AUSTIN, Texas -- Leander Independent School District expects to grow by 29 percent over the next decade. District officials say, while two of its schools are only projecting a seven percent growth in that same time, both need better access.
However, the district has run into roadblocks for years trying to get a project started. The proposed road cuts through the federally protected Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Leander ISD said it needs lawmakers to convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service the district deserves a permit to build a road through the wildlife preserve.
"How can we protect students' safety," asked Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for Leander ISD. "How can we protect the wildlife? How can we both find a solution that works for everybody?"
School district administrators are asking parents to reach out to lawmakers to "put pressure" on the Fish and Wildlife Service to grant the permit. In an official handout, the district included contact information for the state's US Senators and area Congressmen. Leander ISD also included Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, whose district boundary is more than 200 miles from the area of concern.
"We have looked to lawmakers that we feel can help us, that they care about these issues, and they can really make a difference for us," Bailey said.
The Balcones Canyonlands, which are managed by the City of Austin and Travis County, were created in 1996 to protect the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, among other species that are native to the area.
"It is an endangered species habitat," Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. "We have already established the areas where development can occur. If we pave it over, we will never get it back."
Eckhardt said she hopes the district's project hits a dead end. She said eroding the regulations that protect the Balcones Canyonlands would prevent development in the area. In addition to protecting the endangered animals' habitat, she said the preserve alleviates flooding in the area.
She said Leander ISD should have considered their property's limitations before building the two campuses.
"It will always be difficult to access because it is on ridge lines in difficult terrain, basically in bends of the river," Eckhardt said. "[Nearby residents] are living there in partnership with an endangered species habitat. They are not living in opposition to it. If they are not willing to live in partnership with it, there might be other areas of Travis County that would be more appropriate."
School officials were not able to say how much the district has spent on the project to-date when asked Thursday. The district said it is tallying the numbers and will provide them soon.