Judge Extends Standstill Agreement in Neches Refuge Case

Judge Jorge a. Solis Monday extended the "standstill agreement" whereby the U. S. Fish and Wildlife service agreed not to acquire land for the Neches River Refuge while the refuge was in litigation.   The extension is intended to allow the plaintiffs -- the City of Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board -- time to appeal Judge Solis' June 30 decision in favor of the refuge.

Judge Solis also wrote a final order regarding his earlier decision.   Solis ruled firmly that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had met the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and had adequately coordinated with state and local governmental entities.

"We weren't surprised by Judge Solis' decision to extend the standstill agreement," said Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance.   "As Judge Solis' earlier ruling indicates, the precedents regarding this case are strongly in favor of the refuge.   But should the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagree with any part of the judge's ruling, having additional land in the refuge would complicate resolution of the case."

Biologists rate the land within the boundaries of the refuge as some of the best wildlife habitat left in Texas. As Dallas' assistant city manager acknowledged in an article in the Dallas Morning News, the reservoir proposed for the site is just one of many water supply options available to Dallas.

"We're disappointed that there'll be another delay in development of the refuge," said Michael Banks, co-chair of Friends of the Neches River.  "There is tremendous support for the refuge throughout Texas."

A number of newspapers have taken editorial positions in favor of the refuge:  Houston Chronicle, Beaumont Enterprise, Lufkin Daily News, Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, Palestine Herald, Jacksonville Daily Progress, and Cherokeean Herald.  

"We're very hopeful that the Fifth Circuit will uphold Judge Solis' decision," concluded Bezanson.   "Everyone is looking forward to a big celebration!"