More than 200 people packed the San Antonio City Council chambers Wednesday night (May 29) as Bat Conservation International and its allies challenged plans to build a 1,545-acre subdivision just south of BCI’s Bracken Bat Cave, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Testimony on this unprecedented threat to the world’s largest bat colony continued for three hours.
|Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from Bracken Cave. © Merlin D. Tuttle, BCI.
The 3,800 planned homes would be built under a main flyway of some 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats that use the cave as a maternity roost from spring to fall. Females give birth and raise pups there.
“We came to the council tonight because in many respects you are the court of last resort for us,” said BCI Executive Director Andy Walker. BCI also gave the council a petition bearing more than 13,250 names objecting to the subdivision.
“No one spoke for the development,” the newspaper said.
The Express-News reported that Mayor Julián Castro said it’s too early in the process to comment on the issues surrounding the proposed development and that city staff is examining them.
Reporter Colin McDonald noted that the City Council cannot stop developer Galo Properties from moving forward with the subdivision, which is located outside the city. He added that Walker said BCI hopes the parties can work together to find a solution.
The newspaper quoted environmental attorney James Cannizzo as saying that “instead of exploring ways to develop this tract, we should all be looking at ways to add this tract into the chain of golden-cheeked warbler preserves in this area.” The warbler, an endangered species, is found in and around BCI’s 697-acre Bracken Cave Reserve.
“The idea of raising money to buy the land or pay Galo to lower the density of the development drew wide support from the crowd,” McDonald reported.
The Express-News said Gene Dawson, an engineer who is working on the subdivision, said Galo is open to the idea. Dawson wrote in a recent email: “BCI is welcome to buy this property and do whatever they want with it.”
“The concern of those who care about the bats is that the construction of the development or the risk of the bats spreading rabies to residents could lead to the bats being driven away or the cave being sealed,” the newspaper said.
Urban biologist Jessica Alderson of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told the council that bats eat so many insect pests that they save Central Texas farmers an estimated $740,000 a year.
The subdivision would be over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer and will require San Antonio Water System to expand its network of water and sewer pipes more than five miles beyond its current service area, the newspaper said.
Susan Hughes, director of the Green Spaces Alliance and vice chair of the Edwards Aquifer Authority Board, urged the council to protect the aquifer and the bat cave, warning that the subdivision, if built, is irreversible.
The Express-News said she asked council members if any of them had visited Bracken Bat Cave, where BCI offers some public opportunities to watch the bats’ evening emergence. None had, the newspaper said. To which Hughes replied: “I would propose that it is time for you to take a field trip.”
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