Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting
Nov. 5, 2008Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 5th day of November, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas, Committee Chairman
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Vice Chairman
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Carter P. Smith, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If I may have one aside, Bevo acknowledges the need for said Red Raider to trumpet his singular and infrequent achievement.
I would like to call the Conservation Committee. The first item on our agenda is the approval of the minutes. Entertain a motion for the approval.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: So move.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Second.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Move by Hixon and second by Brown. All those in favor please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All opposed, same sign.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Now, moving right along, the Conservation Committee Items 14 and 15 will be discussed in Executive Session. We will now recess for Executive Session. Therefore, I'd like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Texas Open Meetings Act and seeking legal advice from the general counsel under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act. We are adjourned to Executive Session.
(Whereupon, at 1:00 p.m., the meeting was adjourned to reconvene at a later time.)
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I believe we lost Commissioner Bivins.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: He's coming. The one guy we need. We've got to have you, Bivins.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: The Conservation Committee will now turn the meeting over — back over to the Finance Committee to complete items still on his agenda.
(Whereupon, at 2:31 p.m., the meeting was adjourned to reconvene at a later time.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We will now reconvene the Conservation Committee. We have already approved the minutes. And we will move directly to Committee Item Number 1, Update on TPWD Progress in Implementing the TPW Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Carter?
MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, just two things I want to say. One — and Scott alluded to this earlier — is we celebrated two weeks ago the acquisition of the Fortress Cliff Ranch up in the Texas Panhandle and protected nearly 3,000 acres through the work of Scott and Ted and Corky and others in the state parks team to acquire just a magnificent piece of Texas — protected, as you know, six miles of frontage along that canyon rim. And it is just a spectacular jewel, wonderful short grass prairie habitat, and mule deer habitat, and just a home run for the state of Texas. And, Mr. Bivins, just want to thank you for all of your —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Absolutely.
MR. SMITH: — leadership in helping to make that happen and advocacy and work behind the scenes to help effectuate that. And very, very proud of that accomplishment, and I hope all of you are too because it's a great gift to the nearly 300,000 people every year that come to that great state park. So very, very special day, and it was a wonderful celebration.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And I would like to reiterate those thanks and thank you as well, Carter. And it truly is a beautiful piece of property. And it really will perpetuate the pristine nature of Palo Duro Canyon in a way that we could not have done otherwise. And so it's — it was money well spent.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely. The last thing I want to mention is that — I hope that you all get a copy of it — the Wildlife Division, really I think under Vernon Bevill's team — and he and his team have put together an Upland game bird management handbook for private landowners — kind of a one-stop shopping or clearinghouse for information for landowners that are interested in getting resources to help with management of quail and turkey and pheasant and prairie chickens and so forth. It's a great tool for private landowners — wonderful technical outreach material. And so I hope that those of you who are interested in this will make sure you see it. So that's my report. If you're interested I'll pass it around. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you. Moving on to Committee Item Number 2, Strategic Planning for Conservation. Mr. Ted Hollingsworth and Mr. Scott Boruff.
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith, for the record, my name is Scott Boruff. I'm Deputy Executive Director of Operations.
We're here today to give you a briefing on our strategic planning initiatives. Couple of major initiatives that we're moving forward on. The text in your notebook is upside down from the presentation we're going to make, so I apologize for that in advance.
First I wanted to talk about our update to our land and water conservation recreation plan. For those of you that are relatively new to the Commission — that plan was mandated right at the turn of the century by the Legislature. The first plan was effectuated in 2001. The vision in 2001 was to redo the plan every 10 years. The vision has been evolving and we have been doing them more rapidly than every 10 years. And, in fact, in 2005 we completed an update. And we have recently gotten direction from leadership in the agency, including yourselves, to move forward with a new update.
Really, we've come to realize that planning of this magnitude and this significance probably is not effective if you wait every 5 or 10 years to get it done. The landscape is changing pretty rapidly, issues are emerging, things like global climate change and wind energy are things that we didn't even contemplate 5 years ago — they weren't on our radar screen, at least to any significant level.
But one of the things you're going to hear about today later — more from Mr. Hollingsworth, and I'll join in at times — is how we're going to try to make this work in the future rather than waiting every 5 or 10 years. In the meantime one of the remaining — as I mentioned earlier today we had 53 requirements when we came out of the last session. We've completed 50. One of them we'll never complete because it's an ongoing reporting process that probably we'll be doing ad infinitum.
So the 52nd item is to complete a new land and water plan update, which we will do by the end of December '09, which gives us about 13 months to complete. We will use the model that we developed in the last go round, which is basically an aquatic ecoregion model. We are not abandoning the terrestrial model. We are just going to overlay it to an aquatic model.
We will go out and have focus groups — and we can talk a little bit more about those as we go through the presentation — with the goal being that by December of next year we're going to come out with a new land and water plan, which will have we think some significant and important revisions that will make the plan more dynamic and less static so that as we move into the future, rather than relying on a 5-year kind of a process, that we may be able to use more ongoing process to keep that plan robust and current.
I will invite each of you to participate to the level you're interested in. You will be getting some information from me relatively soon about how we're going to do is. And there will be some regional focus group meetings. We're going to call those conservation forums, and you'll hear more about those in a minute.
Obviously we look to the Commission to give us direction on these kind of strategic plans, and we certainly encourage your participation, either directly or indirectly, as we move forward. Now, we will make every effort to keep you in the loop. We certainly value the feedback and depend on the feedback you're going to give us about where you want us to go. So just plant that seed with you right now and invite you to be a part of this.
We do think that it is important for us as we move into the strategic planning process in the agency to understand that there's lots of strategic plans out there. This plan is kind of the overarching operational plan. We have the Natural Agenda, which is the strategic plan that the Legislature looks at in terms of our budgeting process.
We have the State Wildlife Action Plan, which is very important as we move forward in the natural resource side of the agency. As you heard earlier today we have current and future planning exercises in state parks that are going to be very important to our success in the future.
We would like to develop a model that includes not only leadership at the agency, but, in fact, all the staff at the agency who have an interest in strategic planning. Very important for us to reach down at the grassroots level and hear from the people that touch our mission in the field, whether it be conservation, recreation — and hear from them what's important — what they need to make this successful. It's important for us to reach outside the agency to our partners. We have lots of partners in conservation. We have lots of partners in recreation.
I don't want us to steal Ted's thunder — I'm kind of getting off into his presentation here. But I do want to let you know that this is going to be I hope an exciting time for us as we try to revamp the way we do strategic planning. I would, once again, urge your participation. I probably didn't stay up with the slides very well.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Just to pick up where Scott left off — Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program.
In Land Conservation Program, as you know, our primary mission is to look at ways to manage our land base to maximize its value for conservation and recreation. And, as you know, we have extremely limited resources for effecting land transactions. And so we're always extremely concerned that we use those resources strategically — that we look at the entire landscape and try to determine how to best apply those resources to effect the greatest amount of conservation and recreation in Texas.
There are lot of folks out there in the field who have a great deal of expertise — inside our agency, outside our agency. There are a lot of stakeholders and a lot of partners. And it's always been a concern of staff that we try to figure out how to take maximum advantage of all that expertise and all of that interest. The land and water conservation recreation plan gives us an opportunity to bring those stakeholders together — to bring that expertise together, both inside the agency, to reach outside the agency, to reach even to private landowners for input into this process.
But it also gives us an opportunity to take that structure that we create in that process and leave it intact for the purpose essentially of implementing the plan to make sure that, first of all, we have the expertise brought to bear to determine what our highest conservation priorities are, and then to make sure that we leverage the resources we have.
There are leverages — there are resources in the private sector, there are federal funds available through our relationship with TxDOT — we're hoping to increase the amount of — or the effectiveness of mitigation that's done for transportation projects in Texas. So we have opportunities, as well as responsibility, to make sure that those resources are applied as strategically as possible.
The plan is a good broad outline for doing that. But when it comes to being able to identify region by region what our highest priorities are — what acquisitions or what conservation easements or what partnerships or what private lands can go into management plans that would have the greatest impact on the conservation landscape — we want to make sure we're doing that efficiently. And so that's the purpose of leaving these committees together — these task forces together in the form of the conservation and recreation forum.
You can see the goals on your screen there — to facilitate communication, ensure that staff — and oftentimes the staff has the greatest immediate on-the-ground where the resources are expertise — natural resources, conservation resources — are way out in the field and don't necessarily have direct input into planning processes that are taking place here in Austin. So we want to make sure that everybody's involved.
We want to make sure that our partners — our NGO partners — and they don't always have exactly the same mission or the same priority — same agenda we have, but we still value their input and we don't want to be making those decisions in a vacuum. So we have that expertise and that interest.
We want to involve private landowners — I mean, 96 percent of Texas is privately owned. Some of the most strategic conservation pieces are still obviously in private hands.
And, again, to the extent we can we want to pool resources with those who are interested to make sure that we leverage those, make them go as far as possible, and achieve as much conservation as we can in Texas with the limited tools that we have.
Scott mentioned that we are going to stick with the strategic planning areas that were created in the last plan. They are watershed based. We've subdivided those just a little further into now we have 12 regions that we're looking at. We're — the committees — the task forces are going to be managed and chaired by Parks and Wildlife staff. However, on a region by region staff — basis that staff — those staff members — they know who their partners are — they know who the NGOs are, they know who the trusts are, they know who the — even the municipalities, the cities, the state agencies are in those regions that have an interest, that have resources to bear, that have jurisdiction.
And they will get those regional stakeholders involved. And they'll meet two or three or four times a year depending upon the need, depending upon the threat, depending upon the opportunity. And then they'll report up the chain to make sure that those of us in Austin who are making decisions about how to apply those resources have the best available information and are applying those resources to the highest priorities.
That's sort of it a nutshell. Be happy to answer any questions that you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What are we doing differently than we've been doing in the past relative to process?
MR. BORUFF: Let me answer that one, Mr. Chairman. You know, typically in the past what we've done is we've waited until we got a mandate from your chair or the executive director's chair, we have moved out and done a limited — because it's usually time limited — exercise, in which we do make efforts to gather feedback from multiple areas within the agency. And we come back and we put a plan together. We, to some extent, put it on a shelf and we wait five years and we do it over again.
So what we're really trying to do here is change this culture a little bit and move more to an ongoing process where we're out in the field and with our constituents and with our partners on an ongoing basis so that, rather than waiting five years, multiple times a year out into the future what we would envision are these kinds of conservation forums or conservation or recreation forums where we'd get together and talk about emerging issues and hot buttons issues so that we could then, rather than wait five years we may be updating — we may be making periodic updates to all of our plans, including Land and Water Plan, the State Wildlife Action Plan, and other plans as we move forward.
So it's really an effort to make it more current and relevant as opposed to something that just happens from above once every five or 10 years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We've gotten more dynamic driven by the — what would be the term — the actual events changing literally as we speak. You know, you used obviously wind energy as an example — five years ago we wouldn't spend any time talking about — or the global whatever. Okay.
MR. BORUFF: It's also an effort to drive ownership at the level where it means something, because it's one thing for me to own the plan here in Austin —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. BORUFF: — and believe in it and you and the Commission, which I think we all have. It's a different story for people in the field who think it's relevant to what they're doing. It drives things like funding — drives some of the decisions that are being made above them.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. BORUFF: So it really is an effort to bring the entire team, both Parks and Wildlife and the Conservation and Recreation team in Texas, together on a regular basis so that we're all bought off on what's supposed to be going on. I mean, we are a field-driven organization and we do think it's important to increase that ownership of the strategic plan by the people in the field.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: As part of that you need to think about how you can set up a communication process that gives feedback both ways.
MR. BORUFF: And I'm not suggesting this will be easy. And there certainly will be some dynamic.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, no. I'm not saying it's going to be easy — yes.
MR. BORUFF: But I do think it's important — and I do think given the communication tools that we have today this is very doable.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: There are some good models out there now. I spent the first 11 years of my career with Parks and Wildlife on the upper Texas coast. And on an annual basis we have cycles of CIAP dollars, Coastal Wetland Planning dollars, North American Wetland Planning dollars. And when those cycles come up I get together with my project, Wildlife gets together with their project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Galveston Bay Foundation, General Land Office, and those of us who have project scope that we think — you know, our pet projects ‑‑ we get together, we sit around a table, we spread those all out, we look at the maps, we take off our agency hats, and we decide which project has the greatest bang for the buck and the greatest conservation value on a coastal-wide basis. We all throw our weight behind that project and 100 percent of the time it gets funded and implemented.
And we'd like to make sure that that kind of cooperation and that kind of leveraging is going on across the state if we can.
MR. SMITH: I'll just add — and I think Scott's done a great job with his chairman. I think it's — you know, it's doing a couple of things. One, it's just helping to capture all of the expertise that exists inside this agency. And so Scott and Ted are working on how do you tap that —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. SMITH: — on a regular sustained basis, how do you do so in an interdisciplinary way so you can get all of those different perspectives, and then how can you be responsive and flexible enough to deal with these huge cross-cutting natural resources threats that are just changing literally with every minute.
And so I think this is a great new process, and obviously they're still in the formative stages. But I think it just makes that response — it's just going to help us be sharper from a conservation and recreation perspective.
MR. BORUFF: And there are, as Ted said — I guess I'd probably be remiss if I didn't say this. There is a lot of this going on. I don't want to imply that the field staff are not out there strategically thinking through what goes on. It just does not get focused very well when we come to a real formal process like putting together the land and water plan. So I think it's going to take a lot of what we do that's already very good. It's going to make it a little bit better and it's going to focus it on a real product.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other discussion? I want to also add, I think it's real unifying for the Department. I think it also empowers all the people that are involved and makes them feel like they're more a part of the process. I think it's great. Thank you very much.
Item Number — where are we — Item Number 3, Briefings on Wind Energy Issues and Development. First, Kathy Boydston.
MS. BOYDSTON: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. Here to brief you on wind energy issues. For the record, I'm Kathy Boydston, Program Leader for the Wildlife Habitat Assessment Program.
Basically Texas passed California in wind energy production in 2006. And one of the main reasons for that are we have a real aggressive renewable portfolio standard. The wind is better here than was initially thought. There's county tax abatements available and there's no regulatory process.
As you can see from the slide we went from 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy in 1999 to 10,000 megawatts by 2025. There's currently 4,356 megawatts installed wind energy in the state. There's another 1,700 proposed under construction for 2008. And so if that's completed we'll meet our 2015 renewable portfolio standard by 2009 or early 2010.
Last year, 2007, there was as 45 percent increase in electricity from wind energy in the United States. Of that 45 percent Texas produced 20 percent of that. Now, this increased renewable portfolio standard and production in the state fits in with the Department of Energy 2020 plan, which is 20 percent of the energy from renewables by 2030 for the U.S.
Now, wind energy is green but it doesn't come without environmental concerns. The national average for bird deaths — or bird mortality — is about three birds per megawatt per year. Bat deaths is quite a bit higher. There's 10 bat deaths — mortalities per megawatt per year. There seems to be a trend that shows that bird deaths decrease as the turbine heights go up, but bat deaths seem to increase with height. And we think the reason for that is because bats seems to be attracted to the turbines.
Now, this has been intensely studied since 2004 since they had a huge bat die-off in 2004 at a wind farm. They think that part of the reason is is that bats are attracted to it as maybe a roosting site — or an opportunity to roost ‑‑ they see it as a large dead snag. Or they may be attracted to the insects that congregate on low wind speed nights around these turbines. Or they may be attracted to feed on the buildup of insects on the turbine blades or they may see it as a place to socialize and find a mate as bats are known to be attracted to the tallest structures in the area.
You know, there's not very much information at all on displacement of species by turbines — do the turbines cause species to abandon the area once they're in place or on fragmentation of habitat — does the fragmentation of habitat from turbines being there cause some species' problems.
The biggest concern for TPWD is the lack of data for Texas. Most of the wind farms in Texas have been in operation for several years. There's many that have come on line in the last two years. They all collected pre-construction data, but most of them only started collecting post-construction data the last years — 2006 and 2007. Now, wind companies are very reluctant to share any of their data with us because it's considered proprietary, and we don't have the authority to protect it from an Opens Records request.
One thing I was going to show you was a little video called the Bat Strike video. This is research done by Bat Conservation International using thermal imagery. You can see the bat coming up from the lower left-hand corner to investigate the turbine and he gets whacked by the blade. There's some pretty interesting research going on.
Now, wind energy isn't the only issue. There's also transmission lines that are associated with the increased wind energy development. In July of this the PUC approved scenario 2, the transmission build-out plan for the increased wind energy development. That is going to add 2,300 miles of new 345-kilowatt transmission lines in the next five years, which will add an additional 18,000 megawatts of new electricity to the grid.
Now, our experience in scientific research shows that transmission lines kill a lot more birds than wind turbines do, and they do fragment the habitat more that we know of. Parks and Wildlife has an agreement with the Public Utilities Commission to review all new and upgraded transmission lines for impacts to fish and wildlife resources.
As you can see, the scenario 2 overlaps Lesser Prairie Chicken estimated and occupied habitat. A five-year study done in Kansas indicated that Greater Prairie Chickens, which are closely related to Lesser Prairie Chickens, avoided areas when tall structures went in place such as transmission lines or wind turbines or pump jacks. Sometimes even roads or houses in these areas cause the birds to abandon the area. More specifically, they abandoned the area when it came time to brood and rear the chicks.
So what TPWD has done to be involved in wind industry is we developed some voluntary guidelines with NGOs, the wind industry, and landowner groups. We're currently revisiting those guidelines and developing some specific guidance for different ecoregions in the state where wind energy is developing. Right now we're working on the Panhandle. The coast will be next, and then we'll start working on the other ecoregions that fall in that scenario 2 plan. We're also trying to — we've also initiated —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Who has regulatory authority over the placement of the wind turbines? I understand the transmission — you said PUC has that authority. Have we established any authority, and is that something the Legislature is going to take a look at in some agency actually having control over where these things go —
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, to answer your first question —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — or at least some input in them — where they go?
MS. BOYDSTON: There is no regulatory authority for wind energy development in this state. The PUC regulates the transmission lines. There was several moves made in the last legislative session — legislation introduced to regulate wind industry, and that failed. And I feel — I will be surprised if there is not another move made during this legislative session to attempt to develop some type of regulatory authority for wind energy.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Thank you.
MS. BOYDSTON: Does that answer your question?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes. Thanks.
MS. BOYDSTON: We've also initiated some research to answer some of the questions and issues that were brought up earlier. We initiated two research projects on grassland bird species, with Lesser Prairie Chickens being the flagship species. One of those research projects is in the northeast part of the Panhandle where the northeast population is. The other one's in the southwest part of the Panhandle where the southwest Lesser Prairie Chicken population is.
One of those studies in the northeast part of the state is with Iberdrola, the company that's proposed to develop two sites in Gray and Donley Counties. We partnered with them on a large research project in Texas Tech University.
We have an ongoing research project along the coast looking at migratory bird corridors with Cesar Kleberg Wildlife Institute and the King Ranch where we're looking at the influence that weather, vegetation, and topography have on migratory birds that come down and what influence those different elements might have on where the migration corridor goes on an annual basis.
And one of those studies — the study with Iberdrola is also looking at displacement and habitat fragmentation on different species. What we're doing is looking at the number of diversity of species, particularly grassland birds, prior to construction and then after construction. We also conducted two landowner ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Please leave that — you said earlier that the wind companies won't share data with TPW because they consider it proprietary. Well, I don't understand how you can get data on the difference in number and diversity of species prior to construction and after construction if they're not sharing data.
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, we're partnering on a research project with them. We're funding part of that research project so we will have access to that data.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: With this one company.
MS. BOYDSTON: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But on the others — why can we not get that when a game warden can come on and — they have probable cause to think there's a violation to investigate why can't we investigate the impact that these operations are having on wildlife? I just don't — that, to me, doesn't seem — I don't understand that.
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, number one, we don't — my understanding of the way the law is written is we don't have authority to require them to provide us anything because there's no pathway for us to require that information. Let's say — I'll give you an example. If there were some kind of permitting process, say, to the PUC where they said, All right, you have to go to Parks and Wildlife and ensure that your project is not impacting listed species, then we could require them to give us information about their project through that permitting process.
As the state agency the only authority we would have to look at wind projects is if we were invited onto the land by the landowner or the industry to look at those projects and comment on them. But, as far as requiring them to give us the data from those projects, we don't have any authority even under the technical guidance or a wildlife management plan regulations unless it's our specific individuals that work for the Parks and Wildlife Department that are collecting that data, which is normally not the case.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But if we suspect that a landowner is in some fashion causing or contributing to the death of an endangered species or threatened species like we hear about ‑‑ we saw the list this morning ‑‑ we'd have the right to go onto that property and investigate it, wouldn't we?
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, only if — not in the instance of a wind-related project.
MS. BRIGHT: Let me answer — just — first of all, the information that — if someone has contributed to the death of an endangered species that's really kind of an — that's going to be a federal issue and we may have some authority there — absolutely. But the issue that we've got right now is apparently — there may be some information or data out there that wind energy companies or landowners have collected, not through any partnership with Parks and Wildlife, not because we went onto their land, but they've collected it just through their own means. We don't have authority to compel them to provide that information to us.
COMMISSION DUGGINS: I understand you're saying it. I'm just saying I have a problem with it and we need to ask the Legislature for authority if that's right.
MS. BRIGHT: And, you know, that's definitely going to be a policy call and a legislative call. Our authority really mainly extends to protecting information — well, first of all, information that we collect. We don't have authority to make them give it to us. Secondly, if they voluntarily give it to us it's subject to disclosure under the Public Information Act. And that's another — you know, we can't — someone might be willing to voluntarily give it to us if they believe that it was going to be a confidentiality — or their asserted confidentiality was going to be maintained. But we can't guarantee that either.
MS. BOYDSTON: The wind companies that have shared data with us have already made that data public anyway — in a fashion, such as the two projects that are going along on the coast on the Kenedy Ranch. We have — they've given us copies of all their surveys and all the data that they've collected because they went ahead and made that information public anyway.
MR. SMITH: But, Commissioner, you're touching on a really important issue in this whole discussion, I mean, because we have talked about this ad infinitum with the wind energy companies and the conservation community and the scientific community about, A, how do we standardize the survey work that's being done pre-construction and post-construction to make sure that they are collecting data in the same way so it's all relevant and you're comparing apples to apples.
And then, secondly, would there be some impartial objective third party that can house that data so that scientists and others could have access to it to evaluate it so that we could learn from it. And that's the real issue.
The companies, of course, are concerned, and perhaps rightfully so, that that — their own data may be used against them in a punitive way. So we have not been able to work out any kind of a compromise on this issue, but it's a priority for all of us who are wanting more scientifically understand the impacts of this. And we just haven't been able to crack that nut yet.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The — yes. The last two Legislatures — definitely there have been strong pushes to try to get the PUC to set up some kind of permit system before you stick one of these things up in the air and then you hook it up to a transmission line and all of that. And the companies have strongly fought it, and so far have been able to win in the Legislature.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It sounds like we're — the Department is being stiff-armed on data that it needs to collect to have reliable empirical — to form empirical conclusions. At the same time they're putting them up as fast as they can put them up — and then they're there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, but my argument is, on the other side, that's my private property, I have the right to put that windmill up there — why does Texas Parks and Wildlife need to be coming on there to find out whether a bat ran into it or not. Okay? When you drive down the road — I'm not trying to be argumentative ‑‑ in your car every day — I'm not taking empirical information to find out whether you killed a bug that day or not.
The argument is — this is really a political football. It's huge and it's going to get really bigger and bigger, of course, because it's becoming such a large issue. And then with the PUC allowing this almost $5 billion worth of transmission lines eventually to be able to be built my guess is it will finally end up in a permit type of system — probably through the PUC — at which at that time we will be involved.
And the other thing I think that's going to be interesting is — which is interesting because, remember, these are have been around for quite a while — California, other countries. There is very little empirical or scientific data that's gone on over the years. So — see, conservation groups and others that have tried to argue against them have never been able to really come up with, you know, this study done in 2003, you know, in California showed that, you know, 10,000 birds were killed an hour or whatever it was. And so we've got a while to go. But right now we have no right to — we have no rights whatsoever.
MS. BOYDSTON: And they do meet with us. Since we initiated the voluntary guidelines we've seen an increase of, you know, 50 percent or more of wind companies that are coming to us saying, Look, we're wanting to develop in this area. And they show us their data — or they ask us to give input on the sites where they're going to develop, and then they may come in a year or so later and say, Here's our pre-construction surveys — and they go through a — you know, show us a program or a slide show or something and we have to take notes because — you know, I say, You know what I'm going to ask is can I have a copy of your report or your presentation —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They won't give it to you.
MS. BOYDSTON: — and they won't give it to us. But they don't mind us taking notes. But we have been — you know, we received a Freedom of Information Acts request three or four times now. We've tried to get that information withheld through the Attorney General's Office and we've been refused every time — because we tell them we think it's proprietary and we'd like to maintain that confidentiality and they've denied us that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The fight's coming —
MS. BOYDSTON: I think so.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — for them and lawsuits filed. I mean, it's coming — it's going to be a big —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Boy, you hit the nail —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's going to be a big one, and this Legislature — I mean, it's coming. There's no doubt about it.
MS. BOYDSTON: And one thing, we did try the soft approach. The same group that we put together for — that did the guidelines — one of the first things we did was develop some language when the PUC was developing that first rule-making process for the CREZ rules and the CREZ process. We developed some language with the landowner group and the NGOs that everybody was satisfied with that could have been inserted into the PUC rules that said Parks and Wildlife would review these wind power projects. And the PUC wouldn't put that in there because they said that was giving us authority that they didn't have the authority to delegate to us.
So we tried the soft approach in trying to go forward to them and say, Hey, we really want to work with you on this and, you know, make this a part of your process. So we tried it once, you know. I think you're right — I think if it happens again it's going to be legislatively mandated.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Wonder what the PUC does if some landowner that owns a couple of oil wells — all of a sudden he springs a leak in his transmission lines going to the main transmission line. He dumps a bunch of oil out there on his private property. Does the PUC have the authority to go out there and —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The Railroad Commission does.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Railroad Commission ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: But, remember, that's been developed over many, many years. And it's going to happen with the wind power system and generation system also. But, remember, it's so new that that hasn't been developed. But in that case it would have been the Railroad Commission, and, yes, they would be out there. And, you know, they would have rights and certain things they could do to stop either the landowner or the producer or whatever from doing those kinds of things.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: How about Ralph? Seems like what's good for Peter ought to be good for Paul.
MS. BOYDSTON: We did also conduct two landowner wind wildlife workshops in Abilene and Amarillo that were very successful and well attended. We have two more of those planned for Lubbock and Corpus Christi in 2009. Our partners on those workshops were Texas Wildlife Association, Texas AgriLife and several members of the wind industry.
We also have state agency representation on the federal advisory committee that's developing voluntary guidelines for wind industry. And we are on the Association of Fish and Wildlife agencies on the Energy and Wildlife Policy Committee and the Wind and Wildlife subcommittee that look at these energy issues on a national level.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What does the 200 behind Abilene mean?
MS. BOYDSTON: That means how many people attended the conference — 200 people in Abilene and then 240 attended the one in Amarillo.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Since that's been a year ago is it possible to do another one perhaps early '09?
MS. BOYDSTON: Another one in Abilene?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes, because it seems to me that's an area where there's a great deal of this construction going on.
MS. BOYDSTON: We could look at doing that — probably it would be a real — it's a little late to be doing that right now before February, but we could look at doing one after the one in Lubbock if you want us to take up that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I just think a lot of landowners have no idea what they're getting into. And the wind people are certainly not going to — either they don't know or they're not going to volunteer it. And these workshops it seems to me are very helpful to landowners to understand that there may be some risks they're taking with these leases that they may not want to take with their property. And I just — as I look at that geographically it seems to me that Abilene is a kind of a center spot there for a lot of development, both on the west side and now moving northeast towards Albany. I would urge that if we could find the time and staff to try to slot them in some time.
MS. BOYDSTON: We could certainly do that one. We'll certainly do another one. We have plenty of time to do it, you know, later on in the spring I think. It takes us a couple of months usually to put something like this together.
MR. SMITH: And, Commissioner, that's the very reason why we're doing this in the Panhandle — because many landowners are confronted right now with that choice, but they have not yet made a choice. And so, I mean, we've been working very closely with Commissioner Bivins on this. And we had such positive feedback after the Amarillo one that we decided to do one in Lubbock shortly thereafter.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And I think the Lubbock one will be able to in a lot of ways address some of the issues that you're referring to on a subsequent meeting in Abilene. And the geographic proximity is close enough that I think you could have some overlap.
MS. BOYDSTON: And we'd invite you to come to that. Commissioner Bivins came to the one in Amarillo and the one in Abilene as well.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: If the Red Raiders are playing I'll come out there. I'm just kidding.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: We'll have to excuse that remark.
MS. BOYDSTON: I have to tell you the Oklahoma State Cowboys are playing this next weekend.
MS. BOYDSTON: Actually, you know, the landowner workshops were really well balanced. We tried to make an effort to present both sides — you know, didn't slant them either for or against wind. We had attorneys there, we had people presenting — wind industry members, and then we had people from the Fish and Wildlife service and Parks and Wildlife presenting information about the potential impacts of wind on wildlife.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It was just wind? Or how about the transmission lines and all the infrastructure?
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, the last one we had in Amarillo we had somebody from the PUC talk, and we also addressed some of the transmission line issues because up until that point we knew that the transmission was coming, but we didn't have any idea where or how or, you know, what form the plan was going to take shape. And so once that we knew that this scenario was out there and was going to be approved that's when we drew that transmission issue into the workshop, and we will be addressing that from now on in the areas where it's appropriate.
Now, along the coast that won't be such a big issue in the coastal area because there's already sufficient transmission down there right now and there's not a — there wasn't a lot of interest in developing along the coast, but I think now there will be increased interest.
But that's outside that scenario 2 transmission, that zone. So any transmission that's tried to developed along the coast is going to take back burner to these other projects that are in the scenario 2 unless it's privately developed. Are there any other questions? That's it — that concludes my presentation.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I just have one. I know last spring there was a potential bill in the House — I mean, nationally — that was coming up for at least some citing regulations. It was out of the Natural Resource Commission. I can't remember the man's name that was head of the committee. And I'm assuming it just died but I wondered if they — you knew of any other —
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, they're still looking at — you know, they've looked at re-introducing ‑‑ reauthorizing the production tax credit — that's one bill. And the other bill I'm sure will be reenacted — reinstated under the new administration. And we are working — there are national guidelines being developed right now for wind energy development by the Federal Advisory Committee. And that process is going on and should be concluded probably by October 2009.
Now, whether those remain voluntary or become regulatory will be up to the Department of the Interior and the Congress. I think the recommendation from that committee will probably be that they become regulatory. Anything else?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you very much. The next speaker to this topic is Linda Campbell with recommendations by the Private Lands Advisory Board regarding wind energy development.
Welcome, Linda. Oh, and Dr. Bill Eikenhorst — excuse me.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes. Good afternoon, Commissioners and Mr. Smith. I'm going to do my best to represent the Private Lands Advisory Board. Dr. Eikenhorst, the chairman, was here, but due to the late hour he had to leave for another meeting. But I'm going to go through this with you.
The Private Lands Advisory Board has been interested in this subject for a number of months, and so they have developed this written advisement for the Commission — and I think Carole is passing this out to you right now.
Just to remind you that the purpose of the Private Lands Advisory Board is to advise Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on matters pertaining to wildlife programs, management, and research on private lands. And, as you can see on your slide there, also the current members — Dr. Eikenhorst is the current chairman. He also wanted me to thank you for providing this opportunity for the Board to present this advisement to you.
Some of the concerns that they looked at — limited knowledge and experience concerning wind energy has left Texas landowners without a clear understanding of the potential unintended consequences of these developments. Unsuccessful attempts to regulate wind development have encouraged developers to expand Texas wind farms at a rather feverish pace — and we've all seen that.
The PLAB unanimously supports private landowners and private industries' ability to develop and capture economic values consistent with responsible wildlife and wildlife habitat management practices. However, based upon staff presentations, the Private Lands Advisory Board is of the opinion that wind development, which is long term in nature, may have adverse effects upon wildlife and wildlife habitat.
A little background — the Board met on May 21st and then again on August 21st and heard presentations by a number of TPWD staff regarding wind energy development in Texas. Following extensive discussions — and there were quite extensive discussions on this from this Board — they wished to provide interim advisement to the Department's leadership for current and future consideration relative to wind development issues.
I was asked to say that also the Board approached the construction of this advisement to be pro-wildlife and wildlife habitat and not pro- or anti-wind development. They were trying to be very focused on looking at the wildlife aspects of this. So I'd like to just go through these points of advisement quickly with you. There are six advisement points, not arranged in any particular order of importance or priority.
Point Number 1 — the Board recommends that TPWD actively invest resources into researching, analyzing, and evaluating the potential impacts of wind energy development on habitat component integrity, including impacts on special arrangement.
Point Number 2 — the Board recommends that the Department begin work promptly to actively — promptly and actively to address the lack of data relative to wind development impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The Board recommends that the — commends the Department for initiating the compilation of the best management practices for wind development on an ecoregion basis — and Kathy referred to that earlier on working on the Panhandle practices — and recommends immediate action to develop BMPs as soon as possible on a prioritized basis for all regions of Texas that offer wind energy development potential.
Point Number 4 — the Board recommends that the Department explore and adaptably employ all pathways of research and data accumulation by an enhanced landowner and/or wind developer confidence to share data, including, but not limited to, existing and future written wildlife management plans on properties with wind development, existing and future technical guidance relationships with landowners and their agents, and qualified research projects with credentialed researchers and institutions.
The Board recommends that the Department actively magnify its role as a current and objective educational resource to all invested stakeholders in wind development ‑‑ stakeholders including landowners who are considering wind development, industry developers, local, regional, and state decision makers, and state and federal agencies.
Point Number 6 — the Board recommends that the Department actively engage and educate not only landowners considering wind development, but also the Texas public as the true stakeholders of Texas wildlife and wildlife habitat. As the ultimate end users of energy, Texans deserve ready access to the most current and objective information available regarding the potential unintended consequences of wind energy product development and transmission there up to them as energy consumers.
So, and in conclusion, the Private Lands Advisory Board feels strongly that TPWD should become the strongest voice to represent the interests of wildlife resources in the face of a changing Texas landscape. And that's all I have. And I will be happy to try to answer any questions on behalf of the Board or take back any questions you might have to the chairman and vice chairman.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Commissioner?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Chairman Bivins, this wind business I think really needs to have our strong support, and I'm wondering — and I'm just wondering out loud — thinking out loud, would it might behoove Texas Parks and Wildlife to have a committee of Commissioners — say, a three-person committee — somebody that knows the law real good be included in there — to assist Texas Wildlife Association and this group to make a statement to everyone concerned that Texas Parks and Wildlife is concerned about this, we're concerned about all these things that Ms. Campbell just now read off — those six items — and for them to be charged with the responsibility of being a very intimate liaison to the Legislature and — between the Legislature and the Department and our landowners in the state of Texas.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: In my mind, to answer your points, I think that we can — without forming an ad hoc committee can put forth to the public our stance on wanting to maintain the habitat and livelihood of all wildlife with regard to wind energy and also conservation issues with the land that these wind farms are being built on.
With regard to a liaison to the Legislature I think that we need to probably get a little bit more information with regard — the thing that concerns me is that we're not particularly empowered to do anything. Because of that lack of empowerment I think all can do directly with the Legislature would be to just share our ideas and share our concepts with them. But we can't, by any legislative means, require that they do anything or — unless they empower us to do it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I did not say empower a committee to go down there and act as a lobbyist or anything else, but have a committee and let the Legislature know that we have this committee and we would like for them to funnel information through this committee to the Commission and to the Department. I just think that this is so important that we might should consider some additional assistance to staff just to send a signal.
MR. SMITH: If I may, I think one of the most helpful things for all of us would be some sort of clear direction from you all that you think this is indeed important, is a critical issue, we need to be directing more time and resources and research into this. We interface with the Legislature almost daily at some level on this issue, as well as our partners that are working on this. And, in fact, we'll be participating in a hearing down at the Capitol next week on wind and wildlife.
And so I just want you to know that that issue is going on. We're probably not doing as good a job — and let me take responsibility for that failure — on communicating upwards to you all everything that's happening on the wind and wildlife front.
We have talked about internally the need for a position paper on wind energy that clearly articulates where the Department stands. And maybe with your permission we could move forward with developing that draft and bring it back to you for consideration and approval. Because I think having the Commission's imprimatur on that will certainly help as we're working on this around the state.
So it's that kind of direction if — we feel like it's a priority. You've heard from our biologists on this matter that it is a subject of concern. We lack data, we need to do more research, we are, you know, trying to maintain our objectivity here in the face of a whole lot of a lack of data. But we obviously are concerned. We also recognize it's a priority for the state in terms of diversifying energy sources. And we want to make sure that we're careful there in terms of not impeding that state goal. So the more direction you can give to us as to what kind of a priority you want us to make it would be helpful right now.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I think, Commissioner Parker, it would be in our best interest currently for us all as individuals to convey our ideas to Carter, and then perhaps let Carter determine if an actual committee is necessary or if the entire Commission should act as that committee. Any other comments or questions for Linda?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Remind me where the Private Lands Advisory Board comes from — I mean, how are they appointed or —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: By us.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: They are appointed by us.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, they're appointed by us.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I mean, it's a very impressive list when you look ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and Linda does a great job with them. And, John, I understand what you're talking about and it makes sense. But I think that's Carter's job as executive director is staying focused on what's going on with this. And since this is such — there are two things that obviously kind of happened overnight in one way — I'm talking about the size that it's become — and, secondly, it is so, so, politically sensitive as we go into this Legislature that — and we are involved already — is that through Carter and whoever he chooses within his organization that he stays involved. I do agree I think one of your jobs then is to keep us informed of —
MR. SMITH: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — then how things are going — whether it's the meeting next week — whether you want to do it through a memo or you feel is the right way to keep us informed, particularly as we head into January.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: And I think too — I mean, it's got to be supported by scientific data. I know we're working to get that. But just to say it's bad and we don't like it or we don't whatever, we've got to have some basis to make decisions based on scientific data —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And that's —
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — and that applies to our Department as to what we do.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I think we're in that data-gathering process — I mean, wouldn't you agree?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And that's actually been some of the frustration with some of the individuals as you can imagine, and particularly the ones that are against this, because my answer to them has been, you know, let's find the science. We looked for the science about a year or two ago — could not find it anywhere in the world.
MR. SMITH: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And said to them at that time — I won't name the individuals and people involved — you know, we'll be glad to do it. We'll need funding from the Legislature — help us try to get that funding. That did not work out directly, but then I did ask Carter and others to get involved because I knew it was coming — and is coming.
But we then get involved as much as we can relative to the position that we're in right now, knowing it's going to be like water — it's only a matter of time before it will become regulated, before it will become a major issue across the state, and we will want to be one of the players sitting at that table. There's no doubt about it. But I would like our executive director to direct us on how the best way to go about that.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Well, can we not at least say we obviously endorse this interim paper that has come from the advisory board? I mean, that's what they —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I mean, it's straightforward from my point of view.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I don't know how everybody else feels about it. Again, it comes from an advisory board to an agency. I guess what I want to do is make sure — I'll say this the right way — because one of the big disagreements that I had was, well, if we wait on science it will take too long. And I said, Well, if Texas Parks and Wildlife — the reason that we have the credibility we have is because we do things scientifically.
And the attitude was — and they've been right so far — is, you know, half the state's going to be covered with them before you guys figure out whether they kill a bird of not — I don't mean, to be sarcastic. And I said, That may be true, but I'm not going to give an opinion or a political reaction to something — maybe is my own opinion or political reaction — with the Texas Parks and Wildlife's name on it and call it science. Okay. Just can't do it, won't do it; it's not the right thing to do. And at the end of the day it will kill the credibility of anything we say anyway.
This is one of the issues. This thing's moved so fast it's gotten ahead of everybody. So I just want to make sure we don't get caught up — say this the right way — being on whatever side is the right side, wrong side — and I have no idea — but that we do it the way we've always done it at Texas Parks and Wildlife, which is the right way.
So if that happens to take three years, by then half the state is covered with these darn things whirling around in your backyard — I'm not trying to be sarcastic, but, I'm sorry, but we — you know, I don't want to do it any other way. And I just don't think it would be right to ask the agency or anybody in the agency to just give their opinion about something.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: To your point too, Peter, I think the — there will be another agency that's going to get involved —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, there are going to be plenty of people involved.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: — besides just us.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. But we want — and I do want a seat at the table — oh, absolutely. I think absolutely, just like with water we have a seat at the table.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Of course. Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And I'm asking Carter to make sure we have that seat at the table.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I have one question I would like to ask, and I'll direct the question generally. But how much more time do we need to generate an accurate data set on this? I mean, how — Kathy, you may more directly answer this than Linda.
MS. CAMPBELL: I'll defer to Kathy.
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, you know, normally when we conduct research in the agency we don't like to do anything more than, you know, two or three years' minimum on any type of research project. And that's been the problem with the wind industry is, you know, they can develop a project in 18 months.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Sure.
MS. BOYDSTON: So they come to us and say, We're going to develop in Gray County and we do want to do one-year pre-construction survey — and that's all the data you're going to get because we have to, you know, develop within a year to take advantage of the production tax credit is one thing.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Remember, this is all subsidized by our friendly president.
MS. BOYDSTON: And one of the things that we have looked at doing in the Association of Fish Wildlife agencies is in this next administration I am pointing out to them to the fact that the production tax credit only being authorized every one- or two-year increments puts the environmental scientific community at odds with the wind industry for that very reason.
So one of the things we have suggested with the association is to investigate the support we might get for putting a letter out requiring Congress to authorize it in, say, a four- or five-year increment, which would give us more pre-construction time to collect the data and then also, you know, more time to collect post-construction data. And the wind industry is very favorable in that because that takes the pressure off them as well to develop — to try and get that credit.
So that's one of the things that we're looking at doing. But to answer your question, we feel like — it's not that one year's worth of data is worthless, but, you know, if you're looking at it — if you do it all year round — you try to catch all four seasons of all the different bird species, for example — grassland birds — you know, there's so many influences that could — things that could happen. It could be a dry year or a wet year, you know — that could influence what's going on at that particular site.
So we try to — like right now this research project that we were talking about in Gray and Donley County on Lesser Prairie Chickens, they're only giving us two years pre-construction, you know, on collecting data on Lesser Prairie Chicken there because they're trying to start construction on their project.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Do any of the ones that are up and running give you post-construction data?
MS. BOYDSTON: No. I have to be honest. They will —
MS. BOYDSTON: And — you know, and they would — and they told me, you know, that they would share data with us if we could protect that data — but we can't protect it under the authority that we have now — or not have — however you want to look at it.
So what we're recommending to them normally is we tell them we'd like to see, you know, one to two years pre-construction in certain areas. It depends on where the area is — if there's sites that have gone up already and we feel like the habitat is not that critical then we'll say one to two years. If it's in a critical spot we tell them three years pre-construction and three years post-construction. But a lot of times they — you know, they say, Well, that's real nice, but, you know, we're only going to do two or one.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's gotten caught up $150 oil, you know, the need for electricity, and it's green, so politically it's correct. You have a Legislature — at least the last two Legislatures, including the state leadership, absolutely does not want a permit process at all for this. And I think there's $700 billion that's being given away — you can add whatever to it. I think they have already renewed the — the year was coming up. I think they threw that in there, so it's now — the subsidy's renewed for another year.
So my point is, you know, kind of the — you know, became the — what am I trying to say — the big storm — it all came together at the same time where it's moving even faster than people expected. And I don't see it slowing down anytime soon, so it doesn't give science really time to catch up is the problem.
MR. SMITH: I do think — because you said, Mr. Chairman, in the interim one of the things we can do is push very, very hard to get these voluntary siting guidelines that we're developing by ecoregion — and that needs to be a priority for us.
I think that will be very helpful because the more we can articulate where there are sensitive resources that should be avoided from an ideal perspective that will help inform the discussion and inform the debate. Obviously we do not have any regulatory muscle or wherewithal behind those recommendations. But for landowners and wind developers that are risk sensitive that information is important, as it is to their investors. So that is something that we can move ahead with posthaste that I think would be helpful with the best information that we have now.
MS. BOYDSTON: Well, unfortunately, you know, as somebody that looks at hundreds of development projects every year across the state, there's no easy answers, you know, for the energy needs of the state. We're also looking at two nuclear power plants — the expansion of one and then two new proposed plants, one in Victoria and one up in Amarillo.
So, you know, it's kind of like you've got to pick what you want to do to provide your energy and look at which is — in our — you know, from our perspective, which is the least damaging to the fish and wildlife resources of the state.
MS. CAMPBELL: I would just like to say in conclusion as a representative of the Board they care very much about this and have really discussed it in great detail with a lot of passion. And so I guess their main interest is that Parks and Wildlife be at the table, you know. And the educational component so that landowners can make informed decisions is one thing that they were very serious about.
MS. BOYDSTON: One comment — we did kind of float the draft Panhandle guidelines to the industry, and the response was kind of interesting. Right now what they're telling me is that instead of doing, say, a two-year pre-construction, two-year post-construction study in each individual site, what they are more interested in doing is partnering in a larger research project they could contribute to.
In other words, we would have a set of standard protocols for doing pre- and post-construction surveys — that they would either hire their consultants to do and follow and contribute the data to us or we would partner in with them and help them conduct that research. So that's something that we are looking at, and they are interested in partnering on, to help us answer some of the questions that we need to get answered. And, you know, the — kind of more we partner with them, you know, the better access we'll have to the data and those kinds of things.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. We've got to keep moving on I guess. Thank you very much. It's a —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you both.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — just a very complex issue. There's no doubt about it — and moving with the speed of lightening there's no doubt about it. Who else do we have here?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Haven't gotten rid of me yet. I thank you for those presentations. Items Number 4 and 5 on your agendas have been withdrawn. We will, therefore, move to Item Number 6, Update on Hurricane Ike's Impact on TPW Facilities and TPW's Hurricane Response Effort. Mr. Scott Boruff.
MR. BORUFF: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Mr. Smith, I'm Scott Boruff, and I think you know who I am and what I do. Appreciate the opportunity here to come today to give you a little retrospective view of what happened to us with Hurricane Ike. I will tell you that I occasionally provide quite a bit of consternation to my staff because I don't follow the well-scripted documents that they have for me. So they've informed me that I'd better keep up with the slides this time.
Now, Hurricane Ike formed out in the Atlantic in early September this year, as you know. It was rolling towards the Texas coast. There's a picture of it. Early predictions were it would hit somewhere a little further south than this, but early on there were, you know, prognostications that it could hit anywhere along the Texas coast.
It rolled ashore on September 13 this year as a Category 2, right on the brink of being a Category 3. Hit the coast of Texas pretty dramatically at Galveston. As the storm moved in the surge began to take its toll. This is a picture of a bait camp on the Texas City dike just before the storm as the surge began to hit the coast. There were 37 deaths associated with this hurricane, and there are over 200 folks still missing and unaccounted for.
So this is a picture that I thought you might be interested in. This is the Bolivar Peninsula just before the hurricane. This is the Bolivar Peninsula the next day. So if you go back and forth you can see there was a lot of development there. You could see how broad and substantial the peninsula was. Essentially all the structures are gone. The landscape is completely impacted there.
The agency began planning about a week-and-a-half — significant planning about a week-and-a-half prior to the impact. The law enforcement division in particular worked closely with the state operations center, which is the law enforcement organization that kind of coordinates law enforcement activities out there.
Some 250 game wardens over several weeks were deployed to East Texas, both before the hurricane hit and after the hurricane hit, not only to do search and rescue but to enforce the law out there. So some of them were on the coast actually doing searches and looking for folks that were stranded or worse. Others were a little further inland.
One of the things that I felt was very interesting is that the surge was 25 feet 20 miles inland in certain places — so pretty significant surge that hit there. About day two I will say that internally, in addition to law enforcement's activities with the state operations center, the state parks division has in previous events put together a very strong central operations center here at headquarters.
They were kind of the spear point for that this time, and within a day or two after the strike we had all divisions that were impacted involved in that command center here, so that all communications to the field and from the field were coordinated through a command center in this very room that was populated by folks from all the divisions.
I will tell you that prior to the storm hitting all the divisions with assets at risk did a great job — a very comprehensive job of getting their people and their equipment moved inland away from danger as much as possibly — something we can all be very proud of.
State parks made the decision early on to once again make their facilities available to the evacuees, which at some point numbered close to 6,000 folks that came out of the impacted areas and took shelter in our state parks. We waived entry fees. We allowed them to camp for free and we gave them pretty significantly reduced fees for cabins and those kinds of assets there.
These are just some pictures — I wanted you to get a good look at that. Folks brought their tents and camped out. This happens to be at Garner State Park. Here are some pictures of our game wardens, once again deployed for search and rescue and law enforcement activities along the coast and inland and affected areas. Gives you kind of a perspective of some of the damage that was seen.
That's in Seabrook, Texas. Chambers County. Homes were completely destroyed there. Businesses severely impacted. Recreation severely impacted. These are boats along the Gulf Freeway in Galveston. And, in addition, there were lots of other impacts, not necessarily related to what we do, but certainly where we tried to provide assistance. There were some 20,000 cattle and horses lost in this episode — very significant.
We had three main areas that we focused on in terms of the presentation. The first thing that was most important to us was to take care of our staff. We had about 900 employees in the affected areas, 66 to 70 of whom — the number moves around a little bit — were significantly impacted and, in fact, displaced from their residences.
As Walt mentioned earlier, a lot of folks in Galveston and Sea Rim and some of the other state parks were also impacted because their places of employment were destroyed. We immediately took action to get those folks taken care of the day of the hurricane, so many of them went to stay with families and friends and relatives.
Mr. Smith authorized emergency leave for those folks to be able to take care of their own and get their own business and their own private lives in order. Luckily we suffered no fatalities as — in terms of the agency personnel, and, really, we suffered no major injuries. There were some minor injuries here and there, but nothing really dramatic.
One of the things we did — here's an example of a residence at Galveston Island State Park — actually much worse than it looks. I happened to land at this spot the day after the hurricane hit. When you go over to that foundation — that building had been moved 10 feet off its foundation and had 9 feet of water inside of it — so a very significant damage. That building is gone, and, in fact, there were essentially no structures left at Galveston Island or Sea Rim that were salvageable, maybe with one small exception. So those two parks completely destroyed.
Back to the personnel issues which were our first concern, as I said, we gave folks emergency leave to deal with things they needed to deal with — primarily the parks division, but not exclusively. There were some other divisions who had staff that were impacted in terms of their residences. We made efforts to relocate those staff, both in terms of where they were going to live, and then state parks in particular made efforts to reassign those folks to other parks and other duties as assigned, as well as described some four of those out of Galveston went on to try to help out with our physical control effort while we were trying to figure out where else they might be.
At the direction of Director Smith the Human Resources Division put together an effort to raise money for our own staff to try to be a disaster relief effort for them. We were successful in raising about $117,000 in funding, which was distributed this last week to those staff most dramatically impacted. The amounts of money ranged anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for those employees to try to assist with their immediate needs.
After our people our second most important focus was on the natural resource impact in East Texas. This happens to be a picture of some petroleum tanks that were moved back into a marsh in Galveston Bay. We flew over the J. D. Murphree area the day or two after. It's really hard to see in here — that bottom picture to the left is a little better — to show you that there was an oil sheen completely over the area. Saltwater intrusion was pretty dramatic, as you can see there. That bottom one was a wetlands restoration project which now is covered in oil and saltwater — talk a little bit more about that in a minute.
We had some 200 kills and spills reports from different folks. Some of those were very dramatic; some of them were not so dramatic. This chart — I'm not going to spend much time on it. Those little green dots — we have had our kills and spills team already out there to look at those and try to develop some kind of remediation efforts. I'll answer more questions later about that.
Natural resource impacts are significant — increased marsh salinity, loss of emergent marshes, wildlife displaced due to saltwater inundation, waterfowl disruptions — this could last for quite some time. These areas that were inundated with saltwater may be leaching salt for many years to come every time it rains. There were significant oil spills.
There were negative impacts to hunting. We canceled some hunts. We limited access to some of the waterfowl hunting areas. As I said earlier several of our WMAs there were under three or four feet of water. We expect it to be pretty dramatic this year, however, I mean, we do expect this damage — these natural resource damages to some extent to mitigate over time. There may be some hidden linings here that are positive in terms of increased seed production from other successional plants and those kind of things.
Challenge you to tell me what that is in the back of that pickup truck — it's not endemic of Texas. It is a lion — I think it's an African lion, not a mountain lion from Texas. There were I think two tigers and two or three lions that got away from somewhere on the Bolivar Peninsula. Our folks helped chase them down and take care of those critters.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Interesting having the cats in the —
MR. BORUFF: In addition — I mean, there were impacts to other — state parks suffered the most significant damage. There are several parks that are completely destroyed. Another half dozen or so with pretty significant impacts, and another half dozen with less significant impacts.
Candy Abshier Wildlife Management Area, which is right behind Galveston Bay — the reports we got, and we still have yet to start the cleanup effort there in any significant way. We have 30 to 40 acres of that wildlife management area that are covered with 12 feet of debris. So it's going to be a significant cleanup effort as we move forward.
The coastal fisheries folks did experience some damage. The Port Arthur office was significantly damaged. I guess the good news there is we lease that property so we're looking for other property to move into, but it has displaced some staff there. The Dickinson office was damaged some from the rain and wind. And the Sea Center, Texas, had some minor damage — nothing major. But there were cross-divisional impacts and — there's another — as I said earlier about 40 sites — I kind of gave you the distribution of those.
This is the J.D. Murphree area the day before the hurricane. There it is the day of the hurricane. And there it is a week or two later. That is, before, during -- that's a combination that doesn't show very well — that's a combination, of course, saltwater and oil all over the area — and debris left behind.
Battleship Texas — we had quite a scare. The Battleship Texas is, of course, moored along the ship channel in Houston — San Jacinto Battleground area there. The reason I put the little insert with the circle there ‑‑ that happens to be the concessions building. You'll notice in the small insert down to the left the concessions building. You see the circle up in the center there — that building is completely under water — a little bit of the roof was showing.
A bigger scare for us was the fact that the ship was moored on piles that actually we had some early prediction would not sustain a ship — that the boat would lift off of its moorings under the surge and move out into the ship channel.
So Carter and I and Walt and many of the state park staff the night before were scrambling to try to arrange barges and other mechanisms to respond to that potential emergency. Luckily the good news is I went down there the day after. As I said, I flew down and did a tour of the area with law enforcement. We had about two feet to spare. If we'd have got a two-foot higher surge the Battleship would have probably floated off its moorings and gone somewhere else — not that everybody would have been totally disappointed.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: One last venture out.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, one last venture out.
MR. BORUFF: This, in case you were wondering, is the beautiful headquarters building at Galveston Island State Park. One of the ironies of this — and I thought you might take interest in this — when Walt and I were down there we did notice — you can't see it in this picture — along the left-hand wall all of your pictures are still hanging on the wall. And the water line goes right through the middle of the pictures — so about 10 feet up on the wall.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: That would be a big concern.
MR. BORUFF: So you're well represented in that aftermath. These are — this is — the upper right-hand picture here are the restrooms that were completed about three months ago on Galveston Island — spent a lot of money and a lot of time getting these. You've heard some of our previous frustrations about getting these completed. We had just completed these as we had, by the way, some significant projects at Sea Rim that were totally destroyed.
There's Sea Rim — looks like a lot of sticks sticking out of the sand. There were some — but that was a building. What's more dramatic from the air is when you look at the concrete there and you can get a sense of it here from some of the roads that ran out from the parks. The concrete was completely fragmented, broken, shifted, moved around. And there's another picture of Candy Abshier.
Now, what do we do next? Well, we're working closely with FEMA. We've — you know, FEMA covers damaged facilities, water control structures, equipment, debris removal, and emergency response, law enforcement. I will tell you that we have yet to get fully reimbursed from the Rita episode four-and-a-half years, so I'm not going to make any predictions about the timeliness of the reimbursement. The good news is — for the law enforcement response we have been reimbursed for that from Rita, and that was fairly timely, and it's not an insignificant number.
The — typically FEMA reimburses us for debris removal and for 75 percent on a reimbursement basis for facilities repair. As most of you remember, in Rita the state does not — the state is self-insured, and, therefore, the agency did not have insurance to cover hurricane damage. We were allowed to go back and retroactively purchase the insurance for those facilities that were damaged in Rita, which then triggered FEMA's supposed reimbursement of 75 percent, which we have yet to get all of. We've gotten bits and pieces of it.
So we are once again going through the exercise. We have been told by FEMA that we may do the same thing. However, we're probably going to go one step further and we're just going to go ahead and insure all of our facilities along the coast because given the climate change and some of the trends that we're seeing this is probably not the last time this will happen.
So our plan is to move aggressively to get reimbursement as quickly as we can for this particular episode and to cover ourselves with insurance for future episodes. There is one pilot program out there I wanted to tell you about. FEMA has said for cleanup alone — and this is not for repair of structure, but for debris removal — they will reimburse 100 percent of anything we can get done by December 31st of this year. So we're moving posthaste with that. We're out right now getting contractors on the ground. We actually had some success there. So we are rapidly trying to, as much as possible, get that debris removed at 100 percent reimbursement level.
That concludes my presentation. I'd be glad to answer any questions. Very proud of the agency. And everybody responded quickly. There was a bittersweet lining here and that is this organization showed its true colors to its staff and to the natural resources of Texas, and I applaud everybody for having been part of it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I thought you and your group did a great job.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You handled it beautifully and not only took care of yourselves, but then took care of all those that needed help. So that's paid off. As you said, Rita, Katrina and Dolly and Ike and the next one — who knows? You're right. So we may just have to do the insurance thing and decide we're going to have it along the coast. We're going to have to figure out how to pay for them.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes, sir. To the extent there's a shortfall on the FEMA reimbursement is this the kind of thing that we can supplement our request to the Legislature and to the parks — the damage to the two parks or not?
MR. BORUFF: Yes. We have —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You can request, yes.
MR. BORUFF: — can request the Governor's Office and the LBB have requested from us estimates as to the repair that we're going to have to undergo in terms of a dollar estimate. We've reluctantly provided them with some numbers that are our best guesses. I mean, there is — for example, we have yet to get folks on the ground in some of these areas because some of these areas — a good example ‑‑ only residents and law enforcement are allowed in there as of today.
And so we don't have a good number, Commissioner. We have thrown out our best estimate of $75 to $100 million to try to repair what we see out there right now. So we will continue to hone those numbers. Some of the parks we have better estimates than others because we have had engineers out to look at some of the parks we can get to easily.
I think a bigger question for us internally is what we're going to do in terms of rebuilding. Are we going to rebuild Sea Rim where it is like it was? And, you know, at this point we haven't made those decisions. I think it would behoove us to take our time and come up with some answers that make sense for the future.
If we do, and to the extent we do rebuild along the coast, we probably will be looking at building techniques that we've not employed in the past that will be more expensive but will be more resistant to hurricanes for example. So there may be, you know, some issues that we run up against in spending 30 to 50 percent more in order to build hurricane-proof buildings, but in the long haul it's I think to the benefit of the agency and the people of Texas.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you for an excellent report.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Scott.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Moving along, I'm going to offer as a slight change in our procedure here, Agenda Items 7, 8, 9, and 13 will also be presented during the Commission meeting tomorrow. And in light of our time I'm going to let those items be presented then.
Moving now to Agenda Item Number 10, Granting of Utility Easement, Palo Pinto County, Public Water Line, Possum Kingdom State Park. Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good evening. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item pertains to the granting of utility easement at Possum Kingdom State Park.
Staff of the agency have been working with the Possum Kingdom utility board for several years now to try and bring a public water source into the park. Currently we have our own water treatment facilities and wastewater treatment facilities in the park. And to the extent that we can get onto a public system it's easier on us for management, operations, and so forth.
This just gives you an idea where Possum Kingdom State Park is in relationship to the City of Fort Worth and a couple of other facilities we have locally. The line actually passes under the lake, comes up inside the park, passes through the park, and then would service currently about a hundred downstream customers, which is the reason we're coming to you to advise you that we're negotiating an easement.
The plan — the engineering plan was developed very quickly. Staff is still in negotiation to try and minimize impacts inside the park. For example, we're not convinced that the pump station and a water tower need to be inside the park itself. So staff is currently developing — is currently working with the engineers to try and minimize those impacts to the park.
Again, as I mentioned, the new facilities will replace on-site water facilities and reduce our operating cost and operating exposure, and possibly, more importantly, will bring the park into compliance with Texas Commission on Environment Quality. We have been out of compliance for several years. TCEQ has been forbearing as we've kind of taken some liberties with the fact that our water isn't always up to standards.
And since there are downstream customers we're also negotiating water rights. We are facilitating the delivery of water to downstream customers by allowing the line to come through the park as we're currently working with them.
Now, this is the motion that you'll see tomorrow. The Executive Director is authorized to take all necessary steps to negotiate terms and conditions for the granting of an easement to Possum Kingdom Water Supply Corporation to result in the delivery of water to Possum Kingdom State Park. And I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any questions or comments for Ted? (Pause.) Hearing none, I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 11 — Land Acquisition, Angelina County, 486 Acres, as an Addition to the Alazan Bayou Wildlife Management Area — request permission to begin the public notice and input process. Mr. Corky Kuhlmann, please.
MR. KUHLMANN: Commissioners, for the record my name is Corky Kuhlmann with the Land Conservation Program. Good evening.
This is in Angelina County — an addition to the Alazan Bayou Wildlife Management Area. This area is about halfway between Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas. As you can see in this map the 486 acres is the tract we're talking about. It isn't adjacent to the Alazan Bayou, but there are conservation lands in between this tract and Alazan Bayou and will be managed out of that unit. The tract in between Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest is used for educational and recreational purposes. The tract, as you can see, has about three-and-a-half miles of Angelina River, has two boat ramps on it — that's just another relationship between the two tracts.
It's all hardwood bottom. Our purchase of this tract would prevent this bottom from fragmentation by agriculture use or splitting up the tracts into smaller tracts for resale. Like I mentioned, 3.3 miles of Angelina River with two boat ramps would provide for some excellent recreation, as well as an addition to the WMA.
All we're asking is for permission to negotiate with the willing sellers, contact for an appraisal, and come back to you at a future Commission meeting for action on this item. I'll be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any questions or discussion for Corky on this item? (Pause.) Hearing none I'll ask staff to begin public notice and input process.
Next item — Committee Item Number 12 — Land Acquisition, Cameron County, 25.30 Acres from The Valley Land Fund, Inc. as an Addition to Arroyo Colorado Wildlife Management Area.
MR. KUHLMANN: Again, for the record, Corky Kuhlmann. This item — this is the first time you're going to see this item. We're going to do this as a one-Commission item acquisition. It's kind of cleanup item.
We had asked The Valley Land Fund to purchase this tract, which, as you can see, is northeast of Harlingen. And it is actually an in-holding of Arroyo Colorado WMA — you can see it there. We'd asked them to purchase this tract. They did so about three years ago. We didn't have the acquisition authority or the funds to purchase it then. We do now, and we promised them we would take it out at our earliest convenience.
It's going to help protect valuable and dwindling habitat in the Rio Grande Valley. And, like I said, we had promised The Valley Land Fund we would take it out at our earliest convenience.
So this is the motion that will be before you. The Executive Director is authorized to take all necessary steps to acquire the 25.3 acre tract as an addition to Arroyo Colorado Wildlife Management Area.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any discussion or questions for Corky on this item? (Pause.) Hearing none, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
As mentioned before, Agenda Item Number 13 will be deferred for the Commission meeting tomorrow. We now go to Agenda Item Number 14, Update on Possible Land Acquisition and Development in Palo Pinto County. This item was discussed in executive session. There is no further action required.
And then we have Item Number 15. Pending Litigation — Update on Land Taking, Cameron County, Border Fence through Anacua Unit at Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area. This item was also discussed in executive session and no further action is required at this time.
Mr. Chairman, this Committee has now completed its business.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Appreciate that, sir.
(Whereupon, at 4:35 p.m., the Conservation Committee meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: November 5, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 75, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731