The QueQue: TPWD burro killings roiling West Texas, Preservation fights continue to percolate River Road 

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TPWD burro killings roiling West Texas

When the Marfa Sentinel broke the news in 2007 that Texas Parks & Wildlife officials were secretly shooting down wild burros inside the more than 300,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park a park peace officer knew things we’re “going to hit the fan” and area residents agreed. An internal investigation was launched, ultimately finding that neither of the two state employees believed to have killed an estimated 71 wild burros left to rot where they fell had violated the state’s animal cruelty statute. That despite statements such as one TPWD official who said, “Some of the shots are not kill-type deals. They are wounded in the stomach or rear” and left to wander. After the shootings were stopped by order of the TPWD director in late 2007 the authors of the internal affairs investigation recommended public forums be held on the topic of control of invasive or nuisance species. Nothing of the kind materialized before the shootings began again this year.

Non-native animals in state parks are not welcome by policy. But it’s the reintroduction of the potentially very lucrative bighorn sheep at the park that some are attributing to the department’s renewed lethal zeal. “They want to make that into a playground for people like Rick Perry to be able to fly in and shoot a bighorn and fly out,” says Marjorie Farabee of Wild Burro Protection League, one of the group’s mobilizing resistance to the killings. “That doesn’t do anything for the local economy.”

To date, TPWD officials estimate they’ve killed 130 burros. Local response came with a town hall in Alpine last week, the appearance of “Burro Friendly” stickers in local storefronts, and a call to “Occupy Big Bend Ranch State Park.”

“Come on down, and bring your telephoto lenses,” said Farabee. “Just having people in the park is going to protect those burros because they don’t want anyone to see them shooting those animals.”

According to Big Bend-based equine photographer Rachael Waller: “No one is in favor of shooting burros down here. No one.”

Burros aren’t the only ones coming under fire. Elk are also being killed, too, as undesirables. Christopher Gill, a San Antonio-based managing partner of Circle Ranch in Hudspeth County who has been reviewing TPWD policies and internal communication, said: “They think that elk and burros harm bighorn sheep. To the best of my knowledge they have not studied any of this specifically. … Texas Parks and Wildlife are really nice guys, underpaid, overworked, sincere, persistent, and dead wrong.”

For TPWD’s part, public protest is expected to exact no change in policy. David Riskind, director of natural resources for the parks agency, told the AP recently they were not “re-evaluating” their policies.


Preservation fights continue to percolate River Road

River Road-ers love to pack meetings. With months of pushing, they talked the city into giving them Historic District status in February 2010. By last spring, another fight emerged and the River Road crowd, along with the Headwaters Coalition, took the city to court for straying too far from a bond-funded voter-approved drainage project along Broadway (State District Judge David Berchelmann blocked the city from moving forward on the project in May, setting a jury trial for the end of this month).

And River Road scored another victory last week at a lengthy city Zoning Board of Adjustments meeting, saving the neighborhood’s 1940s era “little tile house” from demolition. Naturally, it’s a victory that’ll likely put them back in court.

In July, the city’s Historic Design and Review Commission denied a request by developer Five Acres/SA Ltd. to tear down the small house at 112 Lindell Place to make way for a six-unit apartment complex in the neighborhood. Like most preservation fights, the one surrounding the tile house turned into a broader battle over development versus conservation. Many from other historical districts packed July’s hearing, claiming the demolition would set a dangerous trend putting other historic neighborhoods at risk. After hours of lawyering and community members pleading for the city to save the house, the review commission agreed the house may hold cultural value in the neighborhood and blocked the demo.

A long stream of River Road-ers were on hand to plead with the board to keep the house standing. Donna Martin, who lives near the house, decried “that monolith they wish to place next to me. … This little tile house deserves to be saved.” The developer will decide within the next week whether to appeal the city’s decision to block demolition to the district court. Daniel Ortiz, a lawyer with the development firm, said his client would actively consider it.


Corpus refinery row exacts grumbles, little progress

When state regulators, local leaders, and industry representatives sat down to commune with neighbors who say they’ve been poisoned in the shadow of Corpus Christi’s Refinery Row for an EPA-prompted environmental summit last Friday, they did so in the midst of a growing GOP war on the federal regulator, one fueled by the Texas political establishment.

Friday’s summit at Del Mar College aimed to mark a turning point for environmental justice in the Sparkling City by the Sea, a time for all parties to sit down and hash out tangible, but voluntary, steps to fix Refinery Row, said Al Armendariz, the EPA’s top regulator in Texas.

EPA can’t champion environmental justice alone, he said, adding, “We just don’t have the ability, the authority, and the resources.” So EPA has to engage local communities, as well as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and state politicos, even as they rave against EPA in public.

At the start of Friday’s summit, Armendariz read through a list of headlines and comments from those in the anti-EPA wing (propagators of “radical, extremist regulations” that destroy jobs). “Maybe it has a place in an election season, but I should hope that we keep that kind of language to the side,” he told the crowd. Big oil and gas have enjoyed years of record profits, he noted, saying it’s time they step up and help fund community solutions to the problems they helped create. EPA’s Region Six, which includes Texas, he said, ranks number one in poverty among all other EPA regions.

The comment drew quiet grumblings of “wealth redistribution” from industry reps, most of whom remained mum during Friday’s summit.

Can all play nice, even as the state sues to block new greenhouse gas regs and tightened air-quality standards? Confidence in voluntary industry steps toward environmental justice is clearly lacking, considering the state regulatory climate that permits the new petroleum-coke burning Las Brisas power plant, which the TCEQ green-lighted early this year in clear defiance of the EPA and against the advice of two administrative law judges, as well as the Nueces County Medical Society. It’s difficult to see what steps TCEQ and EPA can jointly take when both appear to be working from different playbooks — even in Corpus. An internal EPA “watch list” obtained by the Center for Public Integrity earlier this month shows the agency has flagged five out of the area’s six major refineries here for serious or repeat Clean Air Act violations.

Billy Placker, who lives along Refinery Row where residents for years have been clamoring for attention from the TCEQ, EPA, and industry to help explain the high number of birth defects and elevated cancer rates that mar the neighborhood, said he worried industry and state regulators would walk away from Friday’s summit smiling, having engaged with neighbors but committing to nothing. “After all this, to me, this still looks like a system designed to fail. It’s system designed to fail us,” said Placker. •




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