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The Planet

by Jenny Coyle

Waco Puts Brakes to "Mini Indy"

The Sierra Club's Two Rivers Group in Waco, Texas, just defeated a $40 million riverside "Mini Indy Grand Prix" that originally included race cars, go-carts, boats, video games, miniature golf and a water park. Not bad for a group that's been around only four years.

The group teamed up with residents of an assisted-living center on the Brazos River. "We were all concerned about the general noise, habitat destruction and light pollution of this project, not to mention the additional traffic it would bring," said group Chair Bruce Allen. They also argued that it would mar the natural experience in nearby Cameron Park, a 430-acre wooded city park that attracts mountain bikers from Waco, Austin and Dallas.

Allen and others worked with organizer Jennifer de Garmo in the Texas/Arkansas field office to prepare a strategic plan based on the Sierra Club Training Academy formula. First the group convinced the editorial board of the Waco Tribune-Herald that the project would do more harm than good for the community. Then they organized the public to flood the newspaper with letters to the editor. Next they bombarded Waco City Council members with letters, e-mails and phone calls demanding that they deny a special use permit needed for the project. Finally, they got 150 people to show up at two public hearings.

The council denied the permit.

"It was made very clear to the city council that this beautiful river setting and the natural areas in the region are an important part of the Waco area's identity, and that all citizens, environmentalists or not, hold that precious and don't think it should be degraded," said Allen. "A lot of people were pleased to see that the environmentalists won one, and that the democratic process worked."

Salt Plant Nixed; Reprieve for Whales

In a sudden and unexpected turnaround, the Mexican government and the Mitsubishi Corp. announced in March that they'll scrap plans to build the world's largest salt-extraction facility at San Ignacio Lagoon on the Baja Peninsula - the last pristine mating and calving ground for the Pacific gray whale.

The Sierra Club's International Committee opposed the project in 1998, generating letters to the salt facility's sponsors, and many Club activists - especially in Southern California - sent postcards and letters to Mitsubishi Corp. and the Mexican government. The Natural Resources Defense Council and International Fund for Animal Welfare organized a Mitsubishi boycott and disinvestment campaign in California.

"But the main share of credit goes to the Mexican environmentalists whose opposition put them at considerable risk," said Judy Olmer, chair of the Club's Marine Mammal Subcommittee.

Olmer said that in justifying the sudden backdown from the project, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo pointed to a United Nations study that said a project of the scope outlined would transform the area's unique desert landscape and damage its integrity.

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