The Undercurrent: John Graves Scenic Riverway bill must be revived

The Brazos in Palo Pinto County. Photo by Kathryn Jones

Part of the John Graves Scenic Riverway

in Palo Pinto County.
Photo by Kathryn Jones/GR Current

By Kathryn Jones

Texas lost a literary legend and Somervell County lost a friend of the Brazos River when noted author John Graves passed away early Wednesday at his home outside Glen Rose.

Texas also lost a round in the fight to extend protections for the Brazos when the Texas House Natural Resources Committee in May essentially killed a bill to extend the John Graves Scenic Riverway after a lobbying group opposed it for creating too much regulation.

Not surprisingly, as the Glen Rose Current previously reported, the lobbying group for companies that mine gravel, rock and sand along the Brazos has contributed thousands of campaign dollars to members of the House committee.

One word comes to mind – shameful. And the sad irony is that Graves didn’t even get to see the riverway that bears his name extended from Palo Pinto County to his home county during his lifetime. Instead, some house members put the interests of a few ahead of the interests of many people who wanted to see this piece of legislation finally passed.

Graves’ 1960 book Goodbye to a River, written after a canoe trip he made in 1957 on the Brazos before a string of dams changed its character, has become a beloved Texas classic. It also has inspired a new generation of river environmentalists. (Ironically, the river now is so low and has so much silt and sandbars in it that Graves likely couldn’t have made the same trip in recent years without carrying the canoe much of the way.)

The Brazos River near Nemo  is so dry that vegetation almost covers a wide sandbar. Photo by Kathryn Jones/GR Current

The Brazos River near Nemo is so dry that vegetation almost covers a wide sandbar.

Photo by Kathryn Jones/GR Current

The scenic riverway designation for the Brazos in Palo Pinto and Parker counties was passed by the legislature in 2005 without significant opposition. County commissioners in Hood and Somervell counties earlier this year passed resolutions supporting the proposed extension. So what happened?

The legislation to extend more protection to the Brazos through Somervell County died because it was left pending in the committee, which did not report it out for action on the House floor. We followed the money trail.

The Current’s analysis of campaign contributions by the industry trade group Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association and its political action committee to the 11 members of the House Natural Resources Committee revealed that all but one of the committee members received hundreds to thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the mining industry PAC.

At a hearing on the bill in April, some committee members were more concerned about the impact on the aggregates group than on the long-term consequences for the Brazos and communities like Glen Rose that depend on the river for tourism.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it identified nine businesses in Hood and two in Somervell that could be affected by the bill. That’s not a lot.

In the other counties where the riverway designation exists, “it has been shown where both sides on this issue have worked together to mutual satisfaction,” House member J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), whose district includes Somervell County, told the committee. He also noted the river’s economic impact on tourism.

Those arguments fell on deaf ears. But the fight isn’t over. Friends of the Brazos River, the nonprofit that works to keep water in the Brazos and trash out of it, has said it will again try to get the bill passed in the next legislative session.

Ed Lowe, the group’s president, told me he believes some discussions should be held with the aggregates lobby to find out more about its concerns and try to “tweak” the bill so that it can finally pass.

Unfortunately, some house members listen more to money than their constituents, so it’s time to start our own grassroots lobbying group, a group of the people who care about this legislation. Call, write, email and do whatever you can to let lawmakers know that nine businesses in Hood and Somervell counties should not get more consideration than the will of thousands of people.

We’re not going to stop writing about this issue, by the way, so stay tuned.

Let’s honor John Graves and those who treasure not only the Brazos, but all rivers. Don’t let this bill die again. Keep John Graves’ memory and work alive for future generations who should not have to make a canoe trip to say goodbye to this river ever again.

Kathryn Jones is the editor of the Glen Rose Current. Contact her at editor@glenrosecurrent.com. 

 

 

4 Responses to The Undercurrent: John Graves Scenic Riverway bill must be revived

  1. Suzanne Gentling Reply

    August 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I have no doubt that this bill will pass, eventually, because stricter regulation for the preservation of our waterways will be to everyone’s advantage, and sooner or later, everyone will realize this.

    • Kathryn Reply

      August 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Suzanne.

  2. Larry P. Smith Reply

    August 6, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Kathryn,

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

    There could not be a more fitting tribute to John Graves than passage of the John Graves Scenic Riverway bill. His love for the Brazos has been so well documented in “Goodbye to a River” that we should not rest until this is done.

    As a young schoolboy,I learned that the Spaniards had named the river “Brazos de Dios”,the Arm of God. How appropriate that he now rests there, in the arms of God.

    I spoke with Rep. Sheffield and Gary Kafer about this when they were in Glen Rose last week. Dr. Sheffield is only one of a long list that needs to be contacted. Every State Representative and Senator, especially those who serve on the respective committees, should be urged by their constituants to support the bill.
    In 2005, the pollution had been so extensive in Palo Pinto County that the issue would not go away and high profile figures supported the measure. Today, the same situation does not exist. There is not a public outcry so, it is not in the news.

    Having been under the oversight of the TCEQ for about 10 years, I am familiar with the other side of this issue and understand some of their concerns. However, there should be a point of reconciliation that can be agreed upon. If not,it will just be another political fight and that is not an appropriate tribute to a man of John Graves demeanor.

    The passage of this bill should be elevated to a higher level and both sides have a responsibility to read “Goodbye to a River” before reentering a costly,rancorous debate.

    • Kathryn Reply

      August 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Thank you, Larry. I believe we’ll see both sides of this issue try to work out an accommodation so the bill can be passed in the next legislative session. It’s just John Graves didn’t get to see this done in his lifetime.

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