Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting
August 20, 2008Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Brown Education Center
6200 Golf Course Drive
Houston, Harris County, Texas
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 20th day of August, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Brown Education Center of the Houston Zoo, 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: I would like to call the Conservation Committee to order, and our first order of business is the approval of the prior minutes.
Is there a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So moved.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I see Commissioner Martin. Second?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Second.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second by Hixon. Thank you very much. All those in favor, please say aye.
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All opposed, same sign?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, motion passes.
Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Smith?
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Chairman. First and foremost, I just want to thank you for helping to enable that very successful second Wind to Wildlife Conference in the Panhandle, that was sponsored with ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, big turnout.
MR. SMITH: — a huge turnout. We had 250 attendees, representing wind developers, government agencies, a lot of private landowners, a huge proliferation of interest in that, particularly falling on the heels of the Public Utilities Commission's decision to invest another $5 billion in supporting infrastructure to help enable that.
So I think it was a perfect role for the Department to help in providing the outreach to landowners, help to bring the best available science, which right now is very limited in this arena and is an area that we certainly need to strengthen inside the Department, as landowners are being confronted with choices as to whether or not to proceed with wind energy development on their property.
But those kind of conferences I think are essential and a very, very important role for the agency to be playing, and so I thank you for all your help in that ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You're welcome. A very important conference ‑‑
MR. SMITH: A couple of other things. Robin, in his presentation on the southern flounder talked a little bit about Galveston Bay, and just how important that is to the recreational fishing industry as a whole on the Texas coast. Just a reminder, back in July the Department of Health Services issued a fish consumption ban applying to all species of catfish and spotted sea trout, and recommending limits of consumption of up to eight ounces a person, a month, affecting all of Galveston Bay.
Obviously, that's something that's gotten a lot of people's attention and a decision that we're watching very, very closely, and it had to do with elevated concentrations of PCBs and dioxin that are being found in those species of fish.
So the source of some concern ‑‑ I expect that we will continue to support the efforts by the Department of Health Services to test other fish in other bay systems to see if there are other problems out there that we may not yet be aware of.
But Rebecca Hensley played a big role in that; Lance Robinson and some of our Coastal Fisheries team really did a great job on that, in that effort.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Great.
MR. SMITH: Obviously, as we're kicking off dove season, thinking about our efforts to get youth hunters out and about, we had a very successful year last year, a great partnership with the Texas Wildlife Association, and I think we had about 150 youth hunts around the state.
Most of them were for deer and exotic animals and feral hogs. We expect that to go forward and do great things. I think we've touched about 10,000 youth hunters since the program's inception, and obviously we want to continue to do more.
On the landowner extension front and all of our work with private landowners and our wildlife biologists, who do such a great job on ‑‑ one of the things that we have seen that's just a continued heightened interest by landowners in taking advantage of the wildlife use valuation for property tax purposes.
That is a type of allowable ag use on properties. We had seen some confusion over the rules. There's a little ambiguity, there's some problems with interpretation, and so in working with the Comptroller's office we assembled a team of stakeholders representing landowners, agricultural interests, appraisal district interest, attorneys and others, folks in the Department of Agriculture and others, to help kind of advise on some possible rule clarifications that might need to be made.
That process is led from our end by Todd George, one of our attorneys, and we've got a notice going out to the Texas Register this week on some clarification on those rules. And I think that's going to be of interest to a lot of landowners around the state, as well as appraisal districts.
Last, but not least I just want to thank our law enforcement team in particular. You know, we were very concerned about Hurricane Dolly coming into the lower coast. We sent, I think, about 70 to 75 game wardens down to South Texas to assist with that, along with communication operators and maintenance staff, a lot of boats there to help primarily with search and water ‑‑ search and rescue efforts on the water, and they did a great job in that regard and just represented the state very, very ably.
Also our parks team did a masterful job just in making sure that all of our parks in the Rio Grande Valley were evacuated in a very timely fashion, and then other parks that we had more inland throughout South Texas could serve as spots where refugees from the Valley could go to stay while the storm blew over.
So great efforts by our law enforcement and parks team during that event. So that's all I have to report. So thank you, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Carter. I would like to take this opportunity to state that I feel the time is now for the Commission to formulate some sort of action plan or a strategy on the effects of wind towers on wildlife. And with the rapid growth of the industry in both the coastal areas of South Texas, and especially the Texas Panhandle, we're going to have to come up with some sort of answers for the landowners who are contacting us and asking for our opinions on these, and their impact on the wildlife species.
As we noted in the meeting in Amarillo, avian populations and ground wildlife populations are affected, both by the siting of the towers and by the actual blade movements. And there was some excellent video of bats flying around an existing turbine and the cell and the blade, and the bats become very curious about these moving objects, and the ‑‑ you know the results are sometimes less favorable than others.
But I think that that's a good indication that we are bound to formulate some kind of opinion. And so perhaps by the November meeting, if we could address that on the agenda.
MR. SMITH: Absolutely, Chairman. Why don't we come back with a report on all that we're doing in that capacity, and provide some more recommendations to the Commission, if that works for you.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Great. Thank you very much.
MR. SMITH: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay, the ‑‑ Item Number 2, the Acceptance of a Land Donation in Bexar County, Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning. My name is Ted Hollingsworth, I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item pertains to an offer of 2.5 acres of land that is contiguous with Government Canyon State Natural Area.
We've actually in the past bought land from this landowner. The park manager there has done a very good job of keeping a good working relationship with the landowner. The landowner, there's a piece of property tucked in a corner of what we already own, two and a half acres. It is over the Edwards Recharge Zone, and he has approached us about donating that.
Our conditions to him were that he should have it surveyed at his cost, and he should fence that property consistent with the fencing around the State Natural Area. He has agreed and has provided a gift deed, and this would be the first reading.
If you're in agreement, we'll conduct a public hearing, solicit public comment on that, and then come back in the future with a recommendation regarding acceptance of that 2.5 acres. We'd be happy to answer ‑‑ Oh, we have pictures, don't we?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Government Canyon, for those of you that are not familiar with it, is just northwest of downtown San Antonio, will soon be an urban park, about 9,000 acres, and again that subject property is very much contiguous, within ‑‑ near the park entrance.
The habitat is in very good condition; it is habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler, and I'd be happy to answer any questions that you might have about that tract.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any questions or comments by the Commission?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I'll ask staff to begin the public notice and input process. Thank you, Ted.
Committee Item Number 3, the Acceptance of a Land Donation in Orange County, also Mr. Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item revolves around a pipeline which is to be bored under the Tony Houseman Wildlife Management Area. You authorized staff to negotiate terms and conditions for the issuance of this easement in a previous
meeting. In discussing those terms and conditions, the idea of exchanging land for the easement came up and was vetted, and met favorably.
Staff feels like exchanging land for the pipeline really does more to compensate for impacts caused by vegetation control and installation and management of the pipeline than perhaps cash would.
The Conservation Fund got involved helping Denbury Pipeline identify mitigation opportunities, and they, at our request, contacted local landowners, identified an 89-acre tract, a very high-quality habitat contiguous with the Wildlife Management Area, staff feels like it would very much contribute to the mission of the Wildlife Management Area.
We have willing sellers, at appraised value, the appraisal should be in this week; Denbury continues to insist that they will buy that tract. We have agreed to prorate our normal easement fees out over 15 or 20 years, whatever would be appropriate, in exchange for the donation of the subject tract.
As you can see in the picture, there are large trees, some wetlands on the tract, very much consistent with the purpose for the Tony Houseman Wildlife Management Area. We're not offering any mitigation credit on that tract; it would be a straight-up addition, with no regulatory implications other than compensation for the fees for the pipeline easement.
It also does give us access to a paved road in a portion of the Wildlife Management Area where we don't currently have good access.
This is a first reading. With your concurrence, we will continue to pursue that, and assuming we can make that a part of the surface use agreement for the pipeline issuance, we will return to you with permission to close on that transaction. I'd be happy to answer any questions that you have. Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Was any consideration given ‑‑ I'm not saying this isn't a good deal, but any consideration given to the tract, I guess it would be, to the south, on the map ‑‑ see where it says that the ‑‑ has the big bend in the river?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. Actually we approached that landowner and the landowner on the northeast corner with frontage on the river first, and we had no willing sellers. The staff prioritized the tracts that would be of most value to the Wildlife Management Area, and this was the highest priority tract where we had a willing seller.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other questions by the Commission?
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Just my ignorance. Why is it not mitigation? Is mitigation only when there is ‑‑ the law requires it to happen? Or ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, mitigation is a term that gets used a number of different ways. We try to use mitigation when it's a regulatory requirement. We try to use the term "compensation" when it's a ‑‑ mitigation is normally required for impacts to wetlands or endangered species ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Right.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: — and there are legal dictates for how that takes place. Compensation is something that as an agency we have authority to negotiate with the pipeline installer and operator.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other questions or comments?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: If there are none, I will ask Ted to begin the public notice and input process.
Thank you, Ted. You're up again on Committee Item Number 4, Land Acquisition in Yoakum County.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Ted Hollingsworth, I'm still with the Land Conservation Program.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: This particular item pertains to the Fitzgerald Ranch. Some of you may not have heard of the Fitzgerald Ranch. We have been looking for an opportunity to benefit the lesser prairie chicken for a number of years. We are working cooperatively with The Nature Conservancy on the Fitzgerald Ranch on acquisition of property.
The ranch itself has been acquired by a grant of Pittman-Robertson dollars to The Nature Conservancy. It straddles Terry and Yoakum County. Nature Conservancy is working with adjacent landowners to try and enlarge that; it's currently about 6,000 acres.
But there is an adjacent tract that's fairly critical for making the whole tract contiguous and manageable. The tract belongs to the General Land Office. The General Land Office had put it on their list to sell to the public at public auction. At our request, it was taken off of that list, but in that process, GLO can only sell the property to another state agency.
So we're proposing to buy that; it would be managed in the interim by The Nature Conservancy, as a part of the Fitzgerald Ranch Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve. It's 241 acres; the appraised value is $53,000 acres [sic] for the tract. We would buy that with land sale proceeds, Fund 9 land sale proceeds.
It is the intent of The Nature Conservancy that once they're completed the acquisition and putting together of this Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve that it will come to Texas Parks and Wildlife and be managed as a wildlife management area, primarily for the recovery and benefit of the lesser prairie chicken.
Again, this was the first reading of what would be a two-meeting process. We're at this point requesting permission to enter into a contract with the General Land Office, depending upon your authorization to close and then to solicit public notice and public input on this acquisition. Be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: That creates a ‑‑ can you go back to that, please? That creates a couple of inholdings for us there, doesn't it?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. It does, and ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Are there any issues associated with that, or ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: — I know that The Nature Conservancy is already in communication with those landowners. They felt if we allowed this tract, this 241-acre tract to be auctioned into the private sector, that we would probably lose the opportunity to make that Fitzgerald Ranch a large continuous property.
I think they are optimistic that both of those landowners are willing to work with them on either an exchange or a sale, to make that tract whole. But without this piece, we really didn't have another opportunity to join those properties.
This is also pretty high-quality habitat, and just off the record, there was some concern that if it sold in the public sector, chicken hunting and mule deer hunting would take place on that tract, to the detriment of what we're trying to accomplish on those adjacent properties.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And the access issues to those inholdings are manageable, and ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — at that time?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. And again, The Nature Conservancy does have a dialogue going with those landowners. The access issues, we can't legally landlock a piece of land by our acquisition of intervening property.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Just in clarification, the 241 acres that's currently owned by the GLO, would that be purchased by ‑‑ and you may have said this, be purchased by The Nature Conservancy and then by TPW, or directly by TPW?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: It will have to be purchased by TPW, because when the General Land Office has already identified it and put it on the sale roster to be sold, they can only take it off for the purpose of selling to a state agency.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: To a state agency, right.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All right. I would also like to say, having personally visited this area, that ‑‑ in all my life in the Panhandle, I've seen more lesser prairie chickens on this tract of land than I've seen anywhere else in the area. And it's ‑‑ the day we ‑‑ Carter was there as well ‑‑ the day we visited I would have bet that someone had planted these birds.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That many.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: But everyone guaranteed me that they were native.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So, any other comments from the Commission. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I have a follow-up point to Dan's comment. I don't understand how there would be landlocked; isn't there a public road that flows through here?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: These are not public roads. They're ‑‑ these are ranch roads. But by law, our acquisition of a property that straddles a road that provides access, we cannot legally landlock an adjacent landowner; so they will continue to have whatever access they currently have.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. And the amount of access to this property is rather minimal, so I don't think it's going to really be an issue. But the landscape is rather ‑‑ it doesn't look that way from the aerial photographs, but it's pretty rugged; the vegetation's a lot thicker than you would imagine.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: This is pretty typical. It's a lot of grass, there are some brushy areas, it's not exactly hilly but it's not flat, and the biologists tell me it's an exceptional habitat for the birds, and this is an area where we've been, again for several years have been trying to identify an opportunity to create a Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: As that slide also suggests, there are other species besides lesser prairie chickens that inhabit the area. Hearing no other comments, I will ask staff to begin public notice and input process.
Ted, you may as well just stay there, because you're going to be there for a while.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, it looks like it ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Do you mind if I pull up a chair?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
Committee Item Number 5, Land Exchange and Conservation Easement in Bandera and Medina Counties.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is an item that you have actually seen once before; this is the Hill Country State Natural Area. We have an adjacent ranch to that property and as shown ‑‑ actually the entire ranch is not shown on this slide, but it's on the south side of the Hill Country State Natural Area.
The owners of that ranch, because of the poor access into that ranch have been ‑‑ have approached us several times over the last 20 years about granting access across the State Natural Area into that ranch. The owner of the ranch died recently, and the heirs are very motivated to divide that ranch and to secure access into it.
So we've been working with them for about the last year, and have come up with an arrangement to provide access that we think results in a net benefit to the State Natural Area.
In a nutshell we would trade them that sliver of land in yellow which will give them an opportunity to construct a road into the ranch, which is outlined in white; we would get the property in green, which is about twice the size of that we would lose. It also is a pretty spectacular hilltop, large cave on that property and very high potential for recreation, some nice views from that tract.
And then the remainder of the owner's ranch, about 700 acres, would go under a conservation easement that would limit him to construction of only a couple of residences, which would ultimately limit the traffic on that road.
The reason this isn't going to result in much of a net impact is because the road you can see, and I don't know if we have a ‑‑ but the road that is visible running through the ranch actually provides unlimited access into these ranches here already by easement that was deeded long before we got the property.
So the change in traffic pattern should not affect park operations, but the conservation easement and the gain of that mountain and the cave and that habitat will contribute to the State Natural Area.
We ‑‑ staff have been working very closely on this for a number of months. We feel like this is in the benefit of the State Natural Area to proceed with this.
And if you concur, this will be the second reading, and this motion will appear before you tomorrow. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about the proposed transaction.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any additional questions or comments from the Commission?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Item Number 6, surprisingly by Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commission, for the record, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is the second reading of this item; you have seen it previously. Big Bend Ranch, for those of you that are not very familiar with it, is in the Big Bend country of West Texas.
It is almost adjacent to the national park. We're actually working on some land arrangements that would give our visitors direct access to the national park and vice-versa. We also have well over 100,000 at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in the Big Bend Region of West Texas.
This particular landowner owned Big Bend Ranch at one time, and when it was acquired by us there were several tracts with questionable title. We have since done a lot of title work on those; the owner has done some title work. We've determined that the owner has about five inholdings which he's willing to trade to us in order to exchange ‑‑ to consolidate two of his inholdings.
He would end up with a single piece of property; we would end with the five inholdings. The five inholdings we would gain total about 1,400, a little over 1,400 acres. He would receive about 500 acres.
We've had a very thorough appraisal done of those tracts; this is a straight-up trade, at appraised value. The value in those inholdings is that a couple of them do straddle trails that are important for us implementing our public use plan. The consolidated inholding does not interfere in any way with our public use plan.
Staff does recommend that you allow us to put an agenda item on tomorrow's agenda to proceed to close that transaction. We do have a contract with the landowner. Again, all based on appraised value, this has been thoroughly vetted in public session and with the staff at the park and in State Parks Division to make sure that the consolidated tract is not going to interfere with park operations or implementation of the public use plan in any way.
I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Ted, excuse me.
Go ahead, Rob. Could you go back to the slide, the aerial photograph. Do we own the minerals under this Big Bend Ranch or the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, our ownership has come to us through numerous transactions ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: — at both of those. And so our mineral ownership varies. At Black Gap, for example, the tracts that we've received from the General Land Office, the Land Office has received those ‑‑ has retained those minerals; those tracts we've acquired from private owners. We acquire all of the minerals owned by those private owners, and at Black Gap in most cases it is all the minerals.
What percentage we own on both sides would require a lot of research, and quite frankly I can't tell you ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: It varies. We do own all of the minerals in much of Big Bend Ranch State Park, and I know that because we were approached recently about somebody wanting to do some clay mining and we were able to just simply deny the request because we did own the minerals.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I see. Well, as you're well aware, there's a major oil and gas play in the Fort Stockton area, and I'm just curious if it did move in that direction what our ownership would be. But we obviously will look into that when the event presents itself.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, that was one of my questions. The other is when you say that this is based on appraisals, who does the Department use as its appraiser?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: We have a list of approved appraisers, but quite frankly we only use about half a dozen of them because in most cases, especially if there's any prospect of using state or federal funding, we require a ‑‑ what's called a Yellow Book Appraisal or appraisal that complies with federal standards, which is a much more detailed appraisal.
And what we've found is that there are a lot of appraisers who do very good appraisal work, but don't do appraisals to federal standards. So there are several that we use regularly.
In the case of this transaction we used a fellow here in Austin by the name of Jim Jeffries, and we used him because he has done appraisals in the Big Bend region for us in the past. They've been very excellent, very defensible appraisals. We've never had any conflicts with landowners over those appraisals. We've never had any conflicts with NPS or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over using those to justify grant awards of federal money, so in this case we used someone that we knew would do a good job the first time.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other comments or questions from the Commission?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 7, Conveyance of Pipeline Easement in Tarrant County. Once again, Ted.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Isn't it lunchtime yet?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good morning, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This item pertains to a request for the granting of a pipeline easement for a gathering line across the Fort Worth Fish Hatchery which, as you can see, is on the outskirts of Fort Worth.
This is the property. The staff have routed the easement along a fence line to minimize its impact to habitat. Staff feels like the alternative that the gas company had was to run across adjacent property, which would have been a greater impact to the environment. We've gone through our standard terms and conditions process, and what we've negotiated with the pipeline operator is that in exchange for their easement they are going to revamp one of the fishing ponds, one of the old fishing ponds. They're going to clean it out and line it; it's going to be turned into a kidfish pond. Staff at the fish hatchery then will be able to conduct kidfish programs, which requires a pond that's dependable for holding water and is deep enough to stock with fish, and of course has clear banks so you can get kids down to the edge to fish.
Staff have been wanting to do this. They think this is a very good use of this opportunity as compensation for this small gathering line across the site.
This is an action item, and if you're in agreement, this is the item that will appear on tomorrow's agenda.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Commissioner Duggins?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What is the width of the temporary construction easement that XTO wants to ‑‑ for this one?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Well, the total easement is 20 foot, and ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's permanent, though. I mean, what's the temporary ‑‑ is there a temporary ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: There's no additional ‑‑ no, sir. There will not be any additional. It's a four-inch gathering line; it does not require a lot of staging of equipment.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is the easement limited? Limit XTO to one line?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. It sure does.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other comments, questions from the Commission?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hearing none, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Items Number 8 and 9 will be heard in executive session, so we will move now to Committee Item Number 10, and batting a perfect score is once again, Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: This is an interesting item. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Ted Hollingsworth with the Land Conservation Program. We were approached probably three years ago by the Green Burial Council, which is a group of conservation-minded folks who are looking at the recent interest in environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional burial and are trying to work with state agencies and private nonprofit trusts to try and turn this interest into conservation, land conservation and that we've been working together for about three years to look at whether there's an opportunity in Texas to tap into this interest.
And so what we've done is, we've negotiated an agreement, for your consideration, that would allow death care providers in Texas to offer the option of scattering ashes on selected state park properties.
Currently under state law, we cannot prevent the scattering of ashes on undeveloped state park land. And currently it occurs. We don't know how often, but oftentimes families will take ‑‑ out of courtesy will notify us that they are scattering ashes.
What the Green Burial Council would like to do is work directly with death care providers so that those that are willing to participate would offer an option to those families to scatter those ashes, and to take the fee associated with that and to put half of that money into a dedicated account at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to be used only for acquisition of new state park lands.
This would be a three-part ‑‑ a three-year pilot program, this agreement that we've negotiated. A small area in two or three parks would be designated. We would put a deed restriction on that so that if, you know, we scattered Dad's ashes out there, we would know that it wouldn't have a parking lot on it or a building on it a few years from now.
This is a market that's really untested. I've talked to several other states now. There are a couple of private trusts that have very successfully done this. There is a very large conservation tract that's being paid for in New Mexico right now through a combination of ash scattering and green burials.
There is a successful program in North Carolina; there's one in California and another one in Michigan. We would be the first state agency to enter into a partnership to explore this market. Staff have been very careful to craft an agreement that would not constrain our operations or bind us ‑‑ overly bind us ‑‑ in the future. It is a three-year agreement.
Our agency's name would not be associated with this program without written permission from the agency. This would be between Green Burial Partners and the death care industry. And it would be a conservation option that would be offered, again with the money going to the foundation, and hopefully at some point enough funding would accrue that we could use those funds to help us acquire a priority site adjacent to one of our existing state parks or perhaps even help us acquire a new state park in the future.
We do have an agreement that our legal department has reviewed, that our State Parks people have reviewed. We've been very careful about crafting this agreement.
I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. We thought considering this is a little different; we thought we would very much like to have your feedback before we proceed.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, now ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any comments?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — yes. I have a comment. I mean, how do you have a three-year pilot program? I mean, once you designate an area and people scatter ashes on it, you can't ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You could not change that piece of property back to ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Yes, sir. That's correct. We're looking at a two- or three-acre area at Brazos Bend and another two- or three-acre area at McKinney Falls State Park. We've worked with the staffs there. These are areas, in one case a restored prairie, in another case a restored forest parkland setting.
The staff cannot envision ever wanting to put buildings or parking lots on ‑‑ I mean, this would be protection that staff would like to see on these sites anyway, it would not preclude a picnic table or a trail, but it would preclude hard cover on these areas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Again, I've worked closely with Walt Dabney and with Legal; we feel that the risk is minimal, and potentially if this is something that the public latches onto and there's a growing interest in, could result in a large net benefit to the agency over time. And we won't really know unless we test it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is nonprofit ‑‑ Green Burial Council, who are they? I mean, is this ‑‑ who is that?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: They're some interested private individuals who formed this 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and have literally been going to several state fish and wildlife agencies and to several of the trusts, like Trust for Public Lands, TNC, I mean ‑‑ they've approached several different groups, trying to explore ways to turn this growing interest into ‑‑
They're interested in conservation. They want to see more land conserved for the future, and they see this growing interest. I saw a show on television just a couple nights ago about the growing interest in being buried in pine boxes and canvas bags and things other than fiberglass boxes ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: — and full of formaldehyde. So there's a growing ‑‑ there have been articles in AARP. There's been an article in Time magazine about the growing interest nationwide in not taking up so much space with plastic boxes in this country.
And so they are looking for ways to tap into this interest and try to turn it into conservation.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Commissioner Friedkin?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Have they developed a demand model so we have a sense of how much revenue this might put into a fund over time, or some estimates ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: They have talked to economists about developing models, and if you have no baseline data at all it really isn't possible to project what the interest is.
The project in New Mexico has been very successful. There's one in California that's been very successful, and one in North Carolina. But they all include the option of green burial. What they've done is they've taken a large piece of land, they've designated an area literally for pine caskets and canvas burial shrouds, a small area, but they've collected enough money from people who don't want to be in plastic boxes to literally pay for in some cases hundreds or even thousands of acres of land.
I will say that we have talked to some of the trusts in Texas ‑‑ if this program were very successful, about a trust picking up an important piece of property, designating a small area for green burial and then taking that additional ‑‑ that land that is not in green burial and adding it to a park or wildlife management area.
It would be neat if that would happen someday. This is a way to just test the market and see if there's any interest in Texas in that.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So is this land covered by a conservation easement?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: No, sir. The problem with conservation easements on state park lands is you've got to have a third party hold them. It doesn't make sense to have Ducks Unlimited hold a conservation easement on Brazos Bend State Park.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: So we've agreed that a deed restriction ‑‑ and we're the State; hopefully we can be trusted, you know, to observe a deed restriction on one of our properties.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: One would hope.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: One would hope.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You know, the only thing I'd ask is that Green Burial Council be vetted somehow. I just want to make sure that they're a legitimate ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — group, that's all.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes, sir?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: [indiscernible]
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Chairman?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes, Commissioner Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Ted, what are your known and/or perceived downsides of this?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: The worst case scenario is ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Is this a known one? Are you starting with known first?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: The known is that people can do this already, and we have no control over it. The worst-case scenario is that one person buys into the program, and that we have $750 to spend on land acquisition, and we have a couple acres at Brazos Bend State Park and a couple acres at McKinney Falls State Park that are under this deed restriction. That's worst-case scenario.
I don't ‑‑ again I've worked carefully with Walt and with Legal and with the ‑‑ some of the field staff to make sure that even in a worst-case scenario we don't end up stuck with something that's going to mess with our public use of these sites in the future or our ability to manage or develop our state parks in the future.
Alternatively, if we have several hundred or several thousand people participate, we could be talking into money that would translate into significant acreage to be added to our state park system.
There are now guidelines for ashes that can be called green ashes. There are standards, particulate size and composition, and I don't think you can put enough ashes on two acres of Brazos Bend for the nutrient load or the introduction of nutrient circle materials to have a negative impact.
We've talked to TNRCC ‑‑ or we've talked to TCEQ, we've talked to General Land Office, we've talked to our biologists, we've talked to chemists. You can't scatter enough ashes to have a deleterious impact on a habitat; we just ‑‑ we don't believe that's possible.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any other comments?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: I really expected a livelier discussion, quite frankly.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I just want to say, I think, you know ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: No pun intended.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, right.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: If you all get all this vetted, you know, I just think it's ingenious. I mean, whoever came up with this idea, I mean it makes perfect sense if it works. I mean ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: — how much better can it be?
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: At the risk of another pun, we were trying not to leave any stones unturned ‑‑
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: — when it comes to finding resources for adding to our state park system.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay, Ted. I think you've had enough for a while.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And if I've worn out my welcome, I'll ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you for that presentation.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: And this is not an action item; we're simply advising you that if you don't instruct otherwise, we would like to ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go forward.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: — proceed with this agreement.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you. As I mentioned earlier, Conservation Committee Items 8 and 9 will be discussed in executive session, and therefore I will announce a recess to executive session.
I would 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 now recessed. Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 12:10 p.m., the meeting was recessed to executive session, to reconvene at 1:50 p.m.)
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I would like to now reconvene the regular session of the Conservation Committee. If everyone could please take their seats.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you all very much. The next item on our agenda in the Conservation Committee is
Item Number 8, Conveyance of Easement in Aransas County. Once again we have Ted Hollingsworth.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Ted, you're just kind of hogging the show here, Buddy.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Right.
Good afternoon, Chairman and Commissioners. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program.
This is the second item of a reading regarding a request from the Lamar Improvement District for an easement across Goose Island State Park to bring utilities into a new subdivision. It's being constructed on the east side of the park, called the Broadway, which you can see on this map.
Staff has been working with both the owners of the Broadway project and with the Lamar Improvement District on a set of compensatory actions that would help offset impacts to habitat on the Lamar Peninsula.
These include shutting down South Street to all traffic except emergency traffic. It includes a buffer around an existing tidal wetland. It includes a setback, a building setback and buffer that would be in the form of a conservation easement for a strip of land adjacent to the state park and includes routing the utility lines in such a way as to minimize impact to vegetation in the neighborhood. It includes a donation of cash to Goose Island State Park to help with erosion control projects in the park.
Staff has worked very closely with both Lamar Improvement District and the developers of the Broadway Project to come up with a package that we feel like really does reflect our interest in protecting the habitat on the peninsula and is fair to all parties concerned.
And we would like the Commission to consider placing this item on the agenda for tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Ted. Any further discussion or questions for Ted on this issue?
Committee Item Number 9, Land Sale in Harris County. Once again we have Ted Hollingsworth.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good afternoon. My name is Ted Hollingsworth. I'm with the Land Conservation Program. This is an item you've also seen before. Texas Parks and Wildlife has been working with the City of La Porte in Harris County. We have a property there that we've had for 46 years now, it's been the regional office for State Parks for most of that time.
But it's right in the middle of an area that the City of La Porte would like to acquire for a redevelopment-revitalization project. It's on the original town circle, and the city would like to acquire that property and implement this revitalization project, which is going to require removing that building and doing some street work and some landscape work and putting a new building in that location.
This is an aerial view. The building is a flat-roof building. Again, it's 48 years old now; it's been a high-cost maintenance building, a very difficult building to keep up with. The Department had $300,000 scheduled to renovate the building, which is more than the appraised value of the building. The city has offered the Department substantially more than the appraised value of the building; we've had it appraised recently.
The city will also give State Parks Division enough time to construct a new facility at Sheldon Lake State Park and relocate all of the functions to Sheldon Lake State Park before they require us vacating the premises.
With your concurrence, we will place this item on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting for consideration for action. Be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Any further questions from the Commission?
Ted, I know we would all like to thank you for your excellent work on this rather lengthy agenda, and you didn't get a break on any of the items, but thank you again.
MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Does that mean I can go get lunch now?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, this Committee has completed its business, and I will turn the meeting back over to you.
(Whereupon, at 1:56 p.m., the committee meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
DATE: August 20, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 40, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Leslie Berridge before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731