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Monday , October 22 2018
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San Elizario ISD Among Districts Selected For LSG Exemplar Cohort

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the eight Texas school districts that were selected to be part of the inaugural Lone Star Governance (LSG) Exemplar Cohort and the San Elizario Independent School District (SEISD) made it on the list.

“I feel very excited our district qualified,” said Irene D. Jaquez, San Elizario ISD Board President. “It is such an honor to be part of a training that will streamline our main objectives which are student outcomes. We ask the students to raise the bar, and we should lead by example,” she added.

The LSG Exemplar Cohort is designed for high-performing local governing teams—school board members and their superintendents—that want to continue honing their focus on improving student outcomes.

San Elizario ISD Superintendent, Dr. Jeannie Meza-Chavez, shares the same excitement as Jaquez and is looking forward to the support and unprecedented experience that will be provided by TEA and certified LSG Coaches.

“I am excited for the San Elizario ISD team. This speaks highly to the work that continues to be done by all at different levels in our district,” Meza-Chavez said.

Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Education, says school districts like SEISD are already demonstrating effective governance practices where the success of every student is the focus.

“As part of the inaugural LSG Exemplar Cohort, the school board members and superintendents in these districts seek to take their efforts to the next level, which can lead to better student outcomes in their communities,” Morath said.

San Elizario ISD, along with the other seven districts that were selected, will take part in the Texas Education Agency’s Lone Star Governance training for school board members with their superintendents.

For more information about Lone Star Governance, visit TEA’s website- https://tea.texas.gov/LSG/

San Elizario Moves to Protect Biodiversity, Increase Knowledge of Bees, Environment

Tuesday night, the San Elizario City Council unanimously passed an ordinance protecting three species of plants that are also of economic significance.

In addition to the vote, the community is set to host a week-long event, Bee Real to introduce community to unique scientific characteristics and opportunities for economic development.

Via a news release, officials with the city shared,”San Elizario sits in the Amazon of Bees, the city lies in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is hypothesized to harbor one of North America’s largest diversity of bees. And for the past year, the city government of San Elizario has been working with a team from Auburn University to protect this unique biodiversity, while sparking economic development.”

With the passing of a nuisance ordinance, which excludes three species of plants that are typically considered weeds but actually hold high scientific value, the city of San Eli took another step in preserving this region’s biodiversity.

Bashira Chowdhury, pollination ecologist with the Bee Biodiversity Initiative in Auburn University’s College of Agriculture said, “San Elizario essentially recognized what many in our field have known, that these plants are of critical economic importance, and that it can harness its biodiversity for economic progress. This is significant as it is one of the first protections of its kind in the country.”

Their move essentially protects Baileya multiradiata, a plant that may help reduce the need for some insecticides, Portulaca oleracea (verdolagas/purslane), which is a valuable food crop and the Sphaeralcea genus (globemallow) that serves to feed a variety of native bees and past melittologists have identified as an excellent pollinator plant for landscapes in the West.

In conjunction with the vote, the city’s first annual Bee Real, a week-long celebration with different events each day that serve to expose the community to the science lab in which they live and will provide a primer on careers that benefit from this characteristic.

“Though our target audience for this event is the citizens of San Elizario, we feel it is important the region is made aware of the steps we’re taking to provide a better quality of life in our community,” stated Mayor Antonio Araujo.

All events, including food, drinks and entertainment are free to the public.

Schedule of events include:

Monday, 9/3 – Bee Real Community Dinner

Tuesday, 9/4 – Tea Tuesday

Wednesday, 9/5 – The Science of Bee Real

Thursday, 9/6 – Social Entrepreneurship

Friday, 9/7 – Bee Real in the Historic District

Saturday, 9/8 – Wild San Eli at Bee Real

For more information on Bee Real, visit the city’s website.

San Eli ISD Honors Teachers, Employees of the Year

San Elizario ISD held its 2018 Teacher & Employee of the Year Awards Ceremony to honor six teachers and six employees nominated by their campuses for district-wide honors for their outstanding performance and commitment throughout the school year.

Sandra Tinajero from Sambrano Elementary was chosen as the Elementary Teacher of the Year, Andrew Avila from San Elizario High School was selected as the Secondary Teacher of the Year, and Luz Estela Martinez was named District Employee of the Year.

Tinajero has been teaching at Sambrano Elementary for the past three years. She is grateful to be working at the school that received her with open arms when she was a child; she is proud to be from the San Elizario community.

Avila has a total of five years working at San Elizario High School. He had the privilege to work with the Algebra One team, in which they collectively endeavored to earn the Academic Achievement in Mathematics State Accountability Distinction from T.E.A. in 2017.

Martinez has been working for the district as a bus monitor for the past four years. She has a great connection with district faculty and staff, but what she loves most about her job is the children. She believes that working with children is her true calling.

Presenting the winners with their awards the night of the banquet were San Elizario ISD Board President, Irene D. Jaquez; Board Trustee Sandra Licon; Board Trustee, Becky Romero, Board Trustee, Armando Martinez; Associate Superintendent, Ruben Cervantes; and Superintendent, Dr. Jeannie Meza-Chavez.

Both Tinajero and Avila will advance to the Region 19 Teacher of the Year , where they will represent San Elizario ISD this summer.

The winners were announced Friday evening, May 4th, at the Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel.

San Elizario, Auburn University Partner to Develop ‘Bee Industries’ for Area

The City of San Elizario has partnered with Auburn University, in Alabama, to develop new specialty crop industries with desert vegetables, spices, herbs, dyes, landscaping plants and crops that harness bees to serve the city’s economic future.

Via a news release, City of San Eli officials shared, “San Elizario sits within the Chihuahuan Desert, which has the highest variety of bee diversity in all of North America and is most likely one of the leading regions of this characteristic in the world…initiatives [will be] based on unique “bee diversity” and include collaborations with San Elizario Independent School District, El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 and Auburn University.”

To kick-off this work, the City of San Elizario and Auburn University have been awarded $4,000 through the Texas USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service CFDA Program. And thanks to a partnership with El Paso County Water Improvement District #1, the funds will be used to create a community crops garden for a healthier food future at Parque de los Niños.

The space will be used to demonstrate specialty crops, which are better suited for our region and have been identified by the USDA as in high demand nationwide. In addition, the garden will supply compost, seeds and an educational space for participants in our Homestead Science initiative and Wild San Eli, a program in conjunction with the San Elizario Independent School District.

Homestead Science will provide 10 San Elizario residences with the training, materials and equipment to grow specialty crops that will be available for sale at our signature Bee Real event, slated for September 8, 2018.

Wild San Eli launches March 7, 2018 as students are introduced to pollinator research and future careers in sustainable agriculture. Approximately 20 students will be provided kits to “pan-trap” specimens that will be used in a Junior Curator Camp in August 2018.

A series of 2018 events, including three Bee Bloom Walks–the first of which is March 10 from 9am to 11am–and training for SEISD teachers via Bee-a-Biologist workshop will culminate with Bee Real, a festival to celebrate pollinators and introduce the community to specialty food, dye and medicinal crops. Additional Wild San Eli events have been scheduled for 2019.

“Due to the pollinator diversity, we regularly conduct research in San Elizario and since 2017, we have been working with local leaders to develop initiatives that support pollinator health and have the opportunity to create economic development based on high-value specialty crops, suited for the region that cannot be duplicated just anywhere in the country. These include crops that are historically native to the region but are predominantly being imported into the U.S.,” stated Bashira Chowdhury, pollination ecologist with the Bee Biodiversity Initiative in Auburn University’s College of Agriculture.

Mayor Maya Sanchez added, “52% of our constituents live below the poverty line. And when campaigning for incorporation in 2013, many expressed a desire to retain the unique rural makeup of our community. Our pollinator initiatives allow us to address both of these concerns. And in partnership with SEISD, we plan to grow our own workforce.”

Additional grants and collaborations are underway to support on-going work. A five-year plan has been developed to achieve short-term victories that will support longer-term goals.

City of San Elizario Receives $186,395 in Recreational Grants

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, via the National Recreational Trails Fund (NRTF), awarded the City of San Elizario $184,395 toward the San Elizario Historic Circuit Trail (Phase 1) project and PeopleForBikes awarded $2,000 in funding for the Historic District Bike Rack Stations project.

The San Elizario Circuit Trail Phase 1 is a .66-mile hike and bike trail, situated primarily along the bank of the San Eli Main irrigation canal and connects the heart of the historic district and Tedd F. Richardson Park—which is currently undergoing renovations with TPWD Local Parks funding. The genesis of the project was in 2015, when the City of San Elizario received approval from the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 (EPCWID#1) Board of Directors to research options for a safe canal trail.

“For generations, residents have utilized the banks of canals for pedestrian use—and they will continue to do so. But thanks to this project, the safety of this route will be improved.” Stated project administrator, Alderman David Cantu. Mayor Maya Sanchez added, “We are committed to working with EPCWID#1 to follow all processes and to ensure we don’t interfere with the primary function of the irrigation canal.”

The end goal is to complete Phase 2, which will create a 1.2-mile circuit trail. For more information, click HERE.

And to culminate National Bike Month, PeopleForBikes stated, “We believe this project has great potential to improve the environment for bicycling in your community and we are pleased to be able to support it.” Beginning in June for two weeks, a crowdfunding campaign will be launched to raise up to a total award of $10,000 to be divided between the City of San Elizario and two other recipients. For more information click on PeopleForBikes.

San Elizario’s Last Stand: Protesting the Pipeline

It’s 7 a.m., and the sun is just peaking over the horizon. The streets and the highway are quiet on this particular Saturday morning in San Elizario.

A mist surrounds the town, dropping visibility to 2 miles.

Photo courtesy Andrew Torres
Photo courtesy Andrew Torres

On Oct. 1, a group of about 20 people made the trek through the heavy mist to gather at a portion of the Comanche Trail Pipeline construction site in the town – the site selected for this morning was at the end of Petunia Road – just steps away from the Mexican Border.

This is not the only pipeline project currently underway in San Elizario. ONEOK Partners LLC, a natural gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., is constructing a 200-mile pipeline near Coyanosa, Texas and through San Elizario Texas as well, according to the company website.

The project, known as the Roadrunner gas transmission pipeline, is expected to be completed by 2019, but construction in the San Elizario area is scheduled for completion next year.

The group chants and prays around a small alter of flowers and in the hopes that their energy and their prayers will be heard – so that their cause can be heard.

With the beat of a drum they sing, “The rivers that are flowing, flowing, and flowing. The rivers that are flowing down to the sea. Mother carry me – a child I will always be.”

Their concern revolved around any possible natural gas leaks that could potentially contaminate the Rio Grande River and the other 16 canals the Comanche Trail Pipeline will go under.

“We know we can survive without food for many many days,” said Gloria Gonzalez during her prayer. “But all of you know without water we will perish. It’s an element we use everyday.”

Another member of the prayer group, Margie Ameyaltinz Gaucin, said during her prayer that she had trouble getting to the site.

“I ended up in the area where there is construction going on and one of the gentlemen stopped me and asked if I was lost,” Gaucin said. “I

Photo by Author
Photo by Author

said, ‘Yes, I’m trying to get to our prayer site where we are praying to stop this pipeline. I then asked him, ‘Don’t you know what you are doing is going to affect you too?’ And he said, ‘Necesito el dinero (I need the money). So we need to pray for them also.”

As the morning wore on and the mist began to slowly lift, the group approached a large 42-inch diameter pipe that had been placed on the land. They continued to chant and pray over the pipeline and place large signs on it that read, “Water is Life! No Comanche Trail!”

Ruben Rodriguez Jr., takes several hoops and begins to stomp on the soft mud below his feet. One by one he takes the hoops and places them over and around his head, and extending them out to his arms as he dances the Native Butterfly Hoop Dance.

Ismael Gonzalez squats and gently smooths out the dirt below him with the palm of his hand. Completely focused, Gonzalez takes his index finger and thoughtfully traces a cross on the ground and encloses it with a circle and four smaller cross-like designs on the outer edges of the circle.

The sun rises higher in the sky and the sunrise water prayer ceremony comes to a close.

Safety Concerns

The Comanche Trail Pipeline, developed by Energy Transfer Partners, is a 195-mile pipeline that begins outside of Fort Stockton and ends at San Elizario. It’s purpose – to supply natural gas to Mexico.

San Elizario Mayor Maya Sanchez said she did not become aware of the pipeline until the project had already begun in June of 2015.

“I found out about the pipeline projects on June 12, 2015, and that was just two days before ETP had a pipeline explode just outside of Cuero, Texas,” Sanchez said. “So that didn’t give me much faith in the company and these types of projects.”

According to the Texas Railroad Commission of Texas inspection report, the Cuero explosion was a result of, “due to a material failure of the pipe,” when the pipeline experienced, “a bending overload that placed the bottom of the pipeline in tension.”

Concerned that such an explosion could potentially happen in San Elziario, and In search for more information, Sanchez reached out to Energy Transfer Partners and ONEOK only to receive little to no information from the company.

Photo courtesy Andrew Torres
Photo courtesy Andrew Torres

Sanchez requested a map from the companies, who she said could not supply her with an accurate one until they had acquired all the land they needed for their temporary and permanent easements.

 

As construction on the pipelines continue, Sanchez still feels uneasy about the pipeline project and referenced the recent collapse of one of 16 canals that collapsed during ETP’s construction of the Comanche Trail Pipeline.

“So I mean, clearly it was one of 16 – and they already messed up,” Sanchez said. She later added that individuals who have the pipeline built underneath their land won’t be able to harvest or cultivate that portion of the land anymore.

“They say they can raise crops, but mind you this is a 42-inch pipeline that is 4 feet underground,” Sanchez said. “Now tell me – how comfortable are you driving a huge tractor and tracing over a 42-inch pipeline that is 4 feet underground?”

When asked about safety concerns, Energy Transfer Partners responded to the El Paso Herald Post via email. Lisa Dillinger, spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners said safety is their top priority.

“The safety of our employees who build and operate them, the safety of those who live in the communities through which our pipelines pass, and the safety of the environment which surrounds them. For that reason, the design, construction, and operation of the Comanche Trail Pipeline will meet or exceed where possible all state and federal safety standards. Our pipelines are monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by industry- leading control centers with the capability to remotely shut in lines within minutes. Pipelines are the safest form of transportation for natural gas. One example of this is the minimum depth to which the pipeline will be buried. The Texas Railroad Commission requires a minimum depth of 3-feet, however, our pipeline will be buried a minimum of 4 feet deep.”

DIllinger also said that the company compensated landowners both permanent and temporary easements, but would not disclose the specifics of the agreements.

“The landowner still owns the land and can use it as before, aside from building permanent structures or planting deep-rooted trees,” Dillinger said.

When asked about how the company would respond to any leaks or attempt to prevent them when burying the pipeline under canals and the Rio Grande, Dilinger responded:

“We take many precautions when crossing near or under sensitive areas, including wall thickness, special coating, pipe depth, and additional emergency valve placement. When crossing under canals, the Comanche Trail Pipeline will buried a minimum of 10 feet and in some cases, 30 – 55 feet below the canal or drain. The pipes also have a thicker wall and thicker coating.”

Dillinger added that the town and its residents were well received at town hall meetings held in September of 2015.

“The open house was successful in enabling us to respond to questions and concerns from landowners, local officials and other interested parties in a one-on-one format. We were able to address a number of questions including surveys, routing and safety. We also provided fact sheets and informational displays. At this open house and as usual, we find that people respond well to our projects once well informed. As always, we respect that there are a wide variety of opinions regarding our country’s energy infrastructure.”

Sanchez tells a different story.

Courtesy ONEOK
Courtesy ONEOK

“I  was very upset that we were being told next to nothing,” she said. “At the end of the day the city passed a resolution completely opposing the project and I did get a hold of the companies and they were both willing to meet with our city staff and counsel members.”

Sanchez said once she was finally able to get in touch with the companies, they were able to convince ONEOK and Energy Transfer Partners to meet with residents in a town hall setting, which both companies had opposed.

“They really held their ground that they wanted to do an open house format, as opposed to a town hall.”

In a town hall format, presenters provide information to all and then take questions from the audience. An open house format allows the presenters to set up in a booth-like setting, allowing any interested parties to see the information and ask questions.

The Open House sessions turned into town hall meetings, in part to the seating arrangements and the residents pushing the companies to

present to all of them at once, with room for questions at the end.

Sanchez said since learning of the pipelines in June 2015, San Elizario has passed resolution opposing the pipeline and Sanchez has sought advice on whether to fight this through the courts.

“I’ve been told that it’s basically a snowball’s chance in hell, and if we do get that snowball’s chance, we will be buried under legal fees. But we have got to do something,”

Sanchez said frustrated. “So we are doing our best to ask them (lawmakers) – beg them – to at least start a dialogue somewhere. And I know how things are at the state level – you are basically shouting at the wind. But that’s all we have right now. The way policies and laws are – we don’t have anything else that can help us.”

The Wind Shouts Back

State Rep. Mary Gonzalez – D, Clint, will be hosting a town hall meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday at El Paso Community College’s Mission Del Paso Campus to discuss community projects in the area and updates on the pipeline.

Sanchez had reached out to Gonalzez who had help organize one of San Elizario town hall meetings with ETP. Gonzalez was a part of a handful of county and state representatives that Sanchez had reached out to.

In addition officials from the El Paso County Water Improvement District sought intervention from the United States in a motion to stay. According to the lawsuit, the El Paso County Water District maintained that the United States had a vested interest because the “United States has property interests in the lands subject to condemnation.”

The land referenced in the lawsuit was the United States Border Fence and the United States Border.

According to the lawsuit, ETP had failed to inform the Department of Homeland security of their project and how it would affect the Border fence:

“Upon information and belief, some agencies of the federal government conducted a limited review of the pipeline’s proposed project prior to issuance of the Permit; however, the agency or section within the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for the maintenance of the border fence was not among them. As a result, the Government has not had an opportunity to assess the pipeline’s impact to the structural integrity of the border fence.

Accordingly, the undersigned is seeking from Comanche information regarding the land at issue for the pipeline’s placement as well as its impact, if any, to the structural integrity of the border fence. Once that review has been completed, the United States will be in a position to determine its property interests and to determine what, if any, remedy it seeks.”

Originally, Energy Transfer Companies had filed a lawsuit against the El Paso County Water Improvement District in January to obtain 14-tracts of land, in which 16 canals are located.

The 16 canals named in the lawsuit were:

* S 379 Lateral

* Salitral Lateral

* Mesa Drain

* Cuadrilla Lateral (Lee Lateral)

* Middle Drain

* 40′ Webb Lateral

* Franklin Canal

* Franklin Intercepting Drain

* I.F. 57 Lateral

* Island Feeder Canal and Intercepting Drain

* River Spur Drian

* River Drain

* San Elizario Lateral

* Riverside Canal and Riverside Intercepting Drain.

In this original lawsuit the United States Department of Homeland Security was never named. This motion to stay as filed on Oct. 13. The case has been assigned to U.S. Federal Judge Frank Montalvo.

A court date has not been set.

To read Alex Hinojosa’s previous story, click HERE.