Thursday, March 5, 2015

More on the Keystone-Trash Collection Controversy

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Yesterday at the Open Space Advisory Board meeting, a representative from the City Manager's office said that the Collection Station project was on hold and that it wasn't "happening at this time." That is the same message that other city officials are giving: it's on hold for the foreseeable future . . . but just wait. Although both Charlie Wakeem and myself requested in February that a discussion and action item about the collection station be part of yesterday's agenda, it was deleted from that agenda at the insistence of Rep. Cortney Niland. As we were considering the April agenda, I moved that the item be on our April agenda. That motioned was seconded and the motion passed unanimously. I made it clear that this was a motion approved and not a "request" or a "suggestion" and that I expected it on the April agenda. The matter is not dead and OSAB should weigh in. Creating a park next to Keystone or conserving that land in some other way makes the most sense to me. El Paso adopted smart code a couple of years ago. Since when does one put an industrial park next to a wetlands? The whole matter of incompatible zoning will also be discussed at the next meeting - another motion that was seconded and passed unanimously and that should not be trumped by Chair or Secretary or a Council Representative.

At yesterday's meeting, Marilyn Guida made the following statement suggesting that the matter must be dealt with now:

The City of El Paso Environmental Services Department is proposing to construct a Citizen Collection Station as part of a larger Municipal Service Center at Doniphan and Kappa on the West side.

This facility will be located a stone’s throw south of the wonderful 52 acre natural and cultural resource preserve called Keystone Heritage Park (KHP).  This is city-owned land developed and managed by the Keystone Heritage Park Board. It includes the nine acre Keystone Archaeological Preserve. The preserve protects a State Archaeological Landmark and National Register prehistoric site, the Keystone Dam Archaeological Site.

There are potential, probable (probable meaning more likely than possible) undiscovered prehistoric cultural resources that may be on the city-owned land south of and outside the KHP fence.  

The Keystone Dam Archaeological Site is a nationally significant site. If the area around this site is degraded, it can endanger the status of the site for the National Register. In other words, the Keystone Dam Archaeological Site can be delisted from the National Register.  

This is the oldest site of its size, indicating an organized community, in Middle Archaic times (approx. 4,000 to 1,200 B.C.) north of the Mexican border in the Southwest.

The predominant native Chihuahuan Desert plants in that area are Four Wing Salt Bush and Mesquite, both of which were important food plants for the ancient people as well as having many other ancient uses. The presence of these plants are often reliable indicators of prehistoric cultural resources.

Before they do any land disturbance the City has to comply with state law to determine if any undiscovered prehistoric cultural resources are located there.  There are procedures within the Texas Historical Commission for complying with state law regarding cultural resources and archaeological sites.

Also of importance is the open space potential of that site, to expand upon the existing KHP. Any newly discovered cultural resources could be preserved and monitored within designated open space.

The term cultural resources is preferable to the term “archaeological site.” Archaeology is a methodology for learning about the past. The cultural resources are what connect us to the people of the past and how they lived. It’s about the ancient people, not the archaeologists.  The laws are written using the term cultural resources or specifying that the law is about recovering information about culture. 

With a focus on ancient people, we also need to recognize that we have people living today in El Paso who trace their heritage to the ancient people. Thus we need to bring those descendants into the process of discussing what to do about prehistoric cultural resources. I am speaking of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo people (The Tigua Tribe) and the Piro-Manso-Tigua Tribe of Las Cruces which includes families in El Paso and Juarez.

The 1996 Parks & Open Space plan recommended that all the land east of Doniphan from Sunset Drive to Sunland Park Drive be open space – 105 acres.

In the most recent Open Space Plan, that area shrank to the land north of KHP. Now the land north of KHP is being built up. 

Today, in 2015, the only open space left between KHP and Sunland Park Drive is this city-owed land that Environmental Services is proposing for development.

The City Council should be encouraged to make a final formal determination on use of the site south of KHP.  As long as no final decision is made there is no guarantee of what will happen to that area. 

Leaving that property as it is now invites the potential for illegal dumping, for vehicles driving around off paved roads, for camping by homeless people, for illegal activities, etc. This endangers the cultural and natural resources as well as the safety and security of KHP and the neighboring uses including a church and residential area.

Some final determination must be made as soon as possible.  The City Council should dedicate that land to open space.

Please sign the petition and ask your friends and family to do the same.

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