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Minutes of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Meeting,
September 18, 2001

Chairman Don Dowdey opened our meeting at 7:00 PM in 309 Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross Campus. There were about 20 people present.

PROGRAM

Our speaker was Ranger Lou Good, Management Assistant, Big Bend National Park. Mr. Good was born and raised in national parks, principally Yellowstone and Yosemite, as his father was also a park ranger. Mr. Good has been with the National Park Service for 10 years, and in BBNP since 1998.

The existing concession contract in BBNP will expire next year. New legislation has eliminated the old preferential right of renewal, which used to give an existing concessionaire an edge in competing for a contract renewal. Nevertheless, the present concessionaire's contract will be renewed. In the past, concession fees went to the US Treasury. Under the new legislation, 80% of those fees will now go to the Park Service for the benefit of specific parks.

General Management Plan. Ranger Good said that the Park Service has not always been sufficiently articulate in stating its needs for funding. The Park Service now has several business types who write Business Plans that have more credibility with Congress for funding. BBNP's General Management Plan is scheduled for final review in November.

Service and Resource Management functions are the most underfunded. The park needs trained professionals, for example, to research dinosaur finds. Furthermore, BBNP is on the list of the 10 most threatened national parks, needing more construction, and better water and sewage facilities.

Wild and Scenic Rivers Plan. This plan and the Management Plan were worked on simultaneously, which was not a good idea as the plans were very different. Attempts to craft a WSR Plan 20 years ago were not successful, resulting in much hostility from landowners. The landowners thought a plan was in place, but it wasn't. Thus, the landowners had been misled, and they have long memories.

The Park Service decided to form a partnership plan with landowners, environmental groups, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and commercial and private "paddlers." People were suspicious and hostile, so efforts were made to alleviate these feelings. It was pointed out that the government has no control over private lands, unless condemned. Land will not be condemned.

The Park Service agreed to three things:

  1. There will be no new access sites. Heath Canyon and Dryden Crossing in Terrell County will remain the only access.

  2. No increase in visitor numbers (about 2,200-2,600 per year)

  3. No condemnation of land.

Legislation requires agreement with Mexico and the states of Coahuila and Chihuahua; the latter state protests the WSR Plan because of a possible water project. The land adjacent to the river from Santa Elena to the Chihuahua-Coahuila line is 51% private and 49% public. The Park will recognize private land rights, allowing hiking trips - carry-in, carry-out, including human waste. Relationships with landowners are now cordial. An agreement with Paul Silver, the principal landowner, is expected to be signed this fall. The earlier plan was sent to Washington without the landowners' agreement. This time, the Park Service expects to have 75-80% agreement.

Fran Sage asked about a report that 90,000 gallons of waste water per day was being discharged into the Rio Grande at Lajitas. Good said that properly treated waste water could be cleaner than the water already in the river. However, the Park Service will meet with the owners of the Lajitas Resort.

Fran also asked who has to approve waste water disposal. Good said that was a State function, but the Park is concerned about the location of the treatment plant and also the golf course, with regard to possible flood damage. Relations with the people at Lajitas have been cordial, but the Park wants to know about these matters.

Fran asked if Mexico has a role in waste-water issues. Good said yes, but we don't have to get their permission to discharge waste water, nor do we have control over their waste water. Mexico is in a state of flux with a new administration. Gallego is being asked to work with the Park Service, and also Texas Senators.

Eve Trook asked if the Park Service, being Federal, trumps State jurisdiction. Good said no, and furthermore, the owner of the Lajitas Resort was being very communicative.

Ginny Campbell asked about provisions for overnight stays. Good said there were no campsites on the river, but "navigable" canyons do provide places to camp, and belong to the people.

Luc Novovich asked about the status of commercial outfitters. Good said an operator must have a business license, have a permit, and pay fees.

Barbara Novovich asked how many guides there would be. Good said there would be two Rangers plus a volunteer for 200 miles of river. More personnel are needed.

Hal Flanders pointed out that most of the water in the lower Rio Grande comes from the Rio Conchos. What will happen if the Mexicans dam up the Conchos? Good said the Mexicans do have control, but the Park Service will do what is possible to keep water in the river and keep the river clean. There is great interest among Mexican villagers about water salinity. For example, a man who used to bathe in the river as a child at San Vicente, now breaks out in a rash if he bathes in the river.

Park Management Plan. The first public meeting was held last Spring. The Newsletter has been out since June or July. If you have any comments, please get them in soon.

There are about 325-350 thousand visitors to BBNP every year. About 65-75% of the visitors are Texans year after year - indeed, Texans gave the park to the National Park Service. By and large, visitors follow the park regulations. As our population ages, our use of the Park will change.

Regarding concessions, roads, etc., most people want the park to stay as it is. Will the Harte Ranch, now State controlled, be a wilderness area? Whatever its use, erosion needs to be controlled. In the Christmas Mountains, a strict conservation easement is needed.

Brewster County does not want to see the Park expand because of the tax issue. Federal payment in lieu of real estate taxes is now about $300,000 per year. The Harte Ranch, now State owned, does not pay taxes or payments in lieu of taxes.

Cottonwood Campground, along the Grande, in on a flood plain. Should we move it? Ranger Good reported that the people responding to the Park's questionnaire say no. Perhaps we should be prepared to risk occasional damage to such a facility.

Regarding the impact of the Park on the Mexican Border villages, Ranger Good noted that Boquillas is entirely dependent on tourism. San Vicente and Santa Elena are agricultural. The next step in the Management Plan is to get comments from these areas. What do we need to protect, in the way of commercial services, species, etc?

Eve Trook questioned the colors depicting the various operational areas on the maps Ranger Good had brought as handouts. He said they had assumed that people interested in the Park would be able to identify those areas, such as concessions and river access.

Jim Sage said he had spent a lot of time answering the questionnaire in the Park Newsletter, and then asked if the Park Service was paying attention. Ranger Good said yes, they take responses very seriously.

Ginny Campbell asked if Boquillas is heavily developed, will it impact the Park? Good said he doesn't see Boquillas developing big time, but electricity is needed. However, we control border crossing, and electricity.

Bob Brewer asked if any of the construction alternatives in the Park conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ranger Good said existing facilities cannot be removed, but the Park is now putting a handicapped restroom at Chisos Basin Lodge.

BUSINESS MEETING

Don Dowdey, Chair, opened the business meeting after our program.

Don noted that people are interested in safety issues raised by increased Mexican truck traffic on the Entrada al Pacífico.

Don announced that we will clean our 2-mile stretch of US 90 at 9:00 AM on Saturday Sept 29. Eight people are needed for this project. We will meet at the rest area at the Y about 8 miles east of Alpine. Bags will be provided.

Liz Hightower, Chair, Water Committee, reported that she attended the second meeting of the Board of the Brewster County Water District, which now has the plans for Jeff Davis and Presidio Counties. In the November General Election, we will vote on the Brewster County Board. Our Water Committee will meet at 7:00 PM on Thursday Sept 20 at Eve Trook's house.

The minutes of the last meeting were accepted as distributed.

Ginny Campbell asked for help in selling our calendars. We keep 60% of the sale price. You can see all the pictures online at www..sierraclub.org/books/calendars/

Ginny also gave a treasurer's report showing a current balance of $341.07.

Don Dowdey reported that he testified before the EPA in Washington on the BART (Best Available Retrofit Technology) for cleaning up the two Class I areas in Texas, BBNP and Guadalupe NP. Don took well prepared brochures to accompany his testimony, and also gave copies to our Texas senators (copies were also available at our meeting). Don also signed on to a letter to EPA Administrator Whitman urging strong support of the Regional Haze Rule. Cleaning up will be a lengthy process requiring 70 years to get back to air as clean as we had two generations ago.

On the nuclear waste meeting at Balmorhea State Park, the interested parties are moving toward forming a statewide organization under the umbrella of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter.

Don asked Fran Sage to comment on the forthcoming TNRCC meeting on regulation reform, Sept 24 in El Paso. Such reform may allow action on citizen complaints, if credible. Fran considers such a possible change important.

Don announced that we will not have a regular Sierra club meeting in the month of October. Instead, everyone is encouraged to attend the EPA meeting on the BRAVO study at 7:00 PM on Thursday October 18, in the Sul Ross University Center, 2nd floor. The EPA is expected to have significant preliminary information. Fran urged everyone to come, since the EPA people may be coming because of our agitation

Respectfully submitted,

Jim Walker, Secretary


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