Approximately 60 area residents and other interested people had the opportunity to hear about the status of The Aransas Project (TAP) lawsuit against the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and other parties Wednesday night at the Saltwater Pavilion in Rockport. Attorney Jim Blackburn outlined the TAP’s position and future possibilities including arguments of state’s rights versus federal law and the suit making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The presentation also displayed the strong and solid testimony provided by TAP witnesses.
Last March U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled in favor of TAP contending TCEQ violated the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in a judgment issued by the United States District Court Southern District of Texas Corpus Christi Division. The suit, heard in late 2010 and early 2011, claimed the TCEQ failed to provide adequate freshwater inflows from the Guadalupe River Basin into the bays and estuaries; the lack of fresh water reduced the blue crab populations; and damaged the Whooping Crane flock. Blue crabs are a main food source for the endangered species. The last surviving wild flock of Whooping Cranes winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and surrounding area. The suit also argued too much freshwater from the Guadalupe River was kept from the bays during the 2008-2009 drought, causing the death of 23 cranes.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a stay of the verdict as requested by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. In granting the stay, the court also ordered the appeal be heard in August.
Ron Outen, Regional Director for TAP, began Wednesday’s discussion when he said, “The Guadalupe and Mission rivers are absolutely vital to the our area bays with their complex salinity dynamics for the area ecological niches and habitats.” He added, “It’s not just salinity. These rivers also gather organic matter and act as a conveyor belt bringing foodstuffs into the bays. The bays depend on the rivers as a source of nutrient material.”
Blackburn, aided by a PowerPoint presentation, reviewed the suit and how TAP had to prove the TCEQ was responsible for the alteration of freshwater inflows. He likened the Whooping Crane to the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” as its mortality rate reflects the health of the entire ecosystem.