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Toll roads and lizard tails

It’s idle entertainment, but there’s a website that allows you to sign up to have a new vocabulary word sent to you via e-mail once a day.

File this one under “did you know there was a word for it?”

“Autotomy is nature’s gift to some animals to help them escape when under attack or injured. A lizard being chased will drop its tail and slip away. The detached tail continues to wriggle, distracting the predator, while its former owner flees to safety.”

On September 22, the word of the day might have been “dismissed,” as Bexar County District Court Judge David Berchelmann Jr. ruled against Christopher Hill and company, allowing CPS Energy to build the Cagnon-to-Kendall high-voltage transmission line across public and private land to supply electricity to areas north of the city.

Hill and several landowners filed the lawsuit after City Council voted to allow CPS to place of “four or five poles” on Proposition 3 park land located along Highway 211 despite the fact that voters approved funds to purchase the property and protect it from development.

“The City has traded use of a sliver of land adjacent to Highway 211 for a larger and far more environmentally sensitive parcel nearby,” CPS Energy Vice President Al Lujan says. “The Council understood this is a win-win.”

A CPS Energy contractor is using ground-penetrating radar to ensure the poles are positioned in solid rock and not harming caves and karst (recharge) features that are common to the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. “Judge Berchelmann’s rulings display the respect for voters, the political process, and other branches of government that the Texas Constitution calls upon our judges to exercise,” says Lujan.

In other business, toll-road opponent Nikki Kuhns, who lives outside the city limits, wrote the Current a note of thanks for informing her of the $500,000 loan the City budget included for the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

“I guess I wonder why we’ are loaning them money,” Kuhns wrote. “Loaning money sounds like something a bank does, not the City treasury.”

Mayor Phil Hardberger recently said the $500,000 loan to the RMA is just that, a loan, and whatever the RMA decides to do with the money is the business of its board of directors, headed by former San Antonio Mayor Bill Thornton.

The Alamo RMA is authorized by the state to develop toll projects, which, according to the agency’s website, “typically can be built much more quickly than traditional highway projects.”

Tom Griebel, executive director of the RMA, says the $500,000 will be used to defray administrative expenses the authority will incur through the end of fiscal year 2006: office space, telephones, staff expenses, and items not covered by grants.

Toll projects include a Loop 1604-Highway 281 development agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation, which gives a private business the right to operate the toll road and to recover construction costs, while the state will retain ownership. Other toll projects include building additional lanes on Highway 16 from Loop 410 to Loop 1604, and a planned Wurzbach Parkway interchange at Highway 281, which would be tolled.

The RMA is working on the initial stages for four projects, which include analyzing feasibility, obtaining funding, assembling a financial plan, and providing an environmental review process.

Finally, let’s circle back to the funny Word A Day e-mail that covers the lizard losing its tail to avoid predators: In this case the predators could be a majority of the City Council, who could soon see Lowe’s attempt to gain approval to build a store on the North Side.

Lowe’s dropped its plea for a re-zoning change on a property near the intersection of Bulverde Road and Loop 1604, but instead of going away, it now proposes to build on another site, a little farther to the east, but still over the Recharge Zone.

According to correspondence from Annalisa Peace of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, some of her group’s concerns are that Lowe’s would store hazardous chemicals at the site. Those chemicals could become a fire hazard, and any runoff from a fire could include toxic chemicals.

“The karst limestone that makes up the Edwards Aquifer is especially susceptible to contamination by hazardous materials that would be stored at Lowe’s,” Peace said.

Furthermore, “Lowe’s uses and stores wood treated with arsenic and pesticides outdoors. When exposed to rainfall, these constituents can be flushed into stormwater runoff.”

(Surely the City Council doesn’t want to flush any “constituents” down a storm drain.)

This one is no joke. This upcoming zoning case might be the first test of the new Council’s resolve to protect the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone from developments that could threaten the city’s prime source of drinking water.

Will Lowe’s cut off its tail to escape any environmentally friendly predators that might be lurking at City Hall? We’ll soon find out.

By Michael Cary


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