Swinish Behavior

Texas A&M's attempt to push an animal research center on a black neighborhood has raised a sour smell in College Station

The site had been purchased in 1989, and came to be seen as a solution to a problem that had been nagging the A&M administration for a number of years. Though the plans for the Bush library brought the issue to the fore, the question of what to do with the school's pig, sheep and goat operations as the university's building programs encroached on the western edge of the campus was nothing new. During the early 1980s, university administrators had realized they would eventually have to move their livestock operations away from the central campus. From 1987 to 1988, they compared several locations for a consolidated livestock operation.

One solution was to put it on the university plantation, a 10,000 acre site just to the west of the Brazos River well removed from population centers. But there was a problem: the plantation is on a flood plain.

Another possible site was a former World War II air base six miles northwest of campus that's still largely undeveloped. In fact, in 1988, A&M administrators suggested putting the consolidated livestock center there. The board of regents shot that plan down, saying they had a long-range hope of creating an industrial research park in the area.

While A&M officials today downplay the possibility of any environmental damage from the consolidated livestock center, internal memoranda dating from the time of the first site-search give a far different impression. In a November 9, 1987 memorandum, Neville Clarke, then A&M's interim deputy chancellor for agriculture, pointed out that a major reason to move the livestock operations from the central campus was "increasing environmental concern to surrounding population centers." A consolidated center would be more efficient to manage and secure, he noted, but then pointed out that "a major concern for environmental impact must be considered." A September 1987 list of issues on choosing a site also made it clear that convenience had to be weighed against "environmental and displacement concerns." The memorandum states that "environmental concerns E are predictable and substantial."

Early on, the impact of a livestock center on people living close to it seemed of concern to A&M administrators. In a bar graph attached to a May 10, 1988 memorandum, A&M ranked seven privately owned sites for ten qualities, including "impact on community." Robert G. Merrifield of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station wrote that one site in particular should be ruled out for purchase because of its impact on the surrounding community. This was called the Cashion/Galindo site, named for two different owners of adjoining properties: Red Cashion, a prominent Bryan insurance man, and Ramiro Galindo, a wealthy Colombian immigrant who owns a health club and housing subdivisions in the area. The Cashion/Galindo site was ruled out for the livestock center for a simple reason: "the extremely high potential for negative environmental impacts on the surrounding ownerships." "Building a major livestock facility at that particular location," Merrifield wrote, "would very likely be incompatible with adjoining land uses."

Land uses, though, didn't seem to be much of an issue when the property owners were the blue-collar, and black, residents of the Brushy Community. In the last statement of his report, Merrifield recommended that the university pursue the area near the Brushy Community, known as the Varisco property. Why weren't the Brushy Community's concerns taken into account? The answer appears simple: nobody from A&M bothered to speak to the people in the area. Although the Brushy Community has existed since the turn of the century, and is indicated on the chamber of commerce map of Bryan-College Station, when the university decided to find a place for its livestock operation, the Brushy Community might as well have been invisible.

A few years before the turn of the century, African-Americans who had worked on the farms of the rich Brazos River bottom lands began moving to the high ground on the east bank of the river above the new bridge at Highway 60, southwest of College Station. Many of these people ending up working for the university, at first as farm hands, maintenance workers and cooks, and later, as opportunities opened, as clerical and laboratory workers. Over the next 90 years, they built dozens of homes on a series of short, dead-end streets north of the highway, most of them hidden from highway view. A few are little more than shacks, but the majority are tidy, compact brick and wooden structures.

Named for nearby Brushy Creek, the community has always been a quiet, country place. Two churches, St. Mark's Baptist and Clayton Baptist, have long been the heart of the area's life. Thomas Williams pastors Clayton Baptist; though he lives in Bryan and works at Prairie View A&M, he was called to the Brushy Community church about a year ago, and quickly became involved in the dispute with Texas A&M.

By that time, concern over the animal research center had escalated far beyond the talk that occurred in the wake of the discovery of the duct-taped notices. A&M had posted the notices because, at the time, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission required permits for concentrated livestock facilities that held more than 1,000 animals. In the early months of 1994, TNRCC became the Brushy Community residents' primary source of information about A&M's project. What they liked least about what they heard were plans for the 1,500 breeding pigs A&M was proposing to house at the site. Several of the residents had experience with pigs, and knew that their odors alone could be unbearable. Both black and white residents in the area began writing and phoning TNRCC, insisting on a public meeting about the permit.

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