Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Critters above Alamogordo

What's in this picture taken above the hospital and just north of the Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo? Click image to enlarge.

 Look carefully. Click image to enlarge.

Barbary Sheep!

Picture taker, Michael Romero (El Paso Hiking Meet-up Group) said after a July 23, 2013 hike: "Great adventure this AM, this is the largest herd of Barbary Sheep that I have seen on the mountain. I believe that I counted 19 or 20. I watched them and they watched me for most of an half hour."

Learn more:

Wikipedia article


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Heritage Tourism: It's All Good

A very good thing happened yesterday.  Senator José Rodriguez' Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee gave a presentation to District 7 Representative Lily Limón.  Rep. Limón listened attentively and enthusiastically.  At the end of the meeting she summarized what was said and told the group her next steps including asking them to keep her informed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

El Paso City's Management Must Value Trees More

Italian Stone Pine in memory of Margaret H. Tolbert planted at Newman Park and donated by the office of Rep. Susie Byrd as part
of the Memorial Tree program of El Paso.

My friend, Marshall Carter-Tripp (the former Director of UTEP's Centennial Museum) raised again the issue of the need for more trees in El Paso.  To make that happen we need a city management which really values trees and doesn't just use Tree City USA as public relations window dressing.

Smart Code Works

Smart Code works and the El Paso Times has spotted it.  Too bad the 5 Points Business Regressives (aka, Association) and City Council Representative Larry Romero are preventing this new model of urban planning from working miracles along Piedras, Grant, Pershing and Montana.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

State Park Entrances and Dead Birds

I'm not sure what the title of this post should be. "Point/Counterpoint".  "Maybe Bielek Was Right and I Owe Him an Apology".  Or "Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition Fiddles While . . . "  Read on.  It's lengthy but please read on.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Please Contact the USFWS

It appears that the Water Improvement District rushed in to destroy vegetation and habitat during nesting season at the Montoya and Newmexas Drains.  They were without authority on this as the agreement to maintain those particular drains is between the United States (Department of Interior/Bureau of Reclamation) and the City of El Paso – EPWU being the stormwater agency of the City.  After the fire, EPWU began clearing out burned debris per agreement with the United States.  WID then stepped in and began clearing out everything.  When I asked Chuy Reyes whether he would be open to mitigation of the area with native plants, his email response was: “I am not interested in replanting native vegetation.”  There can be little doubt that the destruction of habitat had to include birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (hummingbirds, grackles, etc.) as well as endangered species possibly the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.  An investigation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is called for.  It would be helpful if the USFWS heard from numerous people asking for an investigation.  At the very least an investigation will probably mean that Mr. Reyes and the WID will think twice before destroying wildlife habitat again.  

The two FWS staffers to contact are:

Delivan Roper, 575-382-2177, ext. 107;

Albert Gonzalez, 915-471-6320;

People can reference any of my posts on the subject at  

Please help to get the word out.  Would you please urge Judy to get an email blast out ASAP.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Asked to Investigate Destruction of Endangered Flycatcher

The destruction of habitat along the Newmexas and Montoya Drains in El Paso's Upper Valley by environmental criminal, Chuy Reyes, and the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 has possibly destroyed not only migratory birds such as hummingbirds and grackles, but the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

Interestingly, a channelization project was set to begin later in the fall near the terminus of the Montoya Drain at the Rio Grande near the El Paso Electric Plant.  The project's guidelines call for sensitivity not only to migratory birds but also to the Willow Flycatcher.  The project was/is set to start on September 15, 2013 - after nesting season.  There is also mention of a proposed wetland habitat project.  In other words, Chuy Reyes and the WID were already aware of the bird nesting issues prior to their extreme destruction of vegetation and habitat along the drain.

Here is a copy of the 2013 Channelization Project:

If you are outraged (and you should be), then ask the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate now.  The FWS staffer that enforces the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is Delivan Roper.  Please contact him to discuss limitations on vegetation removal during the nesting season. Here is his contact information:

Delivan Roper
Law Enforcement

575-382-2177, ext. 107

5686 Santa Gertrudis Drive
Las Cruces, NM 88012

For further reading:

A Natural History Summary and Survey Protocol for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Note Figure 8, p. 11 showing nesting and breeding season; also see pictures of habitat including salt cedars.)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

Monday, July 15, 2013

Now the Bad News from the MPO: No State Park Entrance

At the Metropolitan Planning Organization/Transportation Policy Board meeting last Friday (7/13/13) State Rep. Marisa Marquez spoke in favor of an appropriate entrance to the Tom Mays section of the Franklin Mountains State Park (FMSP) and asked what funding might be possible.  The board listened respectfully as Richard Teschner, Pat White, Scott White, Lois Balin and Judy Ackerman spoke in favor of TxDOT’s option 4, the underpass that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has determined to be the safe and appropriate entrance for the Park.  

The MPO looked at 47 projects for the 2014-2016 four-year Transportation Improvement Program funding.  The desired FMSP Entrance was one of four projects that was not included.  Members of the public spoke about other projects in the TIP.  Then without further board discussion, they voted to approve the list of 47 projects.  The FMSP entrance project is still in the 20 year Metropolitan Transportation Plan but there is no immediate funding for it.

El Paso Times report:

MPO Approves $2.3 Million for Bicycle Programs and Infrastructure

Here's the good news from last Friday's MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization / Transportation Policy Board) meeting: $2.3 million for El Paso bicycle programs was approved.  This follows Tuesday's decision by El Paso City Council to fund bicycle sharing.  On hand were what one observer described as "many young (and not so young) energized, eloquent and inspirational El Pasoans who spoke about the need for bicycle lanes, connectivity, quality of life and access to parks." 

VeloPaso, El Paso's Bike Pedestrian Coalition, presented two documents. The first showed the how obesity (an epidemic in El Paso) falls with increased cycling and walking.

Their second document shows El Paso's bicycle friendly policies and El Paso's room for improvement.

Bicycle Advocate "Rider Strong" filed this report about the MPO meeting:

"The MPO Transportation Policy Board approved $2.3 million in citywide bicycle infrastructure and programs over the next three years. Several bike advocates voiced their support for bike funding, while countless others called and emailed their representatives, before and during the meeting. 

"Bicycle advocates in El Paso received an urgent 24-hour Action Alert from Bike Texas, the state's largest bicycle advocacy organization, after doubts were raised about the fund's security.

"'Infrastructure and bike programs will not only help the [City of El Paso's] new bike share program,' said Ben Foster, board member of Velo Paso, a bicycle pedestrian coalition, 'but it will inspire people to dust off their bikes sitting in their garage and ride to work, school, parks and maybe even to an Aardvarks [minor league baseball] game.'

"Plans for the $60.8 million Triple-A ballpark include 80 bike racks, a requirement for LEED certification.

"Rep. Marisa Marquez (D-77), a novice cyclist whose district includes Downtown, UTEP and neighborhoods around Fort Bliss, asked whether there were beginner bike classes she could attend and share with her constituents. 
Bicycle funds approved today could go towards education initiatives and bike classes for adults and children. These funds, considered by city officials as "seed money" for the city's new bicycle program, could also be applied toward the city's first bicycle master plan.

"'An advocacy presence may have saved this pot of money from being diverted to other projects' said a city official.

"The $2.3 million dollars in funding represents a mere 1.5% of total TIP monies authorized for the next three years. MPOs in Dallas and Bexar County allocate almost quadruple that amount.

"'Next time,' Rep. Joe Pickett (D-79), member of the powerful House Committee on Transportation, lightheartedly remarked,'wear the spandex.'"

"Next time, El Paso should demand double the bike funding to catch up to places like Dallas and San Antonio." 

Also see:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Chuy Reyes and Water District likely violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Below is a summary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The devastating clearing of the Nemexas/Montoya Drain by Chuy Reyes and the WID#1 probably killed hummingbirds and grackles and other migratory birds.  It is still not clear whether Chuy had any authority over the drain to begin with since the agreement regarding maintaining the drain is between the United States of America (Department of Interior/Bureau of Reclamation) and the City of El Paso.

The actions by the WID are being reported to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Elpasonaturally has learned that the EPWU was only cleaning up burned debris after the fire which sparked a single complaint from a prominent El Paso attorney which led to the clearcutting and dredging of the drain during nesting season. The WID then went in and began clearcutting everything forcing EPWU to have to haul away the debris from all vegetation being destroyed by the WID.

According to wildlife biologist,Lois Balin, above is a picture of true wetland plants that do absorb all kinds of toxins.  These include mainly cattails, sedges, and rushes.  "A wetland is part of the water treatment process," according to Balin. 

Below is a summary of the Migratory Act which was copied from here.  I have bolded and italicized the penalty section.  Will Chuy Reyes have to serve six months to two years for his actions? He may very well have to do so.

16 U.S.C. §§ 703-712, July 3, 1918, as amended 1936, 1960, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1978, 1986 and 1989.
Overview. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements various treaties and conventions between the U.S. and Canada, Japan, Mexico and the former Soviet Union for the protection of migratory birds. Under the Act, taking, killing or possessing migratory birds is unlawful.

Prohibited Acts. Unless permitted by regulations, the Act provides that it is unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill; attempt to take, capture or kill; possess, offer to or sell, barter, purchase, deliver or cause to be shipped, exported, imported, transported, carried or received any migratory bird, part, nest, egg or product, manufactured or not. Subject to limitations in the Act, the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) may adopt regulations determining the extent to which, if at all, hunting, taking, capturing, killing, possessing, selling, purchasing, shipping, transporting or exporting of any migratory bird, part, nest or egg will be allowed, having regard for temperature zones, distribution, abundance, economic value, breeding habits and migratory flight patterns. Regulations are effective upon Presidential approval. §§ 703 and 704.

The Act makes it unlawful to:   ship, transport or carry from one state, territory or district to another, or through a foreign country, any bird, part, nest or egg that was captured, killed, taken, shipped, transported or carried contrary to the laws from where it was obtained; import from Canada any bird, part, nest or egg obtained contrary to the laws of the province from which it was obtained. § 705.

Arrests/Search Warrants. To enforce the Act, authorized Department of Interior employees may:   without a warrant, arrest a person violating the Act in the employee's presence or view; execute a warrant or other process issued by an officer or court to enforce the Act; search any place with a warrant. All birds, parts, nests or eggs that are captured, killed, taken, offered or sold, bartered, purchased, shipped, transported, carried, imported, exported or possessed contrary to the Act will be seized and, upon conviction of the offender or upon court judgment, be forfeited to the U.S. and disposed of by the Secretary. § 706.

Violations/Penalties. According to the Act, a person, association, partnership or corporation which violates the Act or its regulations is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $500, jail up to six months, or both. Anyone who knowingly takes a migratory bird and intends to, offers to, or actually sells or barters the bird is guilty of a felony, with fines up to $2,000, jail up to two years, or both. (Permissible fines are increased significantly by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, as amended in 1987, which is summarized separately in this Handbook.)

All guns, traps, nets, vessels, vehicles and other equipment used in pursuing, hunting, taking, trapping, ensnaring, capturing, killing, or any attempt on a migratory bird in violation of the Act with the intent to sell or barter, must be forfeited to the U.S. and may be seized and held pending prosecution of the violator. The property is to be disposed of and accounted for by the Secretary. § 707.

Miscellaneous. The Act should not be construed to prevent states and territories from making or enforcing laws or regulations not inconsistent with the Act or which give further protection to migratory birds, nests and eggs, if such laws and regulations do not extend open seasons. § 708.

The Act cannot be construed to prevent the breeding of migratory game birds on farms and preserves, and the sale of birds lawfully bred to increase the food supply. § 711.

In accordance with the various migratory bird treaties and conventions, the Secretary is authorized to issue regulations to assure that the taking of migratory birds and their eggs by the indigenous inhabitants of Alaska is permitted for their nutritional and other essential needs during established seasons. § 712.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is Chuy Reyes Necessary?

Above is a copy of the outdated and expired agreement between the United States of America (Department of Interior/Bureau of Reclamation) and the City of El Paso.  Basically the City agrees to maintain the Nemexas-Montoya Drain since it needs the drain as part of its stormwater control.  No where is there any mention of the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1, the organization whose General Manager is Jesus "Chuy" Reyes.  Yet, when a single complaint resulted in a call to the WID, Reyes ordered the total clearing of vegetation (and with it habitat) in the Nemexas-Montoya Drain which required the El Paso Water Utilities to participate as the agent of the City of El Paso charged with stormwater maintenance and control. By what authority did Chuy Reyes order such radical clearance? 

[Are you paying attention El Paso Times?]

A similar issue involves the IBWC's dredging of the Rio Grande at the Licon Siphon north of Las Cruces.  One issue with the dredging had to do with endangered species.  In a meeting attended by Mr. Reyes, Reyes mentioned that his authority to supercede concern for endangered species was "emergency".  Obviously Mr. Reyes determines what is an emergency there being no objective criteria transparent to anyone else for defining an emergency.  But the bigger question still looms: by what right does Mr. Reyes have to order the massive clearance of the drains when the agreement never mentions the Water Improvement District.  In an Open Records request today I asked Mr. Reyes the following:

"As the agreement to help maintain the drain that we have been discussing is between the City of El Paso (the EPWU being the City’s entity) and the United States (via the Bureau of Reclamation), where does the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 fit in?  Does WID have a separate agreement with the Bureau?  If so, may I please get a copy of that?  If not, would you please document what authority the WID has over the drain which would obligate the EPWU to assist in maintaining it."

No reply yet.

I have been in email conversation with Mr. Jeff Hild, the Legislative Director for Rep. Beto O'Rourke, regarding the destruction along the drain.  He was unaware of any federal connection that might involve Mr. O'Rourke's office as I was until now.  I wrote him the following email attaching the agreement which you read at the top of this post:

Attached is the outdated and antiquated agreement which requires EPWU to help clean the drain in question.  The agreement is between them and the United States of America because the United States of America owns the drain!  You’ve got your federal hook!
The agreement was written prior to the popularization of environmental concerns. It is pre-Rachel Carson.  It was also written when there was probably more farm land in the Upper Valley than residences.  We now know that vegetation plays a key role in cleaning up water as it moves to a river. Besides vegetation and animal habitat provide much for the human spirit – something that can’t be easily quantified.  A new agreement must show more environmental sensitivity, proper and ongoing land and habitat management.  
You may be told that it was good to remove the salt cedars.  Yes, that’s true; but they should have been removed and replaced with native cottonwoods or other trees over the long-run and never during nesting season.  As this was federal land, then as a civil engineering friend of mine pointed out: “If federal funds or federal property is involved you could not disturb the area during nesting season if threatened or endangered species are present.”  Several Audubon people have told me that the Southwest Willow Flycatcher was present.  Perhaps we ought to investigate what kind of fine or jail term Chuy Reyes should serve.
I hope that the Congressman’s office will get involved especially with the EPWU and John Balliew, the CEO, and Robert Andron, the Attorney for the utility.  I know that Beto knows both well. They should be encouraged to draft a more sensitive document that will maintain the drain while protecting the plants and wildlife and the ecosystem services that they provide.  Working with Mr. Reyes is probably pointless and may even be unnecessary as the agreement again is between the United States and the City of El Paso. When I asked Mr. Reyes if he might be interested in mitigation, he responded: “I am not interested in replanting native vegetation. The drain will be maintained the proper way, the way the City of El Paso and EPWU are required to do so, this is an agriculture drain and not a habitat."
I look forward to your response at your very first convenience please.
Jim Tolbert

Mr. Reyes may be acting without authority and it may be that he really is unnecessary for many agreements.  In a side issue also reported here at elpasonaturally, getting water to the Rio Bosque seems to have been held up for a long time by Chuy Reyes.  (Perhaps he has to use the rest of the water to help his friends in Hudspeth County keep their reservoirs filled. Are you paying attention El Paso Times?)

A group of persons interested in resolving the water issue at the Bosque has been holding clandestine meetings at the home of Judy Ackerman in 2013. Those who are part of this hush-hush group include from UTEP: John Sproul, Scott Cutler, Vanessa Lougheed, John Walton, etc.; John Balliew; from the IBWC: Gilbert Anaya, Rebecca Little Owl; Mike Landis from the Bureau of Reclamation; David Will from TCEQ; Friends of the Rio Bosque; Ruben Vogt from the County; Charlie Wakeem, and others including Chuy Reyes. 

At the last meeting it was brought up that the license with the TCEQ which has prevented some irrigation from the Bustamante directly to the Bosque may be moot anyway.  In fact, a bid to do the pipe directly from the Bustamante to the Rio Bosque may go out to bid in August.  The Water District would be cut out of the deal.  Chuy Reyes was not at the meeting.  My question with the Bosque and more pertinently with the Drain is this: Is Chuy Reyes necessary?  Does he really have the authority that he claims to have? To whom are he and the Water District accountable?

Is there yet a better option out there for the FMSP entrance?

[I have enormous respect for my friend and frequent "co-conspirator", Dr. Rick Bonart.  Rick has been at the forefront of the land conservation and preservation movements in El Paso for a very long time.  He pre-dates Teschner, Wakeem, Ackerman and other heroes of El Paso's "green revolution". Indeed Bonart along with the late anesthesiologist, Dr. Billy Rogers (for whom Arroyo Park is named), really were the the first instigators in this generation of preserving the mountains and arroyos for their beauty and recreational value.  Rick now serves as a member of the Public Service Board where he has also gained hard-fought respect.  He was the original chairman of the Open Space Committee and then Board.  He is a practicing veteranarian and cares for my two cats, Copernicus and Aristotle.

He has long opposed Option 4, the preferred option of the TPWD - the one which current El Paso TxDOT Czar, Bob Bielek, seems bound to bury.  Bielek has been disingenuous about the project claiming ignorance when necessary about the public process or about the fact that the environmental and park communities have sought a way that would give safe passage into the park as well as a north-south passageway for animals and also for pedestrians and bicyclists. TxDOT uses public forums as window dressing so that they can claim that they got public input while, all of the time, planning to do exactly what they want to do - the public be damned.  They seem to be doing it with Option 4.  Their solution for an animal corridor previously was a extensive tunnel with access only from developed land as if animals would Google and GPS their ways through more suburban sprawl.

Dr. Bonart argues that there may be a better, cheaper, less environmentally destructive way to gain safety and corridor to the State Park and welcomes the additional time for "ongoing review".  He supports his case with recent photos he took showing the height and area involved of the underpasses of the gargantuan Transmountain freeway project. Here is what he has to say]:

 Click image to enlarge.

 Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

"I think continued advocacy for construction of a freeway style intersection (Option 4) at FMSP is not in either the community's or Park's best interest.

"I suggest proponents of a freeway style entrance visit the construction site to fully understand what they are advocating. (See attached photos). Currently there are 4 partially completed  underpasses  at Northwestern, Resler, Plexxar and Paseo. The size and spacing between these structures can be used to approximate what Option 4 will be like.

"These structures are huge. They have completely changed the character of the surrounding area a natural park like environment into a typical urban freeway. They completely divide north from south for pedestrians, wildlife, hikers, and bicyclists. Even without the road bed, the concrete edifice completely blocks the view. The planned signage and lighting once constructed will only further denature the adjacent surroundings.

"Option 4 requires the largest area to build and unnecessarily consumes too many precious acres of open space. Option 4 is overly expensive, five times the cost of better options. 

"True, TPW did pick Option 4, because at the time, Option 4 was the only alternative that  provided a way for pedestrians and wildlife to pass north to south without crossing freeway lanes. However, even this aspect of the Option 4 design is terribly flawed. Because it  forces people and wildlife to cross 4 lanes of access roads. In the photos you can see what the first set of access roads will be like on the south side. There will be a second set on the north. It's ludicrous to pretend this would be the best design for a functional wildlife tunnel. 

"I am thankful there is an ongoing review. I'm certain that a better Option which includes a truly separate pedestrian/wildlife crossing with best practices design, and a more rationally scaled and environmentally compatible structure will emerge. This area deserves better. Something which actually enhances the area and user experience.  

"In short there are better options than either the status quo (Option 6) or Option 4. I would hope those interested will actually visit the site and decide for themselves if they really want another underpass to further decimate the area. What would be preferable is something better that will enhance those acres of open space we fought hard to save." 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Whatever Bielek Wants, Bielek Gets

We may have to re-write the words of the popular Richard Adler and Barry Ross song "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets" from the 1955 musical, "Damn Yankees".  It will go like this: "Whatever Bielek wants, Bielek gets."

In a recent email to Rep. Jody Pickett, Judy Ackerman wrote:

From: judy Ackerman []
Sent: Monday, July 08, 2013 8:26 AM
Cc: Escobar Veronica Asst. Ruben Vogt;; Escobar, Judge's asst Celeste A. Varela;; TxDOT ProjectManager Tony Uribe; TXDOT Bob Bielek; Moody Campaign Daniel Mahoney; Moody, Joseph; Moody, Joe For El Paso;;; Gonzalez, Naomi District76; Rodriguez, Jose Asst Corinne ; Rodriguez, Jose for Senate; Rodriguez Leg Aid Sushma Smith; Rodriguez, Aid Cecilia Rodriguez; Teschner, Richard;;;; Marquez, Marisa State Rep Dist 77
Subject: Move Project Forward, FMSP Entrance

Dear TX State Representative Joe Pickett,

We need your guidance on how to ensure a timely resolution to a safe and effective entrance to the Tom Mays Section of the Franklin Mountains State Park.  At the Apr 2013 meetings of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Transportation Policy Board (TPB), I understood that an entrance option would be selected (with public input) THIS FY so that funding would be locked in by the first quarter of next FY.  However, communication with Bob Bielek (below) indicates considerable delays. 

Note the original schedule:

Click on image to enlarge.

Thank you for your help.  I look forward to your suggestions on how to move this project forward.

Judy Ackerman

The communication with Bielek was this email:

From: Bob Bielek []
Sent: Sunday, July 07, 2013 2:15 PM
To: judy Ackerman
Cc: Tony Uribe; Eddie Valtier
Subject: Bielek Re: Entrance to Franklin Mountains State Park

Ms. Ackerman:

As I told you, we have a large number of projects that are letting this month and next which have our staff fully occupied. I have asked the project manager, Tony Uribe, to have the consultants look at Dr. Bonart's suggestion as well as any others that may be similar. I also requested that we ask the folks at TPW about migration/forage trails. I know we have asked for this information before without sucess but will do so again.

I expect that we will get heavily involved in this project again after the letting rush is over, probably in September. Should you have any further questions please feel free to contact me.
Bob Bielek sent from my Blackberry

He had previously called Judy and Judy reported that he told her that [h]is preferred option is #6 [option 4 is supported by the TPWD and local environmentalists] with no change to original plans for the expansion of Transmountain Rd, at grade entrance with eastbound vehicles using a left turn lane and crossing 2 lanes of traffic headed down hill, west.

"He talked at length about a short span bridge, under Transmountain Rd, for hikers, bikers, and animals that would be located between the old entrance and the 3 culverts at the bottom of the arroyo."

Conservation activist, Dr. Richard Teschner, offered this comment to other comments Mr. Bielek made and which Ackerman had written down and shared with Teschner in an email:

Cleverly, TxDOT District Engineer Bob Bielek is seeking to give the impression that we’re still in the early stages of discussing the Tom Mays Entrance. Some quotes from Judy’s notes: 'TxDOT received one suggestion.' False. TxDoT received dozens of suggestions earlier this year, including one long one from me. 

'After the end of year rush, the end of August, [Mr. Bielek] will look at the Park Entrance project and the related environmental process.' Misleading. This project has been being “looked at” since before Mr. Bielek assumed the district engineership at the beginning of September, 2012. 

'He [Mr. Bielek] prefers option 6 [which] is the do nothing, no change, no cost option.” True—and that is the option he’s supported since last fall. '  I asked if he was working with TPWD and got a vague answer about 'somebody should be talking with them.' There’s no “should be” about it. Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director for Operations, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, has been talking with equally-high-up officials at TxDOT about the Tom Mays Entrance since (again) before Mr. Bielek took on the job of El Paso-area District Engineer, and has continued to do so thereafter. 

'Mr. Bielek was particularly interested in any work TPWD has done on identifying ‘defined migratory trails’.' If he picked up the phone he could learn. I suspect, however, that “defined migratory trails” is a red herring, one that TxDOT may hope will delay further consideration of Option 4 until the time has passed for it to be funded. (Another way in which “defined migratory trails” can be used as an Option-4 killer: to hope that such trails lie either well within the Park and thus way to the east of the Tom Mays Entrance, or way to the west of the Entrance and thus within an area zoned “commercial” or “residential.”) 

'Mr. Bielek expects no problem with east[-]bound traffic entering the park by turning left across 2 lanes of traffic headed downhill, westbound' etc. This “expectation” conveniently—shockingly—overlooks the rationale that TxDOT repeatedly used three years ago when appearing before City Council in defense of its proposed West Transmountain Loop 375 freeway: that the Safety Of The Public is the primary reason the freeway must be built. Vehicles entering Tom Mays are not public maybe? 

'Mr. Bielek expects to hold a public comment after Aug 2013.' Fine: we’ll be as ready for this public comment as we were for the previous public comment, a public comments whose public comments somehow didn’t get recorded, let alone publicized, by the TxDOT folks who were running the show. 

'In the environmental process he will look for ‘categorical exclusion’ and a finding of no significant environmental impact[;] otherwise there will be extensive delays.' Of course “extensive delays” will enable any option other than Option 6 (“Do nothing; retain the Entrance as it—at grade level”) to get defunded.

I also note how far off mark the “Project Development Schedule” is, and how parts of it put paid to the notion that Schedule is a paramount concern by TxDOT. See especially “Anticipated Environmental Approval—Spring 2013” and “Construction Letting—May 2013.” I also note the “Public Hearing” bullet: “Dec 2012/Jan 2013.” The public hearing/public comment was held back then. To schedule yet another one (“Mr. Bielek expects to hold a public comment after Aug 2013”) is at best disingenuous, at worst cynical and self-serving (as in, “Whoops, this meeting came too late”).

Joe Hardy/El Paso Citizens: "We have to keep training and strict rules and all that."

Lola/Bob Bielek: "You can tell me all them rules!"

Joe/El Paso:  "You're making things very complicated."

Lola/Bielek:  "Then be good boy."

Joe/El Paso:  "I'm trying to."

Lola/Bielek:  "And do like Lola tells you to do."

Keystone Heritage Park Threatened by Proposed City Industrial Development

Click image to enlarge. All of the color blocks are the new proposed development. Keystone Park is in the upper left side of the diagram. On the diagram, you can see both the wetland and the Garden. The archeology site is above the garden. 

The orange colored block, labeled CCS (in small letters) is a recycling site. Sanitation trucks, city buses and city work trucks will be a constant coming-and-going presence. Note that the entire site will be either roofs or pavement which estimates suggest may add as much as 10 degrees of heat in the summer. As you approach the garden, the recycling trucks, buses and city trucks will be in your line of sight and to your right. 

The City of El Paso is proposing a concentrated heavy industrial area directly next to the archeology site and Botanical Garden of Keystone Heritage Park.  To say the least, this will not be beneficial to Keystone - its gardens, bird sanctuary/wetland and archaeology site. 

Ketystone board members, benefactors and supporters believe that the presence of buses, sanitation trucks and other heavy city equipment will be a detraction to the serenity and beauty of the  Garden and discourage the eco-tourism that Keystone is trying to develop. The plan can proceed without the approval of City Council. 

The Keystone Board requests that people please contact those they know at the City – staff or elected representatives – and ask them to help protect the Park. Time is of the essence! 

Persons to contact:

Jane Shang, Deputy City Manager,
Matthew McElroy, Director of Planning,
Carlos Gallinar, Deputy Director of Planning,
Joyce Wilson, City Manager,
Your Mayor and/or City Representative

You can provide a link to this post in your message.

The Board of Keystone Heritage Park is charged with preserving and protecting all 52 acres of the park and for providing a sanctuary for the birds and animals.  The additional  noise and heat created by this development will have a negative impact on the birds that count on the wetland as a breeding area and may drive away some the rare species that have been spotted there. 

One wonders whether the City has done the necessary studies to understand the impact of the additional heat, vibration, air pollution and potential run-off on the 4000+ year old archeological site. This nationally recognized site has enormous historical potential and all El Pasoans should be actively engaged in its protection.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

"This is an agriculture drain and not a habitat"

"I am not interested in replanting native vegetation. The drain will be maintained the proper way, the way the City of El Paso and EPWU are required to do so, this is an agriculture drain and not a habitat." - Chuy Reyes

The quote above is in response to my message to Chuy Reyes just a while ago asking him about mitigation of the vegetation along the drain: "In a previous email I asked you if you would be interested in mitigating the clear cutting of the drain/canal by replanting native vegetation.  You have not responded. I look forward to your answer." His email was marked at 4:33 p.m. 7/8/2013.

I suggest that many of us request that the drain be mitigated now that he has destroyed habitat, killing animals and destroying nests.  Neanderthal attitudes such as Chuy's must be eradicated from El Paso culture.  His email is

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi again: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Reyes Claim about Wildlife Complaints Untrue

Finally the El Paso Times did a story on the widespread and extensive destruction of vegetation and habitat along the Montoya drain/canal in the Upper Valley.  Read Aaron Martinez's Clearing Canal is Harming Wildlife.  A slideshow from that report appears here.  One inaccuracy in the story is that it says that I am a resident of the area.  I am not.  When Rick LoBello was able to get a reporter to come see the damage, I called several people who do live in the area and they joined us in talking to Mr. Martinez last Friday.

The most glaring untruth reported in the story however was a statement by Chuy Reyes, the mis-Manager of the Water Improvement District which he gave to the reporter: "I have not received any complaints on any wildlife problems due to the cleanup."

Oh really? No complaints?  I've talked to numerous people who said that they complained.  One person even shared with me an email exchange (which I have saved) that he had with Mr. Reyes beginning July 2nd in which Reyes claims that his complaints about the bulldozing are exaggerations (see images attached to this story as well as EP Times slideshow mentioned above for visuals of the exaggeration) and sarcastically retorts: "Have you not heard about the fires all over the western United States? I am the person responsible for this decision, I am concerned with life and property since the fire 2 weeks ago."  (I'm sure that Mr. Reyes must advocate for clear cutting all forests in the country in order to prevent forest fires.)

FYI. I have just emailed an open records request to Reyes asking for the agreement between EPCWID#1 and the EPWU which required the involvement of the EPWU with the massive destruction of habitat along the drain and canal.  I also requested the same from Mr. John Balliew, CEO of EPWU, on July 3rd and, getting no response, made a follow-up request this morning and copied Bob Andron, EPWU attorney, and PSB member, Dr. Rick Bonart.  If the "no response" response continues, I'll take the matter to the Attorney General of the State of Texas. 

Where we met the reporter and where we have met previously is on the corner of Montoya Drive and Meadowlark Drive (map) - ground zero if you will as the initial complaint which sparked the destruction of habitat came from this area.  Southeast of there at West Sunset Road and River Bend Drive (map) you can see the destruction of habitat beginning south of the intersection and going north.  Here are pictures that I took last Friday: 

 South of intersection (Sunset and River Bend) showing bare drain. 
Click image to enlarge.

North of intersection where there is still vegetation and habitat. 
Click image to enlarge.

The "beast" looms over the same area in the picture above.
Click image to enlarge.

EPCWID#1 Worker. Motto on truck reads: "Thanks to the Rio Grande".

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Update on FMSP Entrance

From Judy Ackerman:

Park Entrance – Vigilance Needed

Expect more calls for action to ensure a safe and appropriate entrance to the Tom Mays Section of our Franklin Mountains State Park (FMSP).  As you know, TX Parks and Wildlife Department prefers TxDOT’s option 4 and El Pasoans agree.  That option would create an underpass to facilitate hikers, bikers, and wildlife crossing in addition to vehicular access and serve as a vital connection between north and south portions of FMSP.

At the 15 Apr 2013 Special Meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Transportation Policy Board (TPB), members acknowledged hearing from you, the public, and discussed this topic at length.  The ball is in TxDOT’s court.  El Paso’s transportation expert, State Representative Joe Pickett, said, “… options are still being looked at since the environmental has not been completed.  The [TxDOT] district engineer [Bob Bielek] has committed to the project in 2014, but not sure what option would be proposed or at what cost….  At this point, it is up to TxDOT to provide the when, and how much.”

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wildlife Habitats Destroyed in Upper Valley

EPWU and El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 Destroy Habitats along Montoya Drain

The trees and other vegetation which provided wildlife habitat, privacy for homes and shade to decrease water evaporation were recently radically removed by the El Paso County WID #1 with the help of the EPWU.  The destruction occurred during nesting season and while many mammals were still infants.  Elpasonaturally first reported this in a post on June 20th.  Subsequently, we called for a change in policy at the El Paso Water Utilities which would include an Ecology Officer and long range land planning taking into account ecosystems and habitats.  

After a fire burned along the Rio Grande and spread to the Montoya canal system, one neighbor (a prominent El Paso attorney) complained about the fire hazard.  Rather than removing dry brush or doing so over a programmed period of time or waiting until nesting season was over, the WID took the extreme measure of plowing out all the vegetation with the help of EPWU through a license agreement.  

EPWU CEO John Balliew has proposed that their Archaeology officer, Valerie Provencio, take on the added responsibility of assessing stormwater land for ecosystem preservation prior to a project.  Elpasonaturally believes that all EPWU land and projects should first be assessed before a project commences and that long-range land management include environmental and ecosystem criteria.  PSB member, Dr. Rick Bonart suggests: "The goal is environmental responsibility/sensitivity for all EPWU projects within the entire  EPWU service area, just as are archaeological  reviews are done now. The need should be assessed and coordinated by the new environmental officer. Hence the justification for the position."

Just how bad is the damage?  One woman who lives along the drain told about speaking to two of the bulldozer operators.  Both men were crying because they watched as foxes and other mammals were run over and others fled for their lives. Imagine how many baby birds perished as well. 

What may be even more outrageous is that the El Paso Times was totally silent about this story and remains so.  Of course we live in a culture where dogs are chained outside on hot summer days and other pets are abandoned in the desert and the State Park so why care about fox and squirrels and birds along an irrigation canal.

If you want our agencies and our media to defend wildlife habitat, preserve trees and privacy and reduce evaporation, let them know:

Chuy Reyes, Manager of the Water Improvement District,
John Balliew, CEO of El Paso Water Utilities,
Bob Moore, Editor of the El Paso Times, 

Water News of Interest

What if we are not in a drought?  What if, according to researchers, that over the past thousand years, this year of low rain is the norm, and "the past 50 years are the aberration."  That is what New Mexico State legislators recently heard.  If so, how do you plan for 1 to 3 inches of rain a year and not just 6 to 10 inches of rain?  All El Pasoans should be asking why large farmers with water rights (served by Chuy Reyes and the WID) are still growing water guzzling crops of pecans and cotton.  More to the point, we should all be asking why water isn't the right of all and water for those who wish to grow water-intensive crops should be sold at a premium or the practice of growing water-intensive crops should be regulated or banned.  Water laws must change because the right to water is a right we all possess. (Not an idea Nestlé likes by the way.)

Some farmers in the Texas Panhandle are now learning how to grow crops with minimal watering.  Perhaps they should learn something from El Paso Permaculture or the Permaculture Institute near Santa Fe.

And Trees . . . 

Former UTEP Centennial Museum Curator, Marshall Carter-Tripp, has said: 
"What I'd like to see happen is El Paso adopting the slogan "City of the Desert Oasis" and plant tens of thousands of trees which will change the on-the-ground climate (the reverse happens when you tarmac over everything) . . . the key to the survival of El Paso is more trees and more shade.  Use water for trees not swimming pools! No open irrigation ditches." [Especially drains and canals without shade as the EPWU and WID have now created in the Upper Valley.]

In the long run, trees actually reduce the need for additional water in an urban area.  Concrete and rock (from quarries which scar forever our beautiful mountains) collect and reflect heat keeping our urban environment hotter.  Trees reduce heat and the need for greater water use to cool our homes and work places. Planting trees during a drought can be done. And trees are good for business.  Spend a bit more for landscaping upfront and make more money as time goes by.


Support Rick LoBello's plan for the Big Bend Rio Bravo International Park.

elpasonaturally, Vol. 4, No. 7, July 2, 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

Neighborhood Associations Speak Out Against Proposed Walmart

There is a big elephant in the room and Walmart has launched an unprecedented political, marketing, and PR campaign to camouflage it under the guise of neighborhood and economic development.  The reality is that the proposed store at the corner of Montana and Chelsea accomplishes neither. No amount of marketing, television commercials, or political gamesmanship can circumvent the obvious code and site problems this location presents. Due process was undermined on June 18th at City Council chambers when Walmart influenced a postponement of the rezoning appeal case and turned away myself and over fifty other residents who were present to protect our inherent property rights. I think everyone can sympathize with rearranged work schedules, childcare arrangements, and even those with health issues making an effort to attend this meeting only to be turned away without a chance to speak. 

On May 16th, the City Planning Commission ruled overwhelmingly in a 6 to 3 vote to deny Walmart’s rezoning request. They ruled on the merits of the case. The site is simply too small and too congested for any supermarket of this size. Pretty architectural renderings and landscaping cannot disguise the automobile and commercial truck traffic flowing through our small residential streets. This store will turn Cardon Street into a “freeway” with thousands of cars trying to get back to Trowbridge and Chelsea Streets every week. The existing code designations do not allow a supermarket of this size to be built on any of these four parcels. Certainly, the owners of these commercial properties have the right to sell their land. But what Walmart is trying to do is buy these properties that already prohibit their proposed store and lobby their way into the City allowing them to put their elephant into a teacup. Sadly, the current property owners of these four parcels have been led down a path that Walmart knew had problems and chose to ignore them, assuming their influence would be enough to get their deal done.

We have property rights too. Collectively, we have invested millions of dollars in our homes and properties and have the inherent right to protect our interests. Due process should settle this issue like it did at the City Plan Commission, not Walmart’s strong arming.  All four surrounding Neighborhood Associations: United Neighborhood Association, Austin Terrace Neighborhood Association, Radford Hills Neighborhood Association, and the San Juan Neighborhood Improvement Association are all opposed to this rezoning.  The residents that would be most affected by this store are overwhelmingly opposed. Our voices are united and clear; we do not want our neighborhoods and streets serving the interests of the largest retailer in the world. 
Accordingly, our neighborhoods have formed a coalition, Neighbors Supporting Neighborhoods, to unite our efforts in preserving the quality of life the people in these neighborhoods deserve. Do you think Walmart will suffer if they don’t get their way?  No, but the homeowners will have to live with a 35,500 square foot 24-hour store thirty feet from their front doorsteps with constant noise, light, trucks, and cars. Other neighborhoods are taking notice and standing with us. Walmart has saturated our city. Be careful El Paso, because your neighborhood could be next. The former and newly elected District 2 City Representatives are also opposed to this rezoning. Hopefully our new Mayor and City Council will see through Walmart’s tactics and stand by the decision of the City Plan Commission to deny this rezoning request - 

by Madeleine Haddox, President of the Radford Hills Neighborhood Association