Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Willacy's Lunacy

A few more details on Willacy County's (TX) plans to condemn a TNC nature preserve on South Padre Island so the county can have a ferry landing to boost tourism. You might ask, how did we get to the point that the county leaders feel that eminent domain was their only option? The apparent answer is that the county leaders are so utterly incompetent, they have bungled every other option.
An earlier article in the San Antonio Express News has a good timeline on the entire mess. Apparently, this county leaders have been kicking this idea around for years.... but despite having plenty of time to think about it, they haven't exactly worked out the details.
According to the article ...
The county and the local navigation district had intermittent discussions with the Nature Conservancy in 2003 and 2004 about the ferry plan, but (TNC state director Carter) Smith said details were sparse.
"There were some fairly elementary questions we asked and just never received any kind of response," Smith said. "Like how many bathrooms and where would they be placed, and who would accompany people from the ferry landing to the beach?"
The failure to come to an agreement was one of the many issues that prompted the Texas General Land Office in February to terminate a $700,000 grant earmarked for the project.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration awarded Willacy County the money in 2002. But the state Land Office, which administered the money, decided there were too many outstanding issues with the project.
The Land Office cited many reasons for terminating the grant. Chief among them, the amphibious vehicle the county suggested using was authorized by the Coast Guard to go no more than 1,000 feet offshore — well short of the nearly 10 miles needed for the craft to make it to the proposed landing area, Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said.
Other reasons included the county's lack of a business plan and inability to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
"They mentioned the idea of obtaining the land through condemnation, but NOAA doesn't approve projects through land condemnation," Suydam added. "And condemnation of land to avoid conservation restrictions would also raise some serious reservations from NOAA."

So the county can't even figure out how many bathrooms it would need. It doesn't have the right kind of ferry. It can't come up with a plan that the funding agency can agree to. It has no way to meet federal ADA standards. It doesn't even have a basic business plan. So despite all of that, the county attorney still wants to go to court and forcibly seize 1,500 acres of private property? Uh, well, sure.
County Attorney Juan Angel Guerra said the issue boils down to providing beach access for the residents of his county. And while he admits the project probably won't require all 1,548 acres, he said the commission decided to target the whole preserve, at least initially, "to show them that we are serious about getting access to that part of the county."
They may be incompetent, but at least they're serious. One has to hope that the county leaders will soon come to their senses. Or that if they do go to court, the judge will throw them out on their greedy keisters. But it really is chilling that we could get to this point. One more argument for restricting eminent domain.


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