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Monday, December 22, 2014

Boy Scouts to Take Over Cement Lake?




In case you missed the story in last week's EP Times, the Texas Transportation Commission okayed leasing 222 acres of public land to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for what might be the largest urban BSA camp in the country. The land between Executive Blvd. and Sunland Park and I-10 and Paisano includes Cement Lake, one of the priorities for preservation by El Paso's Open Space Advisory Board.

Marty Schladen, who wrote the Times article, included the angle that the International AIDS Empowerment of El Paso and Las Cruces opposes the lease because the BSA discriminates against gay men. Openly gay youth may join the scouts but a ban on gay scoutmasters persists. (If you are a gay Eagle Scout and want to continue in the organization as a volunteer leader, you are suddenly unworthy.) The BSA policy may be based on the irrational fear that gay men are sexual predators - a notion that is easily dismissed by the facts and statistics. There may also be something akin to "don't ask/don't tell" at work here.

Skip Rosenthal, the Executive Director of International AIDS Empowerment of EP and Las Cruces, points out that El Paso has a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The municipal code reads:

"The City shall afford equal employment and benefit opportunities to all qualified individuals in compliance with all applicable laws, without regard to their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, color, religion, ethnic background or national origin, age, disability, or any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law."

Putting aside the issue of discrimination for a moment, there is the matter of preserving this spring-fed lake and the land around it.  The proposed lease is for 25 years with an option to go another 25 years after that. How well can we expect the Boy Scouts to preserve and conserve Cement Lake? 

BSA has an excellent reputation for land conservation. They even have an "idea sheet" about conservation planning for boy scout properties. The "sheet" mentions that land will not be abused but it also discusses resource management and it does suggest land development and the use of "heavy equipment". So can the local Yucca Council of BSA be trusted to be good stewards of Cement Lake and its pristine surroundings?

If the Texas Transportation Commission truly cares about the preservation of this land, one way to ensure it is to place the land under a conservation easement. That way there would be precise preservation language in the lease agreement and a third party overseeing the easement to make sure that neither TxDOT nor the Boy Scouts violates that language. A conservation manager can be a land management organization such as Frontera Land Alliance or even the City of El Paso.

Something tells me that the Transportation Commission will never enter into any kind of conservation agreement. So, no matter how good the reputation of Scouts may be, without solid assurances that the land will be carefully conserved and preserved, there is good reason to oppose any kind of lease especially if there are no non-discrimination assurances by BSA. 

elpasonaturally will keep an eye on this one.

3 comments:

  1. Another important but unanswered question is whether the community, which has had access to the lake for a generation, will continue to have access, or will be shut out. Has anyone even consulted Buena Vista?

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  2. Does Council have any intention of asking TxDot about this plan and its violation of City standards about discrimination, as well as the point made by L Chuco? Readers might like to ask their reps, when they return from the holidays...

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