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Andy Sansom Interview, Part 1 of 2

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  •  DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and we’re outside of Stonewall, Texas, and it’s April 13, year 2002. And we have the good fortune to be visiting with Andy Sansom, who has had a illustrious career here in Texas and—and in Washington, DC as well, working for the Department of Interior and for the Nature Conversancy Texas office and for Parks and Wildlife, and most recently, for the Southwest Texas State University of Sustainable Water Institute. I may have just garbled the title, but that’s the gist of it, I think. And has made many contributions to understanding and protecting land and water resources in the state. Thanks very much.
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    AS: Well, good morning, David.
    DT: I wanted to start with where you started and if you could tell us about, maybe, any early experiences among your family and circle of friends and relatives that might have gotten you first exposed and interested in the outdoors and in conservation?
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    AS: Well, I—I grew up in Lake Jackson, which is on the Texas Coast, near the mouth of the Brazos River. And, my parents—although neither of my parents were outdoors people, they were both very, very intelligent and they were very, very aware of everything around them, particularly my father. My father would take us almost every weekend to some interesting place, whether it be a—a natural place or—or—or some historic site around Texas. And so from the earliest age that I can remember, my parents were constantly making us aware of the things that were around us that were interesting, and sort of part of the Texas heritage, if you will. I grew up on—on Oyster Creek, which
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    flows on the east side of the Brazos, and—and my father and I built a boat for me to use in the creek when I was probably in the ninth grade or something like that. And I spent every day after that on the creek. I had a grandmother who lived on a farm in Alabama, who in her later years, fished every day. My grandmother would go—would take a cane pole and a can of worms that she dug up in the chicken yard and she would go down to this farm pond on the place and fish every single day. And she taught me to fish, and I spent many, many hours both there and on that creek fishing, and so, that’s really, probably where I first began to—to be really aware of the out-of-doors. And growing up on that creek, I learned firsthand what outdoor recreation and—and experience in the environment means to a—to a young person growing up.
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    I—I worked around, always worked in parks as a—as a young person. Probably the first job I had was as a swimming instructor. And, so I—and I—I’m talking when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and so I taught swimming. I was a lifeguard, and through that experience in a community park system, Parks and Recreation System, I became interested in—in Parks and Recreation. And it never occurred to me in all those many summer afternoons that I sat in a lifeguard chair or spent in the pool with those children, that you could make a living at—at—at this, but at some point in time, I discovered a—a program at Texas Tech—Texas Technological College at the time, now Texas Tech University, in Parks and Recreation. And so I went there, in—after my junior year in
    5:03 - 2186
    college, I had started out at a place called Austin College in Sherman. And I graduated from Tech with a degree in Parks and Recreation. And I, while I was at Tech, I—I had the opportunity to—to interact with professionals from conservation organizations like the Sierra Club, the Defenders of Wildlife and others and—and became conscious that there was a—an avenue, you know, to professionally pursue what had become for me a—a way of life. And that was a –a—a—an interest and—and—and concern for the out-of-doors. And so in 1969, I became the first intern at the National Recreation and Park Association in Washington, DC. NRPA was an organization that would—that had been
    5:58 - 2186
    formed from a number of different kindred r—recreation and park organizations, it was like a federation. And it had been formed just within a few years of when I joined them. And so I moved, with my wife, to Washington in 1969 to become an intern with NRPA and that’s sort of how—how I really got started. And—and in that time, which was, of course, right in the middle of the Vietnam War and a tremendous uh—uh—emerging interest among young people in the environment which was occurring at the same time, NRPA allowed me to become sort of the liaison, if you will, with young people. And so,
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    I organized the first National Society of Students in Parks and Recreation and—and set it up in the late sixties and was the first Executive Secretary. And so I had a—a real interesting experience in dealing with—with young people as a—as a—as a—as a—at a time when there was this tremendous consciousness emerging. I played a small part in the organization and conduct of the first Earth Day. And so…
    DT: Can you talk a little bit about what the first Earth Day was from your point of view?
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    AS: Well, it was—it—it—it—I—I still refer to—to the context in which I have spent my life as a movement. I think of—I think of myself as a part of a conservation movement, and I never felt it stronger than in those days. It was a—it was an emerging consciousness that was—was overwhelming. I mean, we all felt that we were part of something that was extremely important, that was—um, um—um—um—what’s the word I’m looking for? Insurgent? And it was exciting and—and we felt that we were going to make a difference. And I spent—I spent the first Earth Day traveling around the country, made something like six speeches during that day in different parts of the United States on college campuses. And—and that’s really kind of where I got started.
    8:19 - 2186
    8:37 - 2186
    DT: Since Earth Day was such a major starting point for a lot of the conservation movement, can you tell us more about what—that occasion?
    AS: Well, my—my role in it was very small, but I did get a chance to meet Gaylord Nelson and Dan Lufkin, who was a kind of business father of Earth Day. But I worked fairly closely for a while with Dennis Hayes, who was sort of the regional administrator, or director, coordinator of Earth Day, and—and his staff. In fact, stayed in touch with a couple of them for—after I came back to Texas. It was—it was, you know my memories of it were of a—you know, it was counter cultural. I mean, the offices and the places that we worked in were, you know, were very counter cultural. I spent a lot of time on college campuses. I think the biggest event that I attended that day was at the University
    9:24 - 2186
    of Illinois. And there were thousands and thousands of students, you know, out on the campus in what would have otherwise, you know, what was sort of a cross between a—a demonstration and a festival. And that’s, it was—it was—it was both a demonstration and a festival nationwide. I—I made some good contacts during that time. One of whom was the person who introduced me to our host today, Terry Hershey, who we are with here at the Hershey Ranch. His name was Bob Cahn. Bob Cahn was a journalist with the Christian Science Monitor. And he had written a series of articles for the Monitor called Will Success Spoil the National Parks? This was in the late sixties. And interestingly enough, those articles would probably be relevant today because their point was that there
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    was—that the National Parks were becoming so popular that they were literally endangered in terms of just the amount of impact from so many people and cars and infrastructure and what not. And Bob Cahn, somehow or another, I became acquainted with him during that period and he arranged for me to become coordinator of what was called a White House Conference on Youth Environmental Task Force. And, the—the —in—in Federal Law, every ten years, the government must hold a conference on children and youth, it happens every decade. And so, the way they decided to do it back in those days was to have a—have a—a series of conferences or—or topics that were of interest to kids—the draft, drugs, poverty, and the environment was a big one. And so I
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    was responsible for producing a report for the White House in 1971 on—on—on the environment. And, I had a Board which was, consisted of some of—of the most senior environmental people in the United States as well as—as a group of kids. And we traveled all over the country and held hearings from Puerto Rico to Alabama to California to—to Oregon on young peoples’ attitudes and concerns with respect to the environment and ultimately held a conference in Estes Park, Colorado in—in the spring of 1971 on the—in fact, it was on the second Earth Day. One of the speakers at that conference was Rogers Morton. And Rogers Morton had been appointed by President Nixon to be the
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    Secretary of Interior. And he was from Maryland, he was an extraordinary man. He was about six-eight in height. He was very—very accomplished politician. He was a very good-hearted man, and he needed a speechwriter. And during the process of putting this White House Conference on Youth together, I had done a considerable amount of writing on the environment. And somebody on Morton’s staff noticed my writing and so I was asked to—to become involved with him as his speechwriter. And so in 1971, I became—I became the speechwriter to the Secretary of Interior and did that for—worked in Interior for several years. I did that for a while; I traveled with him throughout the country for
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    about a year as a sort of—as a part of his sort of traveling entourage and got to see virtually all of the National Parks. I spent a lot of time in Alaska and other places. And then I worked in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife in Parks. And—and there worked on the Big Thicket and Matagorda Island, two of—two of—my two biggest projects in the Interior.
    DT: Could you tell about that effort?
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    AS: Well, the—the—I was very fortunate to be there at a time when—because the Big Thicket had been an issue in—in several political campaigns here. President Nixon actually had made a commitment that the National Park would be, you know, that—that he would support it. And so, I think it was because actually of George—George H.W. Bush, his Senate campaign, that when he ran for the Senate for the first time against Lloyd Bentsen, Big Thicket was an issue. And so, Bush was a backer of the Big Thicket and—and—and got the President’s support for it. And so, that placed the Interior Department in a position of being able to support the park. And so I, because I was a
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    Texan and because I was interested in the Big Thicket—I had—had, you know, learned a lot about it from Senator Yarborough, who was still there when I first went to—to Washington. I was fortunate enough to be kind of the ad—the administration’s point person on the—on the Big Thicket legislation. And that’s how I met Ned Fritz, and Arthur Temple and a lot of the people that I still work with today. Came down and spent a lot of time in the Big Thicket with people like Geraldine [Watson] and Maxine Johnson and all those folks, back in the very early seventies.
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    DT: What was your impression of visiting the Big Thicket? What took your notice? Can you tell me about (inaudible). You were involved in getting political support and for creating the Big Thicket National Preserve and I was curious what you could tell me, what your impressions are from visiting the Thicket.
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    AS: Well, it was a wo—it was a terrific experience for me, number one because it was—was—was—occurred in a place that, you know, I hadn’t known well even though I had grown up in Texas, closest I’d got—I’d gotten to the Thicket was—was Huntsville because my grandparents lived in Huntsville for many years. And so I was—but I—but—but it—but it was a new area for me, but it was still home, meaning Texas. What I feel like I learned out of that experience was I—my—my understanding of public land preservation evolved considerably from the perception that—that public space is preserved by, particularly by, governments and public institutions for—not only for recreation, but were also for science. And the Big Thicket was the first major federal
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    area that was preserved principally for science as opposed to outdoor recreation. I—I’ll never forget the first time I went to a—an area which today is—is a preserve of the Nature Conservancy in the Big Thicket, but at that time was part of the—part of the legislative program, which is called Sandy Lands. Sandy Lands, of course, has a wonderful series of eutropic lakes, in which if you—if you visit each one of them, you’ll be able to see the process of eutrophication at a completely different point in time. And so you can observe, you know, the whole eutrophication process by just visiting these ox bow lakes around Village Creek. And, that sort of experience in the Big Thicket, which was revealed to me by Geraldine Watson, you know, gave me a completely different appreciation of why the government, you know, should—should—should expend resources to preserve—to preserve lands and—and broaden my perspective well beyond
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    the traditional perception of parks and outdoor recreation areas to one of nature areas and—and—and areas that are preserved for their wildlife and—and—and biotic diversity. I also, you know, had the opportunity during that time to work on Matagorda Island, which has been a part of my life for thirty years. Back in—one of the happiest things that I think happened to me while I was in Washington was that Bob Armstrong got elected Land Commissioner in Texas, and so for the first time, you know, there was a statewide leader in Texas that had conservation as a—as a—as a—as a—as a principal priority. And so, for me, having left Texas with a feeling that no one here really cared much about the environment, to have a person become elected statewide who was—who was
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    committed to the environment was extremely exciting. And so although I was a Republican and—and—and Bob was a Democrat, we became friends immediately as soon as he was elected and worked together. And, one of the things that the [General] Land Office does, as you know, is lease lands offshore for oil and gas development and so, during Armstrong’s tenure, there were some state tracts offered for lease off Matagorda Island, and it caused an uproar because, two things. Number one, the U.S. military objected to it contending that the oil and gas leases would interrupt military training exercises that were going on at—at Matagorda Island, and secondly, the national environmental organizations, knowing that Matagorda Island was part of the wintering habitat for the whooping crane, objected to the oil and gas activity on the—on the principle that—the—
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    that—that it would interrupt the habitat of the whoopers as well. So, the secretary—M—Mr. Morton called me in and said, "Do you know anything about this place, Matagorda Island?" And, in fact, I had done some research. It was kind of mysterious to all of us in those days because it was a military reservation and you couldn’t get there. In fact, if you read some of [Texas State Senator] Don Kennard’s early work, he tells about having attempted to go out there to fish or, you know, or to visit and being run off by military helicopters. So you couldn’t—you couldn’t get anywhere close to it. And so it was a—it was off limits. So, what—what I knew was only by second-hand information and occasional—occasional stuff. The LBJ School, as a part of its Natural Area Surveys, had done a piece on Matagorda Island, and that was about all there was. But, anyway, I came down. I found a—a fella, who was the, at that time, the most well-known expert on whooping
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    cranes in the federal government and he and I came down and spent several days on Matagorda Island in 1972, looked at the situation, and basically, our conclusion was that although the—any activity there was obviously, needed to be managed very carefully, that the principal use of the island was for military recreation and not for—although there was some continued weapons training, that it’s principal purpose was for recreation. And so I wrote a report to that effect, which was given to the Secretary of Defense in Thanksgiving of 1972 and it—and it—it ultimately re—resulted in two things. Number one, I left the Department of Interior and—and within a year, the base was closed. And so, it was a big—it was a big thing in my life. And I was—it—it just—it was—it became very controversial. You all probably remember, or read about, a wonderful senator from
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    Wisconsin, his name was William Proxmire. Proxmire picked up my report, which the Defense Department had rejected, and instructed the General Accounting Office to go down there and do a investigation of its own and it confirmed what I had written and that’s—that’s why the base was ultimately closed. It became, later, a National Wildlife Refuge. And I had the good fortune to continue to work on Matagorda Island later on, first as a—as a employee of the Nature Conservancy and then later as an employee of Texas Parks and Wildlife. So I—so I worked for a while—after leaving Interior, I worked for a while on the—at the—at an agency called the Federal Energy Administration, which was a precursor to the Department of Energy. And if—at that time, there was a—energy conservation was a—was a big part of the—of federal policy,
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    because of the energy crisis of the mid-seventies. And if you—there was a campaign which the Federal Government conducted which was called "Don’t Be Fuelish." And I—and I administered the programs under which "Don’t Be Fuelish" and the other educational efforts toward energy conservation were—were conducted and administered. Worked with the advertising agencies and the Ad Council to—to spread that conservation message across the country.
    DT: Can you talk about some of the pieces to educate people about conservation?
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    AS: Well, the main one was the advertising campaign, which—which was interesting because we—we had to be careful. We got in a real controversy one time because I remember that we—our advertising agency put together an ad which showed a—a hand that was obviously a Middle Eastern arm because it had a sort of a white robe on it, moving chess pieces across a chess board and the—the black pieces were oil wells and the white pieces were Statues of Liberties. So, the ad was—you know, implied, you know, that there were people outside the United States who were manipulating our country, you know, by controlling its energy. And it was a very, very powerful ad—I mean, it was a very powerful ad. But it was so controversial that it went all the way to
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    the—to the President of the United States and—and they decided not to—you know—not to use it because of its diplomatic implications. So that—that type of thing was probably one of the most interesting experiences of that. We also organized a—a—a more in-depth educational program with an organization that was, at—at that time, was called the Conservation Foundation. Today it’s part of the World Wildlife Fund. In which we conducted seminars for activists across the country to—to—to sort of get appropriate technology and ener--energy conservation information out to people, both technically and—and—and—and motivationally. That’s how I met people like Pliny Fisk and others is that we—we did a lot of that work here in Texas. We produced a series of—of visual materials with the artist Peter Max, because we wanted to get the young people and so we selected a—a—a—an artist that we thought could connect with—with young people. And so I got to work with, actually with Peter Max, and spend a good bit of time in New York, you know, working with him to put together those materials. So, it
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    was a—it was an interesting thing and it—the main thing it did for me was it re-established my connections in Texas and allowed to come back home in 1976 where I went to work at the end of that year with the University of Houston and I—I became involved there with a program on that campus for energy—energy research and energy policy. It’s called the Energy Institute, and I was there for about two and a half years. We—during that time, energy was a very, very big thing for me, energy conservation, particularly. I—I—working with faculty there on the campus, designed and built a passive solar home and down—back down at my home in Lake Jackson and that was a—that was a real experience.
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    DT: What were some of the features of the home?
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    AS: Well, I was working with some of the most advanced engineers and architects in—in energy conservation in the country at the time, and so I had at my disposal some—some people that really knew the technology. But, part of my plan was to—was to build this house out of recycled material as well, so I spend a whole lot of time in buildings that were built, certainly prior to World War II, many of them prior to the turn of the twentieth century, collecting materials. And I discovered, in that process, that many of the most important principles for, what I call passive solar, or—or appropriate, you know, building technology, were indigenous. And you would find in things like farmhouses,
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    and in buildings that were built prior to the—any kind of air conditioning or HVAC technology. And so, most of things that ultimately went into my house were things that—that I—I—I borrowed from vernacular, you know, Texas rural buildings. It had two dog runs in it, had a—which were, in effect, large breezeways. It was oriented to the—to the south. It had very deep eaves on the south side of the house that allowed the sun in in the winter and kept it out in the summer. And it was built in a—in a configuration which caused its highest point to be about 25 feet above the floor. And it—and it had a large series of louvers up in the top so that it would actually draw a breeze. It
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    would—the whole house functioned kind of as a thermal chimney. And it would—and it would—it would draw a breeze just simply by the thermal effects of—of—of—inside the house. It was—it was neat. It was—there were many things about it that failed. It had an active solar hot water system. It was one of the earliest in Texas that never really functioned very well because nobody knew how to do it at that time. It—down on the Texas coast, it was very difficult to have a house open to the environment all the time because there were some times in which the conditions were really, really bad for—for things like mildew and other things. And so, what we ended up doing would be—would be—would be managing it with conventional heating and—and air conditioning for parts of the year, but—but you could live in it for much, much more time than any other
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    building without those things, so you could stretch out the amount of time that you—that you—that you were able to do without air conditioning. So, it was—it was quite an experience. And I ultimately built another one which is—is the offices of the South Texas Council of Girl Scouts down there. And it—it functioned much better because we learned—we learned from that first building. So, you know, I—in the process became involved with—happily with a number of, sort of, environmental projects in Texas. I was involved in the South Texas Nuclear Project, first as a journalist that wrote a series of articles about it which were critical. I was—became involved with the Texas
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    Environmental Coalition, met people like Ken Kramer and DeDe Armentrout, Sharron Stewart, back in the late seventies, and—and I was pretty much able at that time, through freelance journalism, through some various environ—consulting assignments, through my passive solar design work, to sort of live independently for a short period of time. And I hooked up with a historical museum in Brazoria County, the old c—county courthouse and I was raising money to restore the old county courthouse and put a historical museum in it, when some friends of mine in—back in Washington called me and indicated that the—that the Texas Nature Conservancy was looking for an Executive Director. And I was…
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    AS: But, whether the in—I don’t know whether it’s still there or not.
    DT: If we could, could we perhaps return to what you mentioned earlier. You said that as a freelance reporter you covered the South Texas Nuclear Project and I was wondering if you could describe what the controversy was regarding that and…
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    AS: Well, I think at the time, you know, there was—there was a tremendous amount of national interest and concern about nuclear—in the late seventies. I mean—and it—and it—covered a broad interest of concerns. For me, the—the—the two things that brought it to a head were first, Three Mile Island, and second, Karen Silkwood. And both of those things happened in the late seventies, and so there was a—an intense concern about nuclear power. At the time, the South Texas Nuclear Project at Bay City was under construction. And so, a—a group of us in the Brazoria-Matagorda County areas, wondered, you know, whether our plant would have some of the same problems that had occurred, for example, at Three Mile Island. And I—to me, that was a legitimate, you
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    know, question to ask. What we found at the South Texas Project was that it had been commenced with only about ten percent of the design complete. And so, first and foremost, it was—it was—construction began before there was any completion or closure on the design of the plant itself. And that resulted in some major changes along the way. It resulted in intense pressure on the contractor, you know, to get the project done, and it resulted in overruns that probably were—were—caused that plant to go from an initial estimate of six or seven hundred million dollars to something like six billion dollars before it was complete. But the real controversies—and the—and the—and the—area that I worked in—was that I developed a—a relationship with workers in the plant, who disclosed to me, confidentially, that the—many of the inspections—that the whole
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    nuclear construction process is characterized by un—an unbelievable redundant layer of paperwork and inspections—of every weld, of every concrete pour, every wiring connection. And that is part of what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, you know, uses to—to try to ensure safety. And what was happening in the South Texas Project was that the pressure to complete the plant was so great that the inspectors would simply sign the forms and not inspect—not do the inspections. And there were periods in—for example in the containment vessel on Unit One, in which they went for almost a year without ever actually performing an inspection. And all of that documentation was fabricated. And so, it was—it was a—it was a bad deal. And, fortunately today, it seems
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    like, you know, as a result of all of the controversy, the plant is, you know, is functioning. But it certainly had some very, very major concerns at that time. And, it was an interesting thing for me because I, you know, I would go to places like Palacios and Port Lavaca and meet with pipe fitters and welders and concrete technicians, you know, at, in the middle of the night because they were concerned about their welfare and they would—they would give—they would help me with my investigation at—at risk, certainly, to their jobs. So, I wrote a story—a—a number of stories—the most—the principal one was published in the Texas Observer in the late seventies about the plant.
    DT: What was the reaction to the story and some of the disclosures ..
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    AS: Well, at the time, the reaction was pretty, pretty strong—pretty strong. Number one, that part of the Texas coast is the home of the petrochemical industry. And most of the folks that work in that industry are technically oriented, there’s a lot of engineers. And so, the challenge to an engineering project was culturally pretty unacceptable. I remember that one of the things that we attempted to do was to hold a—a—sort of a public forum in Lake Jackson to just allow people to come and debate the plant or talk about the plant.
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    And, in fact, I recruited one of the most senior experts on nuclear power from University of Texas and a well-known critic of nuclear power to come to Lake Jackson and conduct a public debate so citizens could hear both sides of the issues, not taking one side or the other in this case, but simply providing an opportunity for public dialogue. And, we—we had originally arranged to have that hearing in a college down there. It wasn’t a hearing, but a public meeting. And once the leadership found out what the meeting was gonna be about, they cancelled the—cancelled the forum. And we ultimately had to have it in a church because there was the only public place down there that would hold the meeting
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    that’d allow us to do it was a—was a church. And—and, so—so—so it was very difficult to raise these issues, particularly in—in—in—in the kind of climate that existed along the Texas coast. There was much more concern about the nuclear plant in Austin and in San Antonio than there was in its immediate neighborhood.
    DT: Did you follow much of the controversy about the STNP [South Texas Nuclear Project] about whether Austin should opt in or opt out?
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    AS: Not really, because—because once I finished my story and I went on to work for the Nature Conservancy, I kind of got out of it and I—and I—and I was only at that point in time, a person who followed it in newspapers and I was not an active participant in it after that.
    DT: You said that your story was carried in the Texas Observer. Did many of the other organs of the media carry it?
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    AS: Not at that time. The—at that time, there were only two people in the state that were really writing about it. One was a guy named Bruce Hyte from the [Austin] American-Statesman and—and I. And, my story was originally written for another publication which ultimately declined, you know, declined to publish it on—on fear of a lawsuit. And that’s why it was published in the Observer. And so, after the information was out, one of the things that ultimately happened was that 60 Minutes did a story on it. Brought—brought a team down, interviewed all the guys that I had, you know, that I had found in the plant, and it became a much more of a public issue. And in fact then, it began to appear more in—in the media, particularly in the newspapers in San Antonio and in Houston. But prior to that time, it was only covered by, really by Bruce and I.
    DT: How did you find these people?
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    AS: Good question. Because I lived down there and I—I—I had—I had become acquainted with people who lived around the plant who were concerned about it because they had—like everyone else. I mean, you can imagine people who live in tiny little towns like Matagorda or Palacios or Wadsworth and—and they’ve known that there’s this plant going up, you know, six miles from where they live. But they really don’t think much about it until one day they hear about a meltdown at Three—Three Mile Island.
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    And all of a sudden they became really concerned, and many of the people who worked in the plant lived in those little communities. And so through that process we were able to ultimately able to develop the—the sources to give us, what I think was a more accurate picture of what was going on inside the construction site.
    DT: Is there anything you wanted to add about the STNP process?
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    AS: No. You know, I feel like, you know, it was—it was an important part of my life. It was—it was the thing that got me to abandon, at least for the time, that what I—one of the things that I enjoyed most in my life which was freelance writing. Because I spent several months on that story and was ultimately paid, like sixty dollars for it. And so I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. And so one of the unhappy, you know, outcomes of it was that I just—I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. And that’s one of the reasons why, when the Nature Conservancy came along, I was—I was thrilled to be able to go back and get a regular paycheck again.
    DT: Why don’t you tell us about that - how you first got approached by the Conservancy and your years there?
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    AS: Well, I had—I had—as I say, I had worked with the Nature Conservancy when it was a infant organization in Washington on the Big Thicket. Worked with TNC on the Big Thicket. So I had some friends there, contacts, colleagues. And—and I was not the first director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas, I was the second. And, the first director did not stay long, I think, probably a couple of years. And when he left, they began to recruit for a—a new director and I, like I say, I was very, very anxious to get back into the conservation movement, to—to—to—because that was really what I loved the most. At that time, the Nature Conservancy was officed in—above a—a bar on Sixth
    42:39 - 2186
    Street in Austin. And there was three people there, including myself. We had an old African-American man, whose name was Billy, who was known locally as the Mayor of Sixth Street that lived in the back of our offices. He actually lived there. And it was—it was quite a place. It was—it was—it was—it was so ill insulated that when it—when—when it would freeze in Austin, the—the water in the toilets would actually freeze solid. It was a—it was quite a place. At that time, the Nature Conservancy was extremely in debt. They had gone out and bought a spectacularly beautiful piece of property called Honey Creek, which is adjacent to the Guadalupe River State Park and borrowed the
    43:50 - 2186
    money to do it. And the purchase was made, seems to me around 1980. And—and what happened was that the economy kind of went sour and so they weren’t able to raise the money that they originally thought they were going to be able to raise. And so, that’s the principal reason for the first director’s leaving was that they simply couldn’t get that money raised to buy the land and when I became involved with the Conservancy, they were literally about to sell Honey Creek back to development. And so that was my main objective, at least initially, was to get that project completed. And I ultimately was able to do that by a—acquiring for Texas Parks and Wildlife, a piece of property down on the Texas coast, which is now called the Peach Point Wildlife Management Area, from a consortium of oil companies. And at that time, our Department—the Parks and Wildlife Department was looking for a huge wetland along the Texas coast. That was there
    44:42 - 2186
    principal acquisition objective. And so, I was able to find that for them, and by going to the Department and sort of packaging Honey Creek and Sea Dock, which is what we called Peach Point at that time, as a part of a single project, the Department ultimately acquired Honey Creek and today it’s part of the Guadalupe River State Park. And that’s how I became—that is also how I became involved with Parks and Wildlife is that while I was with the Nature Conservancy, I was fortunate enough to do many of the acquisitions for Parks and Wildlife during the mid-eighties through the Nature Conservancy. So I stayed with the Conservancy from December of 1982 until December of 1987, so I was there five years. And during that time, the Nature Conservancy moved from that office on Sixth Street to it’s—where it is now located in San Antonio. We had a wonderful
    45:45 - 2186
    privilege of being one of the first tenants in an old nineteenth century building on Alamo Plaza, so we were—we were located right across the street from the Alamo. We went from an organization that was—had three people to one that was there was probably a staff of 16-20 when I left, and probably acquired over that time, maybe three or four hundred thousand acres of land around Texas. And it was—it was a great privilege. I loved working with the Conservancy and learned many of the things that I was able to—to put into practice at Parks and Wildlife I learned at the Nature Conservancy. It was as good a job as I’ve ever had. I loved working for them.
    DT: Can you tell us about some of the major acquisitions, negotiations, and how you identified the tracts, and how you dealt with the landowners?
    46:39 - 2186
    AS: Well, it was kind of a combination of opportunity and strategy. For example, at the time there was still a tremendous amount of interest in Gulf Coast wetlands, both by the federal government and the state government. And so we were always on the lookout for big coastal wetlands. And so I became familiar with almost every remaining coastal wetland tract on the Texas coast, I met the owners, whether they be corporations or individuals, and I was—by just keeping up with them, and staying in contact with them, I—I was able to—to be in the right place at the right time if they wanted to do something with their property. Sometimes those connections resulted from—from things outside
    47:31 - 2186
    47:31 - 2186
    Texas, for example, Mad Island Marsh, which is now sort of a joint project between the Nature Conservancy and Parks and Wildlife. The owner of that property was a man—a fellow from Houston named Clive Reynolds, who actually contacted the Conservancy in New York. And they said, well, you have to talk to this guy down in San Antonio and so I met Clive Reynolds through an intermediary in New York. The other thing that would often happen in those days would be that there would be people who would—who would want to sell their property for conservation, but the government—the wheels of—wheels of government would turn too slowly for them to be able to—to sell it in time. The first piece of property that I ever bought for conservation was a—was a place called Las Tres
    48:24 - 2186
    Corrales, which is in Hidalgo County, just north of Edinburgh. And, it’s a wonderful brush, Rio Grande Valley brush tract, principally protected for endangered felines, ocelot and jaguarundi. And, there was a wonderful old gentleman who owned the tract, whose name was Yael Shelabin. And Mr. Shelabin had preserved this tract himself all of his life, and so it was exactly what the Fish and Wildlife Service wanted because it was ideal habitat for these cats. Well, Mr. Shelabin, in the—in the—in the later part of his life, got into debt and he needed—he needed to sell some of the property in order to—in
    49:28 - 2186
    order to pay off his debts. And so he went to the federal government who had been trying to buy it for twenty years and they couldn’t move fast enough to—to get him the money in time to pay off whatever he needed to pay off. And so, he contacted me and I went down there and—and got a donor in Fort Worth to put up the money to buy the original 350 acres and we—we—we—we bought it and—and held it for awhile and when the Fish and Wildlife was ready, we turned it over to them. Sadly, during that time, much of that negotiation was conducted on Mr. Shelabin’s deathbed because he had a—he had a heart attack during that period and actually died, and so I finished that work with his—with his widow, who’s still—still there today, on—on the one part of the land that they still own. So, those are the kind of experiences that really made that time with the Conservancy rich for me was principally was dealing with—with the land owners themselves who—most of whom have become lifelong friends.
    50:30 - 2186
    Probably another one that—that is—is exemplary and worth pointing out was two wonderful men in Texas, Houston and Ed Harte, owned an extremely large ranch in the—near—near the Santiago Mountains, north of Big Bend National Park, between the Santiagos and the Rosillos Mountains. And they actually went to donate that land to the National Park and the problem was to add land to a National Park takes an Act of Congress. And so, they were not willing to wait the three to four years it would take to—to have a act go through Congress, and they needed to make the donation, and so—so the donation was made to the Nature Conservancy and I actually ran a ranch in the Big Bend for about three years until we were able to get the bill passed to take the land into the National Park. So, that was another one that—that sticks out in my mind. Probably, in a way, the most important one was that I in—literally in the—in the—in the last days of
    51:39 - 2186
    my time with the Nature Conservancy, I bought the first piece of Blackland Prairie—really native Blackland Prairie in Texas, which is at Clymer’s Meadow. And it was the first—first significant acquisition of Blackland Prairie. Now—now, a fairly large preserve, at least in the context of Blackland Prairie. I think that first—first tract I bought was only about three hundred acres. So, that was—that was one that I really—I—I think a lot of. We talked earlier about Matagorda Island. At the time that I went to work at the Nature Conservancy, Matagorda Island was owned about a third by the federal government, about a third by the state government, and there was still a private ranch on the south end of Matagorda Island that comprised about a third of the—of the island. And, fellow in San Antonio named Tim Hixon, who was a member of my board on the Nature Conservancy, was well acquainted with the owner, the Wynne family from Dallas. And so, Mr. Wynne called Tim one day and said that he was interested in talking about
    52:49 - 2186
    selling the Wynne ranch, which was the last privately owned land on Matagorda Island. And so, Tim Hixon and I went to Dallas, and that day began negotiation which ultimately resulted in the acquisition of the remaining land on Matagorda Island. And Mr. Wynne was concerned because he—he was not sure that he wanted to leave that land in the hands of his family. Not because he was afraid that they would not take care of it, but—but because he was afraid that it would cause strife among them in terms of trying to figure out who was going to use it, or how it was going to be managed, and so he saw it as a potential point of controversy among his family. And so I was able to acquire it from him, and within—within twelve months after the acquisition was done, he walked out to get his newspaper one morning in Dallas and died of a heart attack. And so, he—he
    54:01 - 2186
    somehow was prescient about, you know, about—about his own life, although I’m sure he didn’t think he would go that fast, but he didn’t last very long after that. And subsequently, the Wynne Ranch has become part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. So, that was a huge one for me. And, of course, one that I had—had completed work that I had begun twenty years before when I worked in Washington.
    DT: I had a question about the landowners that you’ve dealt with. Why do you think some of them have kept their tracts in pretty much their native states rather than introducing exotic grasses or you know, removing a lot of the brush in the south Texas brush land? Why do you think they chose to resist progress?
    55:08 - 2186
    AS: Well, the first of those people were, in my judgment, pretty—people that pretty—people that pretty much swam against the current. I don’t think you can—you can characterize that movement or—or approach to land ownership or stewardship as being common because it was pretty uncommon. Yael Shlabin, who I mentioned, in the valley had actually taken his family on a photo safari in Africa in the—in the sixties. His daughters, he had two daughters and at that time they were, like, in their teens, and so they all went to Africa for like a month on this long photo safari. And it changed their lives. I mean, when he—after he made that trip, he became obsessed with the preservation of the natural diversity of his land. An—another example is a fella who
    56:07 - 2187
    you—you –you all probably have talked to, or know, his name is Hugh Goodrich. Hugh Goodrich’s mother I believe was an acquaintance of your grandmother, who sort of got involved with natural area preservation in the Houston community with Joe Heiser, and all of that group and—and sort of became interested in all that and—and bought a ranch up near Liverpool in the Hill Country. And began to burn it and cut cedar and do those kinds of things and restore native grasses probably in the—in the mid-sixties. David Bamberger, as you know, you know, read [Louis] Bromfield, and got it from there. But when those kind of people started, they were viewed by others as pretty strange. Particularly because, I think, all of the normal institutions that landowners interacted with like the Soil Conservation Service, the Ag Extension Service and others, were advising them to
    57:10 - 2186
    do other things: to plant cultivated grasses, to—to do things on their property which—which were, you know, thought to be enlightened, but and in fact, did make some improvements particularly in terms of erosion and—and other things—soil conservation. But, actually were ultimately destructive of—of diversity. And so the people that led that movement, the Shelabins, the Bambergers, the Goodrichs and others, were—were very, very, very unique. And today, happily, people go to those ranches to see, you know, what—what they did and how they did it, and that—and that movement is spreading. I think that one of the reasons why it is spreading is because the principal rationale for the acquisition of –of land in Texas today is recreational. Most people who buy the—what is driving the sort of rural land market in Texas principally is people who are affluent enough
    58:11 - 2186
    to be able to buy tracts of land in the countryside for recreation. And their motivations are often different, and so they come at it with a—with a—a desire and even an excitement about creating a natural diversity on their property as opposed to a strictly sort of agricultural return. And I think that’s probably accounted, more than any other thing, along with a—a really strong educational initiative by institutions like Parks and Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy and others to—to—to teach people about this. But I think that—that desire of people to buy land for—for the purpose of their own enjoyment and pleasure and recreation has been one of the strongest reasons why that—that activity has increased in Texas so much today.
    DT: I guess the flip side of your work at the Conservancy is trying to appeal not just to landowners to sell it, their land, to the Conservancy, but to get donors to put up the money to acquire it, and I was wondering how you made the arguments, what kind of arguments, you made to potential donors?
    59:30 - 2186
    AS: Well, when I worked at the Conservancy, we were—we were just beginning to fully appreciate the ecological diversity of Texas in the fact that there were parts of Texas which were, from an ecological standpoint, truly endangered: once again, a principal example being the Blackland Prairie. And so what I would normally do would be to go to donors with the—with the plea that—which was—which was, in every case backed up by scientific fact, that these were the last of such tracts in existence, and that if we didn’t do something to protect them, that they would be gone. I would guess that when the
    1:00:27 - 2186
    Europeans first came out of the trees in East Texas, there were probably twenty million acres of Blackland Prairie and I would imagine today that there’s probably less than two to three thousand. And so, it wasn’t difficult to make the case on those kinds of tracts. The—the—the—the problem was, at the—in those days, which was, once again, the mid-eighties, was that the dominant philanthropic institutions were just beginning to have conservation be a part of their strategy. And so, most of our philanthropy in those days actually came from individuals rather than foundations, because once again, there were people who had themselves become interested in conservation, and so the—the vast
    1:01:22 - 2186
    majority of the money that we raised in the eighties for—for purchase of land came from individuals as opposed to foundations or corporations. Now we received some fairly substantial gifts of land from corporations because, number one, because the Conservancy had established this wonderful national network of corporate contacts. And so we were able to work with institutions like International Paper, or Union Carbine, or Sun Oil, or, you know, by—by—by the fact that there—those relationships were there. In addition, the tax laws were much more favorable to gifts of land at that—at that time,
    1:02:10 - 2186
    because—because both individuals and corporations were in a—at least fifty percent tax bracket. And so the donation of appreciated real estate was much more attractive, from a, you know, from a tax standpoint than it is today. So—so fortunately, as the—as we got into the nineties, and institutions like the Nature Con…
    [End of Reel 2186]

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Title:Andy Sansom Interview, Part 1 of 2
Country:United States
CreatorSansom, Andy (interviewee)
Todd, David (interviewer)
Weisman, David (cameraman)
Spalding, Gary (light and sound technician)
Petersen, Susan (production assistant)
Goldsmith, Lacy (transcriber)
Johnson, Robin (transcriber)
Source:Conservation History Association of Texas, Texas Legacy Project Records
PublisherDolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:Mini-DV