Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Conservation Committee Meeting

May 24, 2006

Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 24th day of May, 2006, 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:

APPEARANCES:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:

P R O C E E D I N G S

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I guess I'm taking Phil Montgomery's place. First order of business, the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes which have already been distributed. Is there a motion for approval?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: So move.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Second.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Moved by Parker, second by Ramos. Committee item number one, Land and Water Plan update.

MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. At the invitation of the Texas Water Development Board, we have provided input into the regional water-planning process throughout the last several years, and particularly the last couple of years.

As per Senate Bill 1 of the 75th Legislature, Texas Water Development Board is required to review the rules guiding the regional water planning process. TPWD's comments focused on the need to better incorporate environmental water needs into the planning process, and to more effectively quantify environmental impacts associated with proposed water development projects.

On another item the $3 million renovation and improvement project at the Possum Kingdom Fish Hatchery is complete. And staff has occupied and is using the new facilities. The project was funded with monies from the original Prop 8 bonds.

At the end of April we had completed one of the most successful ShareLunker seasons in the history of the program. Thirty-two lunker bass over 13 pounds, being defined as lunker, were submitted to the program.

This is the third most entries in the 20-year history of the ShareLunker Program. Also this year we passed the 400 mark for ShareLunker submissions, over 400 bass of over 13 pounds. Mr. Durocher will brief the Commission on the history of the program and give a 2006 update and a briefing at tomorrow's public hearing.

Finally the acquisition of 198 acres of land pledged to the new East Texas Fish Hatchery has been completed by Jasper County. The land will be formally transferred to TPWD early this summer. The design phase of the new facility continues to move forward. Thank you, sir.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you, Bob.

Item two is withdrawn. Item three, land donation, Brown County. Jack Bauer.

MR. BAUER: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. I'm Jack Bauer, Director of the Land Conservation Program. I have with me here a brand-new Wildlife Division Region II director, Mr. Clay Brewer. And we're going to give you a briefing on a piece of property that has recently come into the inventory and a potential bequeath of a mineral right that's associated with it.

The issue is a land donation in Brown County at the McGillvray and Leona McKie Muse Wildlife Management Area. This is a property that came to us through Commission action in '98. But we have not taken possession of it until the death of Mrs. Muse this January.

The property is northeast about 15 miles of Brownwood and Brown County. And the background on this is that in 1998 the Commission reviewed and approved the acceptance of a donation of this about 2,000-acre property.

But a reservation to Mrs. Muse was maintained. So we did not take possession of the property. The stipulations for the approval to accept it came with the demand that it would be named for the McKie Muse family and that it would also be operated in a way that would be self-sustaining, and it would be managed as a Wildlife Management Area in perpetuity.

What we have proposed now ‑‑ again in January Mrs. Muse died. It has been through probate, and we have taken possession of the property. There's an additional donation component with the death of Mrs. Muse.

And that is that we would pick up the mineral estate of the property, and there's an additional 13-acre tract. So we have possession now. And as we have gotten on to the property, there are some condition issues that we want to relate to you as we move forward to operating the facility.

The property has been under grazing lease since '98. And there are some condition issues with the property. I think we have anticipated being able to accept the property for some time, being that we have no other Wildlife Management Area in this area, and it's an important addition to the research and demonstration goals that we have for the Agency.

As we have gotten possession of the property, we've been able to look at the habitat conditions. There is some infrastructure degradation since '98. And we're looking hard at the commitment that we gave in '98 to be able to operate this in a self-sustaining way.

I think the condition of the Agency and the funding issues from '98 to 2006, I think we're realizing some of the realities of that now. I think we would see some benefit from accepting the mineral estate.

What we would like to do is to evaluate this with ‑‑ the organization within the Agency in looking at this donation has been with Legal Section, Wildlife Division and the Land Conservation folks.

We would like to look at opportunities and alternatives for managing the property over the next months, and come back to you most likely in August with some recommendations, as we evaluate the needs of the property, look at some funding alternatives and see if we'll be able to operate this in the manner that we agreed to in 1998.

If there are questions about the property itself, I'll be happy to take those, and Clay and I will address those as we can.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Do you have any idea when it'll be open? Two, three years?

MR. COOK: That's part of the consideration. In other words we're looking at this tract and honestly going to try to make a decision, work all the numbers, talk to some of the cattle operators around that area. We're not going to put a bunch of money into this operation ‑‑ small operation that it is ‑‑ unless we can see an end, unless we can see a positive at least a zero cost balance.

We don't have the people. We don't have the resources. We're going to work through the summer here, get to know some of the people up there, really look it over, see what can be done.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: We don't have another WMA, Clay, real close that you can leverage off of. That seems to be one of the problems, because I know some of the other smaller WMAS we have essentially leverage your staff for public hunts and other things off of that larger WMA.

MR. BREWER: The nearest WMAS are Mason Mountain, so at a considerable distance.

MR. COOK: Mason Mountain, Kerr and Old Tunnel are kind of operated that way now. We've got central crews.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: How far away is it from San Angelo?

MR. BREWER: A couple of hours away.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Jack, what's happening from an oil and gas standpoint in the area? Anything of significance there? No development or drilling or prospect?

MR. BAUER: There is no development. You know, the Barnett Shale was to the north and little bit to the east, so it has not reached that point yet. No expectations there.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You have 100 percent.

MR. BAUER: We have 100 percent.

COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But it's not under oil and gas lease or anything?

MR. BAUER: No, sir, it's not.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Are you on a public road there?

MR. BAUER: Yes. It has excellent access from a county road. If you'll notice up on the little schematic, 183 and FM 1467 gets you to the property. And the resource values of the property are pretty good.

I think what we've seen is some degradation of the infrastructure. I think what we're thinking about what it would take in 1998 versus now is some fence deterioration, water wells and roads. I think we've all got to look at it.

MR. COOK: We're just going to take our time.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Real briefly, Bob, tell the Commissioners how we normally fund the WMA. I know they're all different. Some of them come with an endowment; some don't. How do we fund the opening infrastructure and then operation?

MR. COOK: Well, the basic funding of course is in some manner, some form, through Fund 9. Typically on a WMA we would have a deferred rotation grazing plan and grazing lease. We'd put that out for bid. That's one of the possibilities here.

I know some of the folks in that immediate area. If we can find one of those ranchers up there who wants to include this in his operation and him do all the work on the fence and the water wells and that kind of stuff, and where it doesn't cost us, and maybe we can provide some public hunting, fine, we'll look at it.

But the funding stream is going to have to come out of either public hunt dollars or Fund 9 dollars ‑‑ existing sources. So we're going to take a good, hard look at this. We may make a visit to the trust folks up in Dallas on this one, too, and see if they've got any possibilities of helping us a little bit.

We'd love to do it, but we just don't want to commit to it any further at this time until we can do some work.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, the grass lease isn't going to do $215,000 between [indiscernible] an acre now. That's not going to do anything. Is that 1,900 and some odd acres? It's relatively small for a WMA.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: You say Brown County.

MR. BAUER: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: What's the closest state park to it?

MR. COOK: Lake Brownwood State Park is about 20 miles ‑‑ about 15 to 20 miles.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Couldn't we add it to that?

MR. COOK: Not by the deed.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: It was deeded for a WMA.

MR. COOK: The deed specifically says WMA.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: The grantor is dead.

MR. COOK: We'll look at it very closely, and we'll be back to you.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thanks, gentlemen. And I want to congratulate you, Clay, on your new position. I'll tell you what ‑‑ you're the best man for the job, and you're going to do a great job. I've never seen anybody get more respect from the landowners and the conservationists and the biologists that you work with. You do a great job.

MR. BREWER: Appreciate it.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Next up, item four, easement request, Jefferson County. J.D. Murphree WMA. I think I recognize this one.

MS. BRIGHT: Good morning. I'm Ann Bright, general counsel. I'm going to be talking about an easement request on the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. This is about a 24,000-acre WMA in Jefferson County.

It's in the prairie marsh zone, as you can see along the upper Texas coast. It's a very diverse area. They've got a variety of wetland communities there. We've got freshwater, intermediate brackish into small saline wetlands in this area.

Golden Pass LNG is an affiliate of ExxonMobil. And Sempra LNG are both planning to build regasification facilities or LNG plants along the Texas coast. Just FYI, tomorrow Dr. Larry McKinney is going to be doing a presentation on how Parks and Wildlife is impacted by these LNG plants.

Earlier this year Entergy Gulf States, Inc. filed an application with the Public Utility Commission for a certificate of convenience and necessity to supply electric power to the Golden Pass facility. ExxonMobil already has its permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Sempra's permit is pending. Once the Sempra permit is approved, Entergy would also be supplying power to the Sempra plant. TPWD staff participated in the PUC proceeding in an effort to try to address some of the impacts that these transmission lines would have on wildlife.

We came to an agreement. One aspect of that agreement is that there would need to be a small easement across the Murphree WMA. Here's sort of a schematic of this area. You can see on the right is Sabine Lake.

The yellow line is the proposed transmission line. You can see there are a couple of places where there are two routes. The one to the left is probably going to be the route. There's only about 1,400 feet of this route will go through the Murphree WMA.

One of the things that Entergy, ExxonMobil and Sempra agree to is that all of the remaining features of this transmission line are going to apply to the extent of the line, not just the part that goes across the WMA.

As a result we're hoping that we'll have fewer bird strikes, especially given the funds that have gone into the development of the Murphree. These include: they were initially going to be much higher. They're going to be 85 feet high, 600 feet apart, H-frame design.

They're going to mark the lines. They're going to be reflective. There's also going to be some tree-planting and landscaping to try to again make the lines a little bit less of a hazard for migrating birds, primarily waterfowl.

Other terms. Entergy and Sempra have agreed to fund 50 percent of the cost of Keith Lake Fish Pass improvements. This is actually not going to come to the Department. But this is something that Wildlife Management Area staff really do believe will improve the habitat at the J.D. Murphree.

Also they've agreed to do a five-year monitoring study of bird collisions and mortality. They'll spend up to $150,000 on that. And that's going to be very important, because while we have some data on this, more information would be very useful.

This is the motion that we will be presenting to you tomorrow. It's slightly different than the one in your handout. But again it's just to approve the small right-of-way easement. And actually it's to approve a recommendation to the Board for lease for a right-of-way easement.

If you have any questions about the specifics of the J.D. Murphree and the impact on that Wildlife Management Area, Jim Sutherlin who is the manager of that area is in the audience. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.

MR. COOK: Jim, stand up so these folks can see you.

Jim has run the Murphree WMA down there for many years, done us a great job, works with industry continually in that area. There's obviously a very intense operation all around us and requires us to be good partners and to work at the same time to protect fish and wildlife resources.

This work on Fish Pass that Ann mentioned ‑‑ if we can get that done, that will really lessen the impact of the saltwater coming from the waterway there into the marsh. That's very important to us. And Jim has been a very important part of that.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Jim, do you want to come on up here, because I want to ask a couple of questions about the details of this. I was involved in this. It wasn't going as well as it turned out might be a way to describe that.

MS. BRIGHT: That's true. And we really appreciate the Chairman's involvement in this. Bob Sweeney from the legal staff represented us at the PUC. And this was a brand new thing for us. And he really was a quick study on it.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You all did a great job of representing us. It was an important deal, because this won't be the last one. LNG is going to be part of what we're doing, and it's going to be on the coast where we have a big presence.

And everybody did a great job of finding the solution, that although it was not maybe our first choice, focuses on habitat and making some improvements there.

Could you tell us a little bit about the importance of the Fish Pass issue, because that was sort of a breakthrough.

MR. SUTHERLIN: My name is Jim Sutherlin. I am manager of the Murphree WMA. Keith Lake Fish Pass is an artificial channel that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Soil Conservation Service built with grant money in 1977 to connect the Sabine Pass Ship Channel to the Keith Lake system and the salt bayou watershed specifically to improve recreational fishing and marine access to Sea Rim State Park.

Sea Rim State Park and J.D. Murphree WMA are adjacent properties in Jefferson County. And subsequently we have documented significant impacts to those former fresh, intermediate marshes from the introduction of Gulf waters directly into those marshes and increased tidal activity.

We have increased energy and increased salinities on a regular basis. We've lost some of our marsh diversity. And we have a marsh loss trend that is very reflective of what's going on in Louisiana with coastal wetland loss.

The results are the same. The causes are the same. We hope to reverse that trend by addressing the cross-sectional flows of the Fish Pass and no intent of damming the Fish Pass, but readdressing the flows through a modeling effort to get this connection correct, so that we can have a marsh, reverse the loss trends, have the fishery, have a waterfowl habitat that's so important to us here on that part of the coast.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And the money that's provided as part of the settlement, that will also improve waterfowl production on that?

MR. SUTHERLIN: That's the intent.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And that was what was unique about this settlement, because it was all about at first ‑‑ what it usually is about dollars and how much it cost to lower a line or bury a line or whatever.

And our team focused on what they could do to help us with our objective of improving the habitat. All we've got to do is find the other 50 percent. But you're 50 percent closer than you were.

MR. SUTHERLIN: We are enrolled in the 1135(b) Program with the Corps of Engineers for this project. Jefferson County is the local sponsor for the project. We have an issue in Iraq that needs to be settled so that the Corps can get their funding back.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. But you feel confident you can get that other 50 percent in time to get that done.

MR. SUTHERLIN: We have a $244,000 commitment from the General Land Office ‑‑ the county does. And the county also has $295,000 of our money, Prop 8 money for the project. We're very close.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Good.

MR. COOK: We have a couple of good friends down there, too.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How far along are Golden Pass and Sempra in their permitting process? Not with us, but with ‑‑

MS. BRIGHT: Golden Pass has its federal permit. Sempra does not, and it's got an application. I don't know how long ‑‑ I don't know if you've heard anything recently. But they're still going through that process.

MR. SUTHERLIN: In talking to with some of our regulatory people in Coastal Fisheries, they feel like the permit for Sempra is probably 18 months out ‑‑ at best a year. Those permits take ‑‑

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Then what is ‑‑ as far as getting these plants operational, what's their time frame?

MR. SUTHERLIN: ExxonMobil people are working very closely with us in development of their pipeline corridor associated with the LNG facility on Sabine-Neches waterway. They do not want to build the pipeline until they're very close to being operational with that gasification facility for the simple reason of profitability.

They don't want to put their money into their pipeline before they're moving product. So, the schedule for the pipeline construction is late 2007. And they told us that it will take them six months to a year to construct and complete the pipeline.

When the pipeline's finished, they should be in business. They're working onsite now getting ready to dredge material. We're going to benefit from some of that dredging, and some of the mitigation work will be done on the Murphree area.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: These are both onshore plants?

MR. SUTHERLIN: These are both onshore plants. And they will both be adjacent to the Murphree, very near proximity.

MS. BRIGHT: Actually if you want to see where they're going to be.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: See that line goes right along the edge.

MS. BRIGHT: The red line is ExxonMobil. And the purple one which you can kind of barely see is going to be Sempra.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Tell them the number of waterfowl surveyed on that body of water, you told me.

MR. SUTHERLIN: Lost Lake, which is the nearly round lake just to the west of that odd color the is the Sempra regasification. I guess we counted 37,000 ducks on it in January. It's 267 acres of lake.

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: When you gave me that number it made a difference to some of the folks that were calling and they said, How bad could it be. And I said, 37,000 ducks on 267 acres. That's a lot of ducks.

An interesting aside here, one of the things that our people and the LNG people came up with ‑‑ it's really a unique solution ‑‑ was to use the berm and some fast-growing native trees to shield the sight line of that.

So when the ducks take off, they see those trees and adjust their height. And when you make that adjustment it's a heck of a lot cheaper than moving line, which costs tens of millions of dollars. So it was a pretty creative solution.

Any other questions regarding that easement request, J.D. Murphree.

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Hearing none, I'll place the item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action. And now we'll recess for Executive Session.

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 for purposes of seeking legal advice from the general counsel under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act for the purpose of deliberation regarding prospective gift or donation to the Department under Section 551.073 of the same Act.

(Whereupon, a short recess was taken.)

COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Reconvene the Conservation Committee, and we have a quorum. Any other issues to come before the Conservation? We'll adjourn Conservation at 1:15 and begin Outreach and Education.

(Whereupon, at 1:15 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Conservation Committee

LOCATION: Austin, Texas

DATE: May 24, 2006

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 22, 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.

6/02/2006

(Transcriber) (Date)


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