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Irene Scharf

INTERVIEWEE: Irene Scharf (IS)
DATE: February 18, 2006
LOCATION: Helotes, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Jenny Gumpertz and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2345

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers refer to time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd, and I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 18, 2006, and we’re outside of—of San Antonio in the northwest edge in a little town called Helotes. And we have the good fortune to be visiting with Irene Scharf, who by day is a librarian in the Palo Alto College in San Antonio but as a volunteer, has been involved in issues involving habitat and transportation and ecotourism and politics, and a number of different efforts to try to protect the environment as—as part of Texas. And I wanted to take this chance to thank you for spending some time with us.
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IS: Well, thank you for coming.
DT: I thought we might start by just asking about your childhood, and if there might have been some early experiences or family members, friends that might have introduced you to the outdoors, and interest in—in conservation.
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IS: Well, it’s been so long ago I’ll have to dig deep into my memory. But I grew up in a—a small farming community, so I kind of lived in the outdoors. And, you know, that was—in—in those days we didn’t have all the plastic toys, and the games that kids have today, so we—we went outdoors and played, and rode bicycles, and things like that. So I’ve often asked myself, how did I get, you know, interested and involved in so many conservation preservation issues. And I guess it stems from those early childhood memories of being in the outdoors, going to a small school, and just apre—appreciating
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the natural world. And, you know, through the years that I’ve lived, and I’ve lived in urban environments, I was an exchange student at the Free University in Berlin for a year, and then I’ve lived in apartments in San Antonio. And then after I married my husband, Edwin, and we decided to move out of—the urban scene, we drove around for about a year, and then we came into this area. And we loved the area because there’s more of the outdoors and the natural world that’s preserved here. So, there was a house for sale. And it had a contract on it. But we looked at like at midnight with
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flashlights, you know. And we said, they—yeah, this is where we want to live. And that was about 1970. So it ended up that we did buy that house, and we’ve been here ever since.
DT: Now the house is near He—Helotes Creek. And I was curious if you might be able to tell us about one of your early conservation efforts where you tried to, and did, organize a group called The Helotes Creek Association.
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IS: Yes. With Kyle Cunningham, who’s a neighbor in Helotes. This is—we’re actually in Bexar County. We’re just on the edge of a little community called Grey Forest, which incorporated back in the 1950’s because it was destined to be annexed by the City of San Antonio. So the people that have come out here to live—I might just backtrack and give you a little history of the Grey Forest area. This was a resort area that was developed in the late 1920’s and early ‘30s for mainly the wealthy of San Antonio. And just about any name associated with the early development of San Antonio is also
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associated out here, from Mingers to the owners of the Pioneer Flour Mill, the Bechters—Bechmans. They all had property out here. And these were weekend cottages. So—and then, you know, during the depression many moved out here and made it their home instead of just weekend cottages. And the Helotes Creek was flowing continually at that time. So by the time we got out here, there were, you know, a number of people already living out here. And each house is sort of unique, and has been built on or added onto at various times to accommodate, you know, full-time living. And I—I understand from
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some of the old timers that the Helotes Creek in those days flowed continuously. There are sink holes also in the creek that recharges, because this area out here is not on the Edwards. There are areas that are close that are still Edwards, but the Edwards has been eroded away. And so most of the people that live out here own their own water wells,
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which is into the Trinity Aquifer. Glen Rose, Cow Creek formations basically. And—so anyway, early on, you know, we appreciated the area so much, and there was starting to be big urbanization push. So Kyle and I formed this organization called The Helotes Creek Association. And so we wanted to protect all the land that drained into the Helotes Creek and all the little tributaries because back in 1970 was when San Antonio Ranch was started, and that’s a long story in and of itself. But that was really the first time that San Antonio extended its water lines, like at midnight, you know. It was a very big
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controversy. And there were those people, sort of like recently, that said, no, we need our tax dollars to be—to redevelop, you know, inner city areas. And then there was this group of primarily developers and politicians, because as I understand it, the whole San Antonio Ranch development was wired all the way to the Nixon White House through various politicos. And so the water mains were put along Bandera Road out to where the present San Antonio Ranch is, back in 1970. And this was just basically country at that time. And then, you know, they started trying to sell lots, just city sized lots. And U.S.
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Department of Interior ha—gave them a grant, and they put a—a dam across one of the creeks that runs through San Antonio Ranch. And you go—the dam is still there, and there’s a plaque on it. And, you know, they were going to sell lake-front property. Well, as it turns out, that was the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer. So, you know, there was never any—going to be any water there. But that was when the recharge zone actually came into the consciousness of San Antonians, and people that were, you know,
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living in our area. And that was a—a—a big struggle, and you know, it was a court case that went to the Fifth Circuit that allowed that development to go forward. But they had a lot of restrictions. You know, they were supposed to vacuum the parking lots, and the pavement, and you know, be very careful about what fertilizers they used. But—I don’t remember the judges name from the Fifth Circuit, but years later someone asked him, you know, well, how—how did they, you know, abide by the regulations that the court set
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down, and he said they never did any of it. They never did any of it. So there was no accountability at all. So—so anyway, that sort of started a lot of the development out here, that San Antonio Ranch Project. So with that mind, we started the Helotes Creek Association to address, you know, the rapid urbanization of the area and to try to preserve as much of, you know, the area as we could. And people are amazed when they drive through Grey Forest. They have no idea that there are three, four hundred people that live out here, because no structure really rises—maybe one or two—higher than the tree
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canopy. And we would, you know, have been able to sort of keep a natural environment and still integrate humans with the other creatures that live out here. And the city of Grey Forest is actually a wildlife sanctuary by ordinance. So that’s what we’re trying to preserve.
DT: One of the—the, I guess, later efforts that you were involved with has to do with city public service. And I think that there were two projects that—that were proposed. One, the utility tower, and the other one is the substation. And—and I was curious if you’d talk about your efforts on those projects. And—and also whole question of—of environmental work that starts to touch on—on aesthetics and—and protection of a kind of a culture that might—might be affected by new, more commercial, industrial kinds of development.
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IS: Okay. I might start by saying that one of our efforts is through the Helotes Creek Association was in 1992 when the Ice Tea Act was passed, the Intermodal Transportation Act, there was money in that act, federal monies for—they called enhancement funds. And so what we wanted to do was make bicycle lanes along Scenic Loop, and you could—and you could do landscaping, and you could do, you know, some nice signage, and that sort of thing. So we spent a great deal of time, you know, getting plans together to do that. And then we discovered that the State of Texas had not agreed to go into
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this—this was called the Scenic Byways Program. And—and so no local entity could apply for enhancement funds because the state had not approved the program. And so, you know, we were just kind of dumbfounded. Why would the state, you know, deny access to federal funds for something that we thought was really great, you know. And—so it was several years later that I found that this professor at now Texas State University in San Marcos had done the feasibility study for the Texas Department of Transportation. And—this will tie into Towers in just a second. But—and he had recommended that they not do it. So I contacted him, and he was very curt, and he said, well, that’s a public
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information, you can get the report if you want. And then it wasn’t until several years later that I attended a seminar in Central Texas, and it was put on TxDOT and the Texas Economic Development Comin—Committee, and several other Texas agencies. And that professor was there, and I asked him about it, and he said, well, the reason we didn’t do it was because those ranchers out in West Texas—because we would have to, you know, preserve the whole view shed, you know, from hilltop to hilltop. And those ranchers out in West Texas would really get upset about that. And I thought, well, that’s strange.
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Why would the whole state, you know, deny federal funds for wonderful projects because the w—ranchers in West Texas didn’t want it? Well, then a little bit later I found out, oh, okay, it was the telecommunications industry that had lobbied very hard because they wanted those hilltops for their towers. So the—you know, they won out. So we got cell phones instead of bicycle lanes, basically, in Texas. So—and as far as in our immediate area, a number of years back a city public service came in and worked with the then mayor of Grey Forest unbeknownst to the city council, and they had worked out an
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agreement. The City Public Service had bought a new system and they—they wanted to put a major tower in each of four quadrants in Bexar County. And so they had worked out this deal with the mayor that one could be just on the hillside right over there. And so I was kind—I didn’t know anything about it. And I was contacted by a fellow who lives on the other side of the mountain. And he let me know, because he had heard, you know, about my envi—environmental in—involvement and thought that I, you know, could
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maybe do something with this Hel—with the Grey Forest City Council. Even though we’re—we’re in the county here, but we were not residents and we don’t vote, but we know most of the people out here. So I started going to the city council meetings, and the—actually the city council had already voted to accept this tower. So I went and I looked through the ci—city—the minutes of the meetings, and indeed, because this fellow had told me, they had portrayed it as a little antenna. Okay. And then they had promised, well, the fire department can put its repeaters on there, you know. Whether it
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would work or not, they didn’t know, you know. But it had to be within a mile of Grey Forest for this new system with this new tower to work. So I started asking questions, found out that, you know, they had actually, let’s say, misrepresented the project to the city, and contacted all the city council people, and said this is going to be a mini Eiffel Tower with a strobe-lit light over our community with microwaves, a mi—it was going to be a mic—a huge microwave tower. And they just said, oh, it’s just going to be a little antenna. No—well, the antenna’s going to be on the top of this microwave tower. So
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then they got a little bit excited because the mayor hadn’t informed them of what it was, and they had just accepted what the engineer—CPS engineers had presented to them. So anyway, I got all that data together, and then I got a petition up, and I went door-to-door and got people to sign this, and said did you know we’re going to have a—a strobe-lit microwave tower overlooking our whole community here? And the—no one had any idea. So—and of course the mayor, by that time, was very annoyed with me because,
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you know, he had kind of worked this out. And really, you know, the mayor does not have the say, the council has the vote. But, as politics works, sometimes they just defer to, you know, the mayor. So anyway, I started going to meetings and interrupting the mayor. And, you know, I figured I’d get thrown out or thrown in jail or something, but it did—you know, that didn’t happen. But then the city council had another vote, and, you know, where they call the engineers back, and said what about this, you know. Is this what it’s going to be like? Give—you know, then they started asking questions. They
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said give us a—a—a schematics of what it’s going to look like. They hadn’t even asked for that. And come to find out, yeah, well, it’s going to be this, you know, huge strobe-lit tower. So then the city council reversed their vote, and they said—you know, and I kept saying why—how—how do you know h—it won’t work? You know, you keep saying it has to be within a mile of Grey Forest, you know, on that hill right there. How do you know, if it’s a new system and you haven’t, you know; put it in? Oh, well, we know. You know, our engineers know, type of thing. You know, and I said, well, why don’t
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you go put it over there on I-10 where we have all the other towers? Oh, that’s a scenic corridor, you know. Well, yeah, the city of San Antonio has a scenic corridor along I-10. All that means is, you know, your signs can’t be but a certain height. That’s their scenic corridor. But anyway, so to make a long story short, they then withdrew their tower. Well, they couldn’t because the city council reversed its vote. And then later they did actually place it along I-10. There was already another tower there. And the—they—of
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course they wanted—they always liked to open up new territory, so it was a struggle just to get them to put it on the same hill with the other tower. You know, you got a road there and everything. Doesn’t it make sense? Just go ahead and put it right there, you know, rather than open up new territory. But anyway, it finally ended up, you know, along 10 with some other towers rather than in our community. And then just a few years back, they came back, the City Public Service—now it’s CPSE, I think, and they wanted to put their “scenic substation” along Scenic Loop Road, and that was going to be
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near where the Fenstermakers live, whom I think you’ll be interviewing this afternoon. They can probably elucidate a little bit more because they’ve had 211 Highway that TxDOT has been wanting to put through their property to break it up for development, and then these giant towers, electric towers associated with the substation through their property. So—anyway, they were going to put their scenic substation on Scenic Loop Road, instead of they couldn’t put it on the Scenic Corridor, which is all developed, you
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know, along I-10. And, so anyway, there were major, major meetings about that. And, you know, question—I remember we met at the San Antonio Rose Palace, which is a big horse dressage area. And we had several hundred people, you know. And then the CPS engineers come out, and, you know, they read from this report about, oh, there is no danger from, you know, radiation or any kind of, you know, a particular electric alliance, and that sort of thing. And I had happened to have read that same report. So I just got up at the meeting and I said, I—you know, I read that same report, and you know, the
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conclusion was, not that it was safe, but that, you now, the—it—it was still kind of up in the air whether it was dangerous to public health or it wasn’t, and you should err on the side of public health, you know. And they portrayed it the—just the opposite. No danger, safe, blah, blah, blah. And—so anyway, then there were, you know, several more meetings about that. And then we were also concerned about the substation being out in this area because this is not so much recharge, but it’s the contributing zone, you know. And you can just take a look the ge—geography and the geology out here, and the water
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comes off of the hillside into the creeks, like the Helotes Creek and the Leon Creek, and then it runs—there are all—some sink holes in the creek, and it eventually recharges the Edwards. And that’s what Government Canyon was basically about, where the Trinity and the—the Edwards come together. And you know, be able to study that and educate people about the importance of preserving this part of Bexar County for San Antonio’s water supply. But anyway, so there are—a—a l—a series—you know, they have to have public hearings. And so after some very violent meetings, shall I say, where citizens
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were really upset and asking questions, the next public meeting was held at church on 1604. It was very difficult to get to. It’s one—one of their techniques. But a lot—lot of people found it. But then they—they set up their public hearing not where people could address the audience or ask questions of the CPS representatives, but just as a series of little booths where people could go around and, you know, talk, so there was no collective, you know, where people could address the—the CPS representative, and they
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called that a public hearing, you know, do—to satisfy the legality of how many public hearings they had to have. But anyway, the board of CPS finally voted not to put it along Scenic Loop Road, and it ended up somewhere on the other side of Fair Oaks. And then that, you know, community got upset. And it was going to be near a school, and all sorts of things. And—but I think that that’s kind of where it—where it landed. So those were just a few. And now CPS is going across Prop 3 land to connect to LCRA, which they
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say they need, but they can’t justify it when people ask why do you need that connection. So, you know, the Gallagher Ranch, the San Geronimo Watershed area, that’s all being compromised by CPS, and apparently they’ve already started drilling holes for their big tower lines.
DT: Well, it’s—tell me if I’m—I’m right and—to understanding you. The—the question about the utility tower and the substation wasn’t so much about the aesthetics alone, but it was about the development that might ensue because of expanded (?)…
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IS: Right. From my experience…
DT: …utility access.
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IS: Exactly. The infrastructure comes in first, or the schools, or—economic growth generators, and then that spurs the development. You know, that you put that in place first, and like the Fenstermaker Ranch, which is a nine hundred acre ranch out here, you—you try to cut it up, you know, by roads, by power lines, whatever. And then that opens it up for development. And you know, if a road does go through your property, that’s considered an improvement, your taxes go up, and then a lot of people can’t afford to pay the taxes and they have to sell off their property. And voila, developers have more land that they can put houses, you know, right next to each other and make a fortune.
DT: You—you’ve made the…
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IS: Oh, and the golf course. San Antonio also put a Cedar Creek Golf Course out here. It—it wasn’t even in the city of San Antonio. That’s another spur for development. And that’s right at—opposite UTSA, just north of 1604. And when they put in their water well to water their golf course, which takes millions of gallons a day, about fifty wells went dry in our area, just right—bing, bing, bing, right down the line, one of them being ours. And so then we started asking questions. We started going to San Antonio
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City Council, what’s going here, and—because we contacted, you know, the Parks and Rec Department and—you know, hey, we’re in a drought period right now, and we don’t have any water in our wells. And they’re like, well, we’ve got to keep the golfers happy, you know, so we’ve got to keep our greens—you know, we just planted our grass on our new golf course, so you know, tough luck. You know, so you don’t have any water
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to drink, we got to keep that—you know, the—the greens green. So we went to city council and I think Nelson Wolf was—who’s now the county judge, was the mayor at the time. And he’s actually lived in this area near Leon Springs, so he understood what we were talking about. And then the engineers, they brought the engineers in and they claimed they were sort of in one of these, because this is—if you talk to George Vinnie and got anything about the geology, the Balcones Escarpment runs through here, so it’s a
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very fractured area that—you know, nobody really knows for sure where all of these fault—(?) where all of these faults are. But anyway, the people from the city of San Antonio said, well our—we put our well into the Edwards; it’s not in the Trinity. And then later they said, well, we think it might be in one of those fractures or in one of those fault zones, so we might be, you know, from both, blah, blah. Anyway, so Mayor Nelson Wolf said, well stop pumping from that well. And then I guess about—it—it—this—our—our wells did slowly come back but, you know, not to the point that they had been.
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And then some years alter we were down at City Council for the—for some other issue, and that—that point came up. And I think it’s when he—he was county judge, which he still is, and he turned to the city rep, and he said, I thought you weren’t supposed to be pumping out of that well. And they were like, well, you know. So they were—they—they said, you know, they had been given the order not to pump, and they went right on. And again, there’s no oversight. So you know, you can talk about regulations for the recharge zone, you can talk about all these rules and zoning and all that. But unless
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there’s some oversight, and then some accountability, there’s no assurance that anything’s going to be carried out. You know, everybody just kind of said, oh, okay, we’ve got it taken care of now. You know, there—there it is in—you know, in the brigs, you know.
DT: Let’s talk about some other infrastructure projects that—that you’ve been concerned about and worked on. In 1985 there was something called the Save Scenic Loop Campaign, which I think was to—opposition to a proposal to widen Scenic Loop to four lanes. And I was wondering if you could tell what your concern was, and how you organized it to try to…
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IS: Okay. And how we learned about it. One of my neighbors down Scenic Loop Road saw a surveyor one day, and so he went out and said, what—what are you surveying? And he said, oh, well, we’re—we’re—we’re surveying for this five lane divided highway. It’s going to have a turn lane also. And he said, what, you know? And so he quickly spread the word, and everybody’s like, what? You know, five lane divided highway. And so we went to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which it was—I suppose is still—I don’t know, I haven’t been involved lately with them, but that was sort of the—the organization that, you know—because you get federal funds, you get stederal—state funds, local funds, and this organization was one who determined, you know, how the money would be spent on roads basically. And, so—and they have
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representatives from, you know, all the governmental entities basically—TxDOT, the city, the county, the suburban cities, etc. And so, you know, we went to them. They—they do what they call the Major Thoroughfare Plan, which actually the City of San Antonio does, where they put all these, you now, projected roads on. And sure enough, you know, there’s this five lane divided highway. So we’re, well, how did this come about, you know. Well, we need a north-south route. It—you know, they don’t even
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come out and look. They just, you know, have a map and—you know, you know, developments here and here and here, we need a north-south route. And—bang, that’s now on the major thoroughfare plan as a five lane divided highway. And we said, are you—do you realize that most of this is in the hundred-year flood plain? You know, and do you—you know this about the geology and the geography, and how expensive and difficult that would be to put a road through there, you know. Well, of course, they
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don’t consider those things, you know. And so anyway, there was—it was Commissioner Casillas at the time was our county commissioner. And so we went to him, and he was very helpful to us, and he supported us. So we had a series of public hearings in—in the area. And anyway, make a long story short, we were able to negotiate that they would take the five lane divided highway off the Major Thoroughfare Plan from Bandera Road up to Babcock Road, so that’s a distance of maybe about five miles. So—but they needed the rest. They—they couldn’t absolutely not take the rest off the Major Thoroughfare Plan. So—and it was mainly the citizens in this area, to show you the
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citizens, you know, are not apathetic, and they, you know, come out and they say, no, this is not what we want in our community. You can influence some decisions, because the people of that way weren’t really—well, it’s fewer. There were fewer concentrations of population, and they weren’t as involved as this part. So these citizens were able to take it off the Major Thoroughfare Plan. And it stayed off ‘til now, except there’s a planned extension of Camp Bullis Road to cross Scenic Loop Road about halfway between
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Grey Forest and Helotes. And so that was supposed to have been taken off the Major Thoroughfare Plan, so we went and asked them why it had not been. And they said, well, we need this connector, you know, to go over here. It supposed to come out about where San Antonio Ranch is. And we said, well, we’re working on a historic and scenic designation for Scenic Loop Road, because that’s been a—an old t—touring road. It was called a touring road. It was put in about 1914. And so—soon be a hundred years old, you know. And they said, oh, well, in that case, then we just won’t make—make
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entrance and exit ramps, we’ll just cross it, you know. But they weren’t going to take it off the Major Thoroughfare Plan. They were just wanted to make entrance—exit (?) ramp. So—but, it—you know, if it’s a historic scenic road we’ll just cross it, you know, with a b—bridge or whatever. So it’s still on the Major Thoroughfare Plan. And, you know, that question keeps coming up, why have you not taken it off? That was supposed to be taken off. So I imagine that will be a battle and, you know, that’s still ahead. And then—we’re—there are still efforts afoot to get Scenic Loop Road declared a scenic and a
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historic roadway. And then I did some research into that, and I discovered in Vernon Civic Statutes there is a provision for counties to have—to designate scenic and historic roadways. And it goes through the—Bexar County Historic Commission first, then it goes to the county commissioners, and they can so designate. So the problem with Scenic Loop Road is only part of it’s in the county. Part of it is in the city of Helotes, and then you have part of it in the county, and part of it’s in San Antonio’s ETJ, and then part
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of it is in Grey Forest. So it’s, you know, divided among different governmental entities. And what they told us back in ‘85 was, okay, well, you can—you know, you’ll—we’ll give you Scenic Loop Road up to Babcock for now, but what we’ll do is we’ll just build in from all the edges. And then you can do—you can, you know, say you won’t have a four lane divided highway in Grey Forest, but we’ll build in from all this, which is what they’re doing. If you look at—that’s where the Wal-Mart was supposed to go in—Bandera and Scenic Loop Road, and if you go over to Boerne Stage Road at Leon
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Springs and look at the KB Homes going in there, and then you go up Boerne Stage Road and you look at the developments coming in from Boerne, all areas coming in, they’re building in from the edges, and then what they’ll do is declare it a bottleneck, so that Grey Forest will have to widen to the four or five lane that they’ve designated for the rest. So that’s what’s ahead as I see it.
DT: So far you’ve told us about the utility tower and substation and road development. Another problem I think you’ve touched on just briefly was about the—the fact that the golf course on wells around here, and how the Trinity Aquifer is—is quite sensitive to over-pumping. And—and I understand that—that you helped organize something called The Bexar County Trinity Aquifer Conservation Coalition. And also got to mount an effort to put together a groundwater conservation district for the Trinity. And I was hoping you could explain how that came about.
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IS: Okay. We had a series of conversations at our neighborhood. One of our me—neighborhood meetings that was arranged by my husband. And one of the issues was water, because that’s of a constant concern out here, because now Grey Forest has a small water system, but—and—most people in the area still are on their own water wells as—such as we are. We still have our own water well. So, you know, it’s always a concern. Water is so vital to—to any kind of life. So we started working on water issues, because what we saw happening was as people—I told you how San Antonians became aware of
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the Recharge Zone and its importance to the quality and quantity of water for the City of San Antonio, and Sa—San Antonio’s sole source water supply. People became aware that we were not Edwards. We—we were a totally different aquifer that (?)—which is called the Trinity, primarily the Glen Rose and the Cow Creek. And through the years we’ve lived out here we’ve seen l—wells getting—you know, having to go deeper and deeper, and we’ve been in contact with the smaller communities in the Hill Country. And when you look at the statistics of how the wells have been deepened through the
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years, there is cause for a lot of concern. Not just in this immediate area, but in the whole Hill Country, that depends on the Trinity Aquifer for its water supply. So we decided it—and one of the things that was happening was, as the Edwards Aquifer Authority was making greater regulations to protect their water supply, businesses like quarries and golf courses, which are big water users, mega water users, were moving into the Trinity Aquifer areas, because they didn’t want to be under drought management rules in times
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of drought. And in fact, some of the developments out here, there was on called Greystone that wanted to build a destination resort hotel and golf course adjoining the Friedrich Wilderness Park and kind of take over the entrance to the Friedrich Wilderness Park. And we went to them early on and said, you know, would you agree to a—a good neighbor policy in times of drought? You’d cut back watering your golf course, you know, because we all are on wells, and you know, our wells would be greatly affected. And they said no. No, we’ve—we’ve got to keep our, you know, our grass green for the
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golfers, so tough luck, you know. And then we had some other struggles with them about tax abatements. But anyway, that’s the at—that was the attitude. So then the city of San Antonio built their City Creek Golf Course out here, just north of—of UTSA that I mentioned. And then La Cantera now has two golf courses out here, and then there’s several at Leon Springs. They were just popping up all over the place, these mega water users, because it’s still Right of Capture in Texas, so they can go and pump as much as they want. If it makes your well go dry, tough luck. There’s nothing you can legally do
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because that’s still the law in Texas, Right of Capture. So you know, after investigating the situation, we decided that, you know, the only way that—that could work with Right of Capture was to form a Groundwater Conservation District. So I did some research on that. And then we spent, oh, several—several of us, about six months writing—actually writing the legislation, and having, you know, citizen meetings. It was a grassroots citizen’s effort. And then we went to our—Frank Corte is our representative in this area, and Wentworth was our senator. So Frank Corte said he would work with us, sponsor the
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legislation. And so we submitted it to his office, went up and testified before different committees of the House and the Senate. And then apparently what happened, it didn’t pass the fir—well, first of all, we went to our county commissioners. Let me backtrack. And l—by that time Lyle Larson was our county commissioner. We—it used to be in Elizondo’s, and then they re-districted, and we ended up in Lyle Larson’s. And he’s very much backed by developers. And so we went to him and said we’d like to make a presentation before the County Commissioner’s court about our water situation, because,
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you know, we see an impending crisis looming, especially in times of drought. And he didn’t—he wouldn’t allow us to get on the agenda. So we went to the county judge, who was then Cindy Crier, and she put us on the agenda. So—and then, you know, he had to kind of backtrack like, well, here’s you constituents, and you won’t even let him come and speak before the court on an issue that affects their lives? And so he had to kind of back peddle on that. But anyway, he was annoyed that the citizens had dared to come
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up with a—a plan of their own, you know. And so he vowed that it would not pass the Texas Legislature that time, and that the next time everybody was going to be at the table. And that meant the golf course owners, the quarry owners, and all the developers who he represented. And he told us that. He said everybody’s going to be at the table. So it didn’t go through the legislature the first time. So then the next time, you know, it—they manipulated the—they took our basic legislation—and it went through the Legislative
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Council where they put in all the loopholes for the—whoever industry, whoever needs it, so they put in the loopholes into the Groundwater Conservation District to the point that we couldn’t even vote for it anymore. Here it had been, you know, our efforts and, you know, we had wanted it, and then they had changed it and put in the loopholes for the developers that we ended voting against it, you know, when it—because you have to vote. It has to come to a citizen vote to establish the district. But it did pass. There is now what’s called the Trinity-Glen Rose Water Conservation District. I have no idea
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what they’re doing. You know, I don’t hear anything. And when we talk about water issues, I keep saying where’s our water conservation district? What are they doing about protecting our water supply? And nobody seems to know. So—I mean again, that’s another issue that, you know, citizens need to address, is this—you know, because the board that was appointed, wasn’t any of the citizens that worked on that legislation that educated themselves that live out here that know what the water situation is. It was five totally new people who knew nothing about the Trinity Aquifer, who knew nothing about water issues, that were put on the first board.
DT: You’ve talked about how development is—is one of the—the big emphasis to, I guess some of these infrastructure improvements, whether it’s the utility towers or the substation, or the—the—the new wells, and—and—and the new roads. Can you talk a little bit about Wal-Mart and its proposal to build a shopping center nearby? I’ve seen a number of signs up and down the road. And maybe that can be an example for how these new developments get proposed and permitted and so on.
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IS: Okay. Let me also tell you that then we discovered that the developers meet with, like, county and city officials, and they’re—well, of course they—they’re staff. They know them very well because they have to get permits and things like that. So Mary Fenstermaker and I decided we’d start going to some of those meetings. So we went to one of the first meetings. All the developers meet with the county officials. And the county judge was there, and our county commissioner was there. And they were a little
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shocked that some citizens came. They’re supposed to be public meetings, you know. And so they’re talking about, oh, yeah, how we want to do this curb cut, and how are we going to do that, and, yeah, we’ll put this r—you know, sewer line down the creek there, and you know, just very nonchalant, just business, you know. And so we started saying, well, wait a minute, wait a minute. Do you realize the, you know, the geo—geology of this area, or you know, the—the implications of—of what you’re doing? And you know,
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everybody kind of looked over, who are you, you know. And we said we’re citizens who live out there, and—and we’re concerned with these issues. You know, we have a right to be here. This is supposed to be a public, you know, open meeting. And so, anyway, the developers were kind of annoyed that we were there. And so then we went the next—you know, they met monthly. We went to the next time, and then they said, oh, we had to change the meeting date, you know. They couldn’t—couldn’t make it on the—the
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regular time. Okay. So we came back, and then we thought, well, we’ll call. So we called the next time to verify, you know, that the meeting was being held. And, yep, you know, it’s on. So we go down there, and then it’s like, well, where’s the meeting? And they said, oh, well, we’re not having these meetings anymore. So, you know, that was that, you know. So I guess they have the meetings behind closed doors now, you know. And I guess if we had pursued it we could have, you know, pursued it under Open Meetings Act or something like that. But I mean, as a volunteer you only have so
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many—so many hours in a day, and most of the people that I’ve been working with have been working full time and just doing this weekends and evenings, you know, as non-paid. So, you know, you—you start off with a strike against you because, you know, the developers, they’re basically—that’s their job, you know. They work at it all day long, so they have much more access to all the elected officials. But as far as the Wal-Mart struggle, they—(?) probably better people to talk to than—than—than me because I wasn’t that involved, you know, with it. I supported the citizens, but it—we—it actually
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came down to the Helotes politics that determined that, because a strip of that property is in—along Scenic Loop Road is in the city of Helotes, and the rest was in the ETJ. So, you know, the crucial part of stopping Wal-Mart resided with the Helotes City Council. And I must say, the citizens, you know, when it’s not—you know, not in my backyard type of thing, sometimes come out of their apathetic states, you know, to do something. And in this case they did. And it had to go through, you know, the Helotes City Council. So three citizens—in fact, the—Jon Allan, who’s now mayor of Helotes, called me early
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on and said, you know, they’re wanting to put this Wal—this huge big box development on the corner of Bandera and Scenic Loop, and I understand you were involved in Save Scenic Loop, and a—a lot of other issues out here, you know, could you advise them? You know, how can I get this issue out to the people? So I—you know, I ju—we just had a nice chat. And so he started having, you know, some meetings, and then—I mean the word spreads fast out here, and then, you know, it just started mushrooming. And then they formed the organization, started working, you know, against Wal-Mart. And then,
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well, the critical part was when three council positions came up. He ran for mayor, and then two others who were against Wal-Mart ran for those positions, and they won by a very narrow margin because this—the mayor of Helotes, who had been mayor for ten years, who works for the land development—some kind of land development—department for the City of San Antonio, obviously working with the developers for many, many years, filed a lawsuit, you know, that he couldn’t believe he had lost. And it was
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very close, like a few votes, and, you know. And Jon Allan stood his ground and he hired an attorney. And you know, they were going to go to court, and they had two or three re-votes, and each—I mean recounts, and each time they did the recount, it ended up that Jon Allan got more votes. But anyway, I think somebody finally went to San Antonio City Council and testified and said wait a minute, who is this person here that’s saying, you know, he deserves to be mayor again when he’s working for the City of San
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Antonio? You know, isn’t this kind of a conflict of interest here? Well, suddenly the lawsuit against Jon Allan got dropped. And so they’ve been able to, you know, go forward with that issue. So that really resides in the City of Helotes and—and those leaders from—from the citizens there that—that worked on that.
DT: Well, this might be a good segue to talk about politics, because it seems like all these…
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IS: Everything goes back to politics.
DT: …these issues do come back to city councils and boards and agencies. And I understand that, well, about three or four years ago you ran for the State Board of Education. And there are a couple of interesting aspects to me about that. I mean first, that why you decided to get involved in politics, and second, why you decided to run as a Green Party candidate. And then thirdly, why that particular board.
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IS: Okay. Well, I’ve been in education my whole life. And—and I think that’s really one of the most critical issues in our society today is, you know, how we educate our children, because that’s the future basically. And you know, I believe in educating kids to think, you know, on their own, and not just regurgitate information or facts or data. And so—and I realize that today that independent thinking and life-long learning are kind of like looked down upon, you know, because we have an agenda by the far religious right that wants everybody to think like they do, you know. Not only do—you know, and
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I—and I believe in diversity of opinion. I think that’s what has made America strong. But I think these people want a unity of thinking, and it—they want it to be their thinking. And I had been on a book censorship committee as a librarian for Northside School District, because this is all Northside School District, many years ago, and the—the lady who was objecting to a book in the—that her child had brought home from an elementary school library was The Troll Book, and it was a Norwegian folktale. And it
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had some reference to Adam and Eve in the—at the beginning of the folktale that she objected to, because it was not the biblical Adam and Eve story. And so the committee met and listened to her concerns, and everybody said, well fine, why don’t you work with the librarian, I’m sure, you know, if you don’t want your child checking out certain books that she’ll, you know, make sure she checks out the type of books you want her to,
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and you know, that sort of thing. But, you know, we—we’re not going withdraw the book from the shelves because other children might want to read it, other parents might want to, you know, have—have their children read it. And I was sitting right next to her, and this is twenty—twenty-five years ago I guess, and she said, well the problem is not only did my child bring it home but other—she’s talking to other people who check out that book and read that book. She’s coming in contact with those other people. And I thought, oh, my goodness, talk about mind control here. You know, what are you going
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to do with your child, put her in a bubble, you know, so that she can’t encounter anybody else’s ideas except what you, you know, want her to? So I mean that was kind of a beginning of consciousness in my mind that, hey, independent thinking, you know, isn’t going to be, you know, a—a future educational agenda here. So—and—and I’ve worked with gifted and talented programs for a long time, and sorry to say, they get little funding, you know, compared to athletic programs. And my husband can talk to you about that, too, because he ran for the School Board, you know, after we learned about how
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political the School Board is, and how these schools are economic growth generators and the developers get the Board—School Board trustees elected. And then wherever they have their property and they need a school, the school goes in, just like infrastructure, and then the development occurs as a result of that because I’ve talked to parents who’ve had their children moved from elementary to school to elementary school every year for five years because once the school goes in, they sell the first ring of houses, your child
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will go to the neighborhood school. And then the next ring, you know, outside that, okay, the school’s filled, well then we have to bus the kids that are closest to the school to another school so we can sell our houses in that at-next ring as your kids will go to the neighborhood school. So you know, we learned how that works, you know. And then if the parents didn’t vote for the bond issues to build these schools, they were chastised. They were punished, you know, and their kids got bused again, or they got redistricted, or
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they redrew the lines, or whatever. So we found out how political, you know, the Northside District is, and how pro-growth they are. So—I forgot where I was going with this.
DT: You were telling that you were a Green Party candidate for the board of education.
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IS: Oh, yeah. The—the polit—the politics. Yeah. And—so I’ve—you know, I’ve always been involved as—as a librarian and teacher with educational issues. So anyway, through these experiences I saw, you know, how the religious right was trying to take over the educational area of our society, basically. And it didn’t include diversity. So—and—and they had—at that time, when I—when I considered running for—for the Board of Education, I had a majority on the State Board of Education, and they were doing things like—they were only supposed to review textbooks. And California and Texas are the two states that sell the most textbooks. So whatever state adopted textbooks are
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adopted in those states, you—so goes the nation, basically, in terms of education. So it was a very critical issue in terms of the—our future and our kids. So—edu—what the edu—what the sch—oh, the State Board of Education was doing, and is still doing today, by law they can review the textbooks that are adopted by the, you know, Texas Education Agency and the committees and, you know, the whole process. But only for, you know, binding—is it—you know, a sturdy book, is it “factual?” You know, are there any errors
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in it in terms of typos or maybe just gross factual mistakes. So they have taken that now and interpreted their role as we can go in, and we don’t want anything about evolution. You know, we don’t—we want this out of the biology textbooks, out of the health textbooks. We don’t want anything about family planning. We don’t want anything about condoms. We don’t—you know, we only want abstinence only programs in our—in our health textbooks type of thing. And that’s what they’re doing. So anyway, that, you know, kind of upset me again. And so that led to why I chose to run for the State
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Board of Education. Now why I chose to run as a Green Party member, because I was a very active member of the Northwest Democrats, and my husband was a Republican, and we used to argue, you know, about well which party was better. And then our arguments starting turning to, well, which—which party is less corrupt, and, you know. And then we started looking at it, you know, maybe we ought to look at third parties here, you know. And in Texas you only have basically the Libertarian and the Green Parties. So we, you know, looked at—and—and, you know, I understand it’s a two party—the
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way things set up, it’s a two party system. And it’s not a parliamentary system, and you have little chance, you know, as—as a third party candidate. But we were hoping for something like in Germany, where they have a fairly strong Green Party, and with just between five and eight percent of the vote, they are usually the swing between, you know, the more conservative and the more liberal parties. So they’ve even had the Minister of—the Foreign Minister, who’s been a Green Party member in Germany. So
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we were hoping that maybe, you know, the two major parties would, you know, kind of be at an even keel, and then the third parties would, you know, play a more important role. That—that would be the only way they could in a—in a basically two party system. So anyway, we looked at the—the platforms, and you know, what they stood for. And the Green Party has this very strong environmental aspect, a very strong social justice aspect, and you know, they were just really our issues, you know, what they stood for. And so we—we joined with, you know, some other Greens in the party in this area,
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which was basically just getting started. And David Cobb, who actually ran for the U.S. presidency out of—he was—he had been corporate attorney out of Houston. And so he was k—sort of the leader of the Green Party at that time getting it organized across Texas. And so we joined ranks with them. And my husband ran for office. We got our two children to run for office because by that time, after all these many battles and, you know, struggles, and—and learning basically how things really work behind the scenes—they don’t work, you know, like it says on paper or in the textbooks—we came down to
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the fact that, you know, the big industry, the big developers that are the big—making the decisions, writing—they’re writing the legislation, they’re paying, you know, for the campaigns to get their people elected. So once their people get elected, then they owe them once they’re elected to make sure that what their issues are get passed, you know, through legislation. And so, you know, we wanted to make a statement that, hey, you know, citizens, green roots, you need to think about, not only getting involved in your
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communities and working on issues that, you know, are dear—near and dear to you, but you need to consider taking—you know, having some civic duty and running for office, you know, so that we don’t these corrupt politicians, and career politicians who just stay up there for years just taking the money, you know, from the—because they don’t represent us. You know, people say, oh, sign this petition, and you know, go—go talk to your rep, or go—who do I talk to? I don’t have any representatives. They don’t represent me. You know, and that was obvious when we did our Water Conservation
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District. When push comes to shove, they can say, yeah, we’ll work with you, you know, we’ll help you with this. Look at how they vote. They say one thing and they vote another way. Look at how they vote and you’ll see where they stand. So it—we—you know, we thought, well, let’s put our efforts into trying to make a statement that citizens need to think about—you know, and of course they stopped civics education in—in schools many years ago. Oh, yeah, that’s covered in history or government, we don’t need that anymore. So kids grow up not knowing that in a democracy, not only do you
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need free and open access to information, but you need to be participative. You know, you need to be a part of it because, you know, I’ve—I’ve manned booths at voting booths, and we’ve got somebody under fifty that came to vote, yeah, we’ve got a young one finally out to vote. They don’t even know they’re supposed to vote, you know. So—and—and—so they’re not participating basically. And—and I—I don’t think it’s their fault. I think it’s the fault of—of—of our society. You know, not—not incorporating that into their education. So anyway, that’s—that’s how I came to run, and we—you
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know, as Green Party members, we say we take no corporate money. And so, you know, basically we spend our own money. And I spent less than five hundred dollars, and I got ten thousand votes out of it’s a twelve county area. And of course you need a hundred thousand to win. But, you know, and I went to some of the League of Women Voters debates, and I got some different issues out there. So it was an interesting experience. And I encourage every citizen to—to try that, you know, because we need to take back our country. You know, from what I’ve learned with all these struggles, they don’t—
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our—our—you know, our elected representatives don’t—don’t—don’t represent us. And what they do is they—they tell you well go to these bureau whether it’s TxDOT or whether it’s, you know, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, or whatever these agencies are, the elected officials appoint the commissioners for the insurance industry, or for the environmental industry, or whatever. I mean look who Bush appointed. He called himself the environmental governor of Texas, and he—he appointed the CEO of
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Monsanto to the, you know, the environmental commission for Texas. There are only three commissioners, and all of them were from industry. So, you know, and then they tell you to go jump through all the hoops of all these agencies and bureaus that have been set up. But again, it goes back—and then, you know, you’re talking with all these people, and you know, do this, and do this petition drive, and you know, oh, yeah, for—fill out blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, just to keep you busy, you know, and think you’re
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doing something. Like, oh, yeah, we’re really, you know, having an impact here. No, you’re not. You know, while you’re doing all of that—maybe a little bit. You know, maybe sometimes. Wal-Mart, obviously. But for the most part, this is all going on over here between the elected officials and the people who fund them while you’re—they have you busy doing all these other things over here, you know. Yeah, look at this pl—you know, water plan, you know, for five years while we’re—you know, the Water Mafia’s over here solidifying, you know, whatever they need. So…
DT: Maybe this would be a good time to tell—maybe tell about your efforts to—to build sustainability on a more local and small business level.
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IS: Okay.
DT: I think you’ve done some interesting things with ecotourism and…
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IS: So that was our run for office. And like I said, it was—it was very interesting, and I encourage everybody to do that. So then after that we decided that we sort of withdrew, and you know, we’re getting old. And so we decided that we would try to do our own thing. You know, we’ve worked with—as a community, and we’re—we’re still working with the community and groups, but we’re just, you know, doing other things, and more personal things. And one of the things that we’re doing is a nature tourism effort to say that this is our economic development in our area. We want—we don’t want
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big box developments like Wal-Mart, but we want to encourage B&B’s, and—and—and we’ve turned our house into a—a spa, and we hope to have a—you know, a nice spa park. And you know, businesses that depend on—on a—a good natural environment, preserving the environment. And we have some other acreage in the area that we’ve bought, and we have some acreage at Boerne. And we’ve—we’re trying to preserve those as private nature preserves. And then through nature tourism programs is to bring
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people in and how—let them learn about our area, native plants, birds, you know, the animals, etc., and—and help us in our efforts to preserve it. And so it—there’s this fledgling, you know, ec—ecotourism, or nature tourism movement, and we’ve been working with the Cibolo Wilderness Center in Boerne. And in fact, we are part of the what’s called the Cibolo Loop of the Texas Parks and Wildlife—Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail, and this is patterned after the Great Birding Trail, which they started along the
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Texas coast. And nature tourism is one of the fastest growing parts of tourism in Texas because we are on the east-west, north-south flyways, and people come from all over the world to see the birds. And so, you know, and I think Texas is maybe slowly wo—waking up to—to—to—you know, there are other possibilities here besides just endless sub—suburbs. So we have all of our places listed. This place also is lis—a registered site on the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail. And so we’re trying to preserve it as much as possible in as much—as—as natural a state as possible. So we’re doing—last year we
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did for the first time an activity called Go Outdoors. And we fought—this is again with the Fenstermakers and the Cibolo Wilderness Area in—in Boerne. And so we put—it’s a—a combination of public and private entities, and we opened up our properties, and we give nature tours, and special—like I think Cibolo is going to have a native plant sale, and they had a kite flying contest last year. So it’s called Go Outdoors, and it’ll be the first weekend in April. And so we hope to build on that, and maybe—you know, we have a lot of endangered species habitat out here, from the cave invertebrates to the Golden-
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cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Verio. And so we’re—we’re hoping to have like a Golden-cheeked Warbler festival, and—you know, just call attention to the amenities that we—the natural amenities that we have out here, and why we think they’re worth saving.
[End of reel 2345]
[End of interview with Irene Scharf]