FRANKLIN MOUNTAINS NOTES
Newsletter of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition
Next Meeting: Jan. 18, 2005
The next meeting of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. It takes place in Room 411, Burgess Hall on the UTEP campus. Burgess Hall is at the intersection of Sun Bowl Drive and University Ave. on the west side of the campus. Please be prompt. The building entrance locks automatically in the evenings. If you arrive late and no one is at the door, call 861-4361 and someone will come to let you in. For more information contact Scott Cutler (581-6071).
Events of Interest
The Frontera Land Alliance Annual Meeting of the Board is Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at Ardovino’s Desert Crossing in Sunland Park, N.M. There will be a casual reception (hors d’oeuvres buffet and cash bar) at 6:00 p.m. The Board meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. Join us and help celebrate our first land acquisition: The Charlie Wakeem/Richard Teschner Nature Preserve of Resler Canyon. (Maria Trunk, President)
State of the State Parks: On February 15, 2006, Mr. Walt Dabney, Division Director for State Parks with Texas Parks and Wildlife, will give a “State of the State Parks” address. He will be informing us about what will be happening with the state parks in the coming years. Following his presentation he will answer questions. This will be a great opportunity to find out how our local state parks are doing and get answers to your questions.
TIME: 7:00 P.M.
PLACE: Memorial Park Senior Center, 1800 Byron Street
If you need more information, contact Scott Cutler at 581-6071.
Annual dues for the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition are due in January each year. Even if you normally get our newsletter only via e-mail, in January you also get this hard copy, along with an annual renewal form and return envelope. If you are a Coalition member, please use these materials to renew your membership. If you are not a member, now would be an excellent time to join. The issues surrounding Castner Range promise to make this a pivotal year for the Franklin Mountains.
Castner Range Planning Begins
What is the future of Castner Range? That question may be answered in the year ahead.
Castner Range is the old military firing range on the east side of the Franklin Mountains. Today, it consists of 11 sections (square miles) of land west of the Patriot Freeway that have remained undeveloped due to the presence of unexploded ordnance. Over the past decade, some of this land has been cleared of old ordnance, but much has not.
Due to its outstanding ecological, scenic, recreational and cultural resources, we have long recommended most of the range be added to Franklin Mountains State Park. The 7 westernmost sections are rugged, upper-elevation land for which addition to the Park presents no controversy. The 4 easternmost sections are largely lower-elevation alluvial fans that are equally valuable as open space -- they include the heart of the poppy fields -- but are coveted by development interests.
Last summer, rumors about Castner Range began to swirl: Fort Bliss was investigating an “enhanced-use-lease” of the range. A land-use plan had been drafted. A high-tech office park for defense contractors was contemplated for the lower elevations. On September 26, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Fort Bliss as part of efforts to find out what, in fact, was happening.
Since then, the picture has gotten clearer but is still somewhat murky. According to Fort Bliss, the decision of the Department of Homeland Security to place a new Border Patrol headquarters on Castner Range made it realize a comprehensive land-use plan for the range was needed. Fort Bliss secured funding for preliminary biological and cultural-resource studies that are now underway. As noted below, the public will soon be asked to participate in this planning process.
On November 22, the Regional Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) approached Fort Bliss with a proposal for development on Castner Range. The proposal envisions the upper-elevation lands being added to the Franklin Mountains State Park and almost all of the lower-elevation lands being developed as an office park for high-tech defense contractors. The lone exception would be a narrow sliver north of Trans-Mountain Road that would protect a small portion of the poppy fields.
In a letter dated December 6, Col. Robert Burns, the Fort Bliss Garrison Commander, advised REDCO that it should pursue its interests through the land-use-planning process now underway. Col. Burns stated:
My environmental staff currently plans to hold initial public meetings on the Castner Range Land Use Plan in early 2006. The goal of the meetings will be to encourage a free exchange of community views regarding the future use of Castner Range and allow Fort Bliss to identify reasonable alternate approaches to the plan. Should options develop during the planning process that identify alternate beneficial uses of portions of Castner Range they will be fully considered during the planning process.
The information gathered in that meeting or meetings will be used as a basis for development of a Programmatic Land Use Plan that will serve as the basis for the development of environmental documentation required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Army’s decision regarding future use of the range. Fort Bliss and the Army will fully comply with NEPA. As we discussed, that process will include additional opportunities for public participation.
On January 9, Newspapertree.com published a comprehensive article by Sito Negron on the recent developments involving Castner Range. In it, Keith Landreth, director of the Fort Bliss Directorate of Environment, is quoted as saying, “We’re trying to schedule a whole day public meeting some time in February. If there’s anything I want to get across it’s that this is complete public participation process; there aren’t any deals being made in smoke-filled rooms.”
The wheels are now in motion. If we want to see Castner Range protected, vigorous participation in this planning process will be critical. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we know details of the upcoming meeting(s).
More on Castner Range
On Tuesday, January 10, the City Council met to consider making a policy statement on Castner Range. Two agenda items were discussed, one from Rep. Susie Byrd and one from Rep. Melina Castro, both of whose districts border the range. The City Council voted to have a committee write a letter advising the Army that the City is interested in preserving Castner Range as part of Franklin Mountains State Park. The Mayor said the letter would include a proposal for Castner Range that differs from the one presented by REDCO development.
Additionally, an article appeared in the e-newspaper, “Newspaper Tree”, that gives a fairly good overview of current Castner Range events. You can view the whole piece online at http://newspapertree.com/view_article.sstg?c=9bcb57d56124498a and a few excerpts follow.
Rep. Susie Byrd: “I feel like there has to be in the long term a recognition of how important and how valuable that kind of open space on the mountain is and we really need to preserve some of that for perpetuity and I think Castner is one of those pieces of land we should talk about preserving,” Byrd said. “A visual landscape defines your home. Right in the middle of the city to have a really incredibly scenic and untouched desert landscape is really remarkable. I don’t know that it’s possible but I think we shouldn’t shy away from the conversation.”
Carl Robinson, a Northeast resident who is active in several civic groups, said the prevailing sentiment is, leave Castner alone. He points to thousands of acres of Public Service Board land that already has been master planned in anticipation of growth in Northeast El Paso, which is poised to absorb thousands of new troops at Fort Bliss. “There is and will be a movement to oppose development on Castner. We want to preserve that area. There’s plenty of land to build,” Robinson said.
Bob Cook, interim president of REDCO (a private development group): “There’s no specific proposal or plan, but we have a concept we want to discuss with Northeast neighborhood groups and environmental groups. We started communicating with a select group of people and probably will initiate a more public process in the next couple of weeks. I want to be clear, this is just a concept with no relationship with developers, planners, architects or engineers,” Cook said. The concept was developed by his staff, Cook said.
State Senator Elliot Shapleigh said his preference would be to create a master plan that preserves the poppy fields, places most of Castner into the Franklin Mountains State Park, and sets standards for “good development” on the section along the Patriot Freeway.
Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition’s main goal, as stated on its web site, is to secure Castner for the Park. “Castner Range extends from the Patriot Freeway almost to the mountain ridgeline and includes some of the most scenic and ecologically significant parts of the mountains. Hidden springs, complex geological features, unique plant associations, diverse landforms and noteworthy archaeological sites are among the elements that make it, in many ways, the heart and soul of the Franklin Mountains,” the site states.
LONE STAR LEGACY
You can make a lasting contribution to the future of Franklin Mountains State Park with your tax-deductible donation to the Lone Star Legacy Endowment Fund. Checks, payable to “Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation” can be sent to: Lone Star Legacy Endowment Fund, c/o Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, P.O. Box 191207, Dallas, TX, 75219. Mark your donation to the endowment fund for Franklin Mountains State Park.
Franklin Mountains State Park Update
Danny Contreras, PRII,ADSO
Greetings, from the Franklin Mountains State Park. Everyone here at the Park would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a Prosperous New Year! Due to the unseasonable weather, we have been keeping busy with visitors at the Park.
All of us at the Park have been involved with “Keep El Paso Beautiful” in conjunction with the El Paso Police Department’s West Side Command Center and the Texas Youth Commission, Schaffer House.
On Saturday, February 18, 2006 you all are invited to the “5th Annual Far West Texas Jack Rabbit Rally”, which will be held at the Franklin Mountains State Park. Events will include a 43K Trail Run, 30K Trail Run, 12K Trail Run, and an Off-Road Duathlon with a 15K Bike Ride and 5K Run. For information, please contact Mark Dorian at 915-581-9541 or firstname.lastname@example.org or myself, Danny Contreras. We look forward to seeing you all there!
I hope you all have had a chance to meet Mr. Mitch Pickens, our new and first Park Host. Also please join us in recognizing the tremendous help Mitch has been to us here at the Franklins. He has been helping with tours and trail work and doing a great job.
We would also like to thank Major Joe Cancellary and the Bowie High School R.O.T.C. for the continuous work they have put in on the Eastside Multiuse Trails.
We also would like to recognize Erika Rubio, Franklin Mountains State Park Clerk, who has taken on the extra workload of the Administrative Technician. Erika is doing a wonderful job and all her efforts are greatly appreciated.
Come on now, folks, don’t be shy, we’d still like to see your special memories of the Franklins or your questions/concerns. Please feel free to submit your contributions to Kathy McConaghie at email@example.com or 272 Shadow Mountain, #12, El Paso, Texas 79912. The deadline for our March, 2006 newsletter will be March 9, 2006, but submissions will be accepted any time between now and the deadline.
The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition
Borderland Mountain Bike Association - - Celebration of Our Mountains - - Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Rescue - - El Paso Archeological Society - - El Paso Cactus and Rock Club - - El Paso Native Plant Society - - El Paso Regional Group of the Sierra Club - - El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society - - El Paso Wilderness Preservation Committee - - El Paso Women’s Political Caucus - - Friends of the Franklins - - League of Women Voters of El Paso - - Mesilla Valley Audubon Society - - Mountain Park Community Association - - Photography Enthusiasts of El Paso - - Southern New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club
VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT http://iloveparks.com/fmwc/