Environmentalists Say Dallas Is Trampling Nature to Build its Horse Park and Golf Course

TrinityDrainingSavePembertonSpring.jpg
Save Pemberton's Big Spring Facebook Page
A contractor's pumps suck down a wetland pond near the Texas Horse Park.
There's a fundamental tension baked into Dallas' plans for the Trinity River corridor. On the one hand, it wants to open the vast, unconcreted lands of the Great Trinity Forest for people to enjoy -- average folks, too, not just the naturalists and horsemen and gonzo hikers hearty enough to bushwhack. At the same time, it wants to preserve relatively intact the delicate ecology and natural beauty the city always touts when selling the Great Trinity Forest

Here's the contradiction: You can't do both. The city can only do its best to minimize the impact of the former on the latter. At the Texas Horse Park, set to open this fall near Loop 12 and CF Hawn freeway in Pleasant Grove, environmental advocates say the city is doing an abysmal job.

They -- brothers Ted and Hal Barker and an assemblage of master naturalists, former engineers, and weekend warriors -- have been watching the project closely since the construction contract was signed last spring. A few days later they found stakes demarcating future barns and an arena just a few dozen feet from the head of Big Spring, a gurgle of water that trickles into White Rock Creek that is impressive only insofar as it hasn't been paved over and slaked the thirst of Sam Houston, John Neely Bryan and an untold number of Native Americans who trod the land before them. The Barker Bros. were the ones who raised the alarm and successfully petitioned the city to alter construction plans and propose designating the site as a historic landmark.

See also: Preservationists Want to Stop the City from Building the Texas Horse Park Over Historic Spring

TexasHorseParkDirtRoad.jpg
Save Pemberton's Big Spring Facebook Page
There used to be trees here. Now, it's a giant pit.
Their attention now has migrated a few acres south, next to where a dirt road doglegs off Elam Road to give construction trucks access to the main Texas Horse Park site. There, a couple of weeks ago, they noticed the city had clear-cut a swath of trees that, according to all the plans they checked, weren't supposed to be disturbed. Doubly concerning, once construction equipment began scraping the soil, was the realization that the city might be trampling an archaeology site: the coordinates matched exactly an archaeological survey conducted in 1940 by artist and Dallas Archaeological Society co-founder Forrest Kirkland, who found a collection of tools -- arrowheads, scrapers, blades, and the like -- suggesting an extensively-used campsite.

I visited the site last Monday with Sarah Standifer, an assistant director with the city's Trinity Watershed Management division. The land was now a deep pit, a couple of hundred feed in diameter. The city, she explained, was using the excavated material as fill for the Trinity Forest Golf Course being built on the old landfill across Loop 12. If there were any Native American artifacts, they would thus have the honor of helping support the turf of a PGA-caliber course. But Standifer was pretty sure nothing of archaeological significance had been trucked away.

The city had jumped through all the necessary legal hoops with the Texas Historic Commission to ensure they were disturbing nothing of archaeological significance, Standifer said. (For the city's archeological permit and related correspondence, see Save Pemberton's Big Spring website). To prove the city's commitment to preserving the past, Standifer introduced me to a pair of archeologists with Geo-Marine, the firm that conducted the original archaeological survey. They, too, assured me there was little chance of Native American artifacts being scooped up for the golf course. Kirkland, working in a time before archaeology had become professionalized, was an amateur, they reminded me. Probably he had gone to one of the gravel mines operating on the site at the time and asked the workers if they'd found any artifacts. In any case, the area has been intensively gravel-mined in the 74 years since, meaning that any archaeological site would have been destroyed.

I asked Standifer if Geo-Marine had been monitoring the excavation since it began a week or so before. Monday, she told me, was the first day on the site. The city had heard the complaints and just wanted to be proactive.

Standifer didn't mention it at the time, but the clear-cutting that preceded the excavation? That was a whoops. On Friday, Assistant City Manger Jill Jordan wrote in an email to the Barkers and a couple dozen fellow activists that "it was discovered that a development plan submittal was apparently needed to address tree removal in the area being excavated at the Southwest corner of the Horsepark."

That, however, was just a footnote to Jordan's main apology. A few days after noticing the excavation, the activists discovered a wetland pond next to the Trinity that had been drained almost to its lake bed. They took pictures, including several showing federally protected wood storks splashing in the shallow pool that remained.

Jordan explained that, during the bidding process, several contractors asked permission to be allowed to use ponds in the area for dust control. "During construction, the contractors did request use of the pond in question for the dust control. The City granted this request knowing it was not Waters of the US [i.e. under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] but also never realizing the contractor would be so insensitive as to attempt to drain an entire pond."

Pumping has now stopped. The contractor is buying drinking water from the city for dust control, and Jordan promises that the pond will be restored to its original condition. Not that the mea culpa has restored activists' faith in the city as environmental steward.

"Dewatering of ponds that are seasonal in nature and allowing heavy equipment in the area to do that work seems to contravene the concept of habitat conservation and preservation," Ted Barker wrote to Jordan. "The vast body of nature photography by many noted photographers will show even the most jaded urban inhabitant that there is great beauty in this area."

Rest assured that, as the city continues to develop the Trinity corridor into a recreational attraction, building parks and running concrete bike paths into the forest, the Barkers and the rest will be watching.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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28 comments
imrjvm
imrjvm

I live in Pleasant Grove and what I see coming is this.

First the Horse Park, then condo's over looking the forest, then more condo's, then more people that would never visit the Grove will move in and move us out.

Annonnymous
Annonnymous

You mean THIS Sarah Standifer?

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/dallas/headlines/20120210-dallas-city-officials-acknowledge-retirement-party-funds-sought-inappropriately.ece

Well, it's not wonder nothing makes sense and everything being told by Standifer about the Trinity River project is a complete lie. She's dumb AND a teller of tall tales. Not a credible person. But as AC's last appointments and shuffling of the chairs on the City Hall Titanic proved to taxpayers, it's not about WHAT you know. It's about WHO you know. Another Friend of Mary's!

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I didn't grow up in North Texas.  I grew up in NW Colorado, in a county the size of Rhode Island with about 4k people in it.  We lived side by side with eons of natural wonders, native cultures and generally weird stuff.  We took it for granted. I took it for granted.

Living here now, I'm just beginning to learn about and discover the natural oddities of my new home.  Thanks to Schutze, I learned about the native palmetto groves in GTF; the farthest north and west palmetto groves in N. America, a palmetto grove where one shouldn't be.  It's sad to realize all of Dallas' natural and historical features might be buried under concrete and faux nature before I get a chance to see them.  I give a hearty thanks to the guys working so hard to protect the area.

tbarker1
tbarker1

The credit belongs to those folks who have spent decades down in the GTF and other wild locations, even Schutze.  

Dalbey, Sandifer, Holtson, Zada and Billy Ray Pemberton, are just a few of the wonderful folks we have met since an accidental rendezvous at an owl photographic session at Sunset Bay, Dec 27, 2012.  


What a rollercoaster ride this has been to learn from Tim, Ben and Billy Ray and the rest.


Dallas does not appreciate the history and the land it has been blessed with.


I noticed that the link for one of our sites does not work:


http://savepembertonsbigspring.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/SavePembertonsBigSpring?ref=hl

When Eric called me last April, I said; "oops, you found us"  It was not long before the City of Dallas wanted to protect Big Spring.

Barry
Barry

The pond that was illegally drained is on Corps of Engineers administered mitigation land. There should not even be construction in that area. The golf course land is farther away and on the other side of land that should not be touched. That land is in a mitigation bank for land previously fucked up by the city. Mother fuckers went apeshit in there with bulldozers through the woods to get to the pond. Then drained almost all the water off using big trucks. I have seen the pictures taken there of dead and dying wildlife too.


Corps of Engineers says the City never told them that this whole bulldozing gang bang was going to happen.


TCEQ and the EPA need to get moving on some fines for this. They are asleep on the job if they don't cut some citations for this crap. They should all resign their jobs if they cannot see this as a crime.


The Texas Historical Commission fucked up too with the Indian site. They allowed the City of Dallas to destroy a known and registered Native American site before the report on the site was finished. So did the zoning board/commission for the City of Dallas.

wcvemail
wcvemail

Bureaucratic Gobbledy-Gook Language Award: "...it was discovered that a development plan submittal was apparently needed to address tree removal..."

This discovery, occurring spontaneously without any human who could be named, means that they would "apparently" back-date the dev plan to excuse the tree removal. Congratulations, Jill Jordan!

ScrewTheDallasZoo
ScrewTheDallasZoo

The link to the Save Pemberton Big Spring site is fucked up.

DerpDudeTX
DerpDudeTX

Will the contractors and city be turned in to the TCEQ? You can't just go drain a wetland just because you want to, even in Texas. They would have had to obtain permits at the very least, especially if any of the water is in a watershed, which I would suspect it is.

epa_enforcer
epa_enforcer

@Annonnymous Thank you for informing people who don't know those things!  Those things are absolutely true, so you know what you are talking about. How Sarah Standifer got her job is also shaky. Her & Suhm have a history of corruption. No coincidence the City's watershed manager directly in charge of that Trinity River project is Susan Alvarez who has an even longer history of corruption, works directly under Sarah Standifer, both are chronic liars & none of the lazy bosses above them ever did any punishment of those corrupt people.

Annonnymous
Annonnymous

What about the City's Environmental Quality Office??? They have been asleep on the job since the day they were created. Time to put this useless department out the door. Out the door. Not rolled into another city department. Out the door will save the City REAL money that can be used to fill potholes and fix traffic signals.

Research2014
Research2014

@Barry Under Dallas rules, there is actually no connection to any federal or state laws. We call this the Autonomous Dallas Zone, where nothing relates to fact, and fact relates to nothing. 


tbarker1
tbarker1

@Barry You seem to know your way around.  Would love to invite you to a walkabout next time the #SavePembertonsBigSpring folks are out at the location.

Research2014
Research2014

@DerpDudeTX Actually, the City does not have to comply with State law. They have lobbyist who handle that detail


ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@DerpDudeTX 

That would require a surface water acquisition permit.


Draining a wetlands is a big no - no.

Annonnymous
Annonnymous

It is WELL KNOWN in City Hall circles that Sarah Standifer should have been fired several times for gross incompetence and unethical behavior. It is also a well known fact that she rose from incompetent clerk to Assistant Director because she is Mary Suhm's favorite grunt whose only useful purpose was ordering and picking up Mary's lunch at Subway.

How many employees get promoted to an executive position after they have been reprimanded by the City Manager? Stupid Sarah is also one of those who always received the maximum merit pay and dollars when promoted. She has no skills. Yet, she claims to be the "heir apparent" to the Director's position. One can only imagine what else she's done along the Trinity that we don't know about.

Dear Mayor and City Council: how blind, unethical or ignorant are you all to allow yourselves to be completely lied to by city staff??? The misdeeds of so many of these idiots is detailed on a weekly basis. Here's your list: Standifer, Mark Duebner, Forest Turner, Jo Guidice, Molly McColl Carroll, Mary Suhm.,,,

The list is endless. AC isn't going to pull the trigger. You pull it!

Barry
Barry

@tbarker1 


I usually float down there in a canoe with friends instead of hiking. We know the place that was bulldozed for water. It is very close to the river, you can get out and walk up the bank to it. A good limestone landing is there just past the mouth of White Rock Creek.


Did any citizens contact the Environmental Protection Agency or USFWS? They can enforce this.


I saw the photos on a canoeing messageboard and was just floored. Fuck.

epa_enforcer
epa_enforcer

@Annonnymous That appears all correct, also thank you for including a suggested fix! Yes, unfortunately by process of elimination, unfortunately the City Council is the only hope.

It was a slimy joke to have promoted Standifer to an A.D position.

Naturally that wasn't the only slimy behavior by City's Directors & Assistant City Managers & Suhm. You hit on another thing correct which is whenever unethical behavior of slimy Directors & Assistant Directors & managers under Assistant Directors were caught & sent to City Council, the slimy "leaders" simply lied & therefore avoided punishment.  The lying gets trained down in to them. Suhm & her understudy Jill Jordan always looked the other way about slimy behavior of "leaders" below them.  And Standifer is a Suhm wannabe.  A manager below Stander can continue be as corrupt as they want, by just sucking up to Standifer.  And it's fair to assume AC wont do anything because he has his own skeletons in closet.  So your request makes sense that by process of elimination, City Council is the only hope.

City Council is best hope for a fix but not much to hang any hat on.  That's because too many City Council members care only about whatever gets money for their district.  Development money to their district is what gets council members re elected.  So anyone part of development in to their district, some council members therefore look the other way to protect corrupt people.

Another reported obstacle is if City staff cooperates with any Council members who is not corrupt, corrupt people in City of Dallas organization retaliate against lower level people in that organization.  Wish whistleblower laws would work but the corrupt leaders would lie their way out.

OK, seconding the motion here, TO CITY COUNCIL listen up: Please be the hero, by stop being lied to by slimy people in leadership positions, demand those slimy "leadership" positions be removed.

tbarker1
tbarker1

@Barry @tbarker1 Get Charlie and Eric to come with you next time out.


The Oak Creek (Bryan's Slough) was messed up a bit after the fire last month. Otter, Beaver, Mink, etc, abound down in the Big Spring area and the wet pasturelands.


tbarker1
tbarker1

@Barry @tbarker1 Yep, and the Corps and EPA said, no worries, no citations forthcoming.  Taking this to POTUS website with a petition.  Stay tuned.

Annonnymous
Annonnymous

Take Sarah Standifer and the City Environmental Quality Office with you so they can, perhaps, pretend to learn something. Tell Standifer to leave her coloring book at home. Time to pay attention, lady.

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