West Galveston Development Debate

The west end of Galveston Island is the setting for a controversial land development. Community residents, environmentalists, and corporate land-owners are poised to hae a legal battle over how the develoment should proceed. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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I'm standing at the edge of a small marsh at the westernmost tip of Galveston Island. There's a Sandhill Crane stalking through the shallows just in front of me and I can hear the sounds of various birds all around along with the occasional lowing of cattle. This marsh sits in the middle of a more than 1,000-acre spit of land at the center of what could turn into a huge legal debate over whether these coastal prairies should be developed into condo properties or preserved as a wetland habitat.

"There's absolutely no restraint against this kind of greed that represents not one redeeming element with regards to serving humanity. And to the contrary, it takes away and destroys these very precious assets that we as human beings must have to be whole in our lives, to be complete."

That's Bob Moore. He's an attorney and local environmental activist. He calls the proposed development a blasphemy against nature. Moore's home is adjacent to where the Marquette Land Investments group plans to turn 1,058 acres into condos, single-family lots, a resort hotel, boutiques, restaurants, a marina and possibly a golf course.

"When you start developing, you displace the animals that are there. You know, you force them somewhere else. And quite frankly for the west end of Galveston Island we're running out of places to push them."

Cherie O'Brien is a wetlands biologist for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. She's been working with Marquette for more than a year to find an appropriate compromise between development and environmental preservation.

"In order to appropriately compensate for impacts to any development out there, the ratio is almost at a one to one. So if they develop an acre, they need to set aside an acre."

Marquette Managing Director Darren Sloniger says after they purchased the land they discovered there were a lot more environmental sensitivities than they were originally aware of.

"We created what we called The Preserve, which was 361 acres of contiguous open space that encompassed the highest quality wetlands on the property, as well as setting aside uplands which are developable parts of the land. And that would be preserved in perpetuity."

Sloniger says they're doing their utmost to find a balance between economic and environmental concerns, namely making a profit from the land without doing it at the expense of the natural habitat. But Bob Moore says that's simply not good enough. He's mobilizing Galveston's grassroots community and says he's prepared to take his fight all the way to the federal courts to keep this land from turning into just another beach resort. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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