Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Nature Preserve Facing Condemnation

In what is being called an unprecedented action, a county in Texas has begun condemnation proceedings against an entire nature preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy on South Padre Island. The issue is over a plan to open a ferry service between the mainland and the island in an attempt to foster tourism. TNC has owned the 1,500 acre preserve on the island for five years, and wants to maintain the pristine condition of the wilderness area. Willacy County officials see the wild island as a tourist draw, and need a 3 to 5 acre site on the island for a ferry landing. Without the site, no state money would be available for the service. So after a stalemate, the county is pulling out its big option, eminent domain.
According to the Houston Chronicle TNC's state director is outraged.
''They're proposing to condemn an entire nature preserve, which is without precedent in this state," said Carter Smith, the group's state director. ''It's alarming, especially for all of us who care about protecting the barrier island and the Laguna Madre."
''I'm not aware of any instance in the Nature Conservancy's 40-year history in Texas in which a local government has attempted to condemn a nature preserve," Smith said. ''We will be fighting this vigorously."

"Conservancy officials said that in the past, they and county officials discussed access to the preserve, which lines the south side of the Port Mansfield channel.
But county officials then would provide few details of their plans, Carter said.
Carter called the threatened condemnation ''a real assault on the sanctity of private property rights and private land conservation in this state."
County leaders said there is no intent to offer any Conservancy land for private development, which would violate a new state law that placed restrictions on land condemnation by Texas governmental bodies.
Gov. Rick Perry allowed the Texas eminent domain legislation to be added to a special legislative session this summer. Perry's decision came after a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Connecticut case that upheld a city's authority to condemn private homes and then sell the property to commercial developers as part of an effort to increase jobs and expand the city's tax base.
Willacy officials say they only want access to the nearby island by water so that local residents, schoolchildren and winter tourists who don't own boats can visit the undeveloped beaches."

So why does the county want to access to this section of the island? Because the rest of the island is owned by the Federal Government as part of the South Padre National Seashore, and the county's plan has already been shot down by the Interior department.
"Earlier this year, officials with the Padre Island National Seashore, which owns the land on the north side of the Port Mansfield channel, rejected the county's request to unload ferry passengers on parkland.
The 1,500-acre island preserve is part of a 24,500-acre tract the Nature Conservancy purchased for $7.5 million from a Houston firm, after plans for a large-scale residential and marina development on the site failed. The conservation group sold, at below its cost, the majority of the island acreage to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand an existing federal wildlife refuge.
The proposed condemnation has angered environmental groups along the coast.
"They (Willacy County) shouldn't take over a private sanctuary," said Patricia Suter, chair of the Coastal Bend Chapter of the Sierra Club. ''They're trying to take too much."

This story should send a shudder down the spine of anyone who supports land trusts and the job they do. Or anyone who thinks that private property should remain private. This is wrong on so many levels, and I can only hope that Willacy County leaders will soon realize just how wrong this is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a distrubing story. My question is how common this sort of thing is. I'm working on a paper assessing the environmental implications of the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, and I'd be very curious at other stories of this sort. I fear land trusts could be particularly hard hit because the Kelo decision okays the use of eminent domain to increase the tax base. My e-mail is my initials followed by the number five

Keep up the good work.

Jonathan H. Adler

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that this Preserve will live on. With out these places the things we seek to keep safe will slowly die out. I can't belive others would sacrifice this Place in any way. I hope that there wil be a unanimous decision and an agreement made by all involved to keep the preserve open at all cost please keep un informed. I will be praying the news is good.

9:52 PM  

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