San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 15th, 2009
County passes habitat conservation plan

The golden-cheeked warbler is among the species Hays County commissioners hope to protect with a regional habitat conservation plan.

By SEAN MARLIN
News Reporter

Members of the Hays County Commissioners court Congratulated themselves Tuesday for approving a conservation plan to moderate damage on local wildlife by urban expansion.

Pending a final public hearing in June, the court will soon submit its Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (RHCP) to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. Approval could arrive before the end of the year.

“It gives us the ability to go out and build public infrastructure that is needed,” Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) said. “On the flip side, it provides a mechanism for a tremendous amount of conservation in Hays County.  That is fundamental to our quality of life.”

The trigger for the RHCP came in 2005, when the  building of Winter Mills Parkway near Wimberley sparked debate because it ran through the habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler, a local endangered bird species.

Commissioners acquired a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, making the application process possible. Loomis Partners, an Austin based consulting agency, was brought on to draft the application.

Tuesday’s approval marked the fourth draft of the application after revisions were made to meet public concerns.

The conservation plan’s purpose is to protect local wildlife and their habitats from unintentional harm due to urban development. If approved, the plan would allow for faster approval of infrastructure projects and greater county oversight to preclude possible environmental and wildlife damage.

“The project is to develop a habitat conservation plan,” said Amanda Aurora of Loomis Partners. “The plan supports an incidental take permit under the endangered species act that allows people who are doing activities that would harm endangered species to get a permit for that. To get a permit, you then have to provide a mitigation plan.”

The plan would allow the local issuance of federal permits to developers that accounts for incidental “take”that may occur during construction. “Take,” which is language specific to the conservation draft, is the destruction of endangered wildlife or their habitats.

Two specific endangered species targeted in the plan are the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. But the plan also allows for the benefit of other rare species in the area. The application provides the county to set a minimum condition of the habitat, as well as the ability to evaluate and address threats.

Hays County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. The RHCP conservation draft estimates a loss of 22,000 habitat acres during the next 30 years.

Permitting for developers from the federal government now takes up to two years, at exorbitant costs to tax payers. In an attempt to balance conservation efforts with growth, the RHCP opens state and federal funding, allowing the county conduct surveying and research that are needed to permit infrastructure and development projects.

A go-ahead from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service would allow Hays County to bring many of their current projects, public and private, into compliance with federal law. If approved, the RHCP application would allow for Hays County to oversee the process locally, allowing for a permit process measured in weeks rather than years.

During the next 30 years, the county will acquire an average of 400 acres per year  under the plan, for a total of 12,000 acres. The county would sell that acreage at $11,500 per acre, plus $7,500 per “credit,” which is an additional fee the developer must pay to improve habitats for the warbler and vireo. The county would issue 9,000 credits for the warbler and 1,300 credits for the vireo.

In addition, the developers would be required to pay processing fees ranging from $500 to $5,000. A minimum of one credit must be purchased per acre, but the county has the ability to determine if more must be purchased in order to adequately address the needs of the species. The permits would last for 30 years.

“It gives us so many additional tools which we never had before, to accomplish our conservation goals in this county,” Conley said. ” And it is good long term comprehensive planning, which is always a benefit to the county.”

Loomis Partners will format the draft to application.

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20 thoughts on “County passes habitat conservation plan

  1. Let me try to understand this benefit to the County and the species we are trying to protect?

    It sounds like developers will now have a more rapid
    and easier access to develop areas that may or probably do have endangered species such as the Golden Cheek Warbler. And the County will collect monies from them
    to pretend that the County properties also actually have the endangered species. The County property of course probably doesn’t actually have the endangered species to replace but that doesnt really matter because
    the developers pay them money to accelerate developments.
    Now I understand!

  2. The County’s plan has to be approved by USFWS first, then the county will buy large pieces of land that is high quality golden cheek habitat, starting off with some money from the parks and open space bonds that is left.

    This golden cheek habitat is often also in places that if preserved, would protect water quality or recharge, and this mitigation bank will look for that kind of double benefit in land purchases. Then any developer who builds a project that destroys golden cheek habitat, or any government funded project that does so, can buy credits from the county mitigation bank. In the past, very little mitigation has been happening because enforcement was not done. My hope is that enforcement will pick up this year in a big way, by USFWS or by citizens that insist on enforcement.

    This is a rolling mitigation bank so the county can save up the money and buy more land to preserve open space, more good golden cheek habitat in large contiguous chunks, and probably some water quality and recharge lands at the same time. Otherwise, saved pieces of land in this increasingly urban county will be small patchwork pieces that the golden cheeks and our recharge zone will find less useful.

    Conservation easements are another way that land can be preserved in perpetuity. This land bank is another tool that Hays County can use to try to protect and preserve habitat. It is going to take every tool we’ve got if this rapid growth continues. I’m just hoping that people realize there is not enough water for this area to keep growing like this. We are already beyond the land’s ability to sustain us.

  3. No Mr Stallones you do not understand at all. Presently there is very little protection for these bird species in Hays county. one high profile proposed development bulldozed about 30 acres of old growth cedar in their creek bottoms, with the excuse that they were going to build some ponds. Nothing was ever said about that being prime bird habitat . when their original, high density development was shot down and they came back with a 5 acre lot subdivision, some people congratulated them on having a environmentally friendly development. Dont you think it would be better if the county did a map of the potential/ proven bird habitat. Would it not be better for a landowner to think that bird habitat is valuable because they can sell it as mitigation preserve land rather than thinking that they must cut out the woodlands that provide habitat or they wont be able to do anything with their land. to say that the HCP is going to speed up habitat destruction shows a lack of knowledge of what has actually been going on in the county for quite some time

  4. Dianne and Grubbs are saying the same thing. Hays County government personnel don’t enforce development laws so the HCP is just what Stallones claimed it to be: The Hays County HCP is a legal and cheap fast track for developers that Hays County government employees still won’t enforce. It’s also a money project for the firms that milked the County to develop the Plan (over a cool million dollars), to provide future business for them to implement the plan…at an inflated cost to taxpayers.

    The flaw in Grubbs’ theory is that a landowner can obtain a higher price for land sold to a developer than to the mitigation bank. The HCHCP is a device put together by Austin firms that service developers (conflicts of interest). And guess who will be mapping habitat? The same special interest firms that service developers and developed the HCP and hired by Conley and Barton. The opportunity for fraud at public expense is outstanding for the insiders.

    With most of the $30 million open space bond fund already spent for everything from a city sewer and street, private soccer fields and purchase of misrepresented and overpriced Dripping Springs ranch acreage, I can imagine the insiders lining up “habitat” and flipping to the county at a handsome and quick profit. Illegal? Yes, but those well connected to elected officials make out well in Hays County.

  5. Thank you Mr. ODell,
    Your explanation was even better than my frustrated one.
    Now I believe we all understand the County-Developers revenue scheme even better.

  6. Mr. O’Dell, you make lots of wild acusations. So tell us, just what development laws is it that the count is not enforcing?

  7. Thank you Mr Rasco, my point exactally. It seems that charlie O’D is incapable of doing anything but making personal attacks. This does not win any arguments and is an admission of not being able to make any sort of intelligent points

  8. What, you can’t just give me one instance of where the County has willfully allowed a development rule to be broken?

  9. Andy,

    How did you become a “cave biologist?” Are you a certified biospeleologist or is “cave biologist” just a title you gave yourself?

    Are you a professional biologist?

    Do you have a college degree in biology or geology, or did you just take the state exam to qualify as a certified “professional geologist?” I know many professional geologists who not only graduated with college degrees in geology but also worked as professional geologists at major corporations and universities. Somehow I can’t fit you into that group of professional geologists.

    You make a living designing on-site septic systems and seem to be overreaching in giving readers an image of what skills you have and your areas of expertise.

    I’m a Ph.D. Economist with degrees from Texas Tech, University of Maryland and was employed as an economist at major U.S. corporations in case you question my professional credentials.

  10. If I am not mistaken Ramus got a variance from the regulations for his septic system. This happened when Powers was County Judge. Then after Sumter came to power, she, at your insistance, injected herself into what was a squabble between neighbors, had the variance resended, and potentially opening the county up to liablity.

    Granting a variance is not breaking a rule, it is the legal way granting a exception to rule when strict application of that rule would pose an undue hardship. I should know, I was chairman of the San Marcos Board of Adjustment for two or three years.

  11. Larry, he won’t care. In O’Dell’s world he’s right and you’re always wrong. Plus he’s still dealing with this Nick Ramus fetish he’s been working on for a few years. Come to think of it he’s got a weird thing for septic tanks too.

    Hmmm….

  12. Larry,

    If you were correct about a variance you could direct us to the online commissioners court minutes that contains the motion and vote approving the variance.

    Otherwise, your “if not mistaken” don’t mean a thing.

    You don’t need to go looking. Those minutes don’t exist…but you already knew that, didn’t you.

  13. Well, you got me to pay attention to you again. The first time i checked I typed in Nick Ramus. After your last post I did go back and typed in Nicholas Ramus, and indeed there is then pending charge against him you said there is. Most the time you type in any variation of a persons name, everything against that person in this county is listed. I was mistaken. Still I don’t know what his having a charge against him has to do with anything. And remember, he is innocent until proven guilty.

    I will now go back to ignoring you

  14. Larry,

    You asked, “What, you can’t just give me one instance of where the County has willfully allowed a development rule to be broken?”

    But when I give you an example you suppose Ramus got a variance. If he did, point us to the court minutes.

    In fact he didn’t received a variance. Perhaps you rightly recall when Pct. 2 Commissioner Barton got caught red handed trying to sneak a variance for a Pct. 1 septic system on an un-platted residential lot to help Ramus out of his non-compliant septic problem. Barton pulled his agenda item when we pointed out that his supporting documents were incomplete, misleading and false.

    Perhaps I have a better memory of commissioners court matters because I attended their meetings.

    See Commissioners’ Court Minutes:

    JANUARY 29, 2008
    ********** VOLUME T PAGE 721 24932
    GRANT A VARIANCE TO SUBDIVISION AND DEVELOPMENT RULES SECTION 3.11 TO ALLOW PERMITTING OF AN ON SITE SEWAGE FACILITY AND DEVELOPMENT PERMIT TO FLORINDA MARTINEZ, 1.302 ACRES IN THE 2000 BLOCK OF GOFORTH ROAD

  15. I’m posting at a disadvantage.

    The site editor is taking down some of my responses.

    I have not posted any information that wasn’t taken from public records but others can post misinformation and that’s OK.

    I don’t like having a biased referee so I’ll leave the posting to those who just make up things and won’t address issues.

  16. There were no violations of any sort in the design of Nick Ramus’s On-site system. numerous reviews by TCEQ and others proved that. did I mention that the county lost their court case over this issue. that some of the sitting members of the court commited various illegal actions in regards to this is also not in doubt Charles “gobbels” O’Dells attempt to repeat a lie so often that it is accepted as truth will not work here

    Why oh why is this being discussed on this thread which should be about the HCP. anyone want to do comparisons between our proposed HCP and Travis county’s. how bout the efforts underway in Comal or Williamson ?

    my credentials as a cave biologists go back to 1974. more than 80 new species have been described new to science from my discoveries. I have worked in caves from Montana to Quintana Roo. including the 10th and 11th deepest cave systems in the world. I set up the cave science programs at 2 large environmental consulting companies in Austin. I have 17 species named grubbsi including 4 in Hays county. many if not most of the karst invertebrate species listed as potential species of concern in the HCP are my personal discoveries. Some of my friends also remember that I helped on a expedition to Mexico to recover the body of a fellow caver who was killed in a accident 2600 feet below the surface, down 33 rigged rope drops in a cave with roaring waterfalls of 48 degree water. If anyone would like to discuss water flow in the deep edwards aquifer or the occurence of H2S in the wells in the Hays-Trinity aquifer I much prefer that

    Did I mention that Ramus won his lawsuit aginst Hays county ? Do you guys know how much was spent on that and how many acres of preserve land could be bought with that amount

  17. Blah, blah, blah! I don’t know about the rest of you but several folks, self included are starting a petition to recall Will Conely & Bob Barton as well as the rest of the commissioners who voted for this fast track gravy train that the developers get to ride for free at taxpayers expense.

  18. TECQ and organizations like them legitimize the economic evil wrought by the GREED MONGERS that are responsible for bringing our economy to its knees!

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