News Briefs

EPA and Big Tex come to terms

District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle presided over a meeting March 7 between Big Tex property owner James Lifshutz, representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and State Representative Mike Villarreal, where the parties agreed that the EPA would complete an evaluation of the Big Tex site by mid-April and issue a work plan approximately 30 days later. Community residents have held up a proposed re-zoning of the 7-acre Big Tex lot because of fear that it may be contaminated with asbestos from a former vermiculite-processing plant that operated on the site. `See “Big Tex lives to fight another day,” February 15-21, 2006, and “Big Runaround,” February 8-14, 2006.`

The EPA evaluation, called a pre-CERCLA screening, will determine whether Lifshutz needs to conduct further testing of the soil at Big Tex. In the event that asbestos contamination is discovered at the site, CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act also known as Superfund, may provide for cleanup and remediation. Once the EPA has completed its initial survey, Radle says her office will coordinate a public meeting at which EPA will share its findings and answer questions. Radle, who sent an e-mail to the EPA on February 22 to ask if the evaluation could be expedited, credits community activists who petitioned the EPA in January with spurring the agency’s involvement.

So, do you hear the neighborhood activists cheering, or at least releasing a collective sigh of relief? Not a chance.

“I don’t see why the meetings can’t be open to the public,” said Margarita Maldonado, a neighborhood resident who contacted the EPA January 23. Maldonado said she heard that the EPA would be conferring with Lifshutz and contacted Radle March 2 to ask if community representatives could attend. Radle responded that it was a work session, not a public meeting. Maldonado says the community will have a hard time trusting the evaluation and any subsequent work plan if they are not involved in its implementation.

But Radle says Maldonado’s concerns are unfounded. “`Lifshutz` said, I would want something in the end that is unambiguous,” said Radle. “It was very good to hear it come out of James’s mouth.” The councilwoman also said that if the EPA asks Lifshutz to perform additional testing for asbestos on the site, “EPA will be alongside them, splitting samples.” She added that TCEQ’s Richard Garcia is “very good about making everyone clear what the community wants.”

Maldonado said she is not satisfied. The Big Tex issue should be a gateway to include the community in the discussion of larger development issues in the area, she says, including the San Antonio River Authority’s and Army Corp of Engineers’ planned river improvements and a controversial footbridge. “Nobody wants to be told what’s good for them; you want to be part of the process.”

Elaine Wolff

School’s name change stonewalled

Don’t change the yearbook or the letterhead yet. Stonewall Flanders Elementary School is keeping its name, at least for now.

Last year, community activist Nick Calzoncit and his supporters started a petition drive to change the name of Stonewall Flanders to Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School of Non-Violence and Peace. Despite a board vote to keep the original name, supporters continue to lobby for the change. “Cesar Chavez has always been a champion for Mexican Americans everywhere. We felt that changing the name of a school for him would be a way to honor the things that he did for the Mexican-American community,” said Diego Gallegos, a former teacher at Stonewall Flanders.

The school was named Stonewall in 1924. When Stonewall was being rebuilt, community members suggested renaming it to Flanders Elementary School because its address is 934 Flanders. In 2003, the name became Stonewall Flanders Elementary School after the community presented a petition to the Harlandale School Board. The school reopened in August 2004.

Harlandale district officials say that the school was named for its stone walls that were built by residents in the early 1900s, but Calzoncit says it is named, in part, for Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate army general.

Olivia McPhillers, a friend of Calzoncit, supports the change. “The name Stonewall has a very bad connotation as far as minorities are concerned,” she said. “He is associated with brutality and racism.”

Harlandale School Board policy states that the Board can consider changing a school’s name if enough registered voters who live in the school attendance area sign a petition, which is presented to the board. Petitioners need signatures equivalent to 50 percent of the school’s student enrollment. According to Texas Education Agency data, as of October 2005, Stonewall Flanders had 690 students.

Although Calzoncit says he has collected more than 1,500 signatures from the neighborhood, only 367 are from those living in the school attendance area.

After receiving the signatures, the Harlandale School Board didn’t change the name, although officials said they would reconsider it if there were additional support. “There were just not enough people from the area who came to speak for the change,” said Board President Victor Resendez Jr.

Board Vice President Joshua Cerna and Secretary Thomas Uresti contend that the community does not want the name change. “I have not had a single constituent who has told me that they want the name changed, so I’m not supporting it,” Uresti said.

- Corinne Welder

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