INTERVIEWEE: Johnny French (JF)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: February 24, 2006
LOCATION: Zapata, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Jennifer Gumpertz and Denise Williams
REELS: 2371, 2372
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 mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s February 24th, 2006. And we’re in Zapata, Texas, and have the good fortune to be visiting with Johnny French, who is a—a biologist who’s worked both for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and its predecessor, the Federal Power Commission, and for many subsequent years, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of Corpus Christi. And in the course of doing that, got to issue a number of, write on, and—and draft a number of environmental impact statements, and biological opinions about aquatics and species here in Texas. And I’ve heard—visiting with us, I wanted to thank you.
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JF: You’re always welcome.
DT: I thought we might start by asking about your childhood, and if there might have been early experiences that suggested you might go into the wildlife field or conservation field like you have.
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JF: I always knew that I would do something with fishing. If I could managed to—to combine my—my favorite recreation with my avocation, vocation, whatever you want to call it, I was absolutely going to do that. But it was—it was quite some time before I—I got it narrowed down that much. I could have gone into a number of biological fields and just loved it. And I got into my first professional application of biology with the Navy, of all things. Because I’d already had a couple of years of—of junior college, that made it
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easy for me to apply and become a—a—a naval Corps man. One of my early heroes going through Navy Core School was Bill Cosby, because of all things, he happened to have written and performed his first LP about the time I was in Corps School, because he had been a Corps man in Korea. Works for him. But years later, I had a little flashback. I—we—it was in a—in a situation similar to the one that he describes about running up on the beach and, you know, safe, you know. He was in a foxhole, watching the war. Oh,
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look, there’s a ship in the air. And somebody calls out, “Medic.” Well, of course he was a little embarrassed to—to note that, you know, he was very happy where he was, and he didn’t want to be involved, you know. “What’s the problem?” “My leg. My leg.” “Take two aspiring and mail in the five dollars.” Same thing happened to me in Vietnam. On the last day there, as we were waiting to leave, our flight got delayed, of course. And in the middle of standing to attention early in the morning, because we’d had to spend the night at the USO sleeping on the floor and the stage, and anywhere we could find, the
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middle of—of roll call—gosh knows why anybody needed to have their roll call the day they were to leave Vietnam, but they were doing it—we got rocketed. This was in Danang Airport, and we didn’t know anything about it. Finally somebody calls out and says, “Hey, here’s the air raid shelter.” So people go piling in to this long bunker. You know, it’s got an opening at both ends, and, you know, about four million GI’s packed in between them. I hear this voice. “Medic.” “What’s the problem?” And then I realized
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that my equipment was outside in the little parade ground. Run out there, grab it, run it back in, the far end. “Okay, what’s the problem? What’s the problem?” One of the Zoomies, a—a—a—a—a youngster really, a young guy that must have weighed three hundred pounds, had been shaving and stepped on his razor when the alarm went off. I’m sure he got a Purple Heart for it.
DT: If—if you don’t mind, I’d—I’d like to back up just a little bit. Before Vietnam, before the Navy Corps, and—and talk about some of the—the early experiences. The first rock, the first flounder…
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JF: Well, sure.
DT: …the first velvet ant. I think some of these first experiences.
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JF: First rock I ever—ever put in my rock collection was picked up on my grandmother’s farm in Northern Missouri. It—it was many years before I learned what it really was, but you know, it got me started on—on earth science that I haven’t put down since.
DT: What—what appealed to you about this rock, this particular rock?
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JF: Well, I was fascinated with its form, its color, and how it came to be. And to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of scientists that are still trying to figure them out. Agates are neat. It’s like that—that kind of thing. So we could have spent four hours today picking up more agates right down the—the shoreline here on—on Falcon Lake. It’s a wonderful place to go. The first fish, I can’t remember the first fish, but I know I was fishing by the
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time I was six years old. I remember the first fishing pole I broke—on a great huge flounder. I remember, as you say, the first velvet ant I ever found, and the first big green caterpillar with long black spines, larva of the Io Moth, because both stung the fool out of me when I was trying to take it to my parents to get the I.D. Those sort of things, you know, any kid’ll do. But I never grew up. I’m still doing that.
DT: Was—was your dad or you mother, or some other kinds of family members knowledgeable about the flounder, or about the Io Moth, or…
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JF: Oh, oh, certainly. My—my father and…
DT: …tell you about what these things were?
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JF: My father certainly wouldn’t have tried to tell me what most of the things were, except for the fish. Okay. Because he fished his whole life, and took me fishing when I was barely, you know, big enough to hold a pole. We spent forever, you know, fishing constantly. And if we weren’t fishing, the whole family would go on a—on a vacation
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trip to Garner Park, which is still my favorite park in Texas to this day. Part of that’s association with childhood, I’m sure. But it still a beautiful place, and I’d love to see a lot more kids grow up and—and visit it.
DT: Did you camp there at the park?
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JF: Sure we did.
DT: Did—tell about some of your early camping (?)?
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JF: Oh, heck. CH is among the persons that has been experiencing this kind of stuff with me all these years. I wish I could get out and camp more, but I can’t any longer. I can’t camp more than six—six feet from a—a—an electrical outlet, because I can’t sleep without a—a piece of equipment. But at—at any rate, yeah, I remember one year we visited Garner Park, the weekend before, I think it was Labor Day. And there was
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nobody there. Everybody was waiting for Labor Day. So we woke up the next morning, and the best part of the park, and it was totally deserted, there was nobody there. For two days the park ranger didn’t even come around to collect their money. The only drawback to having that whole place to our self, as far as people was concerned, is that we didn’t
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have it all to ourselves as far as nature was concerned. CH woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me don’t move because there were three skunk tails going by my cot. But it’s still a great place to visit.
DT: I think it’s interesting that you had this instinct from early on to—to go out and collect bits and pieces, and artifacts, and bring them home and try to describe them, keep them. What do you think that—that instinct is?
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JF: I don’t know that it’s an instinct. I think it’s taught. My—my father, as I said, kept introducing me to things. I became a pebble pup when I was still, you know, sub teen. Pebble pup, of course, is a young rock hound. But I—I use the—use the term advisedly because I believe it was the Chicago Museum of Natural History organized this thing you could send off and you would get a little kit of different minerals. And that
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was the beginning of, you know, whatever it is you wanted to do. Well, Dad couldn’t be stopped with that. Having begun with that, he said, well, just, you know, down the road a few miles is a place we can pull off and step out and collect our own rocks. And we started picking up pieces of petrified wood, and other things that we—we didn’t even know about. Dad was as eager to learn as I was. I was just, you know, following in his footsteps. And I think also because he grew up on a—on a farm, he was that much more
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in to nature. But here he was in the Navy. We used to say the two of us, you know, put in thirty years together, but he put in twenty-seven and a half. The thing was, he—he was constantly trying to get back to his youth. He did like to get out in the country, he did like to go fishing, and he always took me along.
DT: Can you tell about some of your early fishing trips?
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JF: Oh, good grief. Garner Park, for example, was a terrific place to go fishing. And even if you forgot some of the gear, it was still a whole lot of fun. All you really needed was, you know, a hook and a line, and whatever you could find. We spent hours chasing grasshoppers. But we discovered that, you know, Texas is kind of neat this way. The bottoms of the streams belong to the public. The only problem is getting access to the
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bottoms of the streams, and Garner was one of those places. But if you want to take the time, you can step into the water and not get out for miles down stream. Just keep walking. Stay in the water. Most beautiful scenery in the world. You’ve got, you know, springs dripping into it, moss, and—and wild stuff growing everywhere. Of course, fish in every little hole. We made one of our treks one morning, and—and we’re, you know, a mile or more from a—from the camp before we realized that nobody had a stringer. So
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we—we unbuttoned our pockets and stuffed the fish in there. And we came back to camp and had lunch with—with Blue Gill ala—ala T-shirt. Hey. It’s—it’s one of those things that you just have to experience without planning. Planning kind of takes the fun away from it. It’s extemporaneous things are—are—are what become memorable. And that’s what I remember. Not having a—a stringer, but having lots of places to tuck our fish.
DT: Well, speaking of fishing, I—I think that’s been a lifelong interest of yours.
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DT: And—and when you fish, you do both fe—fresh and salt water?
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JF: Yes. It’s all a matter of—of what Mother Nature will allow. On a good windy day you can’t fish in the surf. On a windy day you can go to a lake, however, and fish for catfish or whatever happens to be around. It’s a matter of taste, though, that I prefer to go surf fishing because I love a fish called the Pompano. I have a rod rack out there in the
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parking lot right now on the front of my little Blazer. It’s a four-wheel drive. I had a—a—an interview one time with a reporter from the—the New York Times. He came down and went back, and he wrote about our discussions of drilling for oil and gas in the National Seashore. And he wrote about how ironic it was that someone of—of my background, a—an environmentalists he called me, would drive a four-by-four. And what he neglected to notice was that he couldn’t have been where we went without one. So it’s—needs/must. It’s not the Devil driving me, I guarantee you. You can be an environmentalist, and you can drive an SUV. It’s possible to do both. And sometimes
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you have to do both. Now, the National Seashore is a place that I revere. In little over a week, a lot of us will be down in the middle of the four-wheel drive area picking up trash, because a fisherman organized this thing. And last year, I think we had three hundred and fifty people show up. A lot of them never fished, or haven’t fished in years. But they couldn’t stand to see the trash on the beach. Take that a step further, I couldn’t stand to
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see people driving eighteen wheelers down the beach. And not just because I wanted to go fishing, but because there were children on that beach, there were threatened species on that beach, there were reasons not to have them there. So we had a big disagreement. The Sierra Club supported my side of it to a certain extent. The National Park Service did not.
DT: Was this about oil and gas…
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JF: This is about oil and gas development, yes. The National Seashore does not own the subsurface rights. They don’t own the oil and gas underneath it. And the state of Texas owns a great deal of it right up to it. So if you want to—to drill at the National Seashore, all you have to do is ask. Ah, it’s not really that easy. As a result, then the National Park Service has to do an environmental review of the process. And that’s where people like me could step in and say, well, wait a minute, you haven’t looked at
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these alternative, you should try this, you might try that. The National Environmental Policy Act doesn’t require that you use the advice, only that you solicit it. And the Park Service has done that—that minimal amount. But to this day, it’s—it’s kind of—I look like—like a—a fool saying this, but—but they probably should have allowed more environmental impact on that island than the Park Service was willing to. The reason for letting people drive on the beach to get to their—their well sites was that it’s cheap. And
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it does not require that they build more roadway than they just absolutely have to. The problem though is that they’re making the oil companies, the drilling companies themselves, drive right across an area where the Ridley Sea Turtle nests. Now even if they don’t do this during the nesting season, they’re still doing a lot of impact. And my—my solution to this was to have them connect a bunch of old, old all the roads back behind the dunes so they never have to drive on the beach again. That causes an
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environmental impact because there are resources of other kinds back there. But none of them are in danger. So it’s a trade off, and as I say, Park Service didn’t agree with me. But that’s life. They have to respect my right to speak about it.
DT: Well, this—I think you’ve been dealing with these impacts and tradeoffs from projects for—for years. And it probably goes back all the way to your days in graduate school at Texas A&M, where I understand for your Masters thesis you looked at the impacts and alternatives for once-through cooling systems for power plants.
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DT: You—can you talk about that whole issue, and—and the alternatives you considered?
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JF: Well, the—there—there—there have been a number of times when the Masters research that did, and actually it was only part of a little summer program. The thing I was really working on fell through because, although we were working at a power plant, the—the electricity that was required to—to keep a bunch of tanks full of—of crabs and shrimp and so forth, kept going off, and everything kept going belly up. So we wound up
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pretty much using something that I had done as—as an undergraduate and turning it into a—a Masters thesis. It worked out fairly effectively. What we were dealing with was pretty much an industry standard. And this is—this is back in—in the early 1970’s. Most power plants require some kind of a cooling system. The very cheapest of them is to take water from, you know, a body of water like a—a lake or—or in this case, a—a bay, and pump it through their—their—their systems.
DT: What—what (inaudible)?
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JF: Well, this was the P. H. Robinson Generating Station near—near Texas City, just a little ways off of that. It would take water out of Dickinson Bayou and—and run it through their cooling coils, pump it into a discharge canal, and discharge it into Galveston Bay. And the problem there was that virtually everything within the discharge canal, and a pretty good radius within the discharge point into the Galveston Bay area,
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was devoid of fish during most of the summer. A great deal of our fisheries here in—in the Texas coast involve organisms that have upper limits of tolerance very close to as warm as it ever gets here in—on the Texas coast as far as water’s concerned, somewhere around ninety degrees Fahrenheit. And this plant was at least ten to fifteen degrees above ambient most of the time. So it was determined that they would try to take some water and bypass the plant. Instead of pumping all the water through the plant, they would take
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a little out, run it around the plant, and dump it into the discharge canal. The bypass system was what I studied, before and after, to see if improved the conditions of the fish. And what it did, as a matter fact, did reduce, you know, the temperatures within the discharge canal, but everything that it pumped through the bypass system got killed anyway. So at—the—the tradeoff didn’t work. And my understanding is, some years afterwards, P. H. Robinson went to what many of the—of the generating stations in the
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industry have gone to, and that’s a—a cooling tower. They use a combination of evaporative cooling and—and sometimes other water sources. But they keep the water down without running it straight through the plant, which is, you know, a great plus. Learned quite a bit from this process because later on it was easy to kind of use the—the same terminology, the same equipment almost was a—involved—in what I did for the—the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission.
DT: I think this was your first job coming out of (inaudible).
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JF: This was really—really my first good job. I had—I had a—a job that was—absolutely the very first one. After I got my Masters Degree it was at a funeral home. I lasted exactly two weeks at that job. We thought it would fit in real well because I had been a Corps man, I had driven an ambulance, and, you know, once you’ve driven one body, life or dead, it, you know, it shouldn’t make much difference. But after spending
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Halloween night in the funeral home, I decided that was the end of that—that—that particular thing. So I—I—I took my next job with Baroid Corporation, became a mud logger. The first as far as—as the—the teachers could tell me, Masters Degree in fisheries that had ever become a mud logger. And I was kind of over-qualified for that, and I lasted at that for six months drilling wells all over south Texas, some of them not far from where we’re sitting now. But it didn’t pay well, and it was, you know, a twelve
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hour a day project, and—even a—even a grad student can’t really appreciate working that much that long. So I got out of that because April 1st is—1975, I got an opportunity to go to work in Washington D.C. with what was then called the Federal Power Commission. The Federal Power Commission changed its name not long thereafter. It wasn’t anything to do with me, but it became the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And I—I
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remember the—the people in charge held a—a full staff meeting the morning that the name change occurred. And the—the man very clearly in charge said very clearly to all of us, you shall not pronounce the acronym. Of course everybody did immediately thereafter. That’s one of those Dilbert things. But with the Federal Power Commission, among the things that I started doing almost immediately was working with another once-through system for LNG, Liquefied Natural Gas. But with Liquefied Natural Gas, what
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we were dealing with was the opposite of the heat exchange that I saw with at the power plant. Because the water that went through was used to warm a very cold liquid, liquefied natural gas, the water that was released from the plant after this once-through had occurred was many degrees colder than ambient rather than—than being many degrees hot. And other than that, the process was very similar. You have the same kind of—of impacts to fauna, but in in—you know, different degrees. If you’re trying to keep one of these systems operative, you have to clean it from time to time because fouling
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occurs. All the little pipes and channels that the water runs through, if they’re exposed to—to water for very long, thing grow in there. Could be barnacles, it could be, you know, some—some types of bryozoans, but things that you have to get out of there, and you use a—a chemical and a mechanical methodology to get rid of it. And these things tend to be toxic, so they wind up in the environment. So whether you’re heating the water or cooling the water, you have similar impacts. And you worry about what’s got to occur,
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not just in the plant, but down stream of it. So for quite some time I played with those. I also got involved in writing my—my first impact statements. These are—are not a project that an individual would handle. It took teams to do these. Because some of the projects were very big. Many of them had to do with LNG. But absolutely the biggest project ever seen at that time, as you’re probably aware, was the—the Alaskan Oil Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay. What many people didn’t realize was that they weren’t just
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producing oil up there in Prudhoe Bay, but producing natural gas. In those days natural gas didn’t amount to anything as far as our economy was concerned. We were burning lots of gas, of course, in—in—in cars, and making diesel and making fuel oils and so forth, but the natural gas itself was so ubiquitous that it was actually a liability to the people drilling the wells, so they would tend to flare it. Now picture all these flares going on up there on the North Slope, and picture the headaches we have today with—with global warming and you—you—you begin to see that we probably did the right thing,
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maybe for the wrong reasons. But eventually the FERC prevailed and they were told don’t flare it, don’t waste it, pump it back in the ground. And because of that policy, to this day we are still getting oil out of those fields that could have been depleted because there wasn’t enough pressure there to get it out of the ground any longer. Now we could have gone to injection of—of CO2 or—or pumping steam or dos—you know, there was a lot of things we could have done, but the smartest thing was to put the gas back in the
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well. Well, it’s still there. It has to come home, to Chicago and—and to San Francisco, and places in between. And that means that there is an alternative very similar to the oil pipeline that’s been under consideration for close on forty years and hasn’t been built. This was just in the paper yesterday that Alaska has approved essentially what I was working on thirty years ago, and that was called the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation System, which has a excellent, excellent acronym—ANGTS.
DT: Did you—do you have angst about that kind of project?
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JF: We have—we—well, I haven’t worried about it, but the FERC worried about it. In those days they had a like a—a regular session almost continuously of administrative law judges overhearing the hearings, because there competing companies that wanted to build a thing or alternatives to it. And as I well recall, it took, for the transcripts, a very large book case, the whole—all of three hundred days of testimony in that thing. A little tiny piece of it involved some of my early testimony. Now mind you this. This is the—the first job I’ve had right out of college that really amounts to anything compared to
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what I had done in college. And I wound up testifying to a judge on things like what would happen if you dug gravel out of a—a—of a river, which I’ve never seen or got within a thousand miles of on the North Slope of Alaska, how it would effect the ecology of the North Slope and—of the river in particular if you did that. All of this was instant expertship. Just like, you know, becoming a Corps man, you’re an instant doctor. Well, it takes a little more than that. But, you know, as a young kid coming out of college, it
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was—it was amazing that anybody would listen to me, much less believe it. And yet I managed to convince, you know, a lot of people, even myself, that I knew something about a place I’d never been, and an ecology I’d never seen. I bring that up because I know there’s—there’s people out there who probably suspected this of experts for a very long time. And I—and I—I need to tell you this, that it can happen. But everything that I testified to was under oath, and I believe it was true at the time. So I wasn’t trying to pull anybody’s leg. I even wound up quoting from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi about
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what would happen if you snuck out in the—the dark of night and—and cut a little, you know, channel along the edge of the Mississippi, the course of that mighty river would change, and that’s what I told the judge. If you did the same thing here with the gravel mining operation, you could cause a whole fishery to go away overnight because all the water would disappear. He believed it, and I still do believe it. But that’s the sort of
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thing that an early interest in fishing will get you into. You will study things that have nothing to do with how to bait a hook just because it’s interesting to know something about the fish. You know, why a fish does what it does, and why people do things to fish that they shouldn’t. You learn the hard way, but you learn. And sometimes learning is an in in itself, and sometimes it’s useful. Even reading The Life on the Mississippi.
DT: Well, did you work on any other energy related projects for you were at FERC that might have related your fishery background and wildlife background, and…
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JF: Well, just—just a little bit. But I—one of the oddest things that came out of it was we were looking at a distribution pipeline for some of the gas that would have been brought down from the North Slope of Alaska. There were several alternatives in the area of, oh, from, let’s say, Santa Barbara down to—to Los Angeles, to bring this stuff in, re-gasify it and put it in the pipeline. One of these pipelines would have had to go a pretty good distance in order to get to a major transmission line from the coast, the Santa
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Barbara one in particular. That one eventually went away because the original location turned out to be on top an earthquake fault, which was more amazing than anything because right up the road was a nuclear plant also built right on that fault. Live and learn. But the—the interesting thing was about this pipeline, it—it went through an area of Southern California know as the San Joaquin Valley. And because of my background in the Navy and the medical information that I’d gotten into, I wound up writing in an
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impact statement that there had better be regular health checkups for the people who constructed the pipeline, particularly those who were Black, because Negroes in particular, it turned out were very susceptible to a fungal disease called San Joaquin Valley Fever. And that if they did not regularly have skin tests, which I had administered, they could very well come up with this disease. What’s the connection to fisheries? Nothing. But it’s kind of—of—it—it’s one of those little—little anecdotal things that pops into your head, and it wounds up—winds up being used. I will give you an example of a source of
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information that just happened. But it—it got used at some ig—some length in that ANGTS pipeline project, and also in another one involving LNG, and in—in Southern Alaska. Back in those days, this was the—the—the mid 1970’s, the Alaska Airlines had just been formed. Actually, they’d been around a while, but the name was new. And it hadn’t been in business so long that it yet had a back of a seat brochure or a magazine. So for lack of that, it just happened that there’s an Alaska Magazine, so that’s what they put back there. And I happen to read one of these things on a—a long flight back and forth
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from Washington D.C., and—and to Anchorage, and I noticed that there was a section in there that had to do with fish and wildlife. And it was taken from the Alaska Fish and Game’s data files. All their nice format. By the time we got done with the ANGTS EIS, there was something seven or eight references to Alaska Magazine with information that was specific to the pipeline route, and how it might be affected. Lots of stuff in there about fish, and lots of it was useful.
DT: So the—the situation with ANGTS, and then the—the later s—San Joaquin Pipeline makes you think of two things. One is if you’re—you’re doing a—a biological review, and you’re trying to anticipate things that might happen. You know, the—the gravel dredging case. You know, what if they dredge, and then…
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JF: Yes. It’s…
DT: …and then what if there’s a fish population there, and what if it’s the only fish population?
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DT: And what if (?)…
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JF: It’s all crystal ball. Yeah.
DT: There’s that aspect. And the other is what happens if there are—there’s information that just doesn’t exist? You know, like…
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JF: Sure. The fault. What if—what if…
DT: …what if the fault didn’t appear on a map, and yet, that’s a possible issue if you need to consider this is not unthinkable to the earthquake and faults in California. But where do you draw the boundary between what is a realistic risk and what is something that’s beyond that?
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JF: Oh, now you get into the—the—the very esoteric science, if that’s what you want to call it, a risk assessment, personally I didn’t have to deal with that. The FERC had a lot of engineers who were very good at it, and to this day are very good at. And I don’t know what language they speak, to tell you the truth. It’s very mathematical. And—and perhaps it’s true. But the only engineer that I’m aware of that I would trust absolutely,
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this one called Murphy. Such a—such a man did exist. I saw I think in Science Magazine years ago, the guy is since deceased, but his son had written because someone had referred to Murphy’s Law and had quoted it, as generally we understand it, that “If the worst can happen, it will.” The son said it isn’t exactly what my father said. Murphy’s Law is really this. Failure is inevitable. And that is the case with every
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pipeline, every ship, every tanker spill. It’s going to happen. Maybe not today, it may not be in this place, but when it does happen, you know, turn to Murphy, that’s the only engineer who warned you about it. If you didn’t do anything about it, well, then that’s—you know, that’s your mistake. Biologists, like myself, were constantly getting in Dutch, trying to tell engineers how to do their job. We finally learned the hard way to tell them not how to do it, but to give them the end result. If you—if you tell an engineer to build a
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levee in a particular way, the levee’s going to fail. And they will inevitably blame the biologist who designed it. Not a problem. I actually took a course in—in Texas A&M, and I could have built a levee with the engineering skills that I got there. But naturally I’d have got blamed, you know, for all kinds of inequity if I’d tried because I wasn’t, you know, a card carrying engineer. What we had to do was tell the engineer who was responsible for keeping a failure from occurring in a critical habitat of the Whooping Crane, that it better not, or we will have your hides for it. As a biologist, we can talk
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about hides. Okay? But we can’t talk about how to construct levees. It’s the end result that counts. If—if you’re afraid that you shouldn’t have a pipeline in a particular area because there’s a—a—an earthquake fault, tell the engineer to fix it so that it can’t fail even though the fault is there. It can be done. Just ask them. But by God, don’t tell them how.
DT: So the—the distinction between the—what the—the engineer might consider might consider and what a biologist considers is sort of a—a matter of time? That—that if he—given enough time…
00:37:31 – 2371
DT: …there will be a failure.
00:37:33 – 2371
JF: This goes back to risk assessment. Yeah. Risk assessment assumes that—that there will be a failure, but it’s giving odds as to how soon. And the problem is that the odds do catch up with you. If it’s a one in a million happenstance that a tanker will, you know, lose half a million gallons of crude oil, stop and ask yourself how many tankers are there, how many trips they make a year, and how soon that half a million spill will occur, because it will. And then you get to thinking about, well, what could I do to prepare before hand, because it’s going to happen. You know, what should we have in place?
00:38:13 – 2371
This consideration was done in the Critical Habitat portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, where it runs through the Whooping Crane habitat. Things that came to mind were what—you know, let’s have on station within a matter of a few minutes of deployment, a boom. You know, anywhere along this—if it spills, and it spills here, and the wind’s in the wrong direction, how are we going to stop it from getting back into a marsh where your equipment can’t go? Well, have your equipment already there between it and the area
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that you can’t go. Have somebody on call twenty-four hours a day. Who’s the closest that can deploy, who can get in there first, who can plug the hole before it happens? If there’s a—a—an issue at all with a contaminant that can’t be cleaned up, think of another way to ship it through that area. Maybe by sea isn’t the best idea. Maybe a truck would be better. So, you know, there—there are always alternatives that you can minimize a risk with. The problem is that they always seem to be the expensive one. So now it
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becomes an issue of which is more important, the dollar value of the preparation that prevents a clean-up, and the dollar value of having to clean it up and losing an endangered species at the same time? And then finally you get to—to the real issue. So many of these things that—that are—are played off against the environmental organizations of being a matter of—of jobs versus environment, or people versus, you know, the—the endangered cricket, or whatever, these are all misleading. You know,
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they’re—they’re—they’re—they’re—they’re going off into left field. The comparison that you’re making isn’t one of, you know either-or. You can have both. It’s a matter of how do you do it so that both sides are—are least offended by the result. So long as you’re saying you have to do it the cho—the cheapest way, you’re going to wind up losing every time, because you can’t avoid the risk. The risk is always there. You can minimize it, you can’t avoid it.
DT: Well, maybe we could—we could move to the next major chapter in your life, which is of going to work as the—as a—a—Fish and Wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where you made a career of trying to weigh these different risks. And—can you tell me how was it you came to hired at Fish and Wildlife Service?
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JF: Easiest thing in the world. I mean this came up on a—on a—the announcements—jobs, you know, are—are constantly being blasted around the world, I guess, you know. Here’s the opportunity and so forth. When I saw this in my own hometown, it didn’t take too long to write up a resume that, you know, put me there. I don’t know who I was competing with, but I got on in an instant. All I can say is that—that it was—it was a very happy, you know, coincidence that that job opened up when it
00:41:40 – 2371
did, and I never moved from it. I mean the—the—the office moved once in the twenty-three and a half years I worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but I never ever thought about going someplace else. I quit looking at those sheets that say “Here’s an opportunity someplace else.” I mean I could certainly have gone to a—a good fishing hole—in Alaska, for example. But then probably most of the year would have been too
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cold to go fishing. I had it perfect. You know, where I was, where I grew up, everything that I—I had studied in school, it all came together, it all clicked. And I wound up kind of defending my fishing holes. A lot of the—the early work I did with the Fishing—Fish and Wildlife Service wasn’t with big projects, but a ton of little ones.
DT: Can you give some examples?
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JF: Sure. Well, the commonest of—of permits that—that the Fish and Wildlife Service branch that I was with, Ecological Services deals with, is the oil and gas expiration permits. Corps of Engineers probably issues, oh, in the neighborhood of one or two hundred a year. General permits and specific permits for drilling a well or drilling a well field, all these things come before the Fish and Wildlife Service for review, and we
00:42:59 – 2371
make recommendations. We don’t do it in concert with more than, you know, general guidelines, most of these things have to be done specifically on site. You have to go and look, you know, or you have to have already been there and know pretty much what it—what it’s like. You can’t make a rule book up and just go by that. Otherwise, the Corps of Engineers would not need to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisher Service, and the Texas Park and Wildlife Department.
DT: And these reviews are very site-based decisions.
00:43:32 – 2371
JF: Yes, they are. And they have to be coordinated as part of the—the Wildlife—you know, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act requires these agencies to be contacted and they have to respond in—in return to the Corps of Engineers each time one of these permits is even considered. So I did an awful lot of that for years, and…
DT: It sounds like a good, typical concern to be raised in oil and gas…
00:43:56 – 2371
JF: The—the typical—typical who—concern about oil and gas have to do more than anything with access to the sight. Coastal Texas is very shallow as—as you’re probably aware. All the bays are, on average, less that six feet deep. Some areas, almost all of it’s less than four feet deep. Most of the equipment that needs to get in there in order to—to drill a well and to service it afterwards draws six feet. So if you’re out in the middle Corpus Christi Bay and it’s thirteen feet deep, it’s not a big problem. If you happen to be
00:44:28 – 2371
in the middle of the Laguna Madre, and you would have to essentially dredge a channel for four miles across a sea grass bed in order to get to that site, then you start looking at—at little things like directional drilling and other alternatives. But what generally happens is that, you know, there were years of—of—of drilling on the Texas coast before we had the environmental rules that we’re applying today. And that means there’s a lot of channels out there that were dug with—that wouldn’t be dug today. So you would tell the
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drilling get as close as you can using existing channel. You know, if you maintain it, that’s better than cutting a brand new one. But get as close as you can and directional drill. That’s—that’s—that’s worked out pretty well. The other little headache is one of timing. A lot of—of the Texas coast has resources like migratory birds, or—actually nesting sea birds is the big issue. So if you’ve got an island near one of these well sites on which they’re nesting, you probably want to stay say a thousand feet from it during nesting season. After that, before that, it’s no problem, but not during that—that critical
00:45:40 – 2371
month of, say, May through September. It depends on the species. Again, if we’re looking at a rookery for something like a—a Blue Heron, Blue Heron’s might nest as early as December or January. Now if there’s nothing else nesting there, maybe you can go ahead and drill a well starting in March. And on the other hand, if you’ve got a very sensitive species, one that you might have repercussions with even when the drilling isn’t going on, like if something gets spilled while they’re drilling, you might be real careful,
00:46:17 – 2371
for example, about how you drill anywhere near a critical habitat. You would make that company put in special booms around their—their drilling equipment in case something does go wrong. If it does fall in the water it—and it floats, at least you’ll be able to catch it, and it won’t get away and get back in the marsh where it can’t be remedied. So it—the—this is the kind of thing that you would do. You would look at preventative measures and allow the drilling to go on. I think we saw in—in not just the area of—
00:46:51 – 2371
of—of drilling, but in—in other permitting situations, a matter of perhaps two or three absolute “do not do, don’t touch, never ever get close to” recommendations a year. You know, absolute denials. Now we would quite often use language that says, don’t let Applicant ‘A’ get away with this unless the permit’s conditioned so that, you know, the avoidance is put in place. So the word “denial” would come in there. But it was understood that this is conditioning permit. We’re not saying deny it. There’s no way to help it. Those are pretty darn rare. Now, I did work one or two that were like that.
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Matter of—of record, probably the worst permit application ever, ever on the Texas coast was for a super resort development called Playa del Rio. It was to have been built generally on the southern most barrier island on the Texas coast, right across the border from Mexico, between there and—and Brisas Santiago Pass, which is what separates South Padre Island from this little piece of what they call Boca Chica Beach. This was such an egregious project, and involved so many different en—you know, en—
00:48:21 – 2371
endangered species, other natural resources, very shallow bays, mango marshes. The fact it’s so warm down there that—that even the aquatic vegetation is different from the rest of the state. It’s got things that don’t grow anywhere else, as well as species that hardly ever are found anywhere else. I believe you mentioned earlier something about the Reddish Egret, the largest concentrations found on the planet, are in the south bay area, in the area that would have been impacted by this project. This thing had an intent to develop twelve thousand
00:49:04 – 2371
four hundred acres, much of it aquatic, almost all of it barrier island, and among the things we stumbled on was that it was going to impact a population of the Piping Plover, a threatened species, that was a significant percentage. I’ve forgotten exactly what it was. It was at least seven to nine percent of the whole known population. And I wound up dealing primarily with the Endangered Species aspects of that—that project. I wrote what’s called a Biological Opinion. Biological Opinions advise the Corps of Engineers if they happen to be the—the federal agency that has the—the premier, you know, processing right to it. In this case, a very big permit. They advise that agency whether
00:49:57 – 2371
they would go ahead with a project, or if they do go ahead, what conditions they should, you know, place upon it. But these things have teeth. They’re not advisory the way they were with the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. These things are do it or drop dead. And I wrote an opinion that for the first time, and maybe the only time, we told the agency this will jeopardize the continued existence of the Piping Plover in its wintering grounds. Now it—this is—this takes a little
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explanation. There are plenty of places, particularly up around the Great Lakes where the population of the—of the Plover where it nests is so tiny that the species there is actually considered endangered, not just threatened. And there are other places on the east case, especially where we have seen biological opinions that say this is a jeopardy because you’re impacting them while they nest, while they’re most sensitive. So it’s a little harder to do that with a wintering population because these are the birds that have got up and left
00:51:05 – 2371
and have arrived, let’s say, on the Texas coast in the later part of July. And they hang around until almost June. Now that’s wintering? The fact of the matter is, although they don’t nest there, they spend the majority of their lives there, or migrating through there. So if you have an impact that continues for the whole of the year, then you can impact a heck of a big chunk, and that’s what we saw there. So we said, okay, it’s bad enough that you’re going to have adverse impacts to the ocelot, the jaguarondi, the brown pelican, the—I believe it was the American paragon falcon. Some of these—some of these
00:51: 50 – 2371
species are—are still on the—on the brink of extinction, some of them have been brought back and they—are now de-listed. This is—we’re about to de-list the—the Bald Eagle. So some are success stories and some are just clinging. But this project, this one project was going to impact them all. I never saw such a—incantation of—of mess up in one place. One thing I’d like to mention about it is that it was one of the greatest examples of—of a miscarriage of justice that I have ever seen. There was a key piece of property
00:52:30 – 2371
where Highway 4, this very southern stretch of highway in Texas, runs to the beach. Right at the very end of it, just as it got to the beach, it’s a (?) in an undeveloped area, just, you know, dunes on the other side, that was at one time a state park. It’s Boca Chica State Park. Some—some may have heard it called the Boca Chica Recreational Area because it really wasn’t a park. Nobody’d had any facilities there. It was just a sign. And—and even—most of the time, that sign wasn’t available so you wouldn’t have know
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it unless you had a roadmap. But at one time it was on the road map. Well, this little piece of property happen to be right in the middle of the chunk that this twelve thousand four hundred acre development. And the—the developer went to the owner, which happen to be Texas Park and Wildlife, and said what are the problems, you know, with my making it private? I don’t know who he—who he contacted, but Parks and Wildlife’s lawyers got a hold of the Texas General Land Offices lawyers, and they researched how it became a park in the first place. It had been state land forever, but it had been, by an
00:53:54 – 2371
act of the state legislature, handed from the General Land Office to Texas Parks and Wildlife for management. And they had forgotten to give a Consideration. This is that legal thing where you give a dollar along with—okay, that hadn’t happened. So without contacting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to tell them that, you know, this had been an oversight, the lawyers for Parks and Wildlife said, mmm, okay, give it back to GLO. GLO says, that’s fine. Here, I’ll lease it to you, the developer. Afterwards, it was
00:54:26 – 2371
discovered that this occurred that the General Land Office had leased the property without having a public hearing first. GLO says, oh, my. So then they had the public hearing. But the deed had already been done. And we lost—as “we,” the citizens of the state of Texas lost the state park. Never knew it happened. Well, to make a long story short, the Savings and Loan debacle occurred. And the developer, along with two of the savings and loans that were financing it, went under. And eventually the whole property
00:55:03 – 2371
was picked up for a song by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And it is now a part of the refuge system. And there will be no development of it, thank goodness. The Corps didn’t believe me when I told them that this had happened, that we’d purchased a big piece of it. They said that can’t be. I had to fax them the proof. They thought we’d done it intentionally, but we really hadn’t.
DT: You’ve told us about two different kinds of—of projects that the Fish and Wildlife Service dealt with there on the coast. The oil and gas example that you gave, and then this land development proposal. I was curious if you could talk about a third that’s been pretty common and in—and important from what I understand. And that’s maintenance dredging up and down…
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JF: Oh, yes.
DT: …the coast. Any experience there?
JF: Maintenance—maintenance dredging, of course the—the Gulf Coast is pretty much surrounded by one big navigational channel. The Intracoastal Waterway. And in Texas, of course it runs from Orange to—to the Port of Brownsville, essentially. So that’s a—a big, big area. And a lot of it was dredged before we had environmental rules
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that really constrained them. Now there have been laws on the books since 1899. The Corps of Engineers has been administering the Rivers and Harbors Act which deals primarily with dredging. But if you go back and you look at that, in 1899, they weren’t considered a problem. You know, endangered species hadn’t even been defined yet, and wouldn’t be, not until—not until 1973. So when maintenance was first looked at under
00:56:53 – 2371
the National Environmental Policy Act in 1975, there really wasn’t much known about what it is that you consider. And, you know, we’re talking three hundred and some odd miles of channel just in Texas that the Corps was—was addressing and—and in a—impact statement about the maintenance of—of that channel.
DT: This is the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway?
00:57:13 – 2371
JF: This is the Gulf and Intracoastal Waterway. Yeah. As it runs through Texas. They had one—one big document, but it was really out of date. By the time I came along, by the—the—the—the mid 1980’s, certainly. It was pretty much obvious to all the agencies that were involved in—in overseeing the maintenance program, except the Core, that there wa—there were big flaws in how they were doing it. They hadn’t really looked
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at some alternatives that would have minimized the impacts that were going on. So in a kind of a round robin thing, a lot of biologists from a lot of agencies, certainly the Fish and Wildlife Service wasn’t the only one, nor was I the only one in the Fish and Wildlife Service, got concerned enough, we sat down and—and wrote a letter to the Corps of Engineers telling them you have to really sit down and consider supplementing, you know, essentially rewriting, updating that—that EIS. They didn’t do it. But a number of environmental organizations down towards the southern tip of Texas, I believe you
00:58:20 – 2371
mentioned Walt Kittelberger among them, they sued in district court. And I was proud enough, lucky enough to get called in as a witness and explain why this thing was as outdated as it was. Because the environmental laws that were most important, the Clean
00:58:38 – 2371
Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, those were written long after the impact statement was. So it was well overdue for them to supplement it. And the judge agreed. So the judge told the Corps to—to get started. And it took the better part of five or six years for them to complete it. But they did it.
DT: Well, what were the big issues involved in the—the (?)?
00:59:03 – 2371
JF: Well, one of the things that became the biggest by the time it was studied, and it hadn’t been that big at the time, but it became that—that big, was that we have a—a number of sea grass beds in south Texas, the vast majority of which are in that last ninety or so miles of the Intracoastal Waterway in the Laguna Madre. That grass is dying back. It’s changing in its ecology. And it was assumed that turbidity had something to do with it, because the species that grow in the shallowest areas are being replaced by other
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species that grow in water normally not so shallow, but can tolerate less light penetration. And a lot of there things are going on. But a number of—of scientific studies seem to be showing turbidity was the reason why this was happening, and the major source of turbidity outside of hurricanes and so forth, the regular source is dredging, and the deposition of dredge material. Well, the Corps of Engineers spent a lot of money in monitoring their process and in modeling what happens. They were able to input things
01:00:23 – 2371
like currents. And they discovered in some places that the dredge material they were depositing here was gone within a year. Where did it go? Back into the channel they just spent millions of dollars dredging, because a cross current carried it there. The solution? Put the spoil somewhere else. Somewhere where it would stay for years, and not fill up the channel, and not cause them to have problems with tugboats dragging bottom. So,
you know, this was something that was expensive and they had to pump the material further, but it saved them money because they didn’t have to pump it as often. And the Corps didn’t know this because a district court didn’t force them to go and review their process until the late 1980’s. So it was a good thing.
[End of Reel 2371]
DT: Let’s return to something you were talking about when we were on the—the pervious tape. You—you gave two examples that kind of brought up kind of a—a similar issue, in my mind at least. One was the—the Boca del Chica project…
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JF: Playa del Rio at Boca Chica.
DT: …proposal for this—this development. And—and the second was the—the dredging and the spoil disposal problem. And in the first case, it seemed like the Fish and Wildlife Service review delayed the actual construction of the project long enough for it to sort of fall apart of its own accord because of poor financing and other problems.
00:02:02 – 2372
DT: And in the second case, with the—the dredge disposal, you actually found alternatives that saved the Corps money.
00:02:13 – 2372
DT: So in first case, it might have been a time issue, in the second case it was more like a content, you know, some—some better information you provided in the course of your review. So I’m—I’m wondering why in view of those two benefits from these—theses reviews, the Fish and Wildlife Service consultations and opinions and—and impact statements are often considered red tape and sort of a—or—a net loss waste to—to the private sector.
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JF: They are—they are, in—in fact, red tape, but, you know, it’s—it’s a very underrated effect. I guess it comes kind of in that category of checks and balances. There—it was many years ago, a popular science fiction author noted that in fact we should have more red tape because as—as governments get more and more efficient and do things quicker, they make more mistakes. If you slow things down and you take a
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deliberate look at most any project, you can find a way of doing it better. It’s not necessary that you can do it better, but fortunately, you know, by the end of—of the—the 1960’s era, by 1969, Congress acknowledged this effect to the point that they said, well, look, we won’t require that every agency take the cheapest or the most expensive, or the least environmentally damaging course, but we’ll make sure that everybody gets a chance
00:04:01 – 2372
to take a shot at it, and that every possible bad effect or good effect, and alternative, and they’re good and bad effects, will be examined before we actually spend a dollar on the project. You know, before we do something that’s irretrievable. What I’m referring to is, of course, the—the National Environmental Policy Act. Now that project review system has probably saved the country many billions of dollars, because when it’s effective and does what it’s intended to do, it isn’t just slowing things down, it’s making people actually
00:04:41 – 2372
take a second look. And it’s surprising how often that second look is more clear, you know, more lucid. A lot of—a lot of really good engineers have admitted this, that they had a mistake in their first calcu—set of calculations, that this might have saved lives because somebody else looking over their shoulder found that mistake. A lot of time something comes out of the woodwork too. This is a—this is a very alarming situation,
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and—and it occurs often enough. The reference I had earlier to having discovered that the currents were pushing the Core’s mat—material back into the channel almost as fast as they could dredge it. Stuff that can’t be anticipated you have no crystal ball for, still manage to fall in your lap before you’ve committed any resources. That’s what’s important about that law and a good many other laws, they—they don’t just slow you
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down, you know, they make you take another look, and it’s the second look, or the third look, or whoever else is looking for you, that—that makes it a very—very happy thing you did. It’s expensive, but it still saves money. It looks like it’s red tape, but it’s more like pink bow ribbons. The projects are better because of it. That was the intent. There—there should not be, as far as I’m concerned, any reason to doubt that these things
00:06:15 – 2372
are better for the U.S. of A. as a whole, and we’re talking about dollars, not just this—you know, for—for tree huggers, you know, or—or for people who want to protect the—the—the little cold slimies, we’re talking about saving people’s lives, we’re talking about saving their economies, we’re talking about saving jobs.
DW: I had an additional question on that. And yet the ability to throw—I don’t want to use the word “roadblock,” because that sounds negative in your context.
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DW: In a way often—often doesn’t come for free because the government requires it, but it’s like it takes a bake sales from people to actually…
00:06:54 – 2372
DW: …do that. And the other side seems (?) the developer’s side, you get all the lawyers and money in their world. So how do we get any equality in bake sales versus Swiss bank accounts to make this happen?
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JF: Yeah. It’s—it’s—it’s a matter of—of—of record that we have seen a pendulum swing many times. In the—in the ‘60s the pendulum was very much in—in the favor of environmental law. And by the 19—1973 era we hadn’t really seen the—the—the best and the brightest. There hasn’t been anything actually similar to that in the way of a pendulum swing since. And what I think I’m seeing is that pendulum slowing down. The
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environmental groups and the environmental agencies like—like the Fish and Wildlife Service, had the advantage at first because those laws were new, and—we’re talking about the Black Letter Law, the—the—the case law was still being written and it’s being written to this day. But in—in those days the—the judges tend to—to actually read more into the ability of the agencies and the plaintiffs, the environmental groups, than they did
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in the developer or the federal agency that was affected. Times have changed. Those laws have been on the books long enough that a whole new era in environmental lawyering has occurred. And I use that word advisory. There are a lot—ad—advisely. There are a lot of people out there who make a living in fighting these cases. And the only people who can afford to do that on a regular basis are the mega corporations. So
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these people have, at their beck and call, the pros, to come and work at any given time. But it’s still a matter of bake sales to come up with the funding and the lawyers and so forth for the other side. So now, you know, the pendulum’s still swinging. Things like global warming may speed it up a little bit, but it’s not swinging as fast as it had, you know, in a—a couple of decades ago. It’s—it’s—it’s a matter of perseverance, therefore, the folks with the bake sales should just keep baking. Okay? But don’t hope for an early
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victory. That’s become more unlikely because the other side has a lot of clout and can move much faster. Still, if you do wait long enough, and you do, you know, get enough attention focused on something, you—you know, any project will have some Achilles’ heal. That’ll show up. And it should show up before the thing is built and then collapses around us.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit about the—some of the problems and Achilles’ heels that you may have found in the second looks at—at some of the plants along the Texas coast. And I’m talking about…
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DT: …facilities, chemical plants such as Formosa Chemicals, ASARCO, Alcoa. Did—did you manage to review some of these projects or…
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JF: I got—I get a…
DT: …things related to them?
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JF: I got into things on the tail end of—of Asarco. Asarco. At one time—let’s see, I believe that’s American Smelting and Refining Company—at one time had a facility in the inner harbor of Corpus Christi, but they had pretty much begun to move out of the port before I came along. But their—their legacy was still there. In the early days I worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service, I reviewed some dredging projects for the
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maintenance and deepening of that inner harbor. And the material that was being dredged up, the first scoop more or less of what you take off the bottom of the harbor was hotter than a pistol with heavy metals. And there was only one finger to be pointed because there was only one producer of same, and that was this Asarco. Materials that were coming out of there were phenomenal levels of zinc and cadmium. And there were
00:11:03 – 2372
probably a lot of other little subsidiary chemicals, but those were the big ones. At least we didn’t have mercury in—in great, you know, amounts. Most of that material today is still near the inner harbor, but it’s been dredged up and buried, you know, intentionally. I mean because that was the recommendation. As the stuff came up, they would sample it, find out where the hottest was, and go and stick it on the bottom of the deepest pile they could come up with, of stuff that wasn’t as contaminated. So that as years go by—this
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stuff is fairly immobile, these metals are, so long as they’re kept away from the environment. Odd as it is, these things, you know, are—are—are chemically pretty toxic, but there are still some organisms, like plants in particular, that it can take them up and not be killed by it. And one of the results of that was, one of the studies done in the inner harbor of Corpus Christi produced the highest level of zinc ever found in a living
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organism, and that was in some weeds that grew on those spoil piles, which is why they had to be buried deeper than ever, and hopefully are never dug up again. Mercury, of course, is a problem in other areas. And—yeah, the Alcoa situation up there at Point Comfort, again, most of that activity ceased before I came along, and it wasn’t really my (?) work to get into. But my office to this day is still having headaches over it because
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mercury doesn’t go away either, and when it is in the environment, it is much more active. Microbes can get a hold of it and twist it around, make a new molecule that makes the—the elemental mercury look like nothing. And yet there are still portions of the dredge material around there where you can dig it up and watch the mercury pool. There were millions of pounds of mercury discharged into the air, and it fell to earth not
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far away because it’s heavy, and into the water, and now that—all the area around Point Comfort is a superfund sight, mainly aquatic one. So what is there to worry about today? You know, again, you know, this stuff can be dug up and then buried, and then hopefully it won’t, you know, become active again. Well, they’re fixing to dig it up. There is of all things, an LNG port proposed to be constructed on one of those spoil banks. And to get
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in there on an almost daily basis with a big tanker, which is what an LNG ship actually is, means that the prop is constantly stirring the sediments up and uncovering all the mercury that has been dredged up and capped and put somewhere else. So this is not a good thing. But keep in mind, this is also a process that sometimes uses a once-through heating system. Combine that with stirring up the mud, and you’ve got one heck of a deadly mix.
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So this was one of the—the first things that—that was recommended, many agencies have recommended, individuals have recommended, and I think the company, if it does build there, it will not use a once-through system. They’ll use another system that essentially burns a little bit of their LNG to heat the rest. So there is an example of what delays have done. By looking at—at—at projects like this, we’ve learned not to do them again. Or if we do them again, not to do them the same dumb way they were done
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originally. If you have a—a—a chemical that you’re handling that’s volatile and will get away from you, think of ways to keep it from leaving. Now in—in Formosa’s case, they had a problem way back when with their discharge. You know, the chemicals that they—they deal with, some of it would escape. Some of it would get into to the discharge. Ultimate—you know what Formosa did? They quit discharging. All their water gets recycled. If they take the water in, it stays there until its all used up. It’s not
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discharged. So it doesn’t add to the problem of the mercury contamination that’s there, and the other—well, this—there is a—a—polycyclic hydrocarbons, other headaches there, you know—not of Formo—Formosa’s doing, but things which they could have exacerbated if they had contributed their own to them. This is one of those things where you’ve lived and you learned. Now I dealt with potential endangered species, you know,
impacts from that project, and chemicals were a concern. But not to—but not so much from Formosa, but from where Formosa was. Had they not picked that site, they might have been somewhere else. But, you know, the oddity is that some of the other Formosa projects that are in other areas of the U.S. that have the same headaches. You know, again it’s contaminates. So long as they don’t contribute their own, you know, we should
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be happy at least with that. A lot of people had a misconception I found first off with—with the Fish and Wildlife Service that our branch of it at least was there to prevent projects from happening. That happens so seldom, and—and—and almost never by our intent. And here I am speaking in—in—in that term. It’s not mine anymore. But the Fish and Wildlife Service was constantly there to advise and—and—and hopefully come
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up with alternatives that would allow the project to continue, but without all the harm, to do it in the least damaging way. Certainly it wasn’t always the cheapest way, at least not—not, you know, looked at from that point of view. But if you were ASARCO today, or you were any of the companies that have been accused, like Alcoa, of contributing to a superfund site, and if you knew then what you do now, think how much bigger your bank account would be, because the money you saved in producing the pollutants and releasing
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them in the first place, is now all being taken back to manage those sites. Unfortunately, not all of it’s coming out of the pockets of the people who put it there, coming out of your pocket and my pocket too. But that’s part of the process of learning to review a project very well before you start the next one. Delays aren’t good, from the point of view of a—an immediate dollar. They’re magnificent in the point of view of the long term, however. They always save you money.
DT: Let me ask you a question about a—another kind of industrial facility, and that’s a nuclear power plants. I was curious if you looked at Allen’s Creek Nuclear Project, or the South Texas Nuclear Project when they were proposed.
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JF: No. I’m very glad never to have had anything to do with those. I’m so happy.
DT: Why do you feel that way?
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JF: Well, nuclear power got a—a stigma, you know, a long time ago. And—and—and I won’t say how much I think it’s deserved, and how much it isn’t. All I know is that the hoops that you have to jump through with that are probably as bad for the regulatory agencies as it is for the industry. Because so many people have that feeling, that there’s a stigma there, they want to do everything they possibly can to posture and make it look
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like they’re making it better. Politically, I don’t know if that’s wise or not. But I’m happy at—at least that there’s been a slowdown in that process of they’re giving a second look. Otherwise we’ll have another one of these Diablo Canyon things. I think referred to—there was a—an L—an LNG plant on the west coast that fortunately wasn’t built because it was on a fault. We found out it was on a fault because the Diablo Canyon Generating Station was built on a fault. We found out a little too late. Sometimes it’s better to go slow.
DT: My understanding is that a lot of the concerns about these chemical plants or utilities is driven by the effects on wildlife. And I was wondering if that’s another way that you could maybe usher us through this is to look at some of the plants or animals that might have been affected by projects that engendered some kind of review of …
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JF: No, I—I—I—I—I think everybody is—is—is aware that there’s been a—an attempt here in recent years to go ma—go back and—and demonize Rachel Carson and her generation for having brought it in to—to the world distribution of DDT. Of course, first here in the U.S., but then, you know, later throughout the world. All I can say is that if it hadn’t been for DDT and—and the similar chemicals, we would never had almost
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lost the Bald Eagle. We would never almost have lost I don’t know how many other kinds of birds, including the Brown Pelican. You know, I—at one time, the state bird, the Brown Pelican of Louisiana, disappeared from Louisiana because of eggshell thinning that was brought on by DDT and its affiliates. And it’s—it—it’s ironic now that—that people are trying to say that, yes, but we could have saved millions of lives in India or
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Africa or wherever, because they still have Malaria. You know, and this was—this was a chemical necessary to fight Malaria. Was it? What did we do when we lost DDT? We began to create everything else under the sun, some of which we regret having also created, but at least this time we were warned. Silent Spring was probably among the—the most advantageous publications in the environmental movement, and in saving
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human lives ultimately, because we suddenly became aware that a chemical that was almost ubiquitous was having effects on those canaries in the coalmine. And it wasn’t until a little bit later we began to find out, well, heck, it isn’t just eggshell thinning that’s occurring, what’s happening to the human gene plasm? Yeah. Are—are some of these things that look almost like thalidomide babies DDT babies? How about some of the chemicals that we’re, you know, beginning to produce to replace DDT? Shouldn’t we have a—a process, a legal one, and a scientific one, that reviews them before we release
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those on the environment? And guess what? We’ve started doing that. And guess what? We’ve found those impacts. And now we’re looking at—at—at things as—as widespread as—as multiple legs on—on—on frogs. And how the heck did that happen? And, well, maybe it’s a virus. You know, maybe it’s something in the natural environment. Or maybe it’s a chemical that we used to put our drinking water in. Some of the—some of the plastics out there affect human as well as natural sexual cycles.
DT: Maybe the endocrines are…
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JF: Yeah. Yeah, and we don’t even recognize their effects until, you know, you’ve studied the heck out of them, and it takes years to do it. So yeah. We’re—we’re slowing down for a good cause. Because some of these things, like—like dioxin, for example, you know, they were out there and they were ubiquitous for years. And nearly every paper product that we ever had required their—their—their formation. And sometimes it was, you know, overlooked un—until we were at the point that—that whole river systems were dying. And people who were, you know, trying to maintain a way of life as
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lumberjacks were probably losing kids, too, and didn’t know it. And there was a tradeoff there that they weren’t even aware of until somebody like Rachel Carson said that very tiny amounts of very toxic chemicals may be out there. Go and look and find them before they find you.
DT: Were there other animals or fish that might have been affected by projects that you’ve managed to take a look at during your tenure?
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JF: Well, I wouldn’t go so far as—as to say fish were dying of it, it was more like fish weren’t even born of it. Th—this is the—the phenomenon of—of—of freshwater inflows. You know, every project that—that I dealt with had something to do with water. And—and some more than others. Of course, you know, a dam project or a water pipeline project, yes, definitely had to do with water. But towards the end of—of my
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session with Fish and Wildlife Service I got very much involved with Texas’s water planning process. Yeah, the Regional Water Planning groups. I couldn’t become a member of one, but I could go to a lot of meetings, and I went to meetings for as far away as—let’s see—Region K, definitely Region N—that’s the—the one there in—in the Corpus Christi area—a little bit of Region L, because San Antonio is trying to take water away from Region N, and even as far down as—as this part of—of—of Texas, down in
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the valley. So I went to a lot of meetings. And I oversaw some of the stuff that other Fish and Wildlife Service individuals went to. And essentially I sent in an awful lot of comments. And—and to this day, I still go to the some of those meetings. And—and I’m I’m—I’m desperately interested to know what is going to happen to the whole of Nueces River Basin, because what happens in the upper end effects the fishing on the lower end. And you know where I am about the fishing.
DT: Can you play out the connection between the dam…
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DT: …and the upstream portion and the fish population …
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JF: Well, it’s—it’s really spooky. I’ll—I’m—I’m going to take it even a step beyond that. You know, this is what water process that nobody knows that much about. But I mentioned a couple of regions, one taking from another. Okay. The area around San Antonio for years subsisted almost entirely on groundwater. It’s only recently that they have tried to come up with surface water. And—and I got involved in—in one of—one of the silliest ones of that, one—one of the projects hat never got built, the Applewhite —
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Applewhite Reservoir. But among the things that they needed to do this for was to get away from the dependence on groundwater, which was resulting in lowering of water levels in wells and springs that had endangered species. So project manager says we need to take surface water because that’s good for endangered species. But here was the catch. One of the things that was proposed to increase the amount of water that San
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Antonio could get their hands on was to build a bunch of little reservoirs, little tiny guys, on the headwaters of the Nueces River, on little branches like—oh, let’s see—several of the Frio, and, and I think the Sabinal, and so forth. These all flow downstream and eventually either go into Choke Canyon Reservoir, which is one that Corpus Christi depends on very highly, or Lake Corpus Christi, which is the second that they depend on
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very highly. What they were proposing to do up in these headwaters is build a little dam over an area that’s a recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer. So that instead of running across the hard ground and a little bit of it falling in the cracks, it would all have to stay there a while, so it could all fall in the cracks. And ultimately, that would result in maybe three to six percent of the water that would have gotten to the Gulf of Mexico not getting
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there by way of Nueces Bay. Nueces Bay having less water means less fish, less shrimp, less oysters, less of a lot of things, all of which affect me directly, and affect the economy of Corpus Christi. Now we’re essentially doing this for another region and for another set of—of ecology. Rather than San Antonio not sucking so much through the straw, or sucking it out of somebody else’s straw, why don’t they just slow down? They don’t need more water, they need fewer people. They don’t necessarily need fewer people,
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they need fewer people doing ridiculous things with the water, you know, like building more golf courses, some of which are being built over the headwaters of their underground system, which means that whatever they pump onto that golf course will go in to their aquifer, and then they’ll have to drink it. It’s known as “fouling your nest.” Now, to me, I think one of the worst things that has occurred in—involving the Texas
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Water Planning Process is that when we developed all these separate regional plans, the regional planners employed the same consultants to write their plans, so that they all became the same plan, which is how Region N suddenly sees taking water away to put in Region L in its plan. Huh? Well, there’s a connection. Recognizing that there would be an impact on the Nueces, perhaps San Antonio can give Corpus Christi money to build a de-sal plant to mitigate for the impact to Nueces Bay. Sounds neat, except that
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desalinization creates a brine which if pumped back into the bay makes it that much saltier. And you already have a problem with it becoming saltier because you took more fresh water out. Isn’t it better just to leave the water where it is? Region N for the time being has enough water for itself if it doesn’t try to export it. In fact, they’ve already reached well outside their own regional area. They built a one hundred and five mile
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long straw of their own up the coast to take water from Lake Texana. They’ve managed to do it just under the wire before state legislation changed the ability to take inner basin water through a transfer like that. So, you know, luck or design, I don’t know what it was, but it means that now Corpus Christi has three sources of water to draw on instead of only two. San Antonio, on the other hand, is not living within its means, and doesn’t
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plan to. Ultimately, they will use up every source within hundreds of miles whether it belongs to them or not, which means they’ll have to actually pay to get it. And the only thing that will stop San Antonio or anybody else in a similar fix is the actual cost of this. This will become more valuable than oil. Just ask T. Boone Pickens, because he wants to sell some to you already.
DT: We’ve talked a little bit about a number of different kinds of proposals that you’ve reviewed, you know, from oil and gas projects to development projects to dredging and wildlife, water. Maybe talk a little bit about the process of—I—I think that some people have criticized environmental impacts reviews that are sometimes segmented. You know, they’ll take a big project and they’ll cut it into little bits that have no significant impact.
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DT: Or they’ll loo—so reduce the scope of the study by ignoring cumulative impacts…
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DT: things that are secondary and first-year kinds of effects. I was wondering if there are any examples that come to mind of reviews where you’ve seen that kind of manipulation of the process.
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JF: The segmentation and—and—yeah. Yeah. And—and a similar phenomenon is to—is to not look at the scope of the project, as you say as—as widely as you might. You know, if you don’t bring everything into it, you can’t look at the cumulative impacts. I’ve seen this at a—at a considerable extreme on—in the town of South Padre Island involving the Piping Plover. For years, of course, the Corps of Engineers has had to issue a permit for every bulkhead, for every little fill, for every channel that’s dredged, for
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every pier that’s constructed, all on the backside of South Padre Island. And this is both a physical place—you know, geologically speaking, it’s the south end of—of that barrier island, it’s also the name of the town—South Padre Island. Well, all these permits, as they—as they would come along, are going to impact a little bit of Piping Plover habitat. Depends on specifically where you are how much of that there might be. And I had seen a lot of permits come along—oh, I think the bird was listed in 1983, so you know, by
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1990 I’d seen quite a few of these permits, and there had been a lot of, you know, construction that was done before I even came along. So—one day in the process of doing one of these—these informal consultations for the Core, preparatory to maybe doing a, you know, a bigger one, I began to think, you know, has anybody ever looked to see about the cumulative impacts? Because, you know, the Corps in every single public
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notice of every single application has the same language. You know, “This—this project may involve endangered species habitat.” You know, but then they would later publish another document their statement of findings in which they’ve found no impact, individual or cumulative, although they looked at each of these projects individually. And we knew this was the case. So I took the time to ask the Corps to send me all the
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stuff that we didn’t have in our files, as much as we could find, of all these permits up and down that stretch of, I don’t know, eight or ten miles of the backside of—of the island, and looked at each one’s description, what kind of habitat was there and what happened to it, and made an estimate of how much Piping Plover habitat had been lost. And then I came back to the Corps of Engineers in a—in a formal opinion, and I said this
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is the cumulative impact which you haven’t looked at for all these years. I’ve taken the trouble, you know, to assume this much habitat got lost, that’s the equivalent of the habitat for this many Piping Plovers. That’s how many you’ve taken. “Taken” being a legal term. You know, you—you destroyed their habitat so they’re not there anymore. If you think they moved over, maybe they did, but they have to compete with another bird, so now you’ve got two birds impacted for every one that you’ve messed with, because
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now they’re sharing habitat and don’t have as much to go around. So I said, you know, this is it. This is how many acres of habitat we have lost. From now on, when you issue a permit, add to that this number—is what you start with—add to it how much more you’ve taken, and keep an accurate analysis going. I’ve done all your homework except what you will do in the future. Now, to my knowledge, this was probably done eight years ago. You know how many additional cumulative impact analyses the Corps has
done to South Padre Island? (Showing by hand the number zero) That many. So legally, if somebody down there was feeling really, you know, mean about it, they have a prima fascia case for a violation of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act because the Corps did not carry out what is know as “a reasonable and prudent alternative.” They didn’t do what they should have done. This was a measure that they were supposed to take. Simply keep track of what you’re losing. They didn’t do it.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about this—what seems to me a culture class between the Fish and Wildlife Service, which I guess is made up of a lot of science as you think about impact over many years of a large, you know, swaths of area. And then the engineers at the Army Corps of Engineers that seem to have a much more kind of myopic view of their project scope, and the number of months, weeks, maybe years that they need to consider as—as—as impacts. So do you—do you see that there’s kind of disconnect there?
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JF: Well, it—no.
DT: Or—well, why do you all often clash?
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JF: No. It’s—it’s a bowling shirt thing, and—and the clash was—was, for a long time, pretty severe. I mean all the—all the environmental agencies and the construction agencies were at each other’s throats. They were—they were, you know, into this bowling shirt thing, you know. I work for this agency, therefore, I am—you know, it’s like the South shall rise again if—if—if you Yankees say something to me. You know, that—it wasn’t so much a matter of, even though I’ve s—I’ve mentioned it, a matter of
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engineers versus biologists. It wasn’t that so much, it was simply one agency versus another agency. It got so bad, this lack of communication back and forth, that the regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the district engineer of the Corps of Engineers at both the Galveston and the—no, excuse me, I take that back. It was the—it was the division engineer who would have been overseeing all the—the district offices of the Corps here in the state. Anyway, the two of them got together, not once, but twice to
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bring together all of these bureaucrats, the lower level ones. The biologists like me, the engineers, the project people, the managers, and so forth, and the—they brought them all together with some facilitator types who were experts in—in—in humans. And they gave us all Myers-Briggs personality profile tests. And you know what was funny about that?
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Well, two things really. Ninety-five percent of the people, whether they were engineers or biologists or whatever, managers, field types, all had the same personality—ISTJ. I have it. Okay? Don’t ask me what it all stands for. Okay. But they were all the same personality. And the significant thing was, said this facilitator, is that, well, these—in general, these are the people who make appointments and keep them. They are always
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nervous around people who don’t. You know, they make lists, and they—they follow them. Okay, they are very deliberate. But they cannot communicate with someone with the same personality profile. And that was the problem all along. And people looked like this at each other across the room.
DT: Can you communicate with someone with a different list, but a list?
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JF: Yeah. Different list, but I meant these people think alike, and they cannot talk to each other. Odd as that seems. So that’s part of what the problem is. The majority of b—of bureaucrats are unable to communicate with each other and cooperate with each other, even though they work for the same government, even though they have the same resources either—that they either control or try to protect, and they’re at each other’s
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throats for a personality conflict. It’s amazing to me, but this been—this has been recognized officially more than once, and nobody’s ever done a thing about it. Now, everybody swore at the end of the meeting, oh, we’re going to try, you know, commun—communicate, when we write something we won’t take it personally, if somebody comes back with, you know, critical comments of it. It’s just that he didn’t understand what I
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meant to say. Well, we got in our cars and we headed back to Corpus Christi from Mandara, which is where this took place—nice little dude ranch or something that—that they put us up at while we were having this—this fun—fun thing. And on the way back my boss turns to me and says, you know, that all sounded real good, but I’m not changing
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one thing. And he didn’t. We have a failure to mun—communicate at—at all levels. Look what just happened with—with Hurricane Katrina. Do you think after all the testimony that’s occurred that we will be able to prevent the same kind of mess happening again? Not unless we’ve learned to communicate on an individual.
DT: Well, speaking of communication, you worked for, gosh, a generation practically at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and then, was it six or seven years ago you retired?
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JF: Not that long ago. Yeah. April 2001.
DT: (?)—I’m sorry, five years ago. And have become a letter to the editor, LTTE writer…
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DT: …and—and of, sort of private ombudsman for a lot of these same projects that concerned you when you worked…
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JF: Yes. I still work on LNG projects, although I don’t get paid for it. I still work on—on oil and gas activities, I don’t get paid for it. I just do it be…
DT: Why don’t you talk about some of these projects…
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JF: These are—these—these are—these are things that—well, I can’t get out of my—my skin. I mean they’re—they’re imbedded there. After a good deal of a lifetime believing that these were the right things to do, I feel like Wilford Brimley. That’s why I’m going to do them. Now, these—these—these are issues that the majority of the
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people don’t have time to address themselves unless they’re paid to do it. But I benefit just as much as the rest of the folks if somebody does it. And if the people that who are being paid have something else to do, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t step in and volunteer to do it.
DT: Well, one issue that you’ve been working that really seems important, and—and that’s this open beaches tradition in Texas.
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JF: Yeah. It’s a—it’s more than a tradition, it’s—it’s on the books. You know, the state of Texas, unlike just about everywhere but Oregon, has a law that says you can drive on the beach because it was historically used as a thoroughfare back before we had decent roads, as a matter of fact. So everyone in theory has the right to drive and park and recreate from his vehicle on the public beach. The problem is there are all these
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exemptions to the rule, and the exemptions have been getting more and more frequent. And there is a—a very real threat that some day the exemption will be the whole rule. Places like the west end, for example, of Galveston Island. When I was going to school, did a lot of my—my undergraduate and graduate work at a campus in Galveston and lived at the Gave—Galveston campus. Used to could just take off a little bit to the west of there, once you got passed the—the big seawall, you could drive on the beach all the
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way to San Luis Pass. You know, a—a matter of a good many miles. Now twenty-two miles of that beach are closed to driving. You can access them maybe about every mile and a half, but only if you park and walk over the dunes and down. Unless of course you live there. And that’s really what the point has been all along. Now the same thing has also occurred at South Padre Island, the town. You cannot drive on the beach in front of
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all those condos and hotels. You can park and walk between the buildings, and that’s it. Corpus Christi’s different. Now there are areas where there is control. You can’t go into the National Seashore. For the first few miles you can drive, but then you come to a gate, and you come to an area that is separated. It’s called Malachite Beach. And for several miles, Malachite Beach is pedestrian access only. But once you get passed that, you can
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drive another seventy miles on the beach, which is way I have a four wheel drive vehicle with a rod rack on the front so I can drive on the beach and go surfing. This is very personal to me. But if you go north, you go a few miles, about eight miles, and you come to Bob Hall Pier. Now there’s an area there around a county park where driving on the
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beach is not prevented, but it’s restricted. You can’t get too close to the water. There’s a whole row of little bollards that prevent you from doing that. So you can park and step out of the car and get right there. It’s really not a—a—an obstruction as such, you just can’t drive to the water’s edge. That means that pedestrians are safe. But they could literally park two feet from where they got to the beach. You go up the beach a little
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ways from that, and you come to a problem. It was a greater problem than it was just a—a—a few months ago. In the, oh, around 1970, a developer chose to build a seawall. And since that seawall was constructed, the sand washed away in front of it. To—at high tide you couldn’t drive in front of it any longer. There was a physical barrier. This happened to run counter to the Open Beaches Act, because among other things, the Open
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Beaches Act does is—is establish that the beach is public, and that the beach is an access area that will be no less than two hundred feet wide, or from the vegetation line to the water, whichever is greater. Well, that erosion meant that that two hundred feet was now landward to the seawall. And there’s a—a little anecdote that goes around, that because of the Open Beaches Act, you could at this time have camped in the middle of the lobby
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of the Holiday Inn at North Padre Island because legally you would have been on public land. Well, they changed the rules in 1995. They made that seawall the “vegetation line.” But that didn’t help us as far as being able to drive on the beach. So the same rule said that you will provide a parking lot and allow access to that seawall in the area adjacent to it so the people can still use the beach under the Open Beaches Act even though they can’t drive on it any longer. All that changed in a—a matter of months
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because another project came along. This one—this one sanctioned. This one actually done by the public for the public. It’s called the Packery Channel Reopening Project. The sand taken from the dredging of that channel was put back in front of the seawall. Wonderful. Okay? But a problem arose. At the same time this was occurring, the city of Corpus Christi, going back to some language in that exemption that was written into the
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Act, said that now that we have built this, or intend to build this parking lot, we’re going to close access to the beach by vehicles in front of it. Even though we just spent thirty million dollars to put sand in front of it, and make the beach wide enough to drive on it, we’ll no longer let you do that. That’s where I got involved, and since July I’ve been fighting that. The—the city of Corpus Christi actually passed an ordinance in October
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closing that section of beach. I joined a—a group that petitioned for a referendum to offset the ordinance. At the end of—about five week after much promising, some of it writing, that we will never close anymore of this beach by the city council. They made this affirmation in writing to Texas General Land Offices permission they have to close a beach like that, a developer came in, I believe it was December 8th, and said I have to
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have more beach closed in addition to this original forty-two hundred, I actually need seventy-four hundred all together—close all the beach from that seawall to Packery Channel, and from that seawall at the southern end down to that county park at Bob Hall Pier—close it all, or my money, which is-as it turns out, a Canadian organization on know as InterWest, will go elsewhere and they won’t spend one and a half billion dollars in making a mega resort for which they need the beaches closed. Why do they need the
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beaches closed? Because that’s essentially privatizing them. Most people will not walk more than a few hundred yards from where they park their car. That is a real good reason for that if you’ll stop and think about it, it’s because they don’t know if the car will be there when they get back. Or if they leave the kids on the beach while they go back to the car to get what they forgot, something may happen to the kids. I—you know, you—
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you get the point. If you can’t drive and park on the beach, then as far as I’m concerned, and I think the majority of the people in the city of Corpus Christi are concerned, you lose the whole point of the Open Beaches Act. It’s no longer open. It’s become a private beach.
DT: We’ve been talking about—about beaches, and clearly something that you hold dear. But I’m wondering if—if beaches, or maybe some other place, is—is something that is—is very important to you and reminds you of why you became involved in wildlife research and protection, the Fish and Wildlife Service in the first place?
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JF: If you—if you think about beaches, certainly the middle of—of the—the National Seashore is one of my favorite places. I mean that’s—a lot of my money and a lot of my time’s been spent down there, and I love the place. You know, I would do most anything to—to keep it the way it is. Garner State Park is another one of my favorite places, and I—and I hope, although I haven’t been there in years myself, but a lot of people continue
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to use it, not to the point that it disappears like some of Yellowstone maybe, you know, or Yosemite, that we don’t—we don’t kill it with kindness, but you know, but still kill it. And a little place in West Texas that I plan to be in in about a month, is a area south of Alpine that’s totally different from the beach, totally different from Garner Park. It’s a piece of the Chihuahuan Desert, and it’s full of agates. And I just love to, you know, go
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out there and collect, and—I cut a lot of it up and I’ve given most of it away as much as I can, because it’s just enjoyable. I’d like to see—I like to see kids with the same opportunities I had to get out and—and see that kind of the world, to—to go out and—and—and do things that—that seem kind of wild to somebody who grew up in a city, which I essentially did. You know, I didn’t have the childhood that my parents did. I
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would probably be still out there in the woods if I had—had that kind of opportunity. Texas is a different sort of place, and—and—and I love it to—to death, but I’ve been around a few other spots. There’s—there’s some part of Alaska I definitely want to visit again. And—spent a couple years as a kid in Hawaii, and there’s things I’d like to do there, but I know I can never do again. My advise to—to—to—to people is to—to try
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and think of ways that the world has changed since you were a child, and figure out if you can, how to sustain that for the next generation. You want them to be as happy as you were as a child. I know most—most childhood memories for anyone are probably good. But as you grow older you begin to see things that are missing, or things that
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have—have—have turned for the worse. And you know, you know that they shouldn’t be that way. That the right thing to do is to not turn the clock back exactly, but to keep those—those happy little places still available. You know, the whole world still needs them.
DT: Well, thanks. Is there anything you’d like to add?
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JF: Oh, I could go on for hours. Let’s not do that, please.
DT: Fair enough. Well, thanks very much for your time.
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JF: I had a wonderful time doing it.
DT: Good. Thanks.
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JF: Thank you both for your…
[End of Reel 2372]
[End of Interview with Johnny French]