Friday, February 12, 2016

The Friday Video: Owls Underground

Here's our very own Urban Biologist, Lois Balin, in a well-produced Texas Parks and Wildlife Department video. It well documents the kind of habitat destruction caused by urban sprawl as well as the habits of burrowing owls who are pretty darn cute. (The video also includes the amazing dog, Zimba.) Lois and her volunteers have constructed some burrows fitted with cameras so that the birds can be documented in their homes.

Sad to report that yesterday Lois discovered that a burrow at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park had been vandalized. She and some of her helpers are doing repairs today. It is so sad that some will destroy things just for the sake of destruction.

If you'd like to volunteer to help Lois with her burrowing owls, contact her at

Visit El Paso Urban Wildlife on Facebook.

Here's one more video about development, burrowing owl habitat and Lois:

Construction Encroaches on Burrowing Owls Habitat 

If you get elpasonaturally by email, click on the link or go to to see "Owls Underground".

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Killing Algae at Ascarate Lake

Photo by KFOX News

You probably have heard about the algae problem at Ascarate Lake that is killing fish. The El Paso Times story is HERE. The proposed remedy is a product called GreenClean Liquid 5.0. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department official says: "As the GreenClean kills the algae it may be causing a dissolved oxygen problem that would kill the fish. The lake may need more aeration or they may not be following the directions on the label. The information is contradictory as to whether it is toxic to wildlife and the label places 77% of the ingredients under the category of 'other'."

The matter will take more time to discover if GreenClean Liquid 5.0 is really safe for lake life and people. TPWD personnel are working on it.

Question: will the County wait for the verdict or just go ahead and apply the broad spectrum algaecide? According to Commissioner David Stout the County is holding off on the treatment for now in order to explore options.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Commissioner's Court Gets It Right

Members of the El Paso County Historical Commission (Facebook) and their supporters have much to celebrate today. The County Commissioner's Court approved unanimously a motion made by Commissioner David Stout to fund an historic survey of several areas in El Paso including downtown. The survey will not force owners to do anything to their buildings. However, should they want to renovate and keep the historic integrity of their buildings, they can count on state and federal incentives. 

Last July City Council just did not get this. They rejected a similar proposal which also included a $56,000 grant to cover the costs of the survey. That grant is no longer available but that did not stop the Commissioners from funding a survey up to $140,000. 

County Judge Escobar praised the Historic Commission and thanked Stout for his work in bringing the proposal before the Court.

The Vice-Chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission, Max Grossman, released this statement to elpasonaturally:

"This victory is a huge win for the City and County of El Paso. Our plan will incentivize historic preservation rather than mandate it. The federal and state tax credits, which are extraordinarily generous, will be so attractive to real estate investors that they will want to restore their assets rather than demolish them. If the successes of these credits in other Texas cities are any indication of what we can expect in El Paso, our downtown economy is about to take off. Moreover, the downtown national historic district that will soon be established will drive heritage tourism, the fastest growing sector of our state's tourism economy. Yesterday's unanimous vote gave us enormous satisfaction, and we look forward to partnering with the County until this project is complete."

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Friday Video: World Population

World Population from Population Education on Vimeo.

You have got to watch this video. It well makes its point. 

Apologies to those of you who get elpasonaturally via email. You will have to go to to view it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RIP New Urbanism in El Paso

There are several reasons. First, in 2013 voters, upset by the city's financing of the ballpark and other issues, elected a regressive City Council. In many respects it is the best Council ever bought and paid for by developers of land mainly in east El Paso. Following that election, the new Council hired Tommy Gonzalez to be the City Manager. Pushed by powerful players such as Ted Houghton, more miles of freeways and freeway loops have been built and will continue to be built and expanded over the next few years as westsiders know all too well. Freeways create sprawl. Rather than boulevards, we built freeways. Why? So we could move construction equipment and materials more easily around the city in order to build more developments and eventually more freeways not to mention ticky-tacky strip malls. The trend has been away from smart growth, Plan El Paso, building codes which could have encouraged sustainable, energy-efficient housing and soon-to-be changes to the landscape ordinance.

Note how Plan El Paso appears on the city web site. Scroll through the first few pages and you will see unreadable gibberish. 

Along with clamping down against New Urbanism, the new "regime" has now opened the doors to a new El Paso brain drain. Many of the city's best and brightest city planners are beginning to look at work outside of El Paso. 

The new regime has also stymied work by the Open Space Advisory Board. Recommendations are held up. The new Director of Planning has covertly taken over what will and won't be on agendas. Agenda items today are largely for "information" rather than discussion and action.

What can be done? It goes without saying that we need more innovative, progressive policy makers on Council. It also means that we all need to become aware of city codes and work to change those that lead to unsustainablility and the destruction of our environment. Especially it means that as consumers we begin to choose other options for housing, neighborhoods, connectivity, walkability and transportaion. If they build it, they will come? No, if the sprawlers want to sprawl, let's have nothing to do with it except to do everything that we can to limit it and regulate it. Then let's build better and smarter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

City of El Paso Promotes the Destruction of the Franklin Mountains

If you have ever walked on a desert path, this is nothing like it. The path that Parks and Recreation has devised at the Archaeology Museum is unnatural and is the result of the UGLY gouging at the CEMEX McKelligon Canyon quarry.

I have published about the eradication of the Franklin Mountains by CEMEX at their McKelligon Canyon quarry. I've also pointed out that the city's Parks and Recreation Department has created unnatural paths using red rock screenings from the same quarry on the grounds of the Archaeological Museum. 

Click on image to enlarge.
Read it and weep.

Take a good look at the June 17, 2015 Purchase Order above. Apparently Parks and Rec buys a huge amount of materials from the CEMEX quarry and stores it at their Land Management Warehouse on Delta. Notice the tonnage of the Franklin Red, Mesa Red, Red Top Soil, screenings and sand. Notice the bottom line: $39,692! In other words, Parks and Recreation promotes the destruction of our mountains.

But it not just the Parks and Recreation Department. Every month our Streets and Maintenance Department buys tons of materials from the quarry. 

Aerial photo of CEMEX McKelligon Canyon quarry by Scott Cutler

Bottom line: the City of El Paso is complicit in the destruction of the Franklin Mountains by CEMEX at its McKelligon Canyon quarry.

If we love our mountains, it is time to tell the City to stop. We don't need all the rock and screenings used on park paths and medians. Besides, the placement of rocks in medians must follow the plans of a graduate from the University of Ugly Design. 

Currently the El Paso Group Sierra Club has an action petition asking Franklin Mountains State Park and Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife to do a survey to determine whether CEMEX has encroached on park land. In a comment to one of my posts, Dan Knapp says that they have indeed encroached. 

Look soon for an action petition telling Parks and Recreation and Streets and Maintenance officials to stop buying materials from CEMEX. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tom Mays Underpass, Solar Energy, New Council and Glass Recycling

Rather than doing several posts, I decided to just bring you up to date about several items.

Photo by Rick Bonart

At long last the work has begun to construct a hike/bike/animal corridor underneath Transmountain to connect the FMSP land to the south to the FMSP’s Tom Mays Unit to the north. I had been made aware of this several weeks ago from a friend of mine and also a friend of TxDOT Regional Engineer Bob Bielek. Now the buzz has begun via email as some have passed by the construction site.


On the solar front, a potential settlement on EPEC's rate case before the PUC may happen tomorrow. Some are saying that it is the best proposal, which means that nobody will be happy. Who may be the unhappiest: (1) all the folks who will lose their jobs when EPEC kills the solar industry in El Paso, (2) all current solar users and (3) all El Pasoans who will lose a chance to have a clean, sustainable energy future.

Take a look at what France is doing. Imagine roads of solar panels that you can drive on. 

Check out the Bloomberg Business Report Who Owns the Sun. Be sure to watch the video.

Also read New Report Reveals Electric Utility Industry's Influence at Universities. (Note that NMSU is part of the cabal.) It is clear that the fossil fuel and electric utility companies are "out to get" the distributed solar energy industry. 

Read Senator José Rodríguez's op-ed piece in yesterday's El Paso Times as well as his piece in the Rio Grande Guardian. HERE is what he wrote to the PUC. 


Good news from last week's regular City Council meeting. An ordinance establishing a Regional Renewable Energy Advisory Council passed. Many thanks go to Rep. Peter Svarzbein for being proactive on Council rather than playing politics and being reactive.


Finally, it seems like glass recycling in El Paso is off to a good start. Marshall Carter-Tripp reports: "I went to the Northwest Collection Center today.  As promised, no water bill was required.  What they had was four recycle bins along a wall.  They had different color tops.  You put the glass in the bins yourself.  Unfortunately the bin with the blue top had been pretty much filled with brown bottles, so I put my blue bottle in with the green bottle and hoped for the best.   The clear glass went in a bin with a grey top. Hope they will refine it a bit but it went well."

For the glass recycling pilot program to succeed, we not only should recycle bottles but use the end products for mulch and more.