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Archive for April, 2013

Scott Nicol, Sierra Club Borderlands Team chair and LRGV Sierra Club Conservation co-chair, will be speaking at the University of Texas Pan American on April 25 about the flood risks and environmental damage that will come with new border walls slated for the Rio Grande floodplain.  Through Freedom of Infomation Act requests Scott has uncovered documents showing that Customs and Border Protection plans to condemn private lands and take parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge to build these walls.  For years the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission rejected these walls as posing too great a flood hazard to communities on both sides of the river, but a year ago they caved in to pressure from CBP and approved walls in the floodplain.

At 6pm on April 25 the Sierra Club will screen the 20 minute film Wild vs. Wall, followed by a discussion of the hazards posed by these new walls.  The event will occur at the UT Pan American Health Auditorium (HSHW 1.404), and is free and open to the public.  You can see a campus map here.

UT Pan American event  poster copy

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By Jim Chapman

On Saturday April 6 nine Sierrans & friends  travelled to Willacy County to get a first-hand look at some of the giant wind turbines that are increasingly filling the landscape east of US 77.  Our very hospitable hosts were Al and Noreen Smith who live 10 miles east of Sebastian, and have 2 of the turbines on their land, operational since late December 2012.  The turbines are huge, over 400 feet tall, built by Mitsubishi, and are capable of generating 2.4 megawatts of energy.  While from a distance the blades appear to be turning slowly, the tips of the blades can be moving at 120 mph or faster, and create significant noise (a bit like a jet airliner passing overhead) if you are immediately under or downwind from the turbine.  There are 160 of the Mitsubishi turbines, and twice that number of other turbines in the area.  They are all on private land, which is mostly dryland farming, and landowners are compensated well.  The energy from all these wind turbines goes to San Antonio and Austin.

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Wind-generated electricity is clean and renewable but is not without its problems.  A big potential problem is bird and bat mortality, especially an issue here as the lower Gulf Coast is where the Central and Mississippi Flyways converge – probably the most important bird migration corridor in North America.  No impact studies whatsoever are required.  Al, Noreen and their son Arron have not encountered any bird or bat mortality so far, though they do not regularly inspect under the turbines, and they have not gone through a migration season yet.  They do not know if any ongoing monitoring studies are being done (there should be).  Noise is another issue, both the blade tip cutting through the air, and a high-pitch noise from the generators.  Al admits the noise bothers him somewhat when the wind blows toward their house, but they feel they can live with it.  I should add that they are one of the few landowners in the area who have intentionally retained significant tracts of brush on their land.  A big thank you to Al and Noreen for sharing their time, thoughts and experience with wind turbines.

Texas wind turbines

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