin en el 2011, cuando auspiciaron una petición que pedía la conservación del corredor para impedir que la tierra fuera vendida para ser urbanizada.

“Es algo muy positivo para nosotros y para El Paso: vamos a tener más áreas verdes, atraer a más visitantes al parque; la montaña es un ícono y tener más hábitat natural protegido es maravilloso”, dijo César Méndez, oficial del Departamento de Parques y Vida Salvaje de Texas (TPWL).

El siguiente paso para oficializar la donación es que la Comisión de TPWL apruebe recibir el corredor, lo cual, según la abogada de El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU), Lupe Cuéllar, tienen contemplado hacer en su próxima reunión del 28 de marzo.

Actualmente, el parque estatal de la Montaña Franklin cuenta con 26 mil acres. Méndez no contempla que necesiten personal adicional para cuidar el corredor escénico

Además, el contrato de transferencia tendrá una cláusula que especifica que en caso que el Estado trate de vender la tierra o usarla para otro propósito que no sea parque, ésta regresaría a manos de la Ciudad bajo la protección de que sólo se use para preservación.

Para garantizar que esto se cumpla, la tierra quedaría bajo el cuidado de un fideicomiso, posiblemente una organización sin fines de lucro.

“Es muy probable que esto nunca pase, mi sentimiento es que el corredor va a ser parte del parque estatal para la perpetuidad; pero en caso que llegará ocurrir las protecciones están ahí”, explicó Pat Adauto, consultora para EPWU.

“Estamos muy satisfechos con la acción del Cabildo, es un beneficio para todos”, explicó Richard Teschner, presidente de la organización medioambientalista Frontera Land Alliance,

Para Jim Tolbert, autor de la petición y quien actualmente contiende para regidor por el Distrito 2, es una gran victoria  ya que la Ciudad no sólo aceptó preservar gel corredor, sino también implementaron el código de construcción inteligente en su Plan de Desarrollo Maestro del Noreste.

“Esto va a permitir que los arroyos del área estén protegidos; creo que la ciudad terminó obteniendo más de lo que cualquiera de nosotros hubiera imaginado; es como ir a la luna estoy muy contento”, dijo

Tolbert compite para el cargo con Edward Beck, Getsemani Yañez, Dolores Baca, Adam Gurrola, Michael Apodaca, Yamil Chaheine, Larry Romero y Leticia Guerra. (Karla Guevara Walton/ El Diario de El Paso)

Environmental victory: the City gives 658 acres of the scenic corridor to Texas
 The Franklin Mountains have been an El Paso icon.  After lobbying for two years, the environmentalists achieved the preservation of the vista that surrounds them forever, when the City agreed to donate 658 acres of the scenic Transmountain corridor to the State [of Texas].
The donation was approved unanimously by the council this past Tuesday and put an end to the work that the FMWC undertook in 2011, when it sponsored a petition that asked for the conservation of the corridor to prevent sale of the land for development.
 “This is something very positive for us and for El Paso; we will have more green areas, and attract more visitors to the park.  The mountain is an icon and having more natural habitat protected is marvelous,” said César Méndez, TPWD official.
The next step to make the donation official is for the Board of the TPWD to approve the receipt of the corridor, which, according to Lupe Cuellar, the EPWU lawyer, is contemplated for the next meeting, on March 28.
Currently, the state park has 26 thousand acres.  Méndez does not think it will be necessary to have additional staff to take care of the scenic corridor.
Moreover, the transfer contract will have a clause specifying that in case the State tries to sell the land or use it for something that is not a park, the land will return to the City under the stipulation that it can only be used for conservation.
To guarantee this, the land will be held under the care of a trustee, perhaps an NGO.
“It is very likely that this will never happen, my thought is that the corridor will be part of the state park forever; but in case it did occur, the protections will be in place,” explained Pat Adauto, EPWU advisor.
“We are very satisfied with the Council action, it is a benefit for everyone,” explained Richard Teschner, president of the environmental organization Frontera Land Alliance.
For Jim Tolbert, author of the petitio, and who is currently running for the District 2 council seat, it is a great victory that the City not only accepted to preserve the scenic corridor but will also put into place the “smart building code” in the Master Northeast Development Plan.
“This will permit the arroyos of the area to be protected; I believe that the City will end up getting much more than anyone of us could have imagined; it is like going to the moon, I am very happy.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Council Passes Scenic Corridor Ordinances

Unanimously, City Council this morning passed three ordinances which, in effect, establish the new NW Master Plan, the smart code re-zoning necessary, and the preservation of 55% of the open space by transferring 658 acres to the State Park and protecting key arroyos with smart code.  It was a major victory for environmentalists and conservationists and a win-win for all including the development community.  In addition, City Planners have begun to add the critical tool known as green infrastructure/low impact development to their planning.

Following presentations by Planner Carlos Gallinar and former City and now EPWU attorney, Lupe Cuellar, I had these words:

"Mr. Mayor and members of the Council

for the record, I am Jim Tolbert, the citizen who authored the petition to preserve land in the scenic corridor along Transmountain in northwest El Paso.  That petition was sponsored by the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. Along with others I coordinated and spearheaded a successful drive to collect enough signatures to bring the issue to your attention.

"When we began the task of preserving land in its natural state, I had no idea that our work would have such positive, far-reaching results.  Rather than insisting on one way or another, we chose to work together, to find accommodation, compromise and consensus. As citizens, City Planners, attorneys, employees and agents of the PSB/EPWU, State Park officials, environmentalists, conservationists, recreationalists and consultants we were constant in our effort to stay true to the spirit and conditions of the petition while maintaining the integrity of our various value systems and institutions.  We not only worked through our distrust of one another, but, there came a time, when it became apparent that all shared the same goal of making El Paso an even better place to live.

"Now we on the verge of preserving 658 acres of natural open space by transferring that land to the State Park.  We will protect precious arroyos through the use of smart codes as we more intelligently design a place to live that is livable, workable, walkable and in better harmony with the natural environment. The re-doing of the NW Master Plan, the utilization of smart codes, the new knowledge of a great tool called green infrastructure/low impact development will improve community and recreation and foster the value of natural open space.  It will make us a more productive, healthier and it will be a boost to our commerce.

"It has been said that following environmental principles is contrary to business.  That to be “green” is to be anti-business.  100 years ago if you favored separating residences from factories with new-fangled zoning rules, you were labeled anti-business. As we know now zoning fostered better business and living standards.  Back in the 60’s and 70’s if you favored cleaning our air and waterways, you were labeled anti-business.  However, improving the quality of our air and waterways has led to more productive communities and healthier and happier work and living spaces.  Today, one favoring modern development practices and green infrastructure/low impact development is often labeled “anti-business”.  The truth is that being green is not the antithesis of commerce – but the partner. Our care for the environment, our natural world and our eco-systems of which we as humans are just a small part, will only lead to better lives for us all.

"There are so many to thank for this day: those who worked so hard on the petition drive; the Dover Kohl team; all the citizens who participated in the charrettes: the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition particularly Scott Cutler, Judy Ackerman, Pat White, Joyce Ford, Jane Fowler and Richard Teschner; City Staff particularly Matthew McElroy, Carlos Gallinar, Elizabeth Gibson, David Coronado and Lupe Cuellar. State Park officials: Deirdre Hisler and Dr. Cesar Mendez.  For the PSB/EPWU – Dr. Rick Bonart, Ed Escudero and Katherine Brennand and especially Pat Adauto and Risher Gilbert and ultimately John Balliew and Mr. Ed Archuleta. Thanks also to Charlie Wakeem and the Open Space Advisory Board for its hard work.  And I thank you on City Council for your patience and for allowing this work to be done deliberately and well even if it took more than a year; and I thank you, Mayor Cook, for your leadership and wisdom, and our city attorneys headed by Sylvia Firth. 

"Today in El Paso there are those who would divide us. There are those who want our city to be “us against them”, “my group against your group”.  But look what we accomplished together: a new vision that is pro-commerce as well as green.  We overcame our mistrust of each other and we happily discovered that we were working side by side and shoulder to shoulder.  To those who would divide who see only negatives let us respond together that we can be visionary and innovative.  We can grasp for our future.  Let us all remember that El Pasoans work best when we work together."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Scenic Corridor Petition Reaches Conclusion with Land Transfer

Tomorrow, 3 items on the City Council agenda (5A, B and C), if passed, will in essence finish the work begun with the Scenic Corridor petition. The actual language of the petition cannot come before Council until April.  If tomorrow's ordinances are passed, then the petition item for April will be deleted as a matter of procedure.

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, which sponsored the petition I wrote and the petition drive that I spearheaded, sent out this notice:

"On Tuesday, 5 March, City Council will decide whether to transfer 658 acres of City owned land for inclusion in the Franklin Mountains State Park (FMSP).  Please plan to attend and contact Mayor Cook and all City Council members to express your support for our State Park.  Contact information is at the City website.

"Transferring 658 acres of City land to the FMSP (owned/managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department [TPWD]) unquestionably benefits our park and preserves some of the Transmountain Scenic Corridor.  Many El Pasoans demonstrated their support for conservation of this City-owned land when they signed the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition (FMWC) petition, first circulated in August 2010.  Please encourage City officials to approve this transfer.

"The land transfer is agenda item 5C.  You can read the agenda and the detailed attachment on the city website:
You may sign-up to speak on any agenda item by contacting the City Clerk at"

The notice does not include the fact that, along with the preservation of 658 acres of land, additional land making up the arroyos will be preserved by smart code re-zoning in 5B. In addition, the entire process means that a vastly better Northwest Master Plan has been created using smart code. City Development will be adding GI/LID features - a new tool in their tool box because of the petitioners efforts. 

I plan to say a few words to Council following the presentation by City Planner Carlos Gallinar.

FMSP March 2013 Event and Hiking Schedule

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.