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Galveston Bay residents downstream, w would receive most of the water divert off the senator’s property. Since 1976, t payers have picked up the tab on four stu ies which found that draining these w lands would be costly, if not downrig damaging. That hasn’t stopped the city Lake Jackson. In 1995 its city council co missioned the consulting firm Rust Lic liter and Jameson to do a $75,000 fib study, and the result was a plan that wou expand the federal flood plain to inclu Brown’s property. More importantly, t new flood plain designation would requi a 30to 60-million-dollar diversion cha nel to drain Brazos River flood runoff fro land north of the cityincluding Brown propertydown Bastrop Bayou and in Bastrop and Christmas Bays. The proposed channel would shoot wat and silt into the only freshwater influx flow ing into Christmas Bay, which, according the TNRCC, is the site of virtually all of th sea grasses remaining in the Galveston Ba area and home to over a million migrato birds and various fish and shellfish. Th TNRCC has called the destruction of thi estuary “the single greatest problem affec ing the Galveston Bay system.” One attempt to take some of the pressur off Christmas Bay is the propose Columbia Bottomlands Wildlife Refuge which would preserve up to 28,000 acres o hardwood forest and marshland in Brazo ria, Wharton, Matagorda, and Fort Ben Counties. But Brown, who suspected tha any wildlife preservation efforts would b accompanied by restrictions on develop ment along Bastrop Bayou, has als worked to stop the wildlife refuge project Among the developments threatened by th wildlife refuge was the city’s planned drainage channel. “The concept of Columbia Bottomlands ran up against some heavy opposition,” recalls Tom Calnan of the General Land Office. Although the proposal included only purchases from willing sellers and no land acquisition by eminent domain, “there was some thinking among politicians that Fish and Wildlife was going to come in and start taking big chunks of land,” Calnan says. To prevent this, in 1996, Brown set up a task force to study the Columbia Bottomlands. While the task force slowed down the Bottornlands project, the senator’s Fort Bend ho County neighbor Tom Delay was attaching ed to the Congressional budget bill riders that axprohibited the Fish and Wildlife Service dfrom making decisions on the refuge etuntil the task force completed its reports. ht The Columbia Bottomlands was effecof tively killed, held up by Brown and DeLay. mFor the moment Brown’s land remains safe hfor development. od And the debate over the drainage channel Id in Lake Jackson is far from over. “[The chande nel] is sitting high center right now, if you he can say that about a ditch,” City Manager re Yenne says. “Local politics got involved, nand environmental issues. So it’s kind of just m sitting there.” Developers too impatient to ‘s wait for the city’s drainage scheme to be to moved off high center have build their own on-site retention ponds. But the ponds, er which require the excavation of huge sand pits, create their own environmental probto lems. On one occasion, overflow from the e sand pits owned by the Flagridge Estates y joint venture, adjacent to Brown’s property, ry reportedly killed some 3,000 fish. And while e the diversion channel was big news in the s Lake Jackson media in May, Buster Brown tseemed more interested in a small piece of legislation that, if passed, might derail his e plans to drain and develop his own troubled d property. “The idea of the bill was to get a better f deal for the state,” says Representative Tom -Uher, author of FIB 2738. Not only would d the bill have enabled the state to acquire ad t ditional prison landa pressing concern as e Texas’ soaring incarceration rate promises to -push the prison population beyond 200,000 o over the next few yearsit also would have .allowed cities like Lake Jackson to expand e without encroaching on the fragile wetlands that surround it. Without a doubt, Buster Brown was in favor of Lake Jackson’s expansion to the north. However, he had definite ideas about which land was suitable for the ment. The difference in the two pieces of property is obvious: the TDCJ property is cleared agricultural land, situated in the Oyster Creek watershed; Brown’s land is hardwood-forested marshland that drains into Bastrop Bayou, which has far more environmental problems than Oyster Creek. Had the TDCJ property been made available, Richers says, the senator’s land would have become “extremely less valuable.” As his property valuation has begun to creep upward, Brown is understandably anxious about his $510,000 investment and his two unpaid bank notes. With less than two weeks remaining in the session, he contacted Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and had Uher’s bill removed from the Senate’s Local and Consent Calendar, killing a proposal that had been in the works for two years and had no other opponentsand preserving the wetlands that include his tract of land as Lake Jackson’s only available avenue for northward development. “We didn’t have time to negotiate; we didn’t have time to make any changes,” Uher recalls. “Buster said he was concerned about the public perception” of the land-exchange legislation, says Uher, but he “never explicated.” Over the past three weeks, Senator Brown has failed to respond to several phone calls and faxes from the Observer, requesting an interview for this story. According to Richers, Brown told him that he was afraid that Richers “might have an interest in” the legislation. The senator’s failure to distinguish between Richers’ “interest” and his own potential conflict of interest doesn’t surprise Richers. “I’ve never seen Buster Brown do anything that didn’t suit Buster,” he says. [1] Pick up your FREE copy at over 200 locations in Austin & Houston. For further information call 512.476.0576 or 7E13.521.5822 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 18, 1997