Friday, March 30, 2007

It's a Boy!

It turns out that I'm not going to be a grand-daddy real soon because of some complications but I can say that this century plant in my front yard started flowering right as the SAVE THE LAGUNA MADRE effort started. It does have a certain "manly" looking, no?

Let me tell you that was just like giving birth, or like watching my wife do all the work and almost fainting in the process.

The initial meeting went very well, some hickies here and there but for organized mayhem it was a pretty good show. If you haven't tuned in lately, we're very upset and concerned about oil & gas activities in our neck of the woods.
The funny part is that many of us support local oil & gas development because of our reliance on imported hydrocarbons from overseas. Some of us worked for oil & gas companies for our bread and butter. As a consultant I've done work for Citgo, BP, Chem-Oil, OilTanking, Lubrizol, and many, many other majors. About the only ethical twinge I had was that Venezuela bought out most of Citgo and some folks just don't likePresidente Chavez.

But folks this is our "Yellowstone" except that instead of mountains and snowy passes we have a unique bay that is perhaps the last pristine area of the US in terms of wetlands, hyper-saline bays, and productivity (shrimp, fish, birds, etc.). I never forget when a representative of ASARCO, a messy smelter operation with the bad plant in El Paso, was accused of not having an environmental backbone. He went purple-veined livid. "I give Audubon and Sierra ten grand each every year. I spend a month in the summer building trails and fixing stuff because the park rangers don't have any money. I'm trying to get ASARCO through what is most likely a plant shutdown, involving several hundreds and hundreds of less fortunate workers who would be fired. How do you think I feel? What did YOU do for the environment today?"


Fortunately, we don't emit nothing nothing and have a much cleaner conscience. Ain't that Century plant a booger?

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Word from the Chair

A core group of Save the Laguna Madre was formed on Thursday, March 22. We got a lot done to prepare for our big pubic meeting on Wednesday, March 28 at Club Padre. I didn’t exactly object but I was named acting Chairman and Steve O’Neal was elected as acting Co-Chairman. Note that I used the word “acting” because several slots were temporarily filled and some are still open if you’d like to lend a hand. We’ll bring the issue back up at the big meeting but yes, we did sort of pre-nominate some folks so as to get the ball rolling. Thanks to Ann Smith for orchestrating the meeting.

Word has crept around the grapevine that a group has been formed to protest the seismic surveys and future drilling of the Lower Laguna Madre. Some folks aren’t pleased about it but it should be noted that even the Town of SPI recently adopted a resolution to ask for hearings before anymore of this stuff happens to us. Most all the bureaucrats and teckies say that the seismic surveying permit does not require public hearings but it turns out that “blowing up the bay” could be much worse than directional drilling from land. We intend to follow that issue like a hawk and also get educated about the permit process for the drilling itself.

Lots of people want to start working on strategies on how to prevent anything further happening in the bay right now. I respect that sentiment but I don’t think we have all our facts. I can say that a very motivated environmental trial lawyer has joined the cause because the issue is so complex, and damage has perhaps and most likely already occurred. Folks, we are quite serious about this.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why Fight 'Em?

Notwithstanding my last post below which mentioned the challenges of even attempting to oppose Big Oil, folks are passionate about the Laguna Madre. It is a world class birding center and is right on the Midwest Flyway. In fact, the Island boasts a new facility of over a million dollars just to expand birding. Several hundred kinds of birds can be found in addition to Peregrine falcons, ospreys, and strange birds of Arctic or South Amercia origination.

The fishing between Mexico and Mansfield is nothing short of fantastic. Tarpon and rare snook can be found among large schools of redfish and speckled trout. Many state records for saltwater fly fishing are held by fishermen down here. Some studies estimated that on one tournament weekend called TIFT, over 500 boaters represent an economic value of several million dollars in direct and indirect revenue. Over two dozen guides operate a large charter fishing industry year-round, growing to over 60 in the summer.

We love our bay dolphins too and there are about a dozen boats that are used as excursion vessels for that specific purpose. Most all the bay dolphins have names and when a new baby is born it is cause for celebration.

The population of sea turtles is quite high, with over 100 residing as juvenile green turtles in the lower bay alone. We know there are at least that many because we rescued 136 in last winter’s cold snap. Other endangered species such as Kemp’s Ridley also nest here, although mainly on the beach side. The internationally known Sea Turtle Rescue center is located on our Island and it even has a satellite station down in Mexico; several thousand school children and adults visit the center every year.

Several universities operate marine research stations down here, and many academic papers have been published regarding work done addressing the complex ecosystem of the Lower Laguna Madre and its surrounding features. Some scholars find that gooey, brown-green sediment slime to be quite fascinating. While some of the research might sound arcane, they also investigate things such as Red Tide - they even formed a group called the "Red Tide Rangers" to help collect water samples when red or brown tide is in the area.

It is not just that the area boasts a strong eco-tourism economy that is the livelihood for many of us locals, but a way of life. We fish; we go birding; we even count butterflies. "Winter Texans" come here from all over the US and Canada. No, it is not maybe 500 people on a sand spit in lower Texas, it is much more and we will fiercely fight for our local environment. Anything that threatens the vision, industry, or way of life is simply not acceptable.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Playing Devil's Advocate on Drilling

Perhaps it is time to play devil’s advocate for a moment, speaking about why we oppose further development of oil and gas in the lower Laguna Madre. Basically, we think the oil and gas exploration, drilling, and production of oil and gas reserves there would save consequences that outweigh any benefits. Two words: prove it!

Gosh, this is actually a very hard thing to do. We can maintain that the eel grasses and marine life would be irreparably harmed, and already are by the seismic surveying. Prove it! Industry officials will likely say that only a few hundred thousand small fish at most, mainly baitfish, were harmed in any way. Will drilling and further development create underwater noise that confuses the turtles and dolphins? Prove it! At the end of the day, it will be very difficult to say that any particular action in the bay related to oil and gas extraction would hurt anything in the least.

I am saying this to prepare folks as to their expectations, which could be diminished. Right now, we hear, see, and feel the action in the bay and none of it can be very good for the bay and its marine and wetland residents. How could it be? The redfish and trout are scattered and nervous, very hard to catch. Some species such as the Roseate Spoonbill seem to have completely vanished. Some fear damage to the foundation pilings of their houses. To add insult to injury, we just saved over 100 green sea turtles but had to throw them back in where five and a half pound explosives were being set off, several thousand times, with miles of entangling sensor wire connected to seismic phones.

But on the other hand it gets more difficult to make a persuasive argument, since an oil company is operating in the Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) just to the north of us. Goodness, that’s a federal park that has to monitor all the endangered species; while they might not have the endangered ocelot, they should have had a higher hurdle to cross than our area, however “natural” we think our area is. True, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has some major land holdings in the area, although very little in the way of title to the mineral rights – and the submerged lands of Laguna Madre is State property. No oil company official would ever say in public that there are looser standards down here, but the precedent at PINS is definitely there.

I just want people to be careful about saying that they are emotionally upset … and might even move away if drilling occurs … but the task of proving true environmental or even economic damage is extremely difficult. We can bitch, moan, whine, and fuss, but what we really need are facts that can be proven - and would hold water under very heavy scrutiny. That is true even if we want to pursue a mitigation agreement that would limit the scope of drilling in the lower Laguna Madre.

As the old lawyer saying goes, otherwise we might as well be suing a ham sandwich.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Save Laguna Madre!

Save Laguna Madre

Kick-Off Meeting

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Club Padre, South Padre Island

Save Laguna Madre will hold a meeting regarding protection of the Lower Laguna Madre (LLM) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 at 6:30 p.m. at Club Padre on South Padre Island. This is an informal kick-off meeting to share information about concerns such as oil and gas development in our bays and the public is welcome to attend. This is not an official Town function and our group has no political or activist affiliation.

The meeting is being organized to help consolidate information about the current seismic survey of the LLM, which has literally generated a lot of noise. The concern is that after the survey is completed, the bay and wetlands could be drilled in what is considered an extremely fragile and pristine environment. The group is not opposed to expanding the State’s energy resources but may oppose further oil & gas development if it impacts the ecosystem and tourism economy significantly and adversely.

The agenda will contain updates from Town staff as well as some presentations from some knowledgeable sources as well as other activity and environmental groups. Email and Internet resources will be shared. Discussion will follow as to the possibility of selecting a standing committee. Participants are asked to not engage in bashing any particular person, agency, or corporation. Meeting notes will be taken and shared with all those who sign up for email distribution.

Please attend our meeting of March 28 if you are concerned about recent activity in the Laguna Madre and what kinds of things can be considered to help protect it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh My!)

Ma┼łana-land just got a little more like the Wizard of Oz. The flap over the oil & gas exploration in the bay has reached a crescendo, with folks trying to figure out what to do about it. One source says that the investment in this phase of seismic testing could be about 28 million bucks … and you don’t spend that kind of money to let some little hick town like us try to get in the way. We’ll see as I [attempt to] write a briefing on the importance of the lower Laguna Madre for the Legal Beagles.

Meanwhile the beach erosion is getting worse, although some areas by the Tiki have had a few hundred truckloads of sand. Hey, isn’t that the Army Corps of Engineers dredge out there in Brazos Channel again? What’s this, the second time we missed a load of sand for the beaches? Talk about adding insult to injury.

And then bills were filed in Texas Legislature to allow for casino gambling, among the spots two resort Island along the coast … hey, wouldn’t that be Galveston and us? As you may recall, if casinos are approved within a year or two Doyle Wells will get to exercise his option to pave over Isla Blanca Park.

But we were talking last night how good we still have it, while out at a small bonfire gathering way down by the end of Park Road 100. Gosh it was beautiful, and nobody was on the beach except for a half-dozen of us Sons of the Beach. Fun was had.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Native Plants

Last week Sandy Feet wrote a column about native plants and destruction of a butterfly garden maintained my Nancy Marsden, as is linked here. In a nutshell, Nancy asked permission to maintain a beach access and got it, but the town clean-up crews pulled up everything that didn't look like a Wal-Mart flower. She was furious, and simply gave up.

Enter yours truly here, with a concept to "adopt an access." This came up in combination in our Bay Area Task Force, since we were looking at native plants in large concrete planters at the bayside street ends. What a perfect thing to do, ask permission from the Town to help maintain the plants, Gulf-side and bayside?

Then the Marsden Incident occurred. I had already asked Nancy if she would help our bayside effort but she called back the next day and said "no [expletive deleted] way."

Now this puts me in a sensitive situation, since the topic is on an official Town agenda, yet many of the locals have bailed. Gosh, I had even checked with the City Manager about our proposal, and while he said it was all Town property, he liked the concept of having the experts help maintain the plants - indeed, it is not just a few amateurs like myself, but real Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists.

One of the reason the City Manager was concerned was that these nice citizen groups were great, but their longevity was questioned - sometimes people move, get sick, or lose interest. Nobody had thought of the possibility that the Town iself would be the main cause.

Ouch. Right when we want to promote eco-tourism, beautify the Island, put in an official Town butterfly garden, plant 60 bayside concrete planters, and even revegetate some dunes, this comes along. As I explained to Nancy, I was sure that the work crew had no idea about how to maintain a garden, especially when the native plants look so scruffy after such a rough winter. But the damage was done - end of discussion.

I suppose I'll withdraw my motion, sadly, perhaps in the hopes that people can get educated and the political winds change. We'll concentrate on stealing rare plants from land fixing to be developed and throw them in our yards as fast as we can before they become extinct. It's the only interim strategy for now - tresspassing, thievery, and being sneaky.

But by golly, it feels good. The latest rare plants to be recovered include the Yellow Saphora, as mentioned over here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Let's Git Nekked for Our Country!

I don't fly as much as I used to, but the latest story after the "let's throw away all the liquids and perfumes" is called "let's get naked." I am dead serious here! Starting in Phoenix, new back-scatter X-ray machines will be installed in major airports. The view the render is, well, naked as a jaybird. The idea is to identify bombs and all kinds of mean and nasty things.

Hey, can we get some of those in Harlingen and Brownsville airports, too? I will gladly get nekked for my country ... as long as that doesn't mean getting a physical to have to be drafted into the Army.

But you have to admit, other than some places in Europe and California, SPI has a world-popular Clothing Optional Beach, with loads of patriotic peeps out there. It is about 11 miles north of Cameron County Access 6 so as to be in Willacy County, although nobody knows because there's no welcome sign up there on the beach.

Honestly, I had no idea that supporting our War on Terrorism could be solved by getting nekked, but think about it, how can you possibly hide a bomb or some firearms when you don't even have on undies or a poncho? The only thing they're packing on the COB is various anatomincal parts of the bod, whose seismic potential is pretty much no more than a laugh and a jiggle.

So get your sunglasses and sun screen and head north to the COB, Americans, we have to support our country in a time of need. I am sure President Clinton would support this initiative as well!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

De Planes, Boss, De Planes!

Today was the first day when the airplanes towed big Spring Break banners around the Island. Three were up today - Louie's, Geico, and Chaos. Oh well, I guess it is that time of year. Batten down the hatches, mateys, the wind's gonna blow!