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BIG BEND SIERRANIssue 73
July 15, 2003
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet
COME ONE! COME ALL! SIERRA CLUB SUMMER SOCIALOn Sunday August 10th, we will have our summer Potluck from 5 to 9 at Kokernot Lodge off of Loop Road in Alpine. The Sierra Club will furnish iced tea and plates and silverware. Gary Oliver, Chris Cessac and other talented musicians from The Mules will provide music. Please put this date on your calendar and watch your mail for a postcard closer to the date. We have always had a good time together. Please invite others to join us at the social!!!!
EDITORıS NOTES FROM FRAN SAGENew features for newsletter: With this issue we launch two new features in the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club newsletter. Each month we will have an article on some aspect of Far West Texas. This month we feature Dr. Bob Milam on the topography of the Alpine Basin and next issue we will publish a piece by Tim Roberts on improved conditions at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site. In future issues we will have articles on wildflowers and other items of Sierra Club interest.
The second new monthly feature starting this month will be the environmental cartoons of Gary Oliver, cartoonist, published in the Big Bend Sentinel, the Texas Observer, and elsewhere. See the inside pages for the cartoon and an article on Gary himself.
Apologizes: In the midst of newsletter writing I lost access to the Internet and the e-mail. That meant I could not transmit the newsletter to our formatter, Jeanne Sinclair. So you have a two-column Word document with all illustrations pasted in. I am taking classes the next two weeks and maybe can learn how to insert graphics that fit. Also, I spent time in Austin attending a meeting on radioactive waste issues, a sort of ³where do we go from here?² That accounts for more delay. Oh well. Here it is!
Radioactive Waste: The September issue will have an article on whatıs going on in fighting the dump. But for now, bad news/good news note. Our bad news is that Erin Rogers, the Lone Star Chapterıs radioactive waste staff person and longtime radioactive waste dump opponent, is leaving for Harvard on July 15th to enter a one year masterıs degree program in public policy. Her expertise will be sorely missed but we wish her well and congratulate her. The good news is that Margo Clarke will be in the state office and will be able to devote some time to the issue. Her main assignment will be on water issues. She will be starting August 1st.
Bad News/ Good News: Jeanne Sinclair will no longer be able to format the newsletter though she may bail me out occasionally on graphic problems. The good news is that Jeanne and her husband, Chris Cessac are expecting a baby. Congratulations Jeanne and thanks for your work!
A MAGNIFICENT LITTLE CREATURESeveral times a week for the past six years, my neighbor and I have ridden into town from the South Double Diamond. We frequently see a number of antelope as we pass the CF Ranch and in the six years my neighbor has never failed to say, ³They are such magnificent little creatures.² We both agree that the day is just a little better for having seen them.
BY JIM SAGE
Interestingly, the antelope is not an antelope nor is it related to a goat as many people say. It is the pronghorn and is the remaining member of a family that can be traced back 20 million years. It is the only animal on earth that has horns and that sheds the horns yearly. It doesnıt shed the entire horn but it does shed the outer segment of the horn. Both the male and female have horns, which are a hollow sheath over a bony core. This sheath is shed after the breeding season. The buck has horns, which will reach a length of 20 inches, but the female horn is much smaller. The buck also has a short prong jutting forward from the horn about halfway from the base, hence the name ³pronghorn.²
The pronghorn is also the fastest animal on the North American continent, running at speeds of 50-60 miles per hour. One might wonder why the pronghorn is so much faster than other animals and some experts speculate that at one time in the past there was an extremely fast predator which has now become extinct.
The pronghorn is quite small weighing between 90 and 120 pounds and stands approximately three and one-half feet tall at the shoulders.
About two years ago a doe crawled under the fence onto the South Double Diamond and gave birth to a fawn, which probably weighed between five and twelve pounds. The fawn was never seen for about five days as it was well hidden in the tall grass. The doe stayed away and returned only to feed the baby. The fawn has no odor; so hiding is its only defense mechanism until it is strong enough to run. Coyotes, bobcats, and eagles are natural predators and I have read that only about 40% of the fawns survive the first year. If the doe has twins, which about 60% of them do, then she will hide the fawns several hundred yards apart so that at least one might survive.
Pronghorns are found in all four North American deserts and they range from Canada to Mexico. Almost always they are found on the open plain where their speed and superior eyesight protect them. When there is danger they contract the rump muscles causing the white rump hairs to stand on end alerting other members of the herd. This alert can be seen by other pronghorns for a distance of two miles. Some experts maintain that the vision of the pronghorn is about equal to that of a human with eight power binoculars. Unfortunately experts fail to mention another important item: that these large eyes are as beautiful as one will ever see.
Two other factors about the pronghorn are interesting. It is a ruminant and it swallows its food without chewing. Later it regurgitates a partially digested ³cud,² which it then chews. And secondly, which has always been a mystery to me, it can run 60 miles an hour and leap distances of twenty feet but it wonıt jump a fence. This has been a death warrant for many animals in places like the grasslands near Gillette, Wyoming where the coal companies and ranchers have built crawl proof fences and the pronghorns starve to death. This is perhaps one of the reasons that in the mid 1800s there were millions of pronghorns, second only to buffalo and by 1920 there were no more than 20 thousand left.
I feel so fortunate to live out here in the Chihuahuan Desert where I can see pronghorns most ever day. As my friend said, ³They are such magnificent little creatures.²
PUBLIC MEETING SCHEDULED IN ALPINE ON BENTONITE PERMIT REQUESTThe Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has scheduled a public meeting on U. S. Clayıs permit request for a bentonite grinding plant seven miles east of Alpine on the southside of US 90 near the railroad tracks. The public meeting is the next step in the air quality permit process. The following information comes from Adria Dawidczik, spokesperson for the TCEQ in the Media Relations Division.
BY FRAN SAGE
When: Thursday, August 14, 7 p.m.
Where: Espino Conference Room,
Sul Ross State University
Process for meeting: The meeting will be divided into two parts: An informal discussion in which U. S. Clay will explain what it proposes and will answer questions. The second part will be a formal comment period, which will be used for the public to make comments. The formal comments can incorporate issues that become clearer during the informal question and answer period as well as any other formal comments that one wants to make.
Process after Meeting:
- The staff will analyze the formal comments and make a preliminary decision, which means the technical review is complete and the preliminary decision must be published. The comment period will remain open for an additional 30 days after publication.
- The Executive Director then has up to 60 days to review all timely comments, and determine whether these comments raise issues that require changes to the preliminary decision or to the proposed permit, and will issue a decision on whether the permit, if granted, meets all rules and laws. The Executive Director also prepares a written response to all timely comments that have been received on the application and the Chief Clerk then sends the Executive Directorıs recommendation and response to the comments both to persons who had sent the comments or to persons who had requested being put on the mailing list.
- The affected parties will then have 30 days to file requests for a contested case hearing.
- The Commissioners will then decide whether to approve the permit, deny the permit, or refer it to the State Office of Administrative Hearings for judges to hold contested case hearings. Those would almost certainly take place in Austin. The hearing(s) will be conducted like a trial. What the judges recommend will then go back to the TCEQ Commissioners for final consideration. Any further action that people want to take if they disagree with that final decision would have to be taken to district court. I am not sure where but will check that out.
Notice that the meeting will inevitably focus on the air quality permit. But a central concern for people in and near Alpine has a greater dimension. Do we want industrial development helping to define our economy? Such development will vie with other bases of our economy. For those of us whose business concern centers on residential customers or attracting visitors, such development is a negative. There will be an economic impact. While there may be 20 to 25 jobs, most will be low wage jobs (U. S. Clay said at the Commissionerıs Court meeting that 20 of them +would be low wage jobs).
Furthermore, many people have come out here to become part of a healthier environment, or to experience a pleasanter way of life than large, industrialized urban cities provide. Health and air quality are central concerns. We want a safe environment without air pollution and without numerous trucks clogging our highways.
All concerned citizens need to turn out, ask questions, make comments, or at a minimum help provide a show of concern. Business people, parents, organizations, people with health problems, retired people, and anyone who wants to keep our quality of life as is or better needs to make his or her wishes known. THE KEY IS A LARGE TURNOUT. If a question can be raised in the minds of the TCEQ commissioners, then there is a good chance it will be referred to contested case status. Remember, if you have concerns but do not care to speak publicly, you can put in a written statement. Or if you can not formulate your position before the end of the meeting, you will still have the 30 day period after the preliminary decision is published.
The meeting will lead to the TCEQ making a judgement as to whether to issue a permit soon or hold a contested case hearing. The August 14th meeting will be straightforward, open to the public. If you have never attended such a meeting before, do not worry. You will have a chance to let the agency know your concerns.
DONıS COLUMNEnvironmental Good News
At the last few meetings, Iıve made an effort to emphasize environmental good news. Hereıs some Iıve run across lately.
The World Wildlife Fund plans to teach the 50,000 employees of telecommunications giant Nokia how to be good environmentalists, the conservation organization announced recently. Nokia said the three-year deal was part of a plan to improve the companyıs environmental performance and bring environmental awareness "into every aspect of company life."
Two new clean-energy coalitions are sounding a call that isn't often heard in environmental circles: "It's the economy, stupid." The Apollo Alliance and the Energy Future Coalition both made headlines earlier this month by announcing bold plans to limit oil dependence and boost renewable energy in the U.S. -- but instead of talking up the environmental benefits of their proposals, they touted the plans as means to create jobs and enhance national security. The Apollo Alliance, which has backing from 12 influential unions, is calling for a 10-year, $30 billion federal investment in clean-energy technologies and green building, emphasizing that it would lead to the creation of more than 1 million new jobs.
GARY OLIVER CARTOONISTNew Newsletter Monthly Feature Gary Oliver, Marfa Sierra Club member, longtime environmental activist, longtime cartoonist, musician, radio program host, cat owner (at one time he had 40), dog owner, library volunteer, bicyclist, general bon vivant (well not really as he lives too close to the bone for the luxury connoted by that phrase), vegan, and just general great person, has agreed to the BBRSC using his cartoons in each of its newsletters. Gary also led an interesting life prior to moving to Marfa about 20 years ago. He is originally from the Beaumont area, graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas over 30 years ago. Gary has been partially blind all his life but that has never stopped him. He owned a nightclub years ago in Austin, which featured artists that have since become well known such as Jimmy Vaughn Blues and The Flatlanders, which included Butch Hancock. He has traveled all over the Western Hemisphere, including time in South America where among other things he produced cartoons in Spanish, and ended up in Marfa because of a woman who lived there. She has long since moved on but Gary found what looks like a permanent home. Some of you may also have seen the great two full- page spread on him in the Dallas Morning News of June 6, 2003. We are proud to have his cartoons.
A SNAPSHOT OF THE ALPINE BASINTucked into the south division of the Davis Mountains is a basin; a real rounded basin some twenty-six miles in diameter and draining out through only one point. This is the Alpine Valley, floored and limited to the east by a great outpouring of trachyte lava from Paisano Volcano some thirty-eight million years ago, and whose front edge congealed into a low ridge running from Elom Mountain to Big Hill. The north are Arkansas, Henderson, and Last Chance Mesas; outflows from the more northern Buckhorn Volcano. To the west is Paisanoıs Duff formation of thirty-seven million years ago, dissected by many creeks flowing from the old caldera, and ending in the high brown rhyolite lava flow cliffs that stand so proudly just west of Alpine. To the south is the Sierra del Sur, a long row of younger volcanic intrusions and ridges.
BY BOB MILAM
The basin drains out through Musquiz Creek between Elom Mountain and Last Chance Mesa. Just before this exit Musquiz Creek is joined by Alpine Creek. Musquiz Creek drains the north half of the basin, arising on the east face of Puertacitas Mountain and carving out our glorious Musquiz Canyon. It is joined at the Canyonıs mouth just north of FM 1703 by Barrillos Creek, coming from the Twin Mountains (the valleyıs highest). Because rainfall increases with altitude, this junction is the wettest place in the basin.
Alpine Creek arises near the south rim at the head of Alpine Canyon and flows northeast right through Alpine City and to the west of Hancock Hill. It is soon joined by Moss Creek, which has followed TX 118 down from the south rim before swerving to the east of Hancock Hill and to its eventual junction with Alpine Creek.
The many canyons to the west form an immense alluvial fan at the base of the Duff Mesa Cliffs through which their channels can be difficult to trace. Paisano Creek, the main channel and the one followed up to Paisano Pass by the Union Pacific Railroad is distinct where crossed by FM 1703 and TX 118.
Although from the ground the east rim of the basin is not always distinct, as where U. S. 90 crosses it six miles east of Alpine, from the air it is obvious. About two-thirds of the basin, mostly to the north and west, is mountainous with ³V² shaped creek beds. The remaining third is the rich alluvial plain (seen so clearly from TX 118) that has been formed over the last thirty million years by debris carried down the various creeks, and dumped into the great trachyte basin west of the ³front wave² of that lava.
Dr. Bob Milam is a member of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, a retired surgeon from McAllen, who has lived in Alpine since 1998. This is an excerpt of a larger manuscript entitled The Physical Geography of the Alpine Valley.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARKThe National Park Service will hold public meetings on the draft Big Bend National Park General Management Plan. In our area, there will be a meeting Wednesday, July 23rd, 7 p.m. at the Pete Gallego Center (Room #129) at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. The draft plan is available at http://planning.nps.gov/plans.cfm and also at the parkıs website at http://www.nps.gov.bibe . Hard copy is available from the Superintendent, P. O. Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834 as well as on display at the Alpine Public Library. Check your own library if you live outside Alpine to see if it is available there.
MANAGEMENT PLAN MEETINGS
LEGISLATIVE UPDATEWhile the regular session ended June 2nd, the governor called a special session (30 days) that started June 30th to consider congressional redistricting. Since then many additional items have been added including those that cluster around reorganization of state government. We can also anticipate a called session later to consider public school financing. Only the governor can set the agenda for what issues will be considered. The battle over the various redistricting plans are sharp with lines drawn between Republicans and Democrats, urban areas and rural areas, and special interests. As I write, a redistricting plan has passed the house but has not met acceptance by the Senate. The Democrats have 11, including Senator Madla, of the needed eleven votes to block allowing floor debate. Only Senator Armbrister remains undecided among the Democrats. Senator Bill Ratliff, Republican from rural East Texas, also has announced he would vote against allowing the redistricting bill to go to the floor. Lt. Governor Dewhurst is considering changing the rules to eliminate the need for the 21 votes to allow the bill to the floor. The issue may very well be decided by the time you read this newsletter.
A version of the part of HB 2 from the regular session is now in a separate bill (HB 21 of the special sessuin) to streamline the permitting process. (Translation, decrease the citizenıs right on contested hearings and other involvement in the environmental permitting process.) It looks right now like that bill will not make it but the situation is volatile and there is no certainty until the special session ends and even then it is possible that another session will be called immediately.
Regular Session Update
HB 1567 (West-R, Bivins Senate Sponsor) Radioactive Waste Disposal: Signed by Governor. It includes the following provisions: 1) The state will issue the permit to a private company rather than retaining the license itself. 2) Two separate dumps will receive a permit, one for compact waste and one for federal waste. While it is hard to estimate the Compact waste it would not likely be above 81,481cubic yards (2.2 million cubic feet). The federal waste (includes A, B, C waste) will be capped at 6 million cubic yards (162 million cubic feet) with the cap on the most potent waste, B and C waste, at 600 thousand cubic yards (16,200,000 cubic feet). 3) Federal waste cannot be accepted until compact waste is accepted; 4) No above ground burial of any waste is required (above ground would allow closer monitoring). 5) The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) remains the licensing agency. 6) The TCEQ will not have authority to require liability insurance. 7) Five percent of the gross receipts will go to the stateıs general revenue fund.
Opposition will likely shift to fighting the rulemaking and the permitting.
HB 1365 (Bonnen-R, Harris-R Senate sponsor) Air Emissions Signed by Governor. Provides funding necessary for Dallas and Houston air emission reduction programs.
SB 1952 (Ellis-R) Governmental Reorganization This bill failed in the Conference Committee because the House version (which among other things included a number of bad environmental items) and the Senate version (did not among other things include the environmental issues) could not be reconciled. The needed money savings were tacked onto other bills but the issues of power transfers through more control by the governor are still out there as well as environmental issues. (The issues are now on the call of the special session.) Environmentalists opposed the loosening or elimination of some environmental regulations in the House Version.
SB 854 Noxious Plants (Madla-D) Signed by Governor. Requires creating a list of noxious plants and prohibits the sale, distribution and importation of such plants.
HB 2548 Additional Electric Transmission Capacity (King-R, Fraser-R Senate sponsor) Effective Immediately. Will make possible more use of alternative energy electric sources.
HCR 186 La Linda Bridge Opening (Gallego-D Madla-D senate sponsor) Passed. Urges the state and federal officials to allow reopening the La Linda Bridge on the Rio Grande. While the resolution is not binding, it puts the state support behind the effort.
SIERRA CLUB NEWSWelcome to new members: Following are the names from the latest national membership listing of new members and transferred in members. Alpine: Jade Astiazaran, Steve Elfring, Sharon Hileman, Mary Nagy, Linda Trollinger and Marfa: Stephen Brown, Marilyn Sanders.
Contributions: Thanks to our pledgers and donors: Joe and Ginny Campbell, Lue and Cliff Hirsch, and Fran and Jim Sages. In addition we received $20 from T-shirt sales and $2 in refreshment donation at meeting for a total of $152 from May to July 15th. Our yearıs total is $802.70
Executive committee meeting: The July meeting has been postponed until later this summer. Anyone needing an update for time should call Don Dowdey at 837-3210.
MARFA MEMBERS: While you will receive a postcard reminder, please put August 23rd on your calendar for dinner at Jettıs Grill. The purpose is to discuss Sierra Club, get to know each other and invite people who might be interested in Sierra Club.
Big Bend Regional Sierra Club 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, Texas 79830
Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830 firstname.lastname@example.org
Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831
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