|The author of this blog and candidate for City Council District 2, Jim Tolbert, holds up the sign "Save Castner"|
[The following op-ed piece appeared in yesterday's El Paso Times. It is written by Mr. Scott Winton, the Vice-President of Business Development for Winton Homes in El Paso. Scott is also a board member of the Frontera Land Alliance.]
Winton Homes recognizes that a healthy environment makes for a healthy city and people want to live in healthy cities. Much of Texan identity can be attributed to the state’s diverse landscape. We are proud of our heritage, both cultural and natural. Our lands make up the special fabric of our home state. We have regional differences – lakes in the Dallas area; deserts in the Far West; beaches along the Gulf Coast and rolling Hill Country in between – but it is all these features that combined make our state unique.
El Paso is diligently working to attract new businesses to the region and part of that appeal is the wealth of outdoor activities. A Castner Range National Monument within the City limits would be a major attraction to businesses thinking of setting up shop in the Sun City. Research on the economic contribution of national monuments in the West created in the last generation found that adjacent economies grew, adding new jobs, and per capita income increased, in real terms, in every case after the creation of these national monuments. Headwaterseconomics.org, Winter 2012
Simultaneously, within the last five years, 88% of Texas experienced an exceptional drought. While the drought conditions have eased for many of us, the drought of 2010-2015 was the second worst in the history of our state. And scientists have warned us that frequent droughts may become a permanent part of our lives. Nothing is more important for our lives – and livelihoods – than having clean water to drink. Conserving land will ensure that more of the precious little water that falls will soak into the ground and our aquifers, replenishing our water supply.
We draw on lessons learned from landscape ecology, open-space development, and regional planning. Winton Homes weighs the biophysical, economic, and institutional evidence for and against conservation development. We have learned that conservation development offers many potential environmental and economic advantages. As we develop with conservation as a part of the process we have seen relatively high home values and appreciation rates and lower development costs. It is also wonderful to know that we have helped protect and actively work to use native desertscapes at our homes. It is not always easy to achieve conservation criteria since it may take longer to meet institutional regulations and regional planning, it is not always more profitable than conventional development. But to address the drop income would be to offer subsidies or incentives. Winton Homes believes that conservation development could be a viable strategy for sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in changing landscapes.
Investing in the conservation of Castner Range is an investment in clean water, air and energy, all natural resources, and an investment in our community. Conserving Castner Range as a national monument will preserve the fragile lands at the urban fringe around the Franklin Mountains State Park. A national monument will address many needs and will provide benefits to public health, education, natural resource management and the El Paso area’s economy, and will preserve the breathtaking view-sheds of and from the Franklin Mountains. Dedicating these lands as a National Monument will safeguard cultural resources and a network of natural areas that enhance our community’s unique character, culture and sense of place. Conserving Castner Range as a National Monument will save hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs and maintenance, now and for scores of years to come.
Winton Homes is supportive of seeing natural areas and the opportunity to be physically connected to our natural and cultural heritage. We can create opportunities for our local economies to grow by investing in land for outdoor recreation, for wildlife, and water. Such investments have a ripple effect. In addition, investment in a nature-based park, such as Castner Range National Monument, can create more jobs and lead to more visitor spending. Locally, in 2006, the Hueco Tanks State Park brought in $582,207 in county sales and $331,774 in county residents’ personal income. In 2007 Hueco Tanks and Franklin Mountains State Park brought 72,644 visitors to El Paso County (Texas State Parks, Natural Economic Assets).