By Nancy Black
Shock. Tears. Anger. Environmentalist Kelly Cotton and his wife, Lisa, experienced all three this past weekend when they saw the recent destruction of the Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area. The ecological disaster was caused by Oncor.
According to Cotton, “The energy transmission company brutally clear-cut a five-acre swath through the 50-acre protected preserve, wiping out rare avian nesting habitat, amphibian territory and active year-round homes for beaver, mink, weasel, fox, coyote and, possibly, even the recovering north Texas river otter.”
Used by Cotton and others as an outdoor classroom for years, the area is known for its moist woodland with low-lying areas and ponds, a small prairie remnant, a beaver pond and the remains of hatchery ponds.
This isn’t the first time Cotton has seen this woodland habitat destroyed. Twenty years ago, he was president of Audubon Dallas. At that time, TXU owned the transmission right-of-way that passed through the nature preserve. They sent contractors in to maintain it. Cotton said: “The contractors used chainsaws and handsaws and foolishly, clumsily, ignorantly, needlessly devastated the wildlife habitat by clearcutting it. I led an effort to hold them and TXU to account. Negotiations lasted weeks and TXU executives revamped their maintenance protocols for all of Texas and promised this would NEVER happen again. And now this. AGAIN. This time by TXU’s descendant, Oncor, and this time they didn’t just use chainsaws, they used bulldozers.”
Dallas City Council member Paula Blackmon, who represents District 9, said no one in her office was notified prior to the bulldozing of the area. She said the Dallas Park and Recreation Department has requested the temporary suspension of this project to allow for an opportunity to review the plan for remaining work scheduled with the Oncor team.
She added, “Protecting White Rock Lake is incredibly important, and our office will continue to update everyone about this unsettling situation.”
Oncor released a statement defending their actions, stating they work closely with their “environmental department” and that “this work will not affect nearby ponds or dams” because “minimal pressure equipment [was] used prevented the destruction of the surrounding soil.”
“Maintaining our fee-owned property is a vital part of our commitment to provide safe and reliable electric service and a responsibility that we take very seriously,” said Andrea Sanders, director of Customer Service for Oncor.
Cotton offers suggestions for concerned residents and neighbors to take action. “Every letter, email, or phone call helps,” he said.
He has made his posts about the Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area available to the public on his Facebook page. And he encourages the community to call John Jenkins, director of Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, at 214-670-4077, to voice their concerns regarding Oncor’s actions and to ensure this type of destruction never happens again.
“This requires vocal pushback, especially to city officials. We have to keep this issue on the city’s radar.”