News Briefs

The poop on SARA’s watershed-protection plan

Steve Lusk of the San Antonio River Authority recently announced that bacterial levels in the San Antonio River watershed have significantly decreased “to the point where we are close to meeting the state stream standards in our project area.”

SARA last week conducted the first of three public meetings concerning bacteria levels in the river’s water. Although much has been done by the San Antonio Water System, the City, and SARA to manage many miles of sewer lines, wastewater treatment plants, and stormwater runoff to reduce pollutants, bacteria levels still need to be addressed. Water-quality consultant James Miertschin of Austin has taken 700 samples of feces in the river, and has built a library to aid with future monitoring practices on the San Antonio River.

“We scraped up animal poop and sent it to the lab,” he said.

The biggest contributor of bacteria to the river is wildlife, at 32 percent. Sewage contributes about 23 percent; zoo animals account for 19 percent; domestic pets 10 percent, and livestock drop about 4 percent of bacteria into the river. The largest measurement was taken at the San Antonio Zoo, which along with Brackenridge Park is a favorite gathering place for water fowl and other wildlife.

Miertschin says the river’s bacteria levels can be reduced further through the construction of retaining ponds, wetlands, and other devices. SARA and other entities are working with the zoo to reduce its portion of the river pollution. Meanwhile, weekly water sampling continues at the zoo and at sites near Hildebrand, South Alamo, and Mitchell streets, with plans to add sites along Alazan, Apache, and San Pedro creeks in January 2006.

SARA plans two more public meetings for input on the watershed protection plan.

Michael Cary

Update: SAHA’s little lost house

“I think SAHA has a personal vendetta against me. They can’t let go of the house because that would mean that I am right, and they did something wrong,” says Juanita Segundo, who is embroiled in a struggle over ownership of a house she’s lived in for 40 years.

In October, the San Antonio Housing Authority asked Segundo to sign a lease and begin paying $550 monthly rent a month on her house. Segundo is fighting the request because, she says, she owns the house. `See “Fallen through the cracks,” November 17-23, 2005.`

Segundo has lived in the house since 1965, and purchased it in 1970. Through a series of complex financial snafus and the legal maneuvering of a money lender, Segundo lost the title to the house, and SAHA purchased it in 1993. Yet, Segundo says she and her family have provided all the maintenance and upkeep on the house for the past 12 years, during which time SAHA has never asked for rent.

Because of that, and the questionable way in which she lost the house, Segundo is asking SAHA to transfer ownership of the house back to her.

In a November 30 letter, SAHA CEO Henry Alverez wrote that public-housing law prevents the housing authority from transferring the house to Segundo. Instead, he offered to convey title of the house to LULAC —which has advocated on behalf of Segundo—“for a nominal fee,” with the restriction that the property be used as low-income affordable housing.

Segundo’s lawyers say they will consider the option. “I think it’s interesting that SAHA wants to partner with LULAC,” said Paul Fletcher, a lawyer with Earl & Associates, which represents Segundo on a pro-bono basis. “At least we are getting somewhere—it shows some willingness.”

LULAC representatives say they aren’t in the business of property management, but if Segundo and her lawyers decide that conveying the property to LULAC is the only option, they’ll find a way to make it work. “We were hoping SAHA would get all of its lawyers together and say, OK, here’s the loophole, let’s go,” said Henry Rodriguez, LULAC community representative. “We’ve seen them do all kinds of things that we think are shady, it’s strange they couldn’t find something better. They dropped the ball, now it’s time for them to be responsible.”

In the meantime, Segundo is still waiting. “I’m keeping the faith, that’s all I can do, but it’s difficult,” she says. “Especially at Christmas. I can’t pretend that everything is OK when it feels like there’s something hanging over my head. They can tell me to get out at any time.”

Susan Pagani

Life after duct tape and plastic sheeting

Tom Ridge may have resigned as Secretary of Homeland Security, but he still evangelizes the use of duct tape and plastic sheeting. “The media likes to belittle it, but the Red Cross has been using it for centuries. If you can’t evacuate you can use it to create a safe room. If you have a few gallons of water and a flashlight you’ll do even better,” he advised attendees of Trinity University’s Policy Maker Breakfast on December 1.

Although a jovial Ridge said that his return to the private sector in 2004, left him freer to discuss topics he hadn’t before, his speech was less of a tell-all than a toeing of the party line. Ridge shared anecdotes about President Bush’s sense of humor, and jokes about his life as a private citizen, such as submitting to airport security secondary screening 20 times—“That’s not the appropriate time to press your nose against the Plexi-glass screen and mouth the words ‘Help, help!’”—and driving his own car, “I don’t know about you, but when I look at the traffic lights I see the color-coded warning system.”

Ridge also broached more serious topics, such as backing President Bush’s decision not to set a withdrawal date for American troops in Iraq and supporting the Transportation Security Administration’s recent decision to relax laws prohibiting small, sharp tools, such as cuticle scissors, on airplanes. “We made a lot of changes after 9-11,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to move away from some of those and focus on finding potential terrorists.”

On the subject of security along Texas’ southern border, Ridge said, “Mexicans are not coming to blow us up, they are coming to make money, but the networks Mexicans use to enter the United States could be used by terrorists.”

The U.S. should not tolerate illegal immigration, Ridge added, yet “our economy would be on its knees without illegal immigrants. Detroit hospitals would shut down without Canadian nurses.”

Ridge supports President Bush’s plan to create a way for Mexicans and Canadians to lawfully cross the border and to enforce “such mean-spirited and dramatic sanctions against those who do hire illegal immigrants that they never do it again.”

“We only have to go visit the Statue of Liberty to remember we are a country of immigrants,” he said, “but we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think every immigrant worker wants to live in this country. They should be able to work and go home.”

Is there a place for the Minutemen in this scenario? “I do not object to their motive, but I regret the need.”

Susan Pagani

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