Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Terlingua Ranch - Property Rights

With discovery done and mediation failed, District Judge Kenneth DeHart heard final arguments from both sides of the ongoing dispute between Property Owners Association of Terlingua Ranch Inc (POATRI) and Marion Craig Suber, one of several Terlingua Ranch property owners who have sued their association to gain exclusive easement rights to their land.
POATRI contends that they share easement rights with property owners to all parcels on the ranch. According to the association by-laws, no gates and especially no locked gates are allowed. Suber is accused of chain-locking three gates on his property, making it, according to the suit, “impossible for vehicular traffic to pass.”
“My client is an advocate of private property rights,” attorney Rod Ponton, who represents Suber, said.
“For years there has been a tension between POATRI and owners whether the roads were public or private. The question is, do owners have the right to keep people off their land like any other land owner can,” Ponton said.
“The way POATRI has it set-up, people can drive anywhere, anytime and sightsee, like a park,” 13- year Terlingua Ranch resident Kassandra Mead said. “We just want to own our land like anybody else,” Mead said.
Many of the roads serve as long drive ways as very few parcels have direct access to public roads, essentially making most of the land, land-locked.
A temporary restraining order against Suber to keep the gates open has expired. Now the judge must decide the future of the case.
Terlingua Ranch, a 300,000 acre “sub-division” with 1100 miles of unpaved road and over 4900 individual tract owners, most of which do not live there, started as a land development scheme in the late 1960’s by a company known as the Terlingua Ranch Land and Cattle Company, led by Carroll Shelby and a disbarred lawyer named David A Witts. The Terlingua Chili Cook-Off was part of the marketing plan to develop interest in the area.
In the early 1970’s Shelby and company sold the enterprise to Great Western Corporation who in turn transferred the assets, including easements, to the present developer, Terramar Corp in 1976. Whether the transferred easement was an assignment or a license is, according to Judge DeHart, “the critical element in this case.”
Today the largest land owner at Terlingua Ranch is the Brewster County Oil Company, who not only is prospecting for petroleum but is operating one of two bentonite mines on the ranch. The company operates under several names and has its headquarters in Brenham, Texas.
Victory for Suber would mean that Terlingua Ranch owners would have the right to gate their properties but not block egress or ingress to their neighbors. A Suber victory might also require POATRI to give up some land.
“Owners in the past who have lost their land due to liens filed by POATRI because of easement disputes, might be in position to reclaim their land,” Ponton said.
Jerry Patterson, director of the Texas General Land Office, has discussed the possibility of allowing POATRI to manage Christmas Mountain.
“They would keep poachers and other trespassers off the mountain,” GLO spokesman Jim Suydam said.
A draft agreement between the GLO and POATRI has been distributed to the public, but whether easement is an issue to gain access to the mountain from the Terlingua Ranch side remains cloudy, until the Suber case is resolved. Christmas Mountain already has access and easement from the south through the Big Bend National Park.
Judge DeHart who “will take the matter under advisement,” will likely rule on the case in the next sixty days.

Fatboy in the Sun

For the past two years, Harley-Davidson has sent film crews to the Big Bend Region to capture the beauty of our landscape and to seduce the American spirit with the big rumbling iconic motorcycles. Two film crews worked the region this week, and our reporter Mark Glover joined them.

On the Matrix Ranch side of Hwy 90 just a few miles east of Marathon, Texas a 2008 Harley Davidson Fatboy angles on it sidestand, rider-less. Men hover close-by, flat black equipment spread around, cans of polish, light stands and other essentials of a photo shoot busy the spot. A gust of wind rifles threw and slams the cargo door of one of the parked vans.

“The chrome is flat,” Madison Ford, the photographer says. He rises up from his camera. “Where’s the sun? Dammit, That’s why we’re here.”

A giant purple-gray cloud hovers in the blue winter sky.

His assistant, Kevin Netz holds up a light meter. “I got a negative three.”

Mid-Lo Studio of Detroit and VSA Partners of Chicago have sent their film crew down here to produce photographs for the latest Harley Davidson accessories catalog.

“The custom tank, fenders and extra chrome will set you back five g,” Erik Eul another assistant says. “Go down in a cloud of glory if you wreck that beast.”

A gust rustles up styro-foam in the grass and our dull shadows lengthen. Dylan plays on the radio and a unit train with pale green freight cars rumbles by.

“Pretty good station. No stops,” Jason McKean of VSA Partners says.

Kevin kicks at the asphalt. Eric offers a cup of coffee and Jason has picked up a baseball bat and is popping rocks into the desert. Deputy Sean Roach slows another car on the highway. The cloud does not move.

On a table set up on the shoulder, black and white snap shots are laid out with numbers hand-written on each.

“We move the bike around to get the best look then take Poloroid test shots with a 2x2 Hasselblad (camera). When it’s close we shoot it with the big one.” Jason points to the tripod mounted Swiss made Sinac 4x5 camera.

”We’re not digital, although 98 per cent of the industry is. We’re holding on to film. We like it.” A smile breaks out on his teddy-bear face. “They convert it at the post-production lab but loose some of the essence.”

“Bel-Air job,” Kevin says. The crew looks at each other and laughs. “Bel-Air works in the lab. Says he fixes stuff for us.”

Madison Ford holds out a test shot. “You see anything wrong with this?” He shakes his head. “I give it to them perfect.”

Deputy Roach now stands at the barbed wire scanning the desert with a gunstock mounted monocular. Hunters in a white pick-up crawl off-road then vanish behind a hill.

“Lets get the lights going,” Madison Ford says.

Eric sets up the 2000 watt lights each powered by its own Honda generator. “Give me a green screen,” Madison Ford says.

Kevin kneels behind the big camera.

“Go a little more front,” Madison Ford instructs Eric with the light. “Lee me see if I can fix that… OK – good, stop there. That’s better.”

Jason leans over to me. “It’s hard to fake natural light. In these conditions we have to use a lot of artificial for fill, to get definition.”

“We’re outside the bracket,” Madison Ford said, peering at the LCD display on the camera. He shakes his head. Getting the exposure within the light meter brackets allows the possibility of the perfect photograph.

It’s like waiting for paint to dry sometimes,” Jason says gesturing toward the cloud.

Harley Davidson publishes the fifty page accessories catalog once a year. In it, you can buy anything from fish fin exhaust pipes to black and orange leather-handled knives. Its all part of the rugged individual look.

“We got something coming to life here,” Madison Ford calls out.

The sun has dipped below the giant cloud, radiating just minutes above the horizon.

The crew hustles to position.

“Good, good, good” Madison Ford says, the camera clicking. “I got brackets.”

Gage Garden Extension

“J.P. said he wanted something with a running brook,” Gage Garden Project Manager Rip Winkel said. He looked down a freshly bulldozed dirt corridor in the middle of Marathon. “So that’s what we’re doing.”

J.P Bryan owner of the Gage Hotel and The Gage Garden acquired the old Adam’s Dairy Farm some time ago.

“They had cows back in the 40’s and 50’s,” Sam Caveness said. His brother-in-law, Taylor Adams, now deceased, owned the dairy. “It was a raw milk operation.”

The 18.75-acre parcel will allow J.P. Bryan to extend the present Gage Garden and have a running brook.

“It’s in a flood plain. Some of the old timers have told me that during the strong rain cycle of the 1940’s water would lake from here to the railroad tracks,” Winkel nodded his head to the north. “What’s cool about the flood plain is the 6 feet of topsoil.”

“We plan a running brook down the center, a pathway, exactly one mile around, a couple of bridges and clumps of trees, forests.” He pointed toward several knolls around the property already shaped in soft rolling mounds.

“We’ll plant three varieties of Red Oak, Native Maple, Pine and Cypress. Buffalo Grass and Blue Gamma will hold the dirt down and Bull Rushes along the water. Initially we’ll rely on our irrigation system that can pump 100 gallons of water a minute – 90 lbs of pressure, until nature can take care of itself.”

The wind was blowing and dirt from the project was flying through the air.

“There’ll be several gazebos, protected spots along the pathway to get out of the weather,” he said.

We walked away from the old farm toward the metal sheds near the heart of Gage Gardens. The entourage he led consisted of myself, Gage Hotel General Manager Wilma Schindler, and three marketing consultants; Melissa Baldridge from Denver, Philip Fell from Houston, and Pat Sherby from Austin.

At a small fenced vineyard Winkel pulled his braided beard and continued the tour. “We had a problem with Pearce’s Disease and had to remove the old vines. The soil is so alkaline, you can’t dig around here without hitting caliche, I had to find some varieties that could resist Pearce’s Disease and handle the high soil PH.

“We’ve got Champanelle and Favorite growing now,” Winkel said. He lifted his head a little and smiled. “ Expect to see a vintage wine come out of here in 2009.”

Inside the greenhouse the warm humid air was heavy with a rich biotic smell.

“These plants are for the grounds at the hotel. “We’re building another green house to grow vegetables and herbs for the restaurant,” Winkel said.

“Buy less grow more,” Schindler said. “Fresh organic vegetables are essential to the restaurant.”

“The vegetable green house should be up by next month. We’ve already got Rutabaga,” Winkel, who hails from Colorado, points to a row of potted plants. “Texans need to know about rutabaga.”