The discovery of an endangered bird on the site of a proposed Driftwood-area wedding venue could lead to a several-month postponement of the project.
Residents of the Goldenwood, Radiance and Goldenwood West neighborhoods, which surround the site of the Mark Black Wedding Venue, submitted a formal complaint to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), claiming the project could impact the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. One of the warbler’s nesting sites sits on the 64-acre plot of land where the wedding venue will be located.
According to a USFWS law enforcement officer, the review was approved and certified by the federal agency; Mark Black, owner of the venue, has been contacted about the issue.
The USFWS’ move could mean a postponement of the project until fall 2018. However, with only 200 field agents across the country, the USFWS is unable to adequately enforce all complaints, the official said. It is ultimately up to a property owner to ensure a project does not impact an endangered species.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission is working with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people,” a USFWS official said in an email.
The golden-cheeked warbler is a protected species under the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act. Those regulations make it unlawful to import, export, take, transport, sell, purchase, or receive in interstate or foreign commerce any species listed as endangered or threatened.
The bird made its way on the list in 1990 after juniper trees were being cut down for urban development, especially in areas between San Antonio and Austin along the Interstate 35 corridor.
Every spring, around 27,000 golden-cheeked warblers make their way to the Hill Country from Mexico and parts of Central America. After migrating to the area, the birds pull the bark from juniper trees to nest.
The residents who submitted the report to the USFWS requested to stay anonymous.
Possible postponement of the wedding venue extends an ongoing saga surrounding the controversial project, which was approved by the Dripping Springs City Council in March.
Members of the Friendship Alliance (FA), an organization representing neighborhoods near the proposed venue site, continue to battle against its construction.
“We are open to the idea of a potential lawsuit,” said Carlos Torres-Verdin, president of FA. “Our research and scientific analysis by professionals in the field found deficiencies in the application’s site development plans that violate the city of Dripping Springs’ ordinances.”
On March 20, Ray Whisenant, Hays County Pct. 4 commissioner, said he had discussions with Mark Black about potentially improving Crystal Hills Drive, the county road leading up to the wedding venue.
Council acknowledged the road’s inability to accommodate the needs of both residents and wedding guests. However, since the road falls under the purview of Hays County, the city could not mandate improvements.
Dripping Springs Mayor Todd Purcell, who offered open discussion to FA March 20, has not had communication with the group since the permit was approved, Torres-Verdin said.
“Nothing was in writing and Mark Black was not willing to put any of our concessions down on paper,” Torres-Verdin said. “What we concluded is that the city council was more afraid of being sued by Mark Black than following their own ordinances.”
Despite FA findings, Dripping Springs city staff reported that the venue’s site development plans were in line with ordinances and guidelines from the city and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Whisenant, Purcell and Black did not respond to requests for comments on the story.