Opponents: Proposed LNG plant in wildlife corridor - Brownsville Herald: Valley

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Opponents: Proposed LNG plant in wildlife corridor

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Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015 10:17 pm

The development of liquefied natural gas plants along an ocelot corridor could set back decades of work in the struggle to save the endangered species.

Opponents of a proposal to build an LNG plant in the wildlife corridor argue federal findings contradict a researcher’s statements discounting the area as an ocelot habitat.

For 40 years, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service even leased the proposed LNG site as a wildlife corridor to help the United States’ fading ocelot population survive, said Stefanie Herweck, spokeswoman for the group Save RGV from LNG.

“The proposed LNG leases are on really significant ocelot habitat,” Herweck said Thursday. “That corridor is critical for the long-term survival of the ocelot in Texas.”

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials warn the development of Annova LNG’s export terminal at the Brownsville Ship Channel would threaten the “genetic viability” of the United States’ ocelot population.

“We know that the proposed site is extremely important habitat for the endangered ocelot,” Bruce Kindle, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s acting field supervisor in Corpus Christi, wrote to Annova in May. “The project site still contains some known ocelot habitat and is of significant value for the ocelot population in South Texas.”

In 1983, the Brownsville Navigation District leased the proposed Annova site to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which used the area as a wildlife habitat to help the Valley’s ocelots breed with northern Mexico’s larger ocelot population, Herweck said.

But the navigation district withdrew its federal lease in 2013 to lease the land to Annova, one of three companies that have proposed LNG export terminals along the Ship Channel.

Tuesday, researcher Michael Tewes told Rio Grande Valley business leaders the proposed Annova site was not an ocelot habitat.

Tewes said he believed the remaining U.S. ocelot population of about 80 cats in the Valley would become extinct within 50 to 75 years as a result of factors such as in-breeding.

Tewes spoke as a panelist at an invitation-only forum hosted by Our Energy Moment, an organization representing groups that include Annova.

Our Energy Moment sought Valley leaders’ support as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reviews proposals from Annova, Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG to build exporting terminals along the Ship Channel.

Herweck said Tewes’ statements contradict the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s findings issued to Annova.

In a May 12, 2015, letter to Annova, Kindle described the company’s proposed site as vital to the survival of the Valley’s ocelot population.

“Ocelots are known to use the area, and because of importance to movement of the cats to and from Mexico, preserving the genetic viability of the species in Texas (is vital),” Kindle wrote in the letter to Edward Miller, Annova’s principle environmental project manager.

Kindle wrote the department was working to develop an international corridor to allow the Valley’s ocelots to breed with Mexico’s ocelot population.

“If the Annova site is developed as proposed, we believe the remaining coastal ocelot corridor to the Rio Grande river and Mexico will be severed,” Kindle wrote.

Since 1978, the Fish & Wildlife Service has purchased about 90,000 acres to develop a wildlife corridor to help save the ocelot, said Jim Chapman, chairman of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.

“It’s been a long and very hard effort,” Chapman said.

Now, he said, the development of LNG plants along the Ship Channel threatens to cut a deep gash into the corridor.

“Whether or not there are ocelots in the corridor, it is a potential corridor for ocelot expansion,” Chapman said. “They need that corridor to expand their territory for the potential to mix with Mexican ocelots. If the population of ocelots in South Texas has a chance for long-term survival, they need to be able to expand their habitat.”

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