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Air Force pleads immunity in fish kill

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is planning to sue the Air Force over a fish kill that occurred as the result of construction at the former Kelly Air Force Base.

But the suit and $10,000 fine might not stick because the Air Force is invoking its exemption from the Clean Water Act.

The fish kill happened on October 20, 2004, after an Air Force contractor hit an old storm sewer pipe about a half-mile north of Leon Creek while building a trench as part of contamination cleanup efforts at the base. To keep the trench from collapsing, the contractor buttressed it with guar-based polymer. About 20,000 gallons of the guar mix, which is biodegradable, leaked from the trench into the pipe and into Leon Creek, absorbing oxygen from the water and killing an undetermined number of fish.

In October 2004, there was a fish kill in Leon Creek after an Air Force contractor accidentally discharged guar into the waterway. The state fined the Air Force $10,000, but the military is refusing to pay it. (Photo by Lisa Sorg)

According to Kelly's Base Realignment and Closure Environmental Coordinator Norma Landrez, the storm pipe was not listed on any drawings contractors had of the area.

Neighborhood residents called the TCEQ, who in turn called Kelly officials. The Air Force agreed to seal any other pipes its contractor uncovered during further construction.

A TCEQ letter dated July 13, 2005 stated that it notified the Air Force on April 25 that the discharge violated the Clean Water Act. The letter assesses an administrative penalty of $4,500 on the Air Force, but a TCEQ spokesperson said the state plans to pursue the maximum $10,000 fine. It has sent the case to its litigation division.

Landrez said the Air Force's position is "it has not waived its sovereign immunity" from the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act authorizes the President to grant exemptions for military installations on a case-by-case basis, if he deems them necessary for national security, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Since 2003, Congress has granted the Department of Defense's requests for exemption from several environmental laws, including the Migratory Bird Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. During this Congressional session, the DoD is asking Congress for exemptions from the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Disposal Act, claiming it cannot adhere to environmental laws and ensure military readiness.

- Lisa Sorg

Helping LGBT evacuees

The Diversity Center has announced it has organized Project Rainbow Hurricane, an outreach program to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered evacuees from the recent natural disasters.

Lucia McRae, project coordinator of Rainbow Hurricane, said it is necessary to help improve the standard of living for those affected by the recent hurricanes. "It was my first instinct to call around the theater community with the project idea," said McRae, a professional actress. "However, the Diversity Center responded first and we began work immediately."

McRae said she has visited shelters several times a week to let evacuees know about programs and services at the Diversity Center. In an environment where some may be hesitant to disclose their orientation, it's important to let people know that they are welcome to seek support, she added.

Jhery Hallman, the Diversity Center's volunteer executive assistant to the executive director, said that programs continue to develop. "Right now, we are compiling a San Antonio database of different HIV medications and housing. We want our LGBT community to be able to make that move to regular housing." The Diversity Center provides counseling services and support groups for men, women, and youth, and resources for HIV and STD testing.

McRae said the general mood of those in the shelter has changed greatly from that of a month ago. "People were in shock, and you don't retain information when you're in shock," said McRae. "Now people are asking questions like 'Where is my government and support? What am I going to do?'"

In addition to the other resources, computer instruction, GED education, and resume help is offered at the center. "We are primarily offering a hand of support and continuity," said McRae. "Sometimes all people need is to be told it's OK to accept help." For more info, call the Diversity Center at 223-6106.

- Nicole Chavez

Log Cabin Republicans fighting amendment

Lesbian and gay groups and advocates continue their campaign to defeat the Texas constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, also known as Proposition 2, on the November ballot. The Log Cabin Republicans of Texas recently hired Ted Jackson as the organization's campaign director for the November election; Jackson was previously the field director for the successful 2004 campaign to repeal Cincinnati's Article XII, which prohibited gays and lesbians from petitioning their city government in regard to discrimination.

The Log Cabin campaign's goal is to educate conservative communities about the harmful effects of the amendment while working to increase voter outreach.

Jackson said he was contacted by the Texas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans and began work in the state on September 14. "My primary goal is to begin leadership development and grassroots organizational training," said Jackson. "We are actively going out to identify supporters and push them to the polls on Election Day."

The statewide campaign is based in Dallas/Fort Worth, while also organizing in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. "We are different from other organizations fighting this amendment, because we are actually going out into Republican-based neighborhoods and going door-to-door. There are a lot of stereotypes we encounter, but there is no way to find out who our supporters can be unless we actually go out and speak to them."

Jackson said the LGBT community is successful at the ballot box when they take the time to build a large enough team to connect personally with each other and voters. "It's amazing, the response we can get with clear and honest conversation using the word 'gay,'" said Jackson. "We find that many people understand us as Americans and stand with us on issues."

- Nicole Chavez

Urban woes centerpiece of symposium

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... "

While Charles Dickens' novel about social ills facing France and England was set in 1775, 230 years later, major American cities are beset by their own tumult. The urban challenges facing Atlanta and San Antonio are part of the symposium, "A Tale of Two Cities," at Trinity University on Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October 1.

Panelists from both communities, including outgoing acting City Manager Rolando Bono, SAWS Vice-President of Strategic Planning Janelle Okorie, and State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), will tackle such topics as school finance, urban development, open space, and water resources.

Former Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros will deliver the Saturday keynote luncheon address at noon.

The event kicks off Friday with a reception at 5:30 p.m. at Trinity University's Holt Conference Center, 106 Oakmont Court, followed by a celebration of the trailblazing achievements of the late Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first African-American mayor. Saturday's sessions will be held at Chapman Center beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Register by calling 999-7601. For info and a schedule of events, go to or contact Char Miller at 999-7608 or

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