steroids buy

Pat Johnson

DATE: February 24, 2008
LOCATION: Fayetteville, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Cruz Andreas and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2407

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 indicate time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd, I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re in Fayetteville, Texas. It’s February 24, 2008 and we are visiting with Pat Johnson, who is a artist who works in tile and ceramic and—and paper. And she also works as an art manager running the Live Oak Art Center in Columbus. But for a number of years, especially during the 80’s, but then more recently as well; she’s been involved in—in controversies involving lignite, water supply, water quality, and more lately subdivision developments. And I just wanted to thank her for taking the time to talk about her—her activism.
PJ: Glad to be here, thanks David. It’s—it’s a—I’m looking forward to it.
DT: Okay, good.
PJ: It’s like going down memory lane here a bit though…
DT: Yeah.
PJ: It’s twenty years ago.
DT: Well, thanks for letting us tag along. I thought we might start this story with—with your work on lignite, and the mining that was proposed for Fayette County and other parts of Central Texas. And maybe the place to start would be back in the 1960’s, when some of these lignite reserves were first identified and leased up; and maybe you can tell us about that.
PJ: Alright. I wasn’t here yet, I moved to Fayetteville in ’76. But when I got involved and began looking at—at records, we found out that in the early 60’s the plan had already kind of been laid with what was going to happen with lignite in Fayette County. Turns out there were large reserves, northern part of the county. There were stories of old timers seeing it just ignite along the Colorado River. So I guess the word got out to people like Exxon and Shell, and in the 60’s there was a rush of land speculation and—and this leasing that went on. With a lot of the rural community in Fayetteville then was really untouched; and my feeling was that they just said, you know, come on down, we’re two counties away from Austin, people aren’t going to know, you’re going to be dealing with an elderly population, and i—i—
it sad but basically illiterate. Some first and second generation Czechoslovakians and Germans, who had farmed all their lives on these properties. And lot of times i—it seemed that the property was owned by a widowed woman, who some young land man would come in and say, Mrs. Myoski, we’re going to lease your land for two-hundred and eighty-nine dollars; which was a lot for some of these families. And it’s just going to be a gravel pit someday, and it probably won’t happen, and Mrs. Myoski signs away. Lo and behold, the whole farm, house included, then could be condemned the—there were—there were like—many of the contracts or leases that were signed involved condemnation in the contracts.
DT: So, some of these—these, let’s just stop a moment. When we were talking just earlier, we were visiting about the leasing that occurred back in the 1960’s, for some of these lignite interests and gravel interests and—and you were explaining that you think that there was some sort of taking advantage of some of the original owners.
PJ: I definitely felt that part of LCRA’s tactic at the time was that they—they didn’t think there would be any resistance out here. That most of the property was in an area that was very rural, and, like I said again, a population that was uneducated. But when you happen to be a Houstonian who bought up hundreds of acres, those people a lot of times came out with a sweetheart deal and were bought right out. That—there was always the million dollar land deal that we knew about, bought one piece of property and he happened to be, you know, a lawyer and had connections and knew what the project was. And later we learned that a lot of land had been bought by people just speculating on the lignite. They had—some of them shared offices in the same building with the land men who were buying and, there was a lot of pre-knowledge. We didn’t realize at the beginning, kind of behind the
scenes speculating and buying. So if you ha—were in on that, you had a great deal going on up there, and properties sold. But if you were like Mrs. Myoski, she ended up one of our first members who went to court in a condemnation hearing because the family didn’t want to sell. There was a second generation hopening—hoping to live on the land. Turned out she had signed away the whole house, and it had been a historic school building on the property. And, but she’d signed this lease that gave her very little money and they had total rights to everything on the property, and she was just going to be made to move off and they would bulldoze down the house because she was right in the path of the strip mine. There were other properties bought along the edge, because there was a lot of peripheral property needed for water and holding tanks that went on with that. But, I really felt like, there and then in the end, we did find out that there had been a lot of kind of evil land men and—coming in and speculating and misrepresenting the project completely to these people, of what strip mining was. I mean what LCRA proposed and a gravel pit, there’s a pretty big difference in—in that.
DT: Just to see if I’ve got this clear, in the first run land men who came out here were representing Exxon and Shell private interests. And that was in the 60’s and maybe into the 70’s. But, if I understand it right, those corporations later released those leases thinking that they probably weren’t (?)…
PJ: Well they realized that the lignite was very poor quality. There—they, yeah, they was—something they’d speculated on didn’t turn out to have any, really, value. But we always used the line, you know, there was—you could burn manure and get more BTU’s out of it than the lignite that was in the county. And that was one of the first heads up when we found we—it was one of those lucky breaks again in this whole story, where a friend was working for an engineering firm that happened to be drawing up the maps of what the old Exxon leases, Shell, and what LCRA was looking into buying, and shared those with us. So we knew pretty early on what the plan was, but that also Exxon and Shell had opted out because it was so crummy. So we went, well, if they don’t think it’s good, maybe we should look into it. And that’s when we started going up to Austin and going to the state geologist, and finding out what the make-up of the lignite was.
DT: Think you can help us understand too, why LCRA was interested in lignite, or coal for that matter? Because they traditionally—LCRA just run these hydroelectric dams and hadn’t been involved in fossil fuels. What—what happened that might have changed their interests?
PJ: Well, they began to expand in this period too, from the 60’s to 70’s. When I moved out here, within that year, suddenly were two power plants. And LCRA built one and two with the City of Austin, opting in on it. Then we find out, well there was a whole big plan. At one point they were projecting eight to ten plants out here on the site. Well, that…
DT: This is at Fayette Power Project?
PJ: At Fayette Power Project. So obviously they knew about the lignite and they were looking for a source closer to home, they were shipping in coal from Wyoming. Turned out Bastrop County also had a vein of lignite, and at the same time, they began to get into that business in Bastrop County and we began to hear the rumors of strip mining in Fayette County. So the plan was to build a third plant, which they have built, and the lignite from these mines would supply it. What they didn’t tell everybody was that it was going to have to be conveyor belted in from Northern Fayette County all the way into the power plant. But it was a pretty close mined source power plant kind of project. So they—they thought it—they expanded—it was a kind of good ‘ol boy mentality, we’re going to grow, you know, we’re going to build these power plants, we need all this energy and they were just going at it. They didn’t really see that there’d be any resistance here. And it took us a couple years, but those landowners who began to go to court, and then a few other events that
led us to organizing some of it because there was also—LCRA was also involved in a water issue called Shaws Bend. And that group shared information with us about dealing with LCRA, and they had hired a lawyer. And I got called to a meeting in a home in the area and met Jim Blackburn, and—because he was helping this group with Shaws Bend, the—that was a dam project that LCRA was proposing in Colorado County. And that put us then with a young environmental lawyer and he—we kind of—I feel like we gave him one of his first big breaks, with working with us out here.
DT: You—you—tell me how there’s a group of people that—that recognized this lignite mining might be a problem. A—a—and I’m unclear about how they first learned about it. Sounds like they—they probably hearing about the leasing. Was that the first notice that you got?
PJ: It’s a small community, so it didn’t take long for it to be discussed in the area. LCRA did have to—they tried not to give us too much information, but they were required by law to post public hearings. They came into the high school and gave us a dog and pony show, and that’s when I first starting going, I don’t know about this. I went to a Lion’s Club meeting and our state senator was in on it, and he was giving a talk about the strip mine. I thought I’d go and maybe learn a little more. And during my questioning about its use—and I ha—I didn’t know a whole lot, but enough to ask some questions. My concerns about strip mi—I just saw this huge dr—drag line coming down this beautiful, pristine Cummins Creek. But this is probably one of the key moments that got me into this, is Senator Wilson stood up there when I raised my hand because I was a pretty shy person at the time, and he said “Well little lady, don’t you want to turn your dishwasher on?” Senator Wilson, I
don’t have a dishwasher (laughs). And that was—and that made me mad enough that I’m going to find out, I was hard headed enough person that it just—I don’t think—I don’t like people talking to me like that for one. But—so then we just—there were meetings. They were required to have a EPA meeting. And I remember going in, there were 300 people, we had to sit on the floor and I sat next to a young woman. And she had just moved with her family, to be a schoolteacher here in Fayetteville, and she said, you know, my family fought something like this in Minnesota. She says, people do organize and fight these things, and she said, let’s try. And I said, okay! (laughs) So she told me how they had gone to churches, and community groups, and ladies clubs. And we just started going to anybody who would listen to us. And each time we went, there were more people, and pretty
quick the landowners got with us. And we started going to Austin to learn a little more, to question it. And Debbie Green was one—a very key person in that. She was the young school teacher. And then another gentleman came in, Dan Rost, who was a Republican insurance man in that northern part of the county; they had property just fringing it. I asked him years later, you know, “What made you want to get involved with two women, maybe a little shady in their characters?” (laughs) And he said he—he just could tell we really needed help. And that gave us this credibility then, because then we had a legitimate looking family man, business person, and the group just began to grow. We were a real mixed—I—I still have very dear friends from that time, people I would have never met because we were so different in our backgrounds and—ther—ther…
DT: Think you can give us some examples of people you met during that period?
PJ: Well, I—you’ve hear—I’ve already mentioned Mrs. Myoski several times. She was one of those people, th—this precious granny, real character. First time I went out to her land to look at what they—was going to be condemned, she got in her pickup truck and she got out two Shiner beers. And we drove out (laughs) in her pickup truck because on her property, there were some Indian sites. And she had this incredible arrowhead collection that she had found on the property. And we began to realize that there were all sorts of venues we could use to fight this thing, not only historical, which we had a lot of historic property in the area; environmental, the land condemnation thing, and archeological. So she was one of our key people. I remember one time when the EPA was doing their big study, we
were really worried, and they wanted to come see this area we had claimed had Indian sites. H—h—how are they ever going to—how are we going to do this? Plant some arrowheads out there? But we went out and the guy standing there from the state, and he kicks this ant hill and out from the ant hill fall these two perfect bird points, these beautiful little arrowheads. And so we were just like, oh, we’re—we’re in it. So those sort of things began to happen. The—again the community had been settled by Czechs and Germans, we had these farmers. But also, in the early 60’s and 70’s, there had been a large group of kind of Jeffersonian farmers who came up and bought property in Round Top. That gave us kind of a educated Houstonian, also some wealthy Houstonians; and it helped us because we were doing things like hot dog sales and raffles at the sta—the county fair. And it suddenly put us in touch
with people who were friends of Bill Hobby’s, or new people who at Rice University—who could help us. And that group of landowners played its whole role too in getting us some connections, basically that we could use to keep furthering this fight. And by then, we’d named ourselves Fayette County Resource Watch. We got a—incorporated—we got incorporated. And then within two years of the initial—when it all started happening with LCRA and meetings, we became a non-profit, with the—as the Fayette County Resource Watch. I bet we probably had 300 card carrying members. We had very small membership fee, just to cover printing costs and to help pay Jim Blackburn. And like I said, we did a lot of fund raising, typical fundraising at county fa—at the county fair. And it—it was interesting because it was
a very hot topic and it split the community probably 50/50. I don’t know if we’d ever had to go to vote, you know, in—in the beginning there were people really upset that we were going to cost them their job, or they were investing in this growing, and they wanted their mobile home park to be full. And there were bankers who would cross the street, not to be on the same side of the street, to say hello to me. You know, they were people who obviously had some financial interest in it too, and couldn’t see the—the bad part that would—would affect us here.
DT: This might be a good chance to sort of figure out what the context for this was. You’ve told us the—some of the early leasing that happened, and some of the early organizing that you put together. And this is all happening, I guess in the early 80’s, and maybe ‘81, ‘82?
PJ: By ’83, we had organized as a real group. Back then—and one thing I see that’s not as successful in environmental activism (laughs) today, because usually have only one organization to go—or state agency to go to. Back then we had the Air Control Board, we had the Railroad Commission. You had oh, three or four different entities, state agencies.
DT: (inaudible)
PJ: Right, yeah, the wa—there was a whole—so—and each one had a permit that this plant had to get. So that became part of our tactic, is we would just file. Excuse me (dropping something). The first one we did was with the Railroad Commission. And that’s where the—there’s ssssssssss—so many people in this. To—to say we’re involved and key, because people like John Prager stepped forward, and they became like our mentors. T. Paul Robbins gave me a short course in environmental activism and how to file permits. I mean, I was an ar—I—I am an artist, I had no kind of background; local politics and Girl Scouts, you know, were kind of my environmental (laughs), you know, background. But, I’m going to get sidetracked here. I forgot where I was going…
DT: No, this is fine. This—John Prager was with Central Texas lignite watch.
PJ: Mm hmm.
DT: And they’d had experience, I guess, with a—a mining operation near Bastrop?
PJ: Right.
DT: And T. Paul Robbins was running the environmental directory in Austin.
PJ: He got us connected then with Austin, and began to just kind of educate us. And we would file permit, we’d go to case, we’d probably lose, we’d go to the next one. I remember Harold Scarlett was writing for the Houston Post then, and he came out, picked me up, and we drove up into the mine site; and he was like, Ms. Johnson, you’ve got to know that there’s never been an environment—a case won on an environmental issue. And I kind of, you know, “What, no, we can’t do this?”, sure we’re going to. So we stuck pretty close to the environmental line an—and I think we had quite a bit to use against them strip mining. But it also took, like I said, the historical aspect of it. And the EPA had—we did get enough help from our federal
government. Patman was in office then and we made them follow to get an EPA study, so that slowed it down a year or so. When I even looked back at my records this morning to kind of get a time line, I realized it—there were big bodies of time we would make one small little success, and stall them for a year. Then they’d have to do an environmental impact study, then that’d have to go into review. Then by then we’d go at another aspect of—one of the key—there was at one point, I guess this was back at the Railroad Commission, with oil and gas, we couldn’t participate. But Clay John had jumped into it, because it turned out they were the major oil and gas lessees up there, and it was just a spider web of gas lines. So oil’s a pretty big dog in Texas, and they went to court, that they—they had bigger and better claim, and
that LCRA could not strip mine through those claims. And so they basically went to court for us on that one, Jim Blackburn participated in that case. But that helped us immensely, because it got a hu—a whole ‘nother line on the idea, you know, that…
DT: Could you give us a little idea, of th—the extent, the depths and the acreage for this mine th—that was being proposed? It was a very big operation.
PJ: It was a very big project. We’re talking thousands, tens of thousands of acres. I kind of—it’s been a while, that I’ve had to think about that figure, but I’m going to say something like thirty thousand acres because there was—the length of time—it was so poor, the lignite, and such a long strain that it was going to be 30 years that the pit would be open, just to get enough mi—lignite out to—that was the other thing that it—it was a i—it became a very expensive project. LCRA, the more they got into it, obviously they did finally realize that, because that was one of the key points when they finally did back out. But the project wasn’t going to—was going to involve quite a bit of water, loss of water wells in the a—are was significant. And they were going to take out Cummins Creek, which—not only—wa—was just this
beautiful watershed through Fayette County, it’s a historic creek too. The La Bahia passes through the north of it, and now we know the Camino Real passes through that area. It’s a mater—major creek into Colorado River. They were going to dam it at the beginning, and in the middle and use it as a diversion, and then trickle the clean water off the strip mine back into it. T—t—and so it was just a—an enormous amount of land, and loss of resources. And LCRA, being tax exempt land b—all that land was not taxable. All the equipment they bought, the 50 million dollars worth of equipment, none of it, you know, there was no tax coming in off of a project like that. We’ve lost a lot of—we would have lost a lot of tax money in the county. And then what really got them with the Railroad Commission, they asked for a variance in
strip mining. That was one good thing, Texas, and by then the whole U.S., they had adopted stricter strip mining regulations. And the variance probably did them in. They wanted to leave a stock pile, it was going to cover hundreds of acres. As—once the pit was open, they would just leave this pile, we’re talking mountain size, around here. It would have been the highest elevation in Fayette County. And by then we knew there was uranium in the soil and so th—that became another big lightening rod that we used against them was the con—contamination to the water source in the area. So we just—it just fell into our laps. None of us were—were—that was thanks to Jim Blackburn. He brought in all of our—we paid some, I’ve forgotten the term, when you have a special…
DT: Expert witness?
PJ: An expert witness, there we go, to come in. And so they—we just went—we think this is happening and then he would look it up an—and it turned out we weren’t too far off in what we were guessing. So those played int—to…
DT: Let me see if I can summarize ho—how far we’ve come. You talked about how they started the leasing, and some of the charges of people being taken advantage of. And then you—you started to find that there were a lot of problems with the mine itself, no matter how the leases were secured, but it was the—the dam over Cummins Creek, or the water quality from the drainage, or the fact that you were going to be de-watering some of the wells. Then you’ve got these oil and gas lines going across; and then the uranium issue with radium nucleides. But—but it sounds like Harold Scarlett’s advice was probably still quite true; that none of these things have ever stopped a project—no environmental issue had ever stopped a project. It sounds like wh—what was one of the real nails in the coffin was problems within LCRA itself, around the board. I was wondering if you could tell me what was going on in ‘84, ‘85 with the—the mobile—with the work—mobile homes…
PJ: It’s my favorite part of the story, it’s the real juicy part of the story. It was—who would have ever guessed something like this would’ve happened? That—I was—i—if you asked me what do—what—ho—how would I describe the LCRA attitude, before and after this event they were good ‘ol boys, and they were doing things the old Texas way and just went at it thinking that we were not going to, again, you know, cause any problems. And they made some decisions with how they ran—or tried to cover it up. Think they made some decisions on misleading the community. And so it—obviously they were having trouble understanding ethics, because then they got themselves in trouble by taking trips, they started taking trips. The board had credit cards and began to go with their wives on extravagant
trips. And th—looking into the strip mine equipment, we found out that the board and their wives had all made several trips to Germany to look at this equipment that turned out you could buy in the United States. But they were justifying their trips, their several trips overseas, and it—it didn’t come out in the paper until an event occurred. I had a friend whose family’s property i—is underneath the Fayette Power Plant lake. They were part of the first German settlement, and Beagle, that that first German settlement is under Lake Fayette. But Danny Schumacher had some point talked LCRA into letting him go back onto the property, there was an old tree, they had always promised that he could go in and cut that tree. And he decided he’d
follow up on that. So he went into the property, at that time it wasn’t so closed around the plants. He drove into the property, up to where the houses were, and the contractors had also placed mobile homes there to be d—used during the building, extending the power plant stack, the three—stack three. And I got a call later in that—th—that day, in the evening. And Danny said, I’ve been out there to the house. He says, it looks like there are parties happening here. And I called—Bill Bishop was writing—he and his wife Julie owned the Bastrop Times. Our own local paper would not—they just were already in—in bed with LCRA, they would—hardly covered it at all. So we had to go one county over to get most of our story out. I called Bill Bishop, I think I said, there’s something fishy here. And I—I told him the
story Danny had shared, and by the next day they went out to the plant, was totally cleaned up, no sign of anything. But it was enough of a story that Bill broke it in the Bastrop paper. And within the week, can I say the shit hit the fan? LCRA hired a private investigator, turned out it was really rampant through the upper management. There had been prostitute—prostitutes brought in by the contractor. There was strip poker games. And within a month they—the board realized they better hire a private investigator. They had a report done and all the upper management were listed in this very thick document as—number 237 was known to have played strip poker, at this point with Morrison Knudsen’s Contractors. And it was one of the big breaks because all the upper management, pretty much the top six—five, six positions, all were fired pretty immediately. Those who were left
standing all had to take a—part of the agreement with LCRA was they all had to take an ethics class from Barbara Jordan. And then the board made the very wise decision to hire David Freeman. And as David Freeman came in then as the general manager, and things began to change. He had—had a long rapport with environmentalists and different groups from his TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] and California time, and he turned out to be a great friend to Fayette County. He worked from the inside. They restructured—the board becam—became a little more savvy on the bad aspects of lignite mining in Texas. The Bastrop project had already kind of run its course, and the lignite had been such a problem with the plant that they—the cost was just skyrocketing because it—it’s a really wet fuel and they were going to have to dry it
out. And then they—also here, there was a conveyor belt miles across to get there, that meant more condemnation of land. And so then there’s this long period of time again, from about ‘86 to ‘89, that each year we made a step forward. The board voted to hold off on the decision for almost a year, and during that year Freeman kind of wrapped it up from the inside. We kept dogging him at the hill, out here, on issues; and finally in ‘89, with the full vote of the board, they voted to drop the project.
DT: Pat, I—I think you were talking about this whole course of (?) with citizens groups such as Texas Lignite Watch and of course your group now, Fayette County Resource Watch. There was this distrust with LCRA and then Dave Freeman came in and he managed to—to open things up. I was wondering if you could talk about how he collaborated with you and—and made the process a little bit easier for citizens to understand and to track.
PJ: Well, he i—he immediately called us up to meet with him after he came into office. So right off I thought a whole lot of him because the other guys were—it was the little lady, you know, thing, go home, don’t—let us take care of it. You know, and he wanted us in on it and t—to say what our issues were. They started holding their board meetings out here where we could get to them instead of us having to drive all the way to Austin. So it became a much friendlier place. They began to have positions on their staff for environmental people to—to look at those issues, and—and maybe think of things, like conservation. And we started a light bulb program out here through them and Bluebonnet Electric. And just those little gestures towards the community, that we weren’t just somebody to be sent home and scolded, that we did have some legitimate complaints. And he opened it up. He
also—we would still be angry about things, something would come up about a railroad issue and we—so we’d start getting up in arms, and he would meet with us secretly. We had several—he had a favorite little beer hall in Ledbetter and we would go up and meet, and he would explain what was really happening. And then we would kind of back off, so that they could move on and have some of those things happen within their own organization. That made LCRA a much better state agency.
DT: T—the other thing that’s interesting, I think, about this time you’re talking about, which I guess is ‘85 through ‘90 basically; is that not only was LCRA trying to reorient themselves as far as the lignite mine is concerned and the power plant, but—but that they were also trying to figure out what to do with this, what had been called Columbus Bend, was later called Shaws Bend reservoir. And maybe you could tell us about that project and the opposition to it that was based around this (inaudible)…
PJ: Well it just was a whole attitude. I mean obviously if you’ve got people who don’t understand the ethics of having too many credit cards, and taking your wives to Germany, they didn’t see anything wrong with all of their proposals, and all of them had some flaw. And one, Fayette County had—I think had an—an undue amount, and Colorado County of that inflicted on them. And people really had become angry at LCRA, mistrusting. I mean they had just done things that began to surface the land man stories, you know, just had built a—and the secretiveness of it, had just built a real distrust in the community. So with the change of the board and the attitudes within the organization, Freemans’ role; all those projects those good
‘ol boys were going to—just going to cram down our throats began to drop. And that’s what happened with Shaws Bend. It had been, oh I bet thirty years in the making, and that was a very small group of landowners. It was definitely kind of my back yard, the—this group. Environmental activism was not a big word out in Fayette County and Colorado County in the 70’s and 80’s. So you just had concerned landowners and they had done a—an incredible job of just a few small ranchers—farmers and ranchers, along the Colorado River where Shaws Bend, they had been to Washington tons of times and their own money invested in fighting this on their own. They never did organize as a—a group, but had a very big impact, because that project then was completely taken off the books and
deaccessioned, or whatever the term is. And every once in a while there’s a little ripple of it lifting its head again, and this water—the new water bill there was some lo—reservoirs and small damming because water is going to be an issue and is an issue, in the state. And so I think it’ll never be quite the project that they were talking about, damming the river there. But it’ll probably surface again at some point. But there’ll be water sold or held from this river and so we’re all trying to stay in there to show our concern and make sure that the right choices are made. That’s something that’s happened here too because TxDOT was not expecting Fayette county either on a—this is a current issue with the Trans-Texas Corridor. They held one of their first meetings in LaGrange and they were not prepared; the po—the poor man who had to give the talk, we had him almost in tears. And someone said “Why,
why, how did this happen here?” And it’s because we have been impacted so many times, it didn’t take much for Fayette County to rear its head and show up for a meeting, because we’ve learned—we’ve ha—had some training now from these different environmental impacts that keep being imposed on us. And so we were pretty quick to organize. And thank goodness for Linda and David Stall, because I didn’t want to spend another ten years of my life fighting (laughs) this project, I can kind of help quietly on the sidelines. And another group of activists have come out of Fayette County again on this project, with the Trans-Texas Corridor.
DT: Well you—you’ve told us a little about the lignite efforts, and then you touched on the—the reservoir concerns. And then the most recent issue, of course, is Trans-Texas Corridor in this part of the state. A fourth issue I’d like to hear you talk about is—is the water quality problems that a lot of residents in this area faced, who drew their water from—or enjoyed visiting in the Colorado River, which of course flows through Austin and then comes down here. Can you talk about the concerns that were raised in the 80’s over effluent that was reaching the river?
PJ: Well, again it was interesting that so much was happening during that time in the 80’s—late 80’s. That once you start standing up at public hearings and your name gets out, and we got involved as the re—resource watch; you get calls to help in other areas, and it all seemed to be tied in. If you’re concerned about the air, you better be concerned about the water quality. And so at the same time, many of us also joined with Columbus, Colorado County, to go up as community lobbyists, I guess in a way, to the City of Austin because we—all these counties have the river either going right through the middle of them or part of the county line, and water quality—when you started hearing stories of large islands of Austin waste floating down, again, in a small community, if you’ve got a fisherman going down the river and he won’t let his son out of the boat because of the effluent coming from Austin, it didn’t take long that we got involved in that issue too. And our county judge, we
had a lot of support. Dan Beck, and our current judge, Ed Genestca, all became concerned about these issues too and—and pro, I would say, very pro-environmental for their time. We got a recycling program out of that, long before anybody out here was thinking about recycling, because these couple of county officials really saw the future in protecting what’s really precious. I—I’m a transplant, I came out here for quality of life. And little did I know I was going to end up, you know, at the power plant and sewage as an issue. But you couldn’t just stop with one issue. Once I got the calling, or whatever, I got outspoken on all of these things. And so we began to go up and sit through Austin City Council meetings that can be grueling. And hours into the night waiting to have a chance to speak as citizens who were being
affected by what they were putting in the water. And it began to make this big picture, that it wasn’t just happening to you over here. What you’re doing here, it was affecting us down here and we began to get involved in those issues too. And Austin did, they—they got the message too. And ordinances were passed on their end, water treatment plants. LCRA started inspecting the water at different point sources. And now we have—and now it’s become part of their mission statement too, the outdoor—the reality of what outdoor recreation can do to—for a community. The income from tourism has become apparent, and they have a pretty big river program. And McKinney Falls now has canoeing and they—they try to teach environmental consciousness through their own program. I’m pretty proud that we kind of kept kicking them in the butt till they got that idea.
DT: You mention McKinney, and—and I—I guess one of the things that you were involved with was one of the very first parks that LCRA made available to—to the basin, and the Rice Osborne Bird Sanctuary and Nature Trail. Wh—what was the story behind that?
PJ: Well, when we—we came out of this, fight I guess, with LCRA, I remember at one meeting someone introduced me, an LCRA employee, as one of the nicest pain in the butts they’d ever had. And we did always have this kind of amiable—especially in the end; I mean we had worked together so long, I had made friends within LCRA. And so we thought as a group to try to put a positive spin on this at the end. And LCRA has a large amount of acreage around the power plant here, there’s a lake there. It had all gone, pretty much, back to nature. And we thought for our community, a park would be a good idea. And I had made a friend with the group, Mary Rice, who’s passed away now. She was a bird watcher, we found out
we shared that interest together. And we said, let’s go to LCRA and talk them into giving us some land out there, and let’s make a trail. And they humored us. She—she was 86 at the time. I was in my late 30’s I guess, now, 20 years ago. And so we were like the classic example of what can come out of this, because she was very much a Republican and I was very much a Democrat, but we really liked bird watching and that made us the best of friends. And our proposal went through with LCRA. They first gave us eighteen acres, then we talked them into about thirty-six. We literally, the two of us, went in with clippers and hacked the first trail through. We—we always likened it, if we had been in Vietnam, this would have been the way
it was because I think we started in August one year (laughs). It was miserable and—and lots of bramble and yaupon and—but it was kind of that, you know, if you build it, it will come. And lo and behold there were a lot of birds out there. There’s flocks—a flock of white pelicans that returns every year to winter over on this very warm lake full of fish. We had Ted Eubanks come in and say, yeah, you do have a pretty good bunch of birds. And got some help from Parks & Wildlife on how to trail build. We did that, again, all volunteer. LCRA took it on as one of their good Samaritan projects, so that we got volunteer help from their side of the—the—from their own employees; they would come out and help us. The county loaned us probationers to come out. One time some Louisiana boy—we had saved this beautiful rattan that was down in this uncut forest, and he cut it all out because to
him—he—it was a weed, an invasive, and I cried that day, over the rattan dying. But otherwise, we had a pretty good—positive, over that event. The—the county recognized it, we dedicated it on Earth Day. LCRA has since taken it on as it’s—it was the first, and they’ve used this example in several other areas now. They have a very large park system throughout their whole river trail, I think they call it the Colorado River Trail. And there’s a map to guide you to the different parks along the Colorado River.
DT: Pat, up to this time we’ve mostly talked about your run-ins with the LCRA, low colo—Colorado River Authority over everything from lignite mining to the—the reservoir at Shaws Bend; to the water quality issues involving the City of Austin and LCRA, and then of course the nature trail and park. But, just to remind us that—that LCRA isn’t the only player in town, there—there are other environmental issues that have come up, and I think one that you had mentioned off tape was a subdivision that was proposed for this little, almost like a hamlet here in Fayetteville. I was hoping you could tell me about that proposal and then how you responded to it.
PJ: Well, one thing about my experience, because I—I attribute a lot of the path I’ve taken here in the last 30 years, is the fact that I did move to a small town of 260 people. I mean, who knows what kind of—would have come up if I’d stayed in the City of Houston. Would this environmental activist happen if I’d just gotten sucked up in the city? So I think a lot of the directions I’ve taken came out of moving to a small town. My experience with LCRA, it was like a self confidence class. I was really actually a shy person, and each time I went to a hearing and stood up and raised my hand, I got a little cockier (laughs); a little bolder, and I think some with age now. Now that I’m in my 50s I’m not worried about hurting someone’s feelings or offending somebody for how strong I feel about these issues.
And so whenever they start getting close to home again, like the subdivision recently did, I now act out and I—I happen to be at a city council meeting on a whole ‘nother issue, and at the end of the meeting the mayor quietly said, there will be a follow up hearing on the mm mm. I went “O—on what, annexing, you’re going to annex thirty acres?” And I went “What in the world?” And so turns out I was maybe the last to know in town, but the mayor proposed to annex thirty-six acres into the city, subdivide it, ha—quarter acre I believe, fifty-six houses which would have doubled the size of Fayetteville. We start going through public hearings, and I did the classic, I wrote a letter to the editor. And so the city council meetings went from about two citizens of Fayetteville in attendance to about twenty. And i—it also turned out, like all good politics, there was some insider stuff. It turns out the mayor’s mother
owned the property and one of the real estate—one of the city council members, it was his real estate company that was selling the property. And that’s enough for me to just go, wait a minute. And i—it wasn’t long until there were like twenty-thirty of us organizing. We demanded that the mayor make a committee, which he reluctantly did. And then we went out, and in Fayetteville you can cover a whole town in an afternoon. And we split the city up, six of us went door to door with a petition and a group of questions, “What did you think of this?” And a lot of people didn’t know about it, didn’t realize how it was being presented, the magnitude of it. And we went back to the mayor and showed him that 89 percent of the city population wanted to see a plan, that if we were going to do this, we better have a
plan because all of this is happening at the same time. We’re about to become the first city in Texas, that the whole city’s going to be on the national register. And it’s not what I thought Fayetteville should be doing at this time. So we went at it just like the—every other group does. You just keep at it, and we kept making demands to the mayor, kept showing up at the city council. The conflict of interest caught up with him, and the county attorney did call them in, so that they would go back and hold the hearings properly. They had held the first meeting within seventy-two hours of posting in on Friday of Easter and held the meeting on that Easter Sunday, to start the ball rolling. And she said, you better go back and do it right, and post the hearings. And a whole year has gone by now. That happened a—almost a year ago exactly. And—and it—in that amount of time the press helped us out because
you could op—you couldn’t miss it on the cover of the business section that housing was not something that was happening. And the developer backed out, and the property is back on the market and there’s no buyer. And in the meantime, we’ve scrambled, gotten ourselves in better shape. We do have some ordinances in place now. The state historic commission’s going to come down and help us get a better grip. And the mayor and I are still friends, barely, but we’re back on a better track. And I think Fayetteville—it’ll change. I’m not ignorant to the fact that things are going to change, I just want them to change well. And that drive, I still—I—sometimes I don’t quite know where it does come from. I was lucky that I had a mother who was active in the Houston community. She was on the board of
Directors of Planned Parenthood at a time when that wasn’t something young mothers were doing. She got involved in—with a movement involving Terry Hershey, on saving some bayous in the—I’ve forgotten the…
DT: Bayou Preservation Association?
PJ: The Bayou Preservation. And I guess just hearing those things, I give Girl Scouts a lot of credit because I grew up camping and going out into nature. My grandparents lived on a farm, I always liked being outside. I’m sure that’s what made me stay in Fayetteville thirty years. As an artist, nature plays an—it’s a big metaphor in my work. I use a lot of imagery of birds, reoccur. It’s one of those jokes, “Which came first, bird watching or bird drawing?” But I use a lot of that imagery in my work and try to carry my message that way too. And in—in doing that, I feel like I reach a population that sees the work, maybe I affect them that way. They ask questions about the work and that carries it beyond my time, you know, in meetings, that I can do it through my artwork too, and—and get that message out through my art.
DT: Pat, you—you’ve told us about your work in politics and activism, as well as in—in art. And I’m curious, how you think this message through your different sides of your life, might be conveyed to the next generation and not just how it gets there, but what that message is. What would you want to pass on to—to younger folks?
PJ: Well I just got back from celebrating my god daughter’s eighteenth birthday, and it was—you know, that’s a big responsibility, taking on someone as your god daughter. I think I had to renounce the devil when I—when I became her official Catholic god mother, and—so I’ve taken it seriously and she’s been coming out to stay with me in the summer since she was three. And there were things I wanted to give her beyond those guidelines of, I don’t know how to say it. But—but things that—you know, there’s right and wrong, yo—you can get them through that, but I wanted her to care about things. One thing I’ve learned i—is to be passionate, and I take that in my art, how I live life. I want to see people care about things and have a passion for that care, and that’s one thing I hope that this young woman has and
seeing I can be some sort of role model in that. I share what I’m doing with her, I think she sees in my daily life because she’s out here enough, those sort of things. And, it’s every—anything you do. I—I’m hoping in whatever career choices she takes on that she feels that. I’ve been really lucky to do something with my life that, I mean, art, there really wasn’t anything else I could do, so—but it’s—it’s been fun, interesting. It’s led me into other things. And I just—I have to do it, and that’s kind of the way I feel about getting up in front of the city council now. I have—I have to do it—I have—you have to care about it.
DT: And I guess first, for you and—and I’m sure for others, that part of the reason you get up in front of the city council is maybe hard to figure out why. But perhaps it’s because you love some of these places that you’ve been able to live in, work in, and visit. Could you talk about some of the places that are special to you?
PJ: Well, of course living here, that’s why I think thirty years went by so quickly. I just—this time of year especially it’s about to be spring here, it’s just going to burst open, and that renewing and that—I think that it—it does it to me too—being here in each year, each spring, that renewal, things bloom, you grow. And that’s why I love being outside. My other favorite place to go is to the Coast. And again, it’s that old bird watching. I guess you have to go there eventually to look at shore birds. And I—I grew up sailing, that was part of the Girl Scouting. I went to Casa Mora as a young woman and learned to sail. And I still like to. I traded art last year for a fourteen foot sail boat, and although it’s not my favorite place to go, it’s really great that, you know, on a Sunday afternoon, in fifteen minutes, I can be on a lake.
Although it is the Fayette Power Project lake, I just try not to look at the mound of coal. I get that other passion in to be the sailor. And so pretty much every Sunday, I pack up the boat and a couple of people and we go out and go sailing. And I try to sail away from the power plant and you’re going to have to cut this one on the tape, because I have actually stood up and mooned the power plant before from the (laughs) boat, which made me feel really good. It was a great release. So I live under the, you know, the—the shadow of the power plant, and it will be a constant thorn in my side. But I hope I can also kind of be a constant watch dog to them, too, and…
DT: Very good. More power to you. Thank you so much for your time.
PJ: Thank you.
DT: Appreciate it.
[End of reel 2407]
[End of interview with Pat Johnson]