News Briefs

Hardberger would have voted no

Developers of a proposed Lowe's store withdrew their petition for a re-zone for a site at Loop 1604 and Bulverde Road reportedly because they couldn't get enough City Council votes.

One vote the developers couldn't count on was that of Mayor Phil Hardberger, who, in a September 27 letter, told developers NECBUL 1604 Ltd., that he would oppose the rezone.

"This has been a hard call for me, but I have decided to vote against the requested zoning for this property," Hardberger wrote. "The reason is that I do not believe the existence and use of a Lowe's Home Improvement Store is consistent with protecting the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone."

Environmental activists were concerned that the hazardous chemicals stored and sold at the store could pose a danger to the Edwards Aquifer. Hardberger agreed, writing, "Despite the precautions, accidents can happen. The proposed store will stock a wide variety of potentially hazardous products that will be very damaging to the Aquifer if released by accident ... or other incident at or near the store. There is also the problem of enforcement years from now, long after the controversy subsides, but the store remains."

Lowe's could petition Council to build just east of the original development, a site that is still over the Recharge Zone.

Hutchison's immigration bill draws fire

Civil-rights activists are pummeling U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for filing a bill that would authorize states, local police, and sheriff's departments to enforce federal immigration laws.

The Southwest Workers Union, which protested in front of Hutchison's San Antonio office, said the bill which was introduced October 5, would increase human-rights violations and deaths along the border.

The bill would also create a federal Volunteer Border Marshal Program, which opponents argue is little more than a more formalized version of the Minutemen, which, depending on whom you ask, are ad-hoc border-patrol agents or vigilantes.

Hutchison's press statement didn't go so far as to endorse the controversial Minutemen, but she did note that "there is no doubt the Minutemen highlighted the dire need for more agents to patrol our borders."

According to Hutchison, the Marshal Program would use state-licensed peace officers to monitor the border, but they would not be paid.

Barbara Radnofsky, who is running against Hutchison in the 2006 Congressional election, called the bill "a grandstanding effort," adding that "local law enforcement and volunteers should not be asked to do the federal government's job ... Asking local law enforcement or groups of 'volunteers,' which is a nice word for vigilantes, to hunt down and imprison alleged illegal immigrants, does nothing to stem the flow of people into this country."

The U.S. House: a banana republic?

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" bellowed Democrats on the U.S. House floor last week, when proceedings broke into parliamentary pugnacity after Republicans held a vote open on oil and refinery legislation that, if passed, will give energy interests tax breaks while rolling back environmental laws.

In a tactic reminiscent of the vote on the Medicare bill, in which the vote was held open until the wee hours so the Republican leadership could hustle support for their side, a five-minute vote on HR 3893 was delayed 45 minutes.

The bill passed 212-210. All 196 Democrats voted against the bill, as did Bernie Franks, an Independent from Vermont, and 13 Republicans.

The bill, known as Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005, still must pass the Senate. It eases some air pollution provisions in order to get refineries running after the recent hurricanes and gives tax breaks to the energy industry, which already has earned huge profits from record-breaking oil prices. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the oil industry could profit more than $60 billion this year without additional giveaways.

Proponents of the bill contend the provisions will decrease gas prices, although there are no incentives or directives in the legislation for energy companies to do so.

The proceedings, which were broadcast live on C-SPAN and archived on the blog, show the chaos that erupted on the Hill during the vote.

"Mr. Speaker, parliamentary inquiry," asked one Democrat, who was not identified. "Is the discretion of the chairman or the abuse of discretion of the chairman and the abuse of power subject to a vote of the House to continue keeping this vote open? We have a history on this House floor `yelling distorted the comment` ... change people's votes."

"When a bill is rewritten and put on the House floor without chance to review it," chimed in another Dem, "when a vote is held open, doesn't this make the House a banana republic?

According to a source who witnessed the fracas, Republicans Bill Young of Florida, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania were cornered by several of their fellow GOP members and later changed their votes.

And who was one of the cornermen? None other than Tom DeLay.

EAA to vote on aquifer protection

Although the vote was scheduled to happen after press time, on Tuesday, October 11, the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board met to decide whether to begin developing aquifer-protection rules. While the EAA regulates pumping limits and other issues related to water quantity, there has been a continuing political tryst over its ability to oversee water quality.

The state legislature, led by Senator Ken Armbrister, a Democrat from Victoria, has long tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to wrest regulatory power from the EAA, especially in regards to water quality.

Tuesday's vote is important because if the board agrees to develop aquifer-protection rules, the action could be viewed as a challenge to Armbrister and his fellow travelers. And, as one board member who favors the rules noted, the ledge will likely attempt another power grab of the EAA regardless of the outcome of the vote.

The aquifer protection rules up for debate include those regarding hazardous materials and impervious cover. If these rules are not included in the EAA's Strategic Plan for 2006, they will likely be delayed for at least a year.


EAA gives nod to water quality rules

The chances of the resolution passing seemed as unlikely as rain in August, but on October 11, the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board voted 11-3 to develop water quality rules regarding impervious cover and hazardous materials over the Recharge Zone. The rules could be part of the EAA's 2006-09 Strategic Plan, which, in its final version, must also receive board approval.

While the board unanimously agreed that the EAA should regulate hazardous materials, there was dissent over impervious cover rules.

Bailey Barton, representing Hays and Caldwell counties, Luana Buckner of Medina and Atascosa counties, and Carol Patterson representing northern Bexar County, voted against the rules.

Barton contended that there is no scientific evidence linking impervious cover - sidewalks, parking lots, and streets - to increased water pollution, primarily through runoff of oil, anti-freeze, and other chemicals. Hydrogeologist George Rice, who spearheaded the effort to include the rules, countered that "the science is clear" on the connection between the two.

Impervious cover is controversial because it affects the type and scope of developments over the Recharge Zone. Many politically powerful developers often prefer higher percentages of impervious cover - commercial projects can have up to 65 percent - to allow for parking lots. Environmental groups support lower limits, down to 15 percent.

EAA General Manager Robert Potts, who does not vote, cautioned the board on moving too quickly on impervious cover. "We want to work with other agencies on water quality," he said, referring to the San Antonio Water System, the City, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "I agree with George Rice's concerns, but the better way to achieve this is to move more slowly."

Rice, who represents San Antonio's West Side on the board, said the rules were "controversial two years ago. They are controversial today, and if we wait two years, they'll be controversial then. I see nothing being gained by waiting."

Rafael Zendejas of south Bexar County added that he has grown impatient with the EAA's delay in focusing on water quality. "We've been patient on water quality rules. Water quality has never been at the forefront of the EAA; we've always concentrated on permits. I'm looking forward to saying water quality is one of our issues."

- Lisa Sorg

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