Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Dec. 20, 2010Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 20th day of December 2010, 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:
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas (Absent)
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., Beeville, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
- S. Reed Morian, Houston, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Carter P. Smith, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
|Name/Organization, Address||Item Number||Matter of Interest|
|1||Paula Phillips, 1101-D Thorpe Lane, Box 410, San Marcos, TX 78666||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|2||Dougal A. Cameron, Devils River Association, P.O. Box 40, Chappell Hill, TX 77426||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|3||Carl Teaff, Landowner, Lower West, 211 E. Mulberry, Sonora, TX 76950||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||Neutral|
|4||David Honeycutt, Devils River Conservancy, 401 Congress, Suite 1600, Austin, TX 78701||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|5||Norman Farmer, Jarrett Juno Ranch, Hwy 163, Comstock, TX||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||Neutral|
|6||Scott Parker, Trust for Public Land, 816 Congress, Suite 1680, Austin, TX||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|7||Trey Carrington, 8000 Spandera Cove, Austin, TX 78759||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch|
|8||Arron Wertheim, Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA), 6309 Eastwind, San Antonio, TX 78249||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|9||Marc W. McCord, Dallas Downriver Club, 7660 La Bolsa Drive, Dallas, TX 75248||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|10||Thomas Taylor, 8013 Raintree Drive, McKinney, TX 75071||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|11||Michael Luigs, 8700 Manchaca #506, Austin, TX 78703||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|12||T. J. Jarrett, Jarrett Ranch (River), 1209 Griner, Del Rio, TX 78840||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|13||Ken Kramer, Sierra Club, P.O. Box 1931, Austin, TX 78767||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
|14||James McBee (Did not speak), Gurley McBee Ranch, 2210 Deerfield Wood, San Antonio, TX k 78248||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||Neutral|
|15||George Bristol, Texas Coalition for Conservation, 8812 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759||4 — Action — Land Acquisition — Val Verde County — Devils River Ranch||For|
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Glad to see everybody on this ‑‑ I guess what do we call this, a Special Commission Meeting or something? I don’t know. Specially called for a special reason. And exciting to be here this morning. I appreciate all the Commissioners being able to come. I think we only have one that’s not going to be able to make it, and so I appreciate everybody coming, and at a fairly short notice.
This meeting is called to order December 20th at ‑‑ well, it’s just ‑‑ I thought I was later than I was – anyway, about 9:05 a.m. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I’d like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting.
I also want to join Chairman Holt and the Commission in welcoming all of you today for the Special Commission Meeting. And just a couple of little housekeeping rules, if I could. Because of the nature of the discussions and deliberations, if you all wouldn’t mine just putting your cell phone or Blackberry on silent or vibrate. I appreciate everybody reaching for their pockets now on that front.
Also, there are going to be two items in which the Commission is going to be hearing public testimony on, and so if you wish to speak on those items, if you would be so kind as to sign up outside. At the appropriate time, Chairman Holt will call you forward. You’ll have three minutes to address the Commission. If you’ll state your name and who you represent and your position on the item, we’ll have a pretty simple lighting system that you can follow. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, green means go, yellow means start to wind it up, and red means stop. So pretty easy.
And again, we appreciate all of you joining us on the 20th of December. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Smith.
Okay. What we’re going to do is hear a presentation on Action Item Number 3, which we’ll be going into right now, regarding a land acquisition around a fish hatchery in Henderson County, take public comment, and then take action on that. Then we will recess to an Executive Session to discuss Item Number 4, which is land acquisition in Val Verde County, the Devils River Ranch. We’ll then reconvene the public session, hear the presentation, and of course take public comment and then take action. And we feel that’s kind of the way we can move this along the quickest.
So with that, Corky, you coming up on Number 3, or they’re calling it Item Number 3. Am I missing anything?
MR. KUHLMANN: Yes ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Where am I ‑‑
MR. SMITH: To approve the agenda ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I’m sorry?
MR. SMITH: We just need you to approve the agenda for the meeting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, okay. I didn’t ‑‑
MR. SMITH: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ see that in there. Did I miss that? Anyway, I guess we need to approve the agenda.
MR. SMITH: We ‑‑ yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: [indiscernible] approve.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Commissioner Bivins, second Commissioner Hixon. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So we’ve approved the agenda.
MR. SMITH: We’re good.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And we have two ‑‑ I better make sure I’m right. We have two things ‑‑ two items on the agenda.
MR. SMITH: Yes, that’s right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Somehow they’re three and four. Am I ‑‑
MR. SMITH: Well, we ‑‑
MALE VOICE: You’re really confusing us ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You really got me ‑‑
MALE VOICE: ‑‑ as possible for this Special Commission Meeting.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ confused now. I thought I’d looked at this before, but you can tell obviously I was somewhere else this weekend.
So anyway, Corky, you’re handling ‑‑ is this Agenda Item Number 3?
MR. KUHLMANN: I hope so.
MR. KUHLMANN: This is the Henderson County, Athens Fish Hatchery item. The hatchery is located at Athens, Texas, approximately 70 miles from Dallas. The hatchery serves ‑‑ has a lot of functions. Although it is a production hatchery, it is an education center also providing some of the things you see listed here, the educational programming, the aquariums, exhibits, interpretive wetlands, museum, and Hall of Fame, and hosts the ShareLunker Program.
This is for an acquisition of approximately 14 acres north of the hatchery that is needed to build a small lake that will provide a water source for the hatchery that is all gravity flow, so we don’t have to depend on electricity if something happens to the pumps or electricity for long term. This 14 acres, we will build a lake on and have a reserve water supply for the hatchery. You can see the tract, the acquisition tract, there in red.
Now this is also the second reading of this item. We saw it two meetings back, the August meeting, I believe, and staff recommends the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion:
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorizes the Executive Director to take all necessary steps to acquire a 14-acre tract of land as an addition to the Texas Freshwater Fishery Center.
I will take any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions from the Commission? Gene, any public comments ‑‑
MR. McCARTY: No public comments, no, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ or questions anybody has? Okay. We have no questions.
Do we have a motion then on this item?
COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So move.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Commissioner Morian, a second from Commissioner Friedkin. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: None hearing ‑‑ hearing none ‑‑
MR. KUHLMANN: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ the motion carries. Thanks, Corky.
We will now, if I’m reading this right ‑‑ therefore, I’d like to ‑‑ we’re going to Item Number 4, land acquisition in Val Verde County, Devils River Ranch. 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, seeking legal advice from general counsel under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, and deliberation regarding a prospective gift as a donation to the department under Section 551.073 of the Open Meetings Act.
We will now recess for Executive Session. Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 9:10 a.m., the open meeting was adjourned, and the Commission reconvened in Executive Session.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think we’ve got everybody. It looks like ‑‑ yes. At this time we will reconvene the regular session of the Commission meeting. Item Number 4 is an action item, land acquisition, Val Verde County, Devils River Ranch. Mr. Scott Boruff, please, make your presentation.
MR. BORUFF: Commissioners, my name is Scott Boruff, Deputy Executive Director for Operations, and I’m here today to talk to you about the Devils River Ranch acquisition. Before I start on the PowerPoint, I would just like to reiterate and remind you and the audience that we came to you in November with a proposal to swap the Devils River State Natural Area for the Devils River Ranch and $8 million in cash. The Commission at that point, in the wake of the public feedback, which I will describe in a minute, asked us to go back and look at several issues related to the Devils River.
And I can synopsize those in four categories. The first was for us to go back and take a comprehensive look at that river and our stewardship of it and to come back to this Commission with a proposal about how we were going to take care of this river and its surrounds out into the future. The second was for us to try to figure out a way to do that without divesting ourselves of the State Natural Area as it exists today.
You also asked us to be sure that we cast a broad net and include our constituents in the public in that process, and to that end we have put together and are about to launch a Devils River Recreational Working Group which will include landowners, paddlers, anglers, and our staff to look at the use of that river and how to increase responsibly its access to the public, and at the same time take care of the river. And then last, but not least, of course, to look at increased law enforcement along that river to ensure that the rules are abided by.
You also asked us to try to take a look at ways we could implement a new acquisition there without increasing the financial burden, at least for the next two or three years, on our existing State Park System. So those were the four or five main elements that you asked us to take a look at.
And that was in the wake of public comment that had run heavily against the swap of the State Natural Area for the Devils River Ranch. That public comment that was about 90 percent negative and it was several hundred written comments ‑‑ the largest majority of those negative comments had to do with removing the State Natural Area from the Parks and Wildlife inventory.
So really the bulk of the comments were that there was a concern that the removal of the State Natural Area would limit river access for the paddling community because that State Natural Area is one ‑‑ if not the only ‑‑ available, camping spot for folks paddling the upper stretch of the river. We also had significant concern from the environmental and conservation community about just the idea of getting rid of state natural areas, which are very important natural and cultural features that many felt needed to stay in the public domain and not be moved into the private domain.
The second largest group of concerns that were written in the first round were the shortness of the process. So we had a lot of folks that commented that they hadn’t had time to digest the proposal, to do due diligence and analysis of it and get back to the Commission with more in-depth comments so we brought those concerns to you also. The third category of negative comments, or comments opposed to the swap, had to do with folks’ concern about increased public access to the river and the negative impact that might have on the river.
And then last, but not least, the concern ‑‑ the last category of concern for how we were going to manage this financially as we move out into the future, and I talked a little bit about your direction to us to look at that as we went back to repackage this proposal.
So that’s the context in which I’m here today to visit with you about the new Devils River Ranch acquisition proposal. You see it on your screen here. I’m going to pause for a moment occasionally on some of these pictures for the benefit of those members of the public that may be out in the audience and have not had the benefit of being out here. Pictures do speak a thousand words.
I’ll remind the Commission and the public that this Devils River Ranch has 10 miles of Devils River frontage, that there is a strict conservation easement on this piece of property which prohibits subdivision and major development. There are really fairly new well-constructed modern structures out there that will give us a lot of options as we move forward since we will not be building significant new large structures out there under the new ‑‑ under the old conservation easement. Access to this property is very good, particularly as it’s compared to the State Natural Area; the roads to get there and the internal roads have been well maintained.
There are significant cultural and natural resources there. The current owner has done a very good job of taking care of the natural resources there, has removed over half a million dollar ‑‑ half a million ‑‑ sorry, half a million invasive junipers from that property in the last eight years, as one example of many of the examples of natural resource management that that owner has committed to.
The staff believes this will provide some incredible primitive camping opportunities. The landscape, in addition to the river, is quite spectacular. It is characterized by lots of topography and lots of opportunities to have a wilderness camping opportunity, and indeed it is adjacent to the Amistad National Recreation Area, and we see this as just increasing and enhancing the recreational opportunities along the Devils River.
This proposed acquisition is almost 18,000 acres in Val Verde County. You can see on the map where that is. Here’s a little bit more detailed map. The green polygon is the existing Devils River State Natural Area; the yellow polygon is the Devils River Ranch proposed acquisition. There’s about ‑‑ almost 14 miles of river that runs between those two pieces of property.
So the new property ‑‑ we had several goals per your direction. The first was to acquire this ranch outright without swapping the State Natural Area, and we think we have a proposal that meets that criteria. We believe that this property would be best managed as a unit of the Devils River State Natural Area. We have not decided what we would propose its name would be, but we do think managing it as a complex makes a lot of sense out there, two units connected by the Devils River. And we do think that it’s very important that we go through a comprehensive and inclusive master planning process before we open this to the public that will probably take in the range of two and a half years. So those are the major proponents of the proposal we bring to you today.
This map is a little more detailed map that shows you the only public access to the river up at the Baker’s Crossing towards the upper end of this map. I’m not going to dwell on the map a lot, but it shows you some of the properties as we move along down the river, including the property owned by the Nature Conservancy adjacent to, or across the river from at least, the existing State Natural Area. And just to remind you, the Nature Conservancy currently manages the conservation easements on both the State Natural Area and the Devils River Ranch and will continue to manage those regardless of what this Commission decides today.
We decided to go ahead and put a definition of state natural area in here as we did public meetings around the state. Oftentimes we are asked what’s the difference in a state park and a state natural area. Most folks are pretty familiar with what a state park does, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to put this language out of our Code up here for you and for the public to see. It essentially defines a state natural area as those who are primarily created to protect the stewardship and steward the natural and cultural resources of a piece of property and that also allow appropriate responsible public use that isn’t detrimental or harmful to that particular property. So it’s a matter of focus, to answer the folks that have asked that question.
This is another one of the pictures more ‑‑ from down at ground level of the river. This river has some incredible biodiversity. It is the convergence of three ecoregions ‑‑ the Tamaulipan Brushland, Edwards Plateau, and Chihuahuan Desert. There are rare flora and fauna there that this agency has worked with for many years. We see a very real opportunity to increase the research along the river as a result of this potential acquisition.
There are also incredible archeological resources on this piece of property, as there are all up and down the Devils River. There are world-class rock art sites, and once again, we will be involved should the Commission approve this project in moving forward with trying to identify the extent and the nature of those cultural resources. This is just a small example of some of the rock art that is seen on the property. (Indicating.)
We clearly think that if the Commission approves this acquisition, we will be able to increase a responsible and appropriate access to the river. We are totally committed, absolutely and totally committed, to preserving the wild and pristine nature of this river experience. We do think it will add significant opportunities for families to participate in this wonderful natural resource. The existing State Natural Area is much more difficult to get to and access. We believe that probably one of the outfalls of our master planning and public use plan would be an increased opportunity for families and youth to be able to come out and responsibly enjoy this property and to learn about natural resources and their preservation and conservation.
We were asked at the public meetings, is this a replicative process? Are we going to be doing the same things here that people already get to do on the Amistad Lake? And the answer, in our opinion, is, no, it’s going to be an additive process. We think the public will be able to enjoy different kinds of aquatic experiences here, canoeing and kayaking being a primary example that isn’t practiced much on lakes in and round Texas, particular this lake ‑‑ a lot of wind effect. The types of fishing tend to be quite different on this river than they are out in the open lake. And for those of you that haven’t been there, we’d really encourage you to come out because there is incredible opportunity to have back-country camping and other kinds of recreational experiences: horseback riding, hiking, camping, and those kinds of things that will very much make you feel like you’re in a wilderness setting.
As I mentioned before, the infrastructure that is already in place will be very conducive to us doing outreach and education, vis-a-vis our mission. This happens to be a shot from one of the taller cliffs, or features along the river, that allows you to see down into the river. You can actually, from several hundred feet up on this ledge, count the fish in the river; that’s how clear the water is there. We are totally committed as an agency to protecting the water quality there. This is the body of water that is used by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to measure water quality in other water bodies around the state, so it is the standard, and we intend to keep it that way.
But you asked us to go back and look at ways to acquire this property without the trade, and I will say, in less than two months ‑‑ six or seven weeks ‑‑ under the leadership of Commissioner Hughes and Mr. Smith, we have raised an additional $8.1 million in less than two months. You might recall we already had a $2 million commitment from a private donor under the old proposal. Under the new proposal Commissioner Hughes and Mr. Smith have been able to lead the effort to raise $8.1 additional dollars for a total of $10.1 million in private donations and pledges to this project, which will allow us then to, not only have the funds to purchase the property should you decide that’s what you want us to do, but to also fund operations for at least two and a half years without taking money from the State Park System or draining money off of other sites. I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute.
You can see here that the purchase ‑‑ the appraisal for this property was $15.875 million. In addition to those individuals that have ponied up their $10.1 million, the current owner has agreed to a discount sale of $13 million of this piece of property, so the property’s valued at $15.875, the sales price is $13 million. There’s $2.7 million in state acquisition funds, $1.3 in federal land and water funds, and the remaining $9 million will come from the $10.1 million in private donations and pledges that I described earlier.
All of these dollars are restricted for acquisition and development. There again, development’s a relative term here because of the conservation easement. They cannot be used, with the exception of the private money ‑‑ the public money, the $2.7 and the $1.3 million, cannot be used for anything other than acquisition. The $10.1 million that has been donated to the project are in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and they are dedicated exclusively for the use in this project for acquisition and ongoing supportive operations.
I did want to point out because we had this question asked by the public many times, were we overpaying, or what was the reasonable contribution of the infrastructure on the Devils River Ranch to the appraisal? The contributory factor was about $1.2 million for the infrastructure. We believe ‑‑ we’ve had our folks look at this; we believe we could not replace this infrastructure for anywhere near $1.2 million, so we think we’re getting an additional deal out of this in getting facilities that really exceed our norm.
Additionally, the owner has agreed to donate all the furnishings and rolling stock at the ranch, which really essentially means this is a turnkey deal that will not require the State Parks Division to outfit this property. So all the furniture, the appliances, the road graders, the blinds, and those kinds of things are being donated in addition to the $3 million discount ‑‑ or $2.8 million discount sale. And as I’ve mentioned a couple of times ‑‑ very importantly, the additional private funds over and above the $9 million, which at this point are $1.1 million, will go to offset operations for at least the first two and a half years of operations.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Scott, I’m not meaning to interrupt you, but up above you kind of said cannot be used for operations, repairs or maintenance, and then you just said that $1.1 would be for operations. It’s really for the master planning. Can you ‑‑ why don’t you explain ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ that a little bit so people ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: And I should have ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ don’t get confused.
MR. BORUFF: I left that a little unclear.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. BORUFF: What I wanted to say is that the $2.7 in state dollars and the $1.3 million in federal dollars are specifically for acquisition. The $10.1 million that have been raised due to this recent fund-raising effort are dedicated to the project and can be used for acquisition and master planning and for some small operational issues. We still have to pay the electric bill out there, for example, and those kinds of things.
And so ‑‑ we are not going to open this property to the public for two and a half years, and so there will not be a lot of operational expenses, but there may be some minor operational expenses. We’re going to, for example, have to do a little maintenance in the meantime. We don’t want that property to deteriorate; we’re going to have to go out there and replace some screens occasionally and those kinds of things. So that’s what that money is for.
Any other questions there?
MR. BORUFF: I did want to throw in a couple of non-river pictures. I mean, the Devils River is the defining icon for this particular piece of property, but it is a beautiful piece of property in its totality. There is wonderful coverage out there from a habitat perspective, a lot of wildlife. And, if you approve, this is what we would do next. If the Commission decides to approve this acquisition, we would do two things. First of all, as I said, we would consider this to be a complex. We would move out immediately and start the master planning process for the complex and how we’re going to use it. We would start with some baseline inventories that clearly tell us what’s out there in terms of the natural and cultural resources. We have a little bit of knowledge about that but we have not done a comprehensive baseline study.
We would begin a comprehensive and inclusive public use planning process where we would bring in our friends and constituents and the users of the river to help us talk through and think through how we want to put together the public use plan for that property ‑‑ when folks should come, how they should be supervised, and how we should place them across the landscape in order to ensure its protection.
We would create a development plan. And remember, once again, under the auspices of the conservation easement, the development plan would be limited to minor ‑‑ relatively minor development issues such as camp sites and roads and those kinds of things. We would be looking at future staffing needs and those things under that development plan.
We would be putting together a comprehensive interpretative plan. This area is not only a beautiful natural and cultural resource, it really is the epicenter of the mohair industry in Texas out there and it has a pretty incredible history relative to that industry. We will be trying to help interpret that industry in the context of these pieces of property.
So in summary, number one, I just wanted to let you know, the staff, not only on this project but every project, is very diligent about making sure that what we bring to you fits and comports with the Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan, and we believe this does. It will remain in a conservation easement in perpetuity, which protects it. We will go through a comprehensive inclusive master planning process to make sure that when we do open this thing up in two and a half or three years, that it’s well thought through and that we do not allow this to negatively impact those resources.
We are ready to name the working group that’s going to help us think through the river-based issues, and that will include landowners from along the Devils River. We’ll include the paddling community and the angling community as well as our staff. We have those recommendations ready for the Chairman to approve as soon as he so desires, and we would hope to begin that process in late January with the first meeting. We would probably have four or five meetings over the next year in which that users group gives us feedback that would then dovetail with the master planning process for the entirety of the complex.
We have currently, thanks to Colonel Flores and his staff, put in place an increased law enforcement plan that will put more law enforcement officers on the ground and water on the Devils River and its surrounds immediately.
I will re-emphasize that this is a ‑‑ in our opinion, the staff’s opinion, a wonderful example of a successful public-private venture that has raised $10.1 million in private money to match against $4 million in public money to make this possible.
I would also be very remiss if I didn’t point out that there have been a lot of people that have spent a lot of time making this successful that are behind the scenes, many of them in this room. We have Division Directors, like Pete Flores and Lydia Saldaña, that have worked hard to make different components of this project come together; Brent Leisure in State Parks, as the new State Parks Director, and his predecessor, Walt Dabney; Ted Hollingsworth, our Director of Land Conservation, has spent many, many, many hours helping us get this project put together, and believe me there were lots of little kinks along the way that Ted and Jeannie Muñoz out of the Project Management Office helped us get resolved. I’m sure I’m forgetting many. I just wanted to be sure that the Commission understood this has been a complex and comprehensive process for the staff, but also one that we’re very proud to bring to the Commission.
With that, I would take questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Scott. Appreciate your presentation, and we do have public comments and questions. But first from the Commission, any questions or comments at this time?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Scott, what is the estimated value of the personal property that the prospective seller has agreed to include at no additional cost?
MR. BORUFF: We don’t have that figure yet, Commissioner. What we’ve done is we’ve gone out and taken a comprehensive inventory, and we’ve asked a group that does these kinds of things professionally to go out and look at those. And we have the inventory in hand; we will be doing that appraisal in the next month or so.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What kinds of items though are in the personal property?
MR. BORUFF: Couches, chairs, tables, refrigerators ‑‑ it’s all the furnishings in these facilities that are there right now, by and large. The owner’s going to take his mounts and some things like that, but really when he ‑‑ if you approve this acquisition, it’s going to be turnkey; we’ll be able to walk in. There’s beds, linens ‑‑
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What about equipment?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, the equipment that’s there, things like road graders and water trucks and ranch pickup trucks, those kinds of things will be there.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So it’s not insubstantial?
MR. BORUFF: No, sir. I suspect it’s going to be several hundred thousands of dollars.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. My next question is, will the public use plan address protection of the historical and cultural sites?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir, absolutely. That is one of our prime focuses.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And then my last question is, will the Devils River Working Group serve in an advisory capacity. Is that right?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir. That’s correct. They will advise the staff and then ultimately we will be passing that on to the leadership here about their recommendations.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any other questions or comments from the Commission at this time?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Scott, thank you. And we do have public questions and comments. And the way I’ll do it is I’ll call out the first individual; then I’ll call the second name so that you can be ready to come up.
And you might ‑‑ do you want to go ahead and explain again about the timing and how it works with the light and all that just in case ‑‑
MR. SMITH: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Mr. Smith?
MR. SMITH: Actually, Mr. Chairman ‑‑ just as a reminder, when you’re called up, if you’ll ‑‑ you’ll come forward to the mike; please state your name and who you represent. You’ll have three minutes to address the Commission. The green light will signify go, the yellow means that you’ve got 30 seconds to wind this up, and red means stop, if you could. So that’ll be the protocol.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Smith. I like that if you could. Sometimes I have a hard time with that too. First person up, and I may mispronounce names ‑‑ I apologize if I do ‑‑ Paula Phillips. And on standby, Douglas Cameron.
MS. PHILLIPS: Go ahead?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, ma’am.
MS. PHILLIPS: My name is Paula Phillips, and I lived and worked at Devils River State Natural Area for 12 years. I have a basic understanding how the Department uses its funds and budgets. The idea of a complex can work, but it’s imperative that both of the parks be adequately staffed. Devils River has one mile of river frontage with only two employees to patrol the 19,000 acres and the river, and that’s never been enough. Many times we never knew that someone had come down the river until the next day when we found their fires and their trash and their toilet paper. Devils River Ranch has 10 miles of river frontage, and what scenarios does that present? And it’s really crucial that people feel safe at both parks.
The existing State Natural Area has so much more to offer than people realize, but the funding has never been there to implement the changes to enhance the outdoor experience. I hope that the money will be there now to improve the natural area, and that it is ‑‑ that they’re not funneled off to Devils River Ranch when crunch time comes.
Access to Devils River State Natural Area has always been an adventure, but places that are hard to get to are usually worth the trouble. There are many folks who see the difficulties getting to the park as a challenge and not a hindrance. The Department can offset that by thinking and planning differently than in the past. Moderate changes can attract more hikers, backpackers, photographers, artists, star gazers, birders, and others who will be more inclined to help protect the resources. The biggest benefit, I believe, is being able to go to places like the State Natural Area and Devils River Ranch to find quiet and a place of solitude.
And I hope that the Department will really consider going green as much as possible with both areas. The complex could be a model for other parks around the country to follow and this is a rare opportunity to demonstrate that Parks and Wildlife can be at the forefront of bold innovative planning. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Ms. Phillips. And this has been an eye-opener relative to the State Natural Area also and, of course, Scott talked about Colonel Flores already kind of upping some of the law enforcement needs out there and that kind of thing, and that’s why we believe that the right way ‑‑ but again, we’re going to ask the advisory group that we put together to help us understand. But it makes sense to try to operate these together and then figure out how to tie it all together. But we’ve got a ways to go on that.
But thank you very much for your comments.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Question, sure.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ms. Phillips, may I suggest that you submit whatever your proposed changes are ‑‑ or the changes that you believe are appropriate, to the working group for their consideration.
MS. PHILLIPS: Yes, sir. I’ve been in contact with David Riskind and he has asked me for my recommendations for improvements to Devils State ‑‑ the natural area, and so I will be doing that, yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Ms. Phillips.
Any other questions from the Commissioners?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you very much.
Douglas Cameron up, and Carl Teaff next.
MR. CAMERON: My name’s Dougal Cameron, and I’m the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Dougal. Sorry. I apologize.
MR. CAMERON: ‑‑ president of the ‑‑ that’s all right ‑‑ Devils River Association. I’m also, with our family, a landowner up near Baker’s Crossing, and I’m here to ‑‑ I guess I should say first we are grateful and thankful that the Texas Parks and Wildlife collaborated with us, communicated with us, and we appreciate that. And the main thing that we’re concerned about is the amount of trespassing that’s occurred on private property, and so we want to advocate, encourage, as intense an amount of enforcement as possible. We would love to cooperate, if it were possible, to have a permitting process on this river. I think we all like responsible paddlers, but we’ve seen a lot of irresponsible paddlers and a lot of trespassers. So we appreciate all that’s been said and we hope to be involved and continue to be helpful in your process ‑‑ and appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful. Thank you for your comments. And, again, any written feedback you want to give us or verbal, whatever ‑‑ please get it to us as we put this advisory group together.
Carl Taff, or Taft [phonetic].
MR. TEAFF: Carl Teaff’s my name.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And next up after that would be David Honeycutt.
MR. TEAFF: Thank you a lot for having us this morning. I appreciate the opportunity; I appreciate the jobs you all do. And Scott has done a very good job of keeping us informed of what’s going on between the state and us, me being a landowner down there ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. TEAFF: ‑‑ on the Devils River. He kind of pointed out to us that us landowners that’s been there for 50 years are kind of selfish about that river because we ‑‑ he did it tactfully. He didn’t come right out and call us bigots or anything ‑‑
MR. TEAFF: ‑‑ but he did it pretty tactfully. But he is ‑‑ and it’s a true fact. We don’t want anybody down there, because it’s a beautiful place and that’s the reason it’s still beautiful today. But I think he’s put together a program that us landowners can live with. I think he’s done an excellent job. You all ought to be proud of Scott, because I was adamantly against this from the beginning, but as time goes on, we kind of let things go and we learn from other things.
And I know this is a rare opportunity for you all to acquire a place like this on Devils River. And if you don’t do it, you’re crazy. It’s a beautiful place; it is gorgeous. My only concerns is that y’all take care of it. We do not want to have another Garner Park down there. And I think most of you know what that is. And that’s really ‑‑ I think you’re going to have to go into permitting and all this stuff that ‑‑ and it’s going to be a problem. It’s going to take a lot of staff, and I hope y’all donate or come up with the funds to get this going and keep it going.
And let’s see here ‑‑ what else do I have I wanted to talk about? I guess that’s it. I appreciate the opportunity of talking to y’all. Thank you.
MR. BORUFF: Thank you, Carl.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Certainly, that’s one reason for putting this advisory group together, secondly taking the time to do the master plan. So as we understand the feelings of the landowners around that area, and we obviously understand this is one of the true last wilderness areas ‑‑ and with the advisory group, certainly plan on doing it the right way.
David Honeycutt, and then ‑‑
MR. HONEYCUTT: I’m David Honeycutt ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ and then after that ‑‑ sorry. Norman Farmer up next. David?
MR. HONEYCUTT: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Carter, I’m David Honeycutt. I am a landowner on the Devils River. Carter asked me to say a few words this morning. You know, I kind of titled this, turning what I thought was a bad deal into a really good one. The Devils River Ranch was a good opportunity, but I felt like it wasn’t a good opportunity as it was currently constructed. It required a trade of the State Natural ‑‑ the Devils River Natural Area, and a state park concept was being contemplated on the Devils River Ranch.
The Devils River State Natural Area was being used as currency for the acquisition, and I thought that was a bad deal. You were trading away the most important spring resource along the river; you were trading away the second largest State Natural Area in Texas. I felt the conservation language was not strong enough to prevent harvesting of the groundwater resource potentially for water power; it’s in the future. You were trading away ingress and egress point for recreations upstream. And the Devils River State Natural Area had never been given the financial resources that were originally promised back in 1988 when it was acquired.
What was not being done, in addition, was the river was not being protected, access was being taken away, resources of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were being spread even thinner, and Texas Parks and Wildlife’s net acreage footprint was being lessened on the river. And the real question was why?
And, you know, I went and met with Carter, and I could tell that, you know, he had ‑‑ you know, he had a strong conviction of getting this deal done, and, you know, I had a strong conviction in terms of my opposition. And ‑‑ but once we calmed down and started talking about it, what it really boiled down to is about money. It wasn’t about who loved the river more. I couldn’t argue that I love the Devils River more than Carter, or he to me.
So I went away and thought to myself, I can either be a bear to trade here and be an obstacle or maybe figure out a way to try to help. So what it really came down to is, what would you do if you had enough money? And the answer was that you would try to keep the Devils River State Natural Area and make those original improvements on that property that were originally contemplated: have potable water, improve the roads, have more than seven camp sites on 20,000 acres of land ‑‑ and go ahead and acquire Devils River Ranch and not plan an overly intensive use to fund it, hire more park wardens to enforce protection of the river and rights of private property owners, control access on the river, protect archeological sites, develop a comprehensive plan for river management that considers all stakeholders, and protect the river for future generations.
Well, how do we get there? Well, the answer was a private sector initiative, a public-private joint venture in this historic land conservation opportunity we had. In other words, raise enough money to acquire Devils River Ranch for cash ‑‑ and I might add that Rod Sanders is the largest philanthropist in regards to this trade. I’m sure that his total contribution with his reduction in his price and all the equipment and accoutrements to the property are close to $4 million in value. Raise enough money to fund additional Parks and Wildlife staff, raise enough money to allow a patient plan to develop and ‑‑ for development and use of Devils River, and then, last, form a task force for all stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan for river management protection.
Well, that’s where we are today. And we have a lot of great people that have stepped forward to make this a reality. And we still have a lot more work to do. We need to figure out a solution with Baker’s Crossing, we need to do the real improvements on the Devils River State Natural Area, and we need to have a proper plan for the Devils River Ranch. And for all of us that are for this project, the most important thing we can do is help Texas Parks and Wildlife be successful because if we do this, this is a template for other opportunities that will come down the road and this will clearly have to be the way we accomplish some of the things we want to do to protect those special places in Texas. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, David, thank you for your comments. I also ‑‑ I just hope I don’t embarrass you, but, David not only went from being against this project, particularly the land swap and ‑‑ as many others did ‑‑ and of course he’s a landowner out there and a neighbor ‑‑ and not only turned around, but he is one of the contributors on the financial side. So I want to thank you for that, David, and that’s what’s making this possible so ‑‑ and contributed ‑‑ he and his family contributed a sizeable amount to make this possible. So as they say, in certain terms, he put his money where his mouth is once he came aboard. And of course we’ll want you involved with the task force and wherever else you want to be involved in helping us figure this out. And it’s also why we’re going to take the time and effort to get this right. And that’s why we’re talking about maybe not opening up for a couple of years as we master plan this and do this in the correct manner.
Norman Farmer ‑‑
MR. FARMER: Norman Farmer.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ and then next up after that, be prepared, Scott Parker.
MR. FARMER: My family is among the landowners on Devils River, and I can add not a great deal to what others have said about the demands of that terrain, the uniqueness of the territory, and the difficulty that it poses for people who might want to use it in a recreational way. My principal concern, I think has already been mentioned by several others, and that is the ‑‑ with the influx of more and more people, many of whom are not as experienced as they might think they are in that kind of rugged terrain, landowners are particularly concerned about the law enforcement.
As you know, we already have significant law enforcement and border enforcement opportunities out there. And chiefly my concern, and our concern at the upper end of this, is the access to the river at Baker’s Crossing. It’s a very narrow road; there’s a good bridge going across it, but getting into the river is a little dicey for many people. And there is traffic, more and more of it, and as traffic increases, those of us who live along the river and in the river basin are beset with problems that come along with increased traffic.
So I think one of the things that I would want to urge the Commission to think about is the necessity for funding of appropriate law enforcement. That ‑‑ I can’t stress how crucial that is because even as we are right now, we have traffic coming down 163 which goes right through us, the Jarrett Juno Ranch, and that traffic is sometimes pretty inquisitive. We have our locks ‑‑ all of our locks are zeroed out; our hunters are instructed to zero them out. Invariably we come back and find that the locks have been fiddled with; people have tried them. I don’t think any of them have gotten in, but it’s certainly not for trying.
So in closing, I’d like to emphasize the law enforcement as a significant component of this project. Thank you very much for your attention.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Farmer.
And next up Scott Parker, behind him Trey Carrington.
MR. PARKER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Mr. Smith. I’m Scott Parker with the Trust for Public Land, Texas, the Senior Program Director for the Trust for Public Land. We’re a national nonprofit land conservation organization. We work with federal, state, local public agencies, community groups, and land trusts, all towards the same purpose of conserving land for people. TPL has been in Texas since 1989. We’ve had the privilege of working with Parks and Wildlife many times in the past. Most recently we’ve worked with TPWD at Fortress Cliffs at Palo Duro Canyon.
The proposed acquisition of the Devils River Ranch and the process that is surrounding it may permit the public to responsibly, and I emphasize "responsibly" enjoy, appreciate, and relate to this remarkable property and its natural and cultural resources. This is, in effect, TPL’s mission of conserving land for people made tangible by Parks and Wildlife.
Based on the information that’s been provided to all of us to date, and the assurances that we’re received by Parks and Wildlife staff to appropriately manage and protect, and again, emphasize "manage and protect" the resources of the Devils River Ranch as described by Mr. Boruff this morning, the Trust for Public Land supports the proposed acquisition of the property and we stand ready to assist Parks and Wildlife in any way that we can, if so needed. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Scott.
Trey Carrington up next, and behind him Arron Wertheim. I think I’m saying that right.
MR. CARRINGTON: Good morning. My name’s Trey Carrington. I’m a camper. I represent myself and my girlfriend, Kay ‑‑ been kind of the minority here. Welcome. Thank you for having us here, Mr. Chairman ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. CARRINGTON: Commission, Mr. Smith. I’m very excited about this project, about the acquisition. I was very concerned that we may swap the Devils River State Natural Area for a new area, different water, and that comes from my experience camping there and spending time down at the river. And I really appreciate, after going through these meetings, and the work that you all have done, particularly the work that Scott has done, rolling up your sleeves and finding a doable, workable plan. I’m very grateful for that. I’m very passionate about the existing park and the springs there. As I understand it ‑‑ and I’ve learned through these meetings that roughly 80 percent of the water that goes down the Devils River to Amistad comes from the existing State Natural Area.
In working forward on this, I hope that the Department continues to be committed to the Devils River and committed to the existing State Natural Area and those springs. The value of those springs is paramount and I think it’s an asset that the state must not lose control over.
Again, I want to thank you all for working, and I want to thank all the donors too that have come forward to make this existing agreement work. Thanks again.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, thank you.
Arron Wertheim up, and Marc McCord after that.
MR. WERTHEIM: Good morning. My name is Arron Wertheim. I’m a Texan and in favor of the deal. We were ‑‑ I’m also the Acting President of the Texas Cave Management Association. We were generally in favor of the swap beforehand; this sounds like a fantastic deal. The TCMA owns, manages and preserves caves and karst features around the entire state. We own several here in Austin as well: Whirlpool Cave, Godwin Ranch Preserve, Lost Oasis. And we own Ezell’s Cave in San Marcos, which is the window into the aquifer where we work with Edwards Aquifer Authority to make sure that the cave and the endangered species are protected.
We understand there are a variety of karst and cave resources on the proposed acquisition, as well as the SNA, that we’re concerned about, and their preservation ‑‑ and our Board of Directors, overwhelmingly in favor of the deal, would like to express our willingness to help in this deal, that we stand ready to help locate, explore, document, preserve some of these features in any way that TPWD and the Superintendent feel are in the best interest of the property.
And the other ‑‑ do you all have any questions about how else we may be able to help you guys do preservation activities, in addition ‑‑ besides meeting with the task force?
I just wanted to make sure that it’s clear that as conservationists, we understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A lot of people have expressed concerns about resources, availability of personnel, but that teaching people how to locate or how to preserve these important resources is better than cleaning up after them, in the long run. So thank you for your time.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure. Thank you.
Marc McCord up and Thomas Taylor on standby.
MR. McCORD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Mr. Smith, for this opportunity to be here to talk to you today. My name is Marc McCord. I’m the past environmental committee chairman and current webmaster of Dallas Downriver Club. I’m an avid whitewater and expedition paddler, and I’m someone who has paddled the Devils River on many occasions and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity of that beautiful river that’s like no other in the state of Texas.
I’m very heartened to hear not only this new proposal that you all have put together because, like others, I was adamantly opposed to the original swap. I’m also very happy to hear that landowners and us share almost exact same concerns about every bit of this. Most of us who are serious paddlers do not want to paddle in a dump ground, and we don’t want to camp in a dump ground. And so we encourage environmental protection and environmental integrity, and we certainly respect private landownership and oppose trespassing on that private land. So we agree with the idea of more law enforcement to enforce existing laws, while at the same time protecting the laws of paddlers. Everything that this plan that you’ve put together here suggests to me is a very good plan that benefits everybody.
I do want to make sure you understand that this river is never going to be a river where the vast majority of the people on it are extreme recreational paddlers; the river is just too tough. And anybody that’s paddled this river knows that the closer you get to Lake Amistad and sometimes when you put in at Baker’s Crossing, you encounter head winds that are ferocious and are actually, in some cases, dangerous to people that are not good paddlers.
So I would encourage you to think about the fact that this is never going to become a major ‑‑ it’s not going to become to canoeing or anything, kayaking, what the Lower Guadalupe is to tubers. Those of us who go there and respect and honor this river will do our best to always clean up behind ourselves and we’ll take out trash that other people leave when we find it because we don’t want it there either. But I do want to thank you for taking the opportunity to listen to our concerns, and for coming up with a new plan that we think is very good. And I can assure you most of the members of Dallas Downriver Club and the other paddling clubs around the state will be in complete support of your approval of this plan.
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, thank you. Thank you for your comments.
Thomas Taylor up, and then Michael ‑‑ I don’t know if it’s Lewis, if I’m mispronouncing, or Lucas. Anyway, sorry.
MR. LUIGS: Luigs.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Luigs.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, Tom Taylor. I’m from the Dallas Downriver Club. I am the current environmental chairperson. This is a great deal. We really ‑‑ this looks like it’s really going to be a wonderful deal when we get it put together and we stand behind it as it stands right now. Also, we have a standing invitation to all of you to come out and paddle this river with us so you can see it, and see it from our perspective, and we would like to get the landowners in on this event also so we can kind of all discuss, you know, what the problems are and where we think it needs to go to make it an acceptable solution for everyone.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Wonderful. Thank you.
Michael Luigs, I think, and then T.J. ‑‑ I mean T.J. Jarrett after that.
MR. LUIGS: Hi. My name’s Mike Luigs. I’m here as a landowner. I own about two and a quarter miles of the Devils River. I’m between the Simpson and the Jarrett property, basically in the vicinity of Baker’s Crossing. Also, as a side note, my professional life is conservation full time. I have been involved in my firm, land/water/sky, for about 10 years, during which time we’ve protected over 300,000 acres in Texas, and I have sold approximately 150,000 acres personally in the Devils River Watershed. Every bit of my net worth is tied up on the Devils River. When I first bought my property, my son and I went and sat in the dirt so that we could be at the Devils River.
I’ve had the opportunity over the last two years to consult on a pro bono basis with Parks and Wildlife. We have flown thousands of miles for you guys. I remember fondly working with Commissioner Bivins on the expansion of Palo Duro. I’ve been involved directly in the expansion of the Lost Maples State Natural Area.
What I want to talk about is law enforcement. The need for public access open space is critical. Future generations of Texans cannot vote and pay or tax themselves to defend things that they do not understand. The critical link for conservation is public access open space. But putting two parks on a 60-mile live water segment poses certain problems. And you will stimulate with this deal a demand for access that is beyond healthy for the aquatic system. So there must be some means of constricting the natural demand that takes place and the only way that I see that that can be done is through some form of a permitting process that limits, in an appropriate way, the access.
There should be an educational component of that. People should be required to have a minimum level of safety equipment; people should be on a permitting or reservation basis so that they are not conjuring up the notion of paddling the Devils River on Thursday night and arriving on Friday morning without a way to get all the way to the first of the two state natural areas which forces a trespass issue.
So I stand in loud support of this outstanding deal. I’m very familiar with the architects of the deal, and I believe that this absolutely correct for Texas. But I caution you: it is much easier to fund raise for land than for law enforcement. If this deals goes through, and there is not a companion commitment to law enforcement, the river itself could be lost in the balance. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Good comments, yes.
Mr. Jarrett, and then Ken Kramer up after that.
MR. JARRETT: My name is T.J. Jarrett, and I have lived for the better part of 70 years on or near the Devils River. My grandfather purchased this ranch in 1927 with over 11 miles of riverfront. What we need today is a permitting process for canoeists and kayakers to protect the public, the landowners and the river, and to prevent the Devils River from becoming another Guadalupe or Frio River.
Your responsibility is three-fold: to the public, one; two, to protect private property rights; and, three, to protect the river. The right decision is to protect Devils River first. We humans are here only for a short while in the historical perspective, and the Devils River has endured throughout history. But its essential pristine qualities will fade quickly without some proper management.
The permitting process for the paddling public seems to be a sensible solution. The permitting process would protect the public in that they would have a definite place to put in and take out without trespassing on private property. The private property owner would be better protected in that he would not have people invading his property, trashing his land, breaking into structures, and starting fires. And the river would be protected by somewhat limiting the public use of it to protect the ecosystem. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, sir. Good comments.
Ken Kramer up, and James McBee on standby.
MR. KRAMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Carter. For the record, I’m Ken Kramer, representing the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and I’m very happy to be able to stand in front of you today and say Sierra Club strongly supports the acquisition of the Devils River Ranch, as proposed, and the retention of the Devils River State Natural Area. We consider this to be a very important and, in many ways, historic holiday gift for the people of Texas. I’m going to leave it up to Santa Claus to determine whether or not the process has been best characterized as naughty or nice to get to this point but I do want to say that we very much appreciate your responsiveness to the public input and to the public outpouring of support for the protection of the Devils River and retention of the Devils River Natural Area. I think it really demonstrates your flexibility and your willingness to go the extra mile to do what’s best for the people of Texas and the natural resources of the state, and for that we very much appreciate your efforts.
I do want to say that I think that we can work on some improvements to the public notice and the public participation process in land transactions, and Carter has asked Scott Boruff and myself to put our heads together after the first of the year to discuss some possible ways of addressing some concerns that were raised about the process early on. And we certainly will do that and we’ll come back to you with some ideas and look to make the process a better one for you and for the public.
I really believe that the earlier we can involve the public in discussions of issues like this and the more extensively we can involve the public, the better it will be for all of us. We’ll have more of a buy-in from the public for the things that need to be done, we’ll have more education and awareness by the public of the things that need to be done, and we’ll have a better and smoother process for getting to the right conclusion.
I do want to say in closing that, as several speakers have indicated, we know that the work is really only beginning in terms of protection of the Devils River, and one of the great things about how this has come about and what has happened up to this point is that we really have increased the public awareness of the Devils River, the need to protect it ‑‑ and I think that will make people more likely to really dig in and do the work necessary to actually protect the river for the long term.
I do want to say to everyone who’s here I think we have an ongoing obligation as members of the public, as people interested in the Devils River, to make sure we support you as a Commission, and you as a Department, at the legislature and with other public officials to make sure the resources remain there after this initial foray, that you can actually manage the property properly and for the benefit of the resources as well as the people.
Thanks very much for all the effort that all of you put in to this issue over the past several weeks.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure. Thank you, Ken.
James McBee up next, and George Bristol on standby.
MR. McBEE: I have no comment, Mister ‑‑ Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You sure?
MR. McBEE: Yes, sir. I’m fine.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you. James, I’m glad you’re here, though. I appreciate you coming.
MR. BRISTOL: Do I get his three minutes, too?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I know you’d love to have them.
MR. BRISTOL: Mr. Chairman, members, Carter, thank you for this opportunity. As some of you know, with a great many questions and some trepidation, I supported the original deal. But it did have problems and caused heartburn. This is a great deal and I want to speak on three different levels of why I think it is.
Number one, this Commission, as far as a public-private area, has never, in the 10 years I’ve been working on conservation and parks, had the opportunity to go through a real master planning process. And I think it not only benefits this particular project, but it will help you in the future know how to pull the pieces together. So that’s a great benefit that will serve now and in later times.
The second thing is that, while I have advocated both at the national level and the state level for more national funding for national parks and state funding for state parks, I’ve always considered the private-public partnership to be the best way to go. The Rockefellers and the Mellons and others taught us that with our national parks. So this quickly-put-together statewide fund-raising deal, again, with a little thinking and a little planning and a better use of the Parks and Wildlife Foundation, you can do this time and time again. We did it at Government Canyon in San Antonio; you’ve done it this time. That doesn’t mean the state ought to shirk its responsibility and several people have spoken to that area.
And that’s the last thing that I want say is that, as we put this together, we ought to use it with the help of ‑‑ everybody in this room has talked about law enforcement and this and that, but those things cost money, and it’s ‑‑ after this session, which will be brutal, we need to refocus on getting more money.
And finally I want to thank Carter and the staff for taking so much time to find a way to make this work to the approval of most in this room and out in the public. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, George.
That was our last public speaker. Is ‑‑ anybody on the Commission would like to make any comments?
Yes, sir, Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just want to say for the record how much I admire and appreciate what Commissioner Hughes did here and what Carter Smith and Scott Boruff and the staff have done here. It is just nothing short of extraordinary and, to me, is a keen reflection of their strong commitment to this agency’s mission, and without that, particularly done in such a short period of time, this would never have occurred. And I also want to say that I appreciate the very thoughtful comments from the speakers who are committed to the preservation of this unique resource, and I’m confident that this Commission and the Department heard your concern and suggestions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
And any other comments?
Commissioner Hughes, would you like to say anything, because I think everybody on this Commission wants to thank you for what you’ve done in putting together the partnership and raising a bulk of the funds.
I do want to, again, thank David Honeycutt, and he’s been a big part of that. Mr. Rod Sanders, who’s selling this property, has reduced the price dramatically, been a conservationist for many years. And there have been ‑‑ also, we have an anonymous giver who gave quite a bit of money. So it’s all come together very quickly.
But I really would ‑‑ from the Commission’s point of view, Commissioner Hughes has driven this more than anybody. I would like to give him credit for that, and see if you had anything to say, Dan.
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: Well, I’m glad I was able to be a part of it and help. After going out and looking at this property, it just became very apparent to me this is a ‑‑ would be a great asset for the state of Texas to own, be a great asset for our citizens to go out and enjoy, and so I took it upon myself, contacted some friends, family members, I was able to put the funds together to help get this done.
Again, I’m just glad I was able to be a part of it, and I think it’s going to be a very good thing for the state of Texas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and I, of course, want to thank Carter and Scott and others that have done that. But there’s a quote here and it’s great. It’s from Dan: "It’s a stunning piece of property with incredible potential." And this is a quote from Dan and when he saw it, and came back and ‑‑ of course, some of you ‑‑ a lot of obviously you that are here today live on the river or are neighbors or certainly have paddled that river, it is a stunning and unique piece of property, certainly for the state of Texas, and I could argue in the United States.
So this kind of opportunity ‑‑ I’ve been on this Commission for almost eight years now and I can guarantee you it’s time for me to leave, but ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ and I love it, but this is the first time we’ve had this kind of opportunity since I’ve been on the Commission. I’m not saying it hadn’t been before. And I think George Bristol and others made the comments the task force, the master planning that Scott and Carter have decided on, and the way and the process to go forward is going to be a key part of not only of course developing and doing this the right way, but I think hopefully can then put together a template that we can use going forward. You were referring to that, George.
Secondly, then the public-private funding I’m hoping can create a template, not only for acquisition, but that as we talked about everything from law enforcement to maybe eventually some level of operations and all the other things that go with the parks as we try to find more of these crown jewels and operate them for the future, for generations in the state of Texas.
And as we know, that will get more and more ‑‑ probably become more and more difficult through the standard route of trying to keep going back to the state legislature every two years, because in the eight years I’ve been here, we’ve had ups and downs just because of the economy and taxes and politics and all the things that go with that. As somebody said, it’s probably going to be another brutal session. So I hope we can also build a template for ‑‑ on the financing and funding going forward of not only acquisitions but operations, maintenance, et cetera, law enforcement. So I’m excited about not only what this is creating but what it’ll create for the future.
Scott, any other comments that you want to make before we close?
MR. BORUFF: Yes, sir. My last bit of feedback for the Commission has to do with the public comment that were not able to be here in the wake of the new proposal. You know, we went out around the state and asked folks what they thought and sometimes what we heard was skepticism about the state bureaucracy, and particularly agencies listening to the public, and I heard many times or several times, at least, over the initial proposal, that this was a done deal and it didn’t matter what people had to say. And I guess what we have heard in the wake of the new proposal is that, well, that maybe isn’t so, at least with this agency.
And so I wanted you to hear, as the leadership body, that much of the feedback that I have received, particularly since we formulated the new proposal is, well, you did listen. You know, we did bring the feedback to you, we did make a diligent sincere effort to go out and listen to what people had to say, and sometimes it was passionate and sometimes it was directed, but at least it was their honest opinion, and we tried to bring that back to you as unfiltered as we could.
And so, in that vein, we want to give you the last bit of information we have. Once we decided to craft, or repackage, this proposal to a pure acquisition, we went out once again. We not only put out press releases relative to the new deal, we also sent responses to those several hundred folks that had given us feedback in the first place. And the response was overwhelmingly positive, not just for the new proposal, but for the fact that the Commission had listened; the staff had done the right thing in taking to you the feedback that we got from the public; and, interestingly enough, in the last four or five or six weeks, we’ve only received about 25 comments in writing; we’ve received a lot of verbal support.
Of the 25 comments, 20 of the ‑‑ actually 24 comments, I’m sorry. Twenty are in favor and four were against in the last few weeks that we’ve gotten in writing. The four that were against, two of them didn’t think we could adequately control the public and we’ve discussed that here today and our intention is to adequately manage this new property in a way that protects the river. The other two mentioned a loss of the sense of wilderness. Once again, I think it has to do with the increased public. But 20 are in favor. Some of those in favor, to be very honest, are in favor as long as we do what we say we’re going to do, and so they mentioned that in there.
And so we expect that this is not going to be a done deal today if you, ladies and gentlemen, vote to acquire this. From the staff’s perspective, it will be a done deal many years from now when we can come back and show you, and show the public, that we’ve done what we’ve said we would do. We will take care of this river; we will manage it well; we will collaborate with the partners that live there and recreate there to make this a better opportunity for Texans out into the future.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Do you want to read the ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: I will read the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, sir.
MR. BORUFF: ‑‑ recommendation, unless I have questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any questions or comments for Scott?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. BORUFF: The staff recommends to the Commission that the Executive Director is authorized to take all necessary steps to acquire this 17,639, more or less, acres on the Devils River in Val Verde County for addition to the Devils River State Natural Area and the Commission accepts the donation of funds to be paid by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation towards this acquisition from the fund donated to the Parks and Wildlife Foundation, including funds donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation solely for the purpose of this acquisition.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Do I have a motion?
COMMISSIONER HUGHES: So move.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Commissioner Hughes. Second, Commissioner Duggins. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Any nays?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. The proposition passes. Congratulations. This is an exciting ‑‑ yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, Scott, thank you, because ‑‑
MR. BORUFF: Merry Christmas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ Scott has done the legwork. And we’ve made some mistakes along the way, but both Scott and Carter have ‑‑ particularly in the communications with some neighbors and others, and, you know, we backed up and I really appreciate everything that’s been done. And what an exciting, as somebody said, Christmas gift to the state of Texas, and the citizens. Let’s not forget. Remember, they came up with the original $2.7 million that we got to leverage and were able to leverage and turn into this wonderful acquisition. So I want to thank everybody.
I guess with that, Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed its business, and I declare us adjourned. Thank you very much everybody. Happy holidays. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas.
(Whereupon, at 11:25 a.m., the meeting was concluded.)
In official recognition of the adoption of this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, we hereby affix our signatures this 20th day of December 2010.
Peter M. Holt, Chairman
T. Dan Friedkin, Vice-Chairman
Mark E. Bivins, Member
Ralph H. Duggins, Member
Antonio Falcon, M.D., Member
Karen J. Hixon, Member
Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., Member
Margaret Martin, Member
S. Reed Morian, Member
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Commission Meeting
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: December 20, 2010
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 63, 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, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731