What’s the cost of washing a car in Dallas?

More than just tokens in a car wash slot.

If the City of Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board have their way in court, the cost could be flooded bottomlands along the Neches River in Anderson and Cherokee counties, and damage to protected wildlife habitats in the Big Thicket National Preserve, as well as to Big Slough National Forest Wilderness Areas and Angelina/Neches Dam B Wildlife Management Area, all to create Fastrill Reservoir. If the Neches River is dammed here in Anderson County, the successful efforts and dollars spent saving the Texas State Railroad would be for naught as lake waters almost certainly would cover the current train trestle. All to be sacrificed so that the City of Dallas would have enough water to meet projected demand by 2045.

Local supporters of the Neches River celebrated when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated a 38-mile stretch of the river between Anderson and Cherokee counties and some 25,000 surrounding acres as the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge in June 2006 to protect what it termed some of the best and least disturbed “Priority 1” bottomland hardwood forest habitat.

Environmentalists envision the Neches River NWR protecting the habitat for wildlife, waterfowl and migratory songbirds, as well as offering the public opportunities to hunt, fish, canoe and other outdoor recreation.

Because land is acquired for national wildlife refuges by purchase or donation from willing sellers, participation in the Neches River NWR would be by property owners’ choice, and not by eminent domain to meet the desire of someone two hours away desperate to wash their oversized SUV or keep their half-acre lawn green in the middle of an August drought.

Supporters cheered again when the refuge received its first donation of an acre of land in August 2006, the first of what they expected to be many acres.

But the City of Dallas and the TWDB have refused to take no for an answer.

Each filed lawsuits attempting to block the refuge’s creation, claiming a technicality — that the USFWS did not follow proper procedure for public review and comment on its creation, and that it did not do an adequate analysis of the refuge’s environmental impact.

According to USFWS officials last week, the lawsuits are being heard in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, in Dallas. Because of the litigation, the first land donation is the only one to this point.

USFWS officials deny those allegations.

The City of Dallas even tried to tell the Fish and Wildlife Service experts that it knew of two locations better suited for the refuge, locations farther downstream which would allow the impoundment of millions of acres of water in Anderson and Cherokee counties at the current site of the Neches River NWR.

Wildlife experts and East Texans disagree.

Supporters of the river and the refuge such as Janice Bezanson of the Texas Conservation Alliance and Dr. Michael Banks, president of Friends of the Neches River, point to the decades of research done by the USFWS to pinpoint the location along the Neches which offers the best example of prime bottomland hardwood forest, and which protect the wildlife, migratory birds and plant life in the area and downstream.

Supporters also point to studies done by the Region C Water Planning Group (for Dallas, Fort Worth and North Texas) that offer better options for meeting Dallas’ long-term water needs, including the already-existing Lake Texoma, Wright-Patman Reservoir and Toledo Bend Reservoir, where Dallas residents would only foot the cost of piping in the water, not building the lake and piping it, too.

But Metroplex officials apparently don’t care if they spend more of the local taxpayers’ dollars.

An article dated Dec. 14, 2007 from the Dallas Business Journal puts it like this: “Those plans to preserve 25,000 acres of land run headlong into designs the City of Dallas (and 22 other cities) have to build the Fastrill Reservoir, which would extend the city’s water supply to 2060.”

What about the “designs” of those communities in Anderson County, in Cherokee County and further downstream? Do they count for less because they’re not big?

We believe that the City of Dallas should explore its other options, impose conservation standards as other large cities have done and leave the undisturbed Neches River as just that — undisturbed.

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