By MARTHA McCLAIN
Special to the PRESS
Leaders of small cities in Cameron County are uniting to fight the long-running land-grab movement by Brownsville.
Tuesday night, Laguna Vista town leaders met to approve a resolution calling upon State Rep. Rene Oliveira and State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. to “take all steps necessary, including, but not limited to filing local bills during the 83rd Legislative Session” to battle Brownsville’s long-running major annexation plan. The resolution seeks to stop and reverse strip annexations “in support of the findings of the January 2009 Interim Report of the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, and allow the smaller communities in Cameron County to prosper and grow.”
The resolution is designed to give the smaller cities in the county the opportunity to express their concerns and objection to Brownsville’s annexation in the legislative arena. Other local communities are expected to follow suit and approve the resolution that will be forwarded to state representatives and senators.
The largest city in Cameron County and reportedly the 16th most populous municipality in the State of Texas at 178,430, Brownville has aggressively exercised its annexation muscle over the past decade by annexing tentacles of land that abut many smaller communities, thereby land-locking the future growth of smaller areas.
Challenged periodically over the recent years by communities, including South Padre Island and Port Isabel, local leaders have now united to merge common self-interest and resources to stop Brownsville from devouring areas that they believe should ultimately be theirs.
Cities in the Laguna Madre area, Port Isabel, Laguna Vista and South Padre Island, and other nearby communities including Los Fresnos, Rio Hondo, San Benito and Bayview are joining forces to find a legal means to “counteract the City of Brownville’s annexation strategy and reverse these strip annexations.”
Spearheaded by Laguna Vista City Manager Rolando Vela, mayors and city managers from the communities have been meeting to study the matter and devise potential solutions.
“It is not only an issue of our future growth; it is who will serve those strips in the event of a fire?” Laguna Vista Mayor Susie Houston asked.
“Will Brownville send fire trucks, ambulances and police? Brownsville is 25 to 30 miles away. It’s also a safety issue,” she said, noting the strain that such unanticipated service would have on local communities to responding to emergencies in what would be the City of Brownsville.
In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed SB 89, designed to prohibit a city from abusing the privilege of developing its extraterritorial jurisdiction by annexing small strips of land that extend a city’s ETJ miles from the “real city,” making it difficult to provide municipal services.
Yet, the City of Brownsville has continued over the years to conduct extensive strip annexations through southern Cameron County, surrounding municipalities that include Laguna Vista, Rio Hondo, San Benito, Rancho Viejo, Bayview, Port Isabel, Los Indios and Los Fresnos.
The chief complaint voiced by opponents to the annexation, is that the City of Brownsville does not appear to be simultaneously extending municipal services to the ends of the strip annexation areas, thereby placing a burden on surrounding municipalities.
Subsequently, officials add, the City of Brownsville has effectively limited potential growth and development of cities in the Laguna Madre area and beyond.
The adopted resolution charges that the City of Brownsville’s annexation strategy is contrary to the legislative intent of Texas Local Government Code 43.0545. “Brownsville’s annexation strategy…has landlocked smaller communities along the Lower Rio Grande Valley…and selectively bypassed distressed communities and prevents smaller communities from growing.”
Other communities joining the fight are expected to consider the resolution at future meetings.
Read this story in the Feb. 14 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.