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Archive for August, 2012

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Sea grass, Texas Parks and Wildlife photo

By Jim Chapman

LRGV Sierra Club Conservation Committee Co-Chair

The idea of putting a second causeway across the Laguna Madre to South Padre Island has been considered and kicked around for many years.  Now, the Federal Highway Administration along with TXDOT and the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (created to make toll roads) have come up with a plan, which is detailed in a hefty Draft Environmental Impact Statement document.  A public meeting was recently held to explain the project and receive public comments.

The Draft EIS is required to, among other things, list all the reasonable alternatives, and associated impacts, and give its preferred alternative.  In this case the preferred alternative is a 7.9 mile bride bridge over the Laguna Madre, beginning a little north of Andy Bowie Park, making landfall near Holly Beach, and then leading into Highway 100 between Laguna Vista and Los Fresnos.  While improving access on & off the Island is a valid need, the current plan does not merit our support.  Here are some reasons why:

  1.  The Draft EIS is inadequate.  It understates likely impacts to fragile and essential seagrass beds and the benthic ecosystems on the bay bottom. Seagrasses, which are already in serious decline, are essentially irreplaceable.  The Draft also understates likely impacts to ocelot/jaguarundi habitat on the mainland.
  2. Stated impacts are too vague & general.  For example, specific impacts of the bridge itself and its construction cannot be assessed, because both the specific design and its construction methods “would be determined during the final design phase, after a final decision on the EIS.”  This is the reverse of the way it should be.  Instead of detailing specific impacts and what they propose to do to avoid, minimize or mitigate those impacts, we repeatedly get the following:  “The proposed project’s impacts to estuarine wetlands would be minimized by design undertaken in consultation with the USFWS and TPWD and by compliance with federal and state laws.  As a result the proposed project would not substantially contribute to significant cumulative impacts to wetlands.”  This is wistful and positive thinking instead of actual analysis, and is not acceptable.
  3. Two other alternatives are quickly dismissed, though both would be vastly less expensive and much less environmentally damaging.  One would be to widen the existing causeway, along with improving traffic flow at both ends of the bridge.  The other would be a much shorter 2nd causeway where the original Queen Isabella Causeway used to be.  This is the shortest distance between the mainland and the Island.
  4. Using the Draft EIS’s own figures, when you add together the habitat impacts to the Piping Plover, the ocelot & jaguarundi, the Aplomado Falcon, and sea turtles, the Preferred Alternative (#6) is the worst of all the alternatives.

We encourage you to look at the Draft EIS on-line, and send in your comments to to SPI2ndAccess@hntb.com or fax to (956) 554-7509.  (Brief comments are better than none at all.)  They are due on August 15.

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The Isla Blanca All Stars on a Sunday evening clean up

By Madeleine Sandefur, Chair of the LRGV Sierra Club Sustainability Committee

As the sun sinks lower on Sunday evenings at the Isla Blanca County Park on South Padre Island, chances are you will encounter a group of LRGV Sierrans who have taken on a seemingly thankless task: picking up trash!

Official estimates peg the number of weekend visitors to Isla Blanca at 6,000-7,000.  Anyone who has been there during the summer months knows that there are mountains of trash left by uncaring beachgoers.  Our group, called the Isla Blanca All Stars, picks up a lot of it, but the REAL mission is to get a message across, which we proclaim on our t-shirts in both English and Spanish: “Respect your beaches; pick up your trash!”  We try to instill some “pride of ownership” – we are, after all, owners of these beaches!  Additionally, we educate the public about the devastating effects litter can have on marine life, such as sea turtles and dolphins, with whom we share the ocean.

This effort was started last Summer with just 3 or 4 volunteers, and has since grown to just shy of a dozen.  Coincidentally, it is quite an international group, with 3 foreign countries represented; volunteers are therefore able to address beachgoers in both English and Spanish.  The goal is to recruit more young people and involve area high school students – we fully realize that it is the younger generation who has to be taught the importance of helping our environment.

Overall, we feel we have had some success in getting out these messages.  Parents have sent their kids over to bring us their trash; some people have thanked us for doing this.  Others have asked us how much we get paid… and when we tell them we are volunteers, their eyes register surprise.  Still others think that the park entrance fee absolves them from having to pick up and leave their trash in the barrels the county provides!

Our nickname was bestowed on us by the Surfrider Foundation’s South Texas chapter and their president, Rob Nixon, who has fought this battle for a long time.  He was instrumental in recently obtaining a commitment from the Cameron County Commissioners, the County Parks Department, and the Constable for this precinct to provide more oversight and start enforcing the litter laws on county beaches.  Additio-nally, our group met with the Director and Assistant Director of the Parks Department and asked them to provide more trash barrels, more frequent pick-ups, and requested that they re-visit the possibility of instituting  the “Cash for Trash” program, which has been very successful on the northern part of the island, at Isla Blanca Park also.

If you live in the Lower Laguna Madre area, or are just visiting the beach one weekend, we would love to have you join our group!  Our motivation and mottos are simple: “The person who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic — the person who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the person who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done. ” (Theodore Roosevelt) –

and

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Meade)

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