Don't Blow It Featured in South Texas Newsletter
“DON’T BLOW IT”
by Alice Ball Strunk
Val Verde County encompasses the crossroads of three distinct ecological regions: the Chihuahuan Desert, the Tamaulipan Brushlands and the Edwards Plateau. It is home to many natural treasures including its clear springs, vast unadulterated vistas and the last wild and pristine river in Texas, the Devils River. Val Verde County is also home to many unique and protected species such as bald and golden Eagles, Mexican free-tailed bats, monarch butterflies and the Texas hornshell mussel. For years, this unique landscape has appealed to avid hunters, birders, kayakers and tourists alike seeking an escape from the urban jungle. More than 1 million people visit the state and federal parks in Val Verde County each year to enjoy nature-dependent activities.
Recently, this oasis has come under threat, attracting the attention of Chinese investors who have acquired over 130,000 acres of heritage ranch lands with the intention of building wind farms. Wind energy development in this region will forever scar our iconic terrains, threaten the value of ecotourism in the region, devastate private property values and decimate one of the last vestiges of our ‘Wild Texas’ heritage.
Wind farms are substantial industrial developments, generating relatively small unit amounts of energy when compared to the 'sprawl' required to produce that same energy. They have numerous negative effects on the environment - including daytime visual pollution, nighttime light pollution and noise pollution, all standard byproducts of urbanization. Additional negative effects include groundwater flow disturbance, migratory flight path obstruction and erosion and degradation of water quality. According to a recent analysis by The Conversation, “human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places.” Noise pollution caused by wind turbines can affect our residents and the population of prevalent game in our area such as white-tailed deer, doves, and turkeys. By impacting the wildlife they impact agri-tourism and therefore the value of surrounding lands.
In addition to environmental impacts, wind turbines compromise homeland security operations and interfere with military aviation radar and flight training routes. Further expansion of wind development puts the Laughlin mission at risk in these times of BRAC closure considerations. Laughlin Air Force Base has the largest pilot training program in the United States and, as such, provides a critical component to Val Verde County’s overall economic structure and success. According to the City of Del Rio, Laughlin Air Force Base employs 24 percent of our county’s population, whose jobs would be adversely affected if the success of the base and its training program is compromised.
Given that the public currently views wind power as a viable alternative energy source, it only makes sense to locate them in ‘disturbed’ areas which are already altered to such an extent that they have limited value to support natural communities. Studies show that the contiguous United States has more than enough net ‘disturbed’ areas to site wind farms, thus saving ‘non-disturbed’ areas like the Devils River watershed. Bottom line, destroying one environment in the name of trying to protect another makes no sense at all.
A local nonprofit, Devils River Conservancy, has spearheaded the “Don’t Blow It” campaign to raise awareness of the risks wind farms pose to the values Val Verde County provides all Texans and advocate for thoughtful regulation of wind energy development and protection of one of the last wild areas of our state.
Most of what we do and who we are in Val Verde County relies on the historical and natural resources that surround us. Now more than ever before, we must unite as a community and protect our heritage landscapes and way of life for future generations.
To find out how you can help protect Val Verde Country’s unique natural and scenic treasures from wind farm encroachment, visit www.dontblowittexas.org. To learn more about the Devils River Conservancy, visit www.devilsriverconservancy.org.