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Fullerton mapAn oil company is proposing to frack in North McAllen. The well would be started near Main and Northgate, and drilled horizontally under 10th Street almost to Colonel Rowe. The company has applied for a permit from the City of McAllen, and the City Commission has the power to deny the permit. (McAllen Code of Ordinances, Article IV, Division I, Section 46-172).

The City Commission will be considering the permit at the next meeting on Monday, March 27 at 5:00 pm at City Hall, 1300 W. Houston in McAllen.

The company is Texakoma, and the people who are listed as the tract mineral owners are Aaron Bond, Sylvia Ruth Ausmus Allen, Ann Louise Corso, and Joe Warren Friend, Jr.

well on Main and Fullerton with mineral rights

The company is also proposing to build a road from 10th Street to the drill site.

Fracking is an extremely violent process that is disruptive to residential communities. The wells expose neighbors to unhealthy emissions, which at times can be very concentrated. The fracturing of rock can cause shaking and crack the foundations of homes, and noise pollution is inevitable. Once a well is drilled, the company can frack or flare gas at will. For these reasons, houses near oil and gas wells can lose as much as 25% of their market value.

Blowouts and drilling accidents happen regularly and are a threat to life and property as far as a quarter mile away. And finally, the wells become a permanent part of our community. The concrete used to plug them can and does fail, and plugged wells are not monitored by regulatory agencies.

If you or someone you know may be affected by this well, please contact us at lrgvsierraclub@gmail.com

 

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The McAllen City Commission will decide Monday whether to provide matching funds so the Valley Land Fund can begin restoring the McAllen Botanical Garden and eventually reopen the park and permanently protect the old growth forest within it.  Here’s what you’ve been missing while it’s been closed. 

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In May 2010, McAllen voters decided the fate of the McAllen Botanical Garden.  Asked to choose between a new 40-court tennis complex and preserving the site as a forested nature park, McAllen residents chose to preserve their forest.  Now this act has gone down in history—literally.

The timeline of the exquisite new history book by Eileen Mattei, Leading the Way: McAllen’s First 100 Years (McAllen Chamber of Commerce, 2011) includes the following sentence under the 2010 entry: “Citizens organize to save the McAllen Botanical Garden and the 1960s-era Civic Center.”

In addition, the long history of the park is recaptured in the 1962 timeline entry:  “Valley Botanical Garden, a preserve of palms and native plants providing habitat for horned lizards and indigo snakes, opens.  Norman Heard arranged to train mentally handicapped people here.”

These entries in McAllen’s official history book are an encouraging sign that McAllen citizens are reembracing the Botanical Garden  as a part of their heritage and will renew their more than 50-year-old commitment to this land by restoring and preserving it.  Such a project could have an impact beyond the establishment of a single park.  It could rekindle a passion for urban conservation in McAllen.

An organization of citizen volunteers formed the Valley Botanical Garden Association and on August 1, 1960 signed a lease with the City of McAllen for the property, establishing the Valley Botanical Gardens on the site before the park opened in 1962.

Conservation was a central part of the original 1960 mission of the Botanical Garden.  The founding Valley Botanical Garden Association committed to “conserve the Valley’s native flora for future generations.”   In 2011, we are the future generations they were preserving the Garden for.  Now it is our job to carry on this mission, to emulate the far-sighted citizens who came before us, and to preserve the Botanical Garden and the other remaining forested areas of McAllen for our children and grandchildren.

In her book, Mattei relates McAllen history through a series of turning points: the founding of the town, the early arrival of National Guard troops for training, the construction of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International bridge, and the establishment of the Foreign Trade Zone.

It would be wonderful to read in the history books years from now that 2010 was a turning point as well—one that ushered in a new  era of urban forest and green space conservation in McAllen and in the Valley.  History has shown that a group of determined, passionate citizens working together with their leaders can make this happen.

Copies of Leading the Way are available for purchase at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.  In addition, there are several copies available to check out from the McAllen Public Library.

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By Stefanie Herweck

It was around dusk when a group of us were walking out of the McAllen Botanical Garden.  We had stopped by the tallest trees in the canal to talk when a grey hawk (Buteo nitidus) flew over the trees and wheeled around us overhead chased by a smaller bird.  The grey hawk is a light colored bird, and seemed to glow in the last light of the setting sun.  I was very excited, as I have only seen grey hawks a handful of times.  And of course, each time it has been far away from the city, either walking in a refuge tract or canoeing on the Rio Grande.

Grey hawk photo from wikipedia

It wasn’t hard to determine how the bird drama played out.  As we stood under the trees and talked about the hawk, feathers began to rain down over us.  White down was drifting through the air like snow, brown tail and flight feathers were whirligigging down faster.   This was a completely mundane and common thing in  nature.  Just another meal for a raptor, just the end of a short life for a nestling.  But for us, in the middle of the city, about to get in our cars and drive home as the streetlights and store signs flickered on, it was a magical event.

We need to preserve access to these kinds of experiences.  As our world gets more crowded, as our city gets more built up, we should ensure that people have a place to encounter the magic of nature and a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.  We should ensure that our children grow up learning about the natural world that makes human civilizations possible.  And we should provide space for the natural world and its creatures to live and to flourish.  Even in the city.  Especially in the city.

The city’s plans would almost certainly entail clearing the large trees out of the drainage canal on the east side of the Botanical Garden.  Concrete parking lots and tennis courts will require the most efficient drainage possible, which means cutting down these towering trees and creating a concrete drainage ditch.  The towering trees in the canal where the grey hawk made his meal may be some of the tallest in the city.  I am also not familiar with any other place in McAllen where there is mature riparian habitat.  Once it is gone, the grey hawk, which prefers high roosts and riparian forests, will be gone.

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This painting was prepared by the U.S. Tennis Commission and represents the city of McAllen’s vision for the tennis complex on the McAllen Botanical Garden site.There is no forest in this painting.  There are large trees spaced apart and surrounded by mowed lawns.  To achieve this vision, the city will have to remove all of the brush that makes up the forest habitat.  They will have to remove it with bulldozers.  In addition, the trees themselves appear to be thinned out.  This is borne out by a visit to the park, where many of the mesquite trees that make up the forest are not marked for preservation.  Although many of these trees are estimated to be 100+ years old, because of their slow growth, they are not considered large enough to save.

 

A picture is worth a thousand words, and what this picture tells us is that the city and the tennis association are saving trees, not to preserve the forest, but for landscaping.  The forest is gone, the habitat is gone and along with it, the Harris’ hawk family, the migrating Baltimore orioles and scarlet tanagers, and the Texas indigo snake. 

Texas indigo seen through the brush of the Botanical Garden. Photo taken by Marisa Latigo on April 26, 2010. The Texas indigo snake is a threatened species and protected by state law.

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Prepared by Dr. Andrew McDonald, PhD   

in conjunction with the Environmental Awareness Club of UTPA  

The land-scale of the McAllen Botanical Garden is substantial.  

  • The McAllen Botanical Garden represents the largest remaining tract of native vegetation in the greater McAllen region (Mission, Edinburg, and Pharr included).
  • The large size of the Botanical Garden creates an easily accessed ‘get-away’ for needed escapes from urban activities and distractions.  Adults and children, affluent and poor, are served equally.
  • The natural character of the park’s dense and mature vegetation enhances the large-scale effect by filtering out noise pollution efficiently and creating layers of visual barriers between nature and civil life. 

    The McAllen Botanical Garden offers outdoor recreation and opportunities to learn about nature for all ages--in the heart of the city. The forest's size and its dense, mature vegetation insulate it from the hustle and bustle of city life.

  The forest in the McAllen Botanical Garden is biologically unique.    

  • Unlike most ‘Nature Centers’ and ‘Birding Centers’ in the Rio Grande Valley, including Quinta Mazatlan, this tract does not bear the aspect of a reclaimed or rehabilitated site.
  • As a tract that has been protected for more than a half-century, the Botanical Garden serves as a refugium for the convention of several mature, native plant communities.  Since plant communities determine the diversity and quantity of animals in all biotic communities, the Botanical Garden is a well-spring of life.
  • The dense shrublands and understory vegetation is exemplary of the region’s natural landscape, and serves as a model for our community to observe, ponder and understand the region’s natural heritage.
  • Apart from preserving native life forms of the Valley, urban forests serve a useful role in mitigating undesirable consequences of urban tarmacs, such as asphalt roadways, sidewalks, parking lots, and tennis courts.  They inhibit fast water runoff during flooding episodes, conserve topsoil, and lower temperatures of urban environments by absorbing heat instead of reflecting it immediately into space. 

Plant and animal diversity is great here, owing to the convergence of several distinctive plant communities on the site.     

  • A mosaic of riparian (streamside) forest, mesquite forest, and native Tamaulipan scrub forest covers the tract, each engendering a distinctive understory plant community.
  • The old age of the dominant trees provide naturally decaying trunks, in which animals of all varieties find food and room to make their homes.  This is the manner in which nature normally operates and structures itself – but a way of life that is banished from manicured gardens, golf courses, and playgrounds.
  • The Garden sequesters two distinctive plant communities that were once common in the Valley but are now rare in protected urban areas and the countryside: Coma-Mesquite associations and dense stands of Lotebush shrubs.  Both of these plant communities are favored by birds and mammals, as they provide good room and board–thorny cover and abundant sweet fruits.
  • The Garden is bordered on its east and west boundaries by two canals, one of which harbors a mature streamside (riparian) vegetation, the other a dense stand of Carrizos (cane) beside moving waters.  In addition, Westside Park on the southside of the Garden protects several ponds and wetlands.  Thus animals and plants enjoy a dependable supply of that precious ingredient to life in the Rio Grande Valley:  WATER!

    Summer tanager in the McAllen Botanical Garden. This bird stops here during migration to rest and refuel.

    Extensive stands of lotebush shrubs provide food and protection for birds and mammals.

    A woodpecker hole in an anacahuite tree. This slow-growing tree may be over 100 years old.

 

The location of the Botanical Garden is ideal.    

  • The Botanical Garden is close to the pulse of the city’s burgeoning commercial and convention centers in an area that is ripe for new upscale developments for which urban green space would be highly attractive. 
  • It is surrounded by appreciative middle-class and low-income communities and enhances the quality of life in these communities.
  • Close access to playlands and recreation/sports facilities in adjacent Westside Park allows for different land uses in the heart of growing city, for example rough and tumble activities vs. peaceful walks and sanctuary for the Rio Grande Valley’s native creatures (people included). 

Bottom line: The bio-scape of McAllen Botanical Park is a unique and irreplaceable natural resource of McAllen and neighboring cities.  Unlike tennis courts, this resource cannot be created just anywhere, and to do so would require at least of century of stewardship.  Hence old-growth forest is, essentially, a non-renewable resource.  

This facility is a rare and invaluable vestige of the Rio Grande Valley’s natural history and should be loved and shared by all citizens in this unique corner of the world, where 95% of our natural terrain has long since been committed to urban sprawl and agriculture.   

  

 
 

If preserved and well-managed, the McAllen Botanical Garden could become a gem in the heart of our community.The Botanical Garden offers opportunities for learning, research, and recreation that are found nowhere else in the Greater McAllen Metro area.

      

      

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By Stefanie Herweck, Member of the Executive Committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club

The Monitor, April 18, 2010

On May 8, the city of McAllen will ask residents to vote on two bond issues.  First, the city wants to borrow a total of $35 million to build 3 new sports complexes and expand an existing one. To help pay for this, it also wants to sell Westside Park.  The city has deemed these park plans ‘quality of life’ projects, and the informational videos on their webpage are filled with images of smiling children playing soccer, baseball, and tennis. 

What the videos don’t show you are images of bulldozers plowing up the largest and oldest remaining native forest within the city limits.  They don’t show you the playground equipment being pried up and shade trees being chopped down in Westside Park to make room for concrete and big box stores. 

But if the city were being completely honest, they would make it clear to McAllen residents that voting yes on the bond issues means voting for these things.

The tennis complex takes up the vast majorityof the forest, leaving a small 'yard' in the southeast with remnant big trees.

The city’s plans call for a new world class tennis complex, which has the potential to be a great asset to the community.  But instead of creating a new park, they intend to bulldoze the McAllen Botanical Garden and Nature Center, flattening the area in order to accommodate 3 dozen tennis courts, an amphitheatre and a parking lot, and leaving only a scattering of the original trees and a fraction of the green space. 

Paving over the Botanical Garden would be a tragedy.  Located on Business 83 near Ware Road, it is home to the last remnant of native Tamaulipan thorn forest in McAllen besides Quinta Mazatlan.  But the forest in the Botanical Garden is more than twice as large as Quinta Mazatlan, and its trees are more mature.  Within the Garden, high quality trails snake through 12 acres of dense, green forest.  Enormous trees line the canal that skirts the property.  And an additional 5 acres of lovely picnic grounds are shaded by arcing mesquite and live oaks. 

This amazing place was wisely preserved by the city almost fifty years ago, providing McAllen with a priceless urban forest, a quiet place where residents could take a peaceful walk, where children could learn about nature in the heart of the city, and where ecotourists could search for birds near their hotels.  But most importantly, the city preserved something that was utterly irreplaceable:  a mature forest. 

High-quality trails meander through dense stands of vegetation in the McAllen Botanical Garden. It's the only place in McAllen where it is possible to truly go for a hike in the woods.

This wisdom seems to have eluded the current city government.  For all of the hype about a new, greener McAllen, they seem not to have learned the lesson that urban natural areas and green space are an essential part of quality of life in a city.  They are operating under the old urban development paradigm of building up every acre.  And in the process, they are depriving generations of future McAllen residents a part of their natural heritage.                

The 17 acres of the Botanical Garden are adjacent to Westside Park, which, under the terms of the bond issue, the city intends to sell to private developers for retail and residential projects.   At 37 acres, Westside is the second-largest park in McAllen, with a softball complex, playgrounds and mature trees.  It also boasts ponds that attract waterfowl.  City officials are convinced that the park’s proximity to the Convention Center will bring a terrific price.  However, the city put the park on the market twice in 2008 and did not receive any bids, and three adjacent lots with better access to Ware road currently sport for sale signs, but remain unsold.

The wetland area of Westside Park where waterfowl often congregate. Wetlands are critical natural filters for our water.

Taken together, Westside Park and the Botanical Garden comprise the largest existing green space in McAllen by far.  Just as the property surrounding New York’s Central Park and Austin’s Green Belt is the most desirable in those cities, if this land were left as green space, well-maintained and well-managed, it could become an economic driver for the city. It could become McAllen’s own green belt.  Such a transformation could increase surrounding property values, and present a positive image of McAllen to visitors at the nearby Convention Center.

And there is no need to sacrifice the Botanical Garden or Westside Park.  The city owns properties besides the Botanical Garden that are large enough for their tennis center plans, and that would not require the leveling of a forest.  If the city wants the tennis center to be near the convention center, there are three lots with for sale signs that are adjacent to Westside Park.  The tennis center would then complement the park and the garden, rather than causing their destruction.

When it comes to parks, everyone agrees that McAllen is underserved.  A Sunday visit to overcrowded Schupp Park will make that clear.  But in this bond election we are being asked to sacrifice, needlessly, the greenest acres of our city.  McAllen citizens should vote no on both bond proposals and send the City Commission back to the drawing board.

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