Thursday, February 14, 2008

"A a plan that could fill Midland's pockets but potentially devastate Marfa's culture, lifestyle and economy."

Postcard: Marfa

'No Country for Tolled Roads'

Feb. 14, 2008

Time Magazine
Copyright 2008

This far West Texas town is so isolated that while you can cross the Mexican border in less than an hour for lunch, the nearest shopping mall is 200 miles (about 320 km) away. Those who live around here take immense pride in the desolate landscape that served as the backdrop for the films with the most Academy Award nominations this year, Joel and Ethan Coen's murderous No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson's epic There Will Be Blood.

But instead of buzzing about their potential golden night at the Oscars, locals are more concerned these days with a very real unfolding drama that has the potential to devastate the views, the unpolluted air and the tranquil lifestyle they hold dear.

The potential villain in this story is La Entrada al Pacifico, a NAFTA trade route signed into law 11 years ago by then governor George W. Bush. It hasn't been built yet, but it may still become a reality, thanks to lobbying from the nearby city of Midland--which would become a distribution and warehousing hub and the support of Midland's state representative, who happens to be speaker of the Texas House.

If approved and constructed, the route would significantly increase the number of long-haul trucks bringing goods from Mexico through Marfa. In 2006, the average number of trucks crossing the U.S. border at Presidio and being driven the 60 miles (about 100 km) north to Marfa each day was 17.

With La Entrada, that number would be anywhere from 300 to 800 trucks a day. To make room, a pair of two-lane roads will be widened to four-lane divided highways. Allison Scott, a 29-year Marfa resident, knows exactly what that will sound like. "Marfa is so peaceful," she says. "When I go out at 5 a.m. and look up at the stars, the silence is just so amazing ... La Entrada would definitely bring the silence to an end."

The idea behind La Entrada al Pacifico (Corridor to the Pacific) is to ease over concentration of Asian trade in Southern California by diverting goods to a port in western Mexico and transporting them to Midland.

Marfans see a plan that could fill Midland's pockets but potentially devastate Marfa's culture, lifestyle and economy, based in large part on tourism thanks to Marfa's proximity to Big Bend National Park and its reputation as an artists' haven (artists and galleries have been a fixture in town since celebrated sculptor Donald Judd relocated here from New York in the '70s).

Days after a March 2007 public meeting on the project, attended by nearly 400 West Texas residents--none of whom supported it--the fight against La Entrada began. Local businesses sold STOP LA ENTRADA T shirts; residents joined letter-writing campaigns and launched anti-Entrada blogs. Some Marfans have devised creative ways to fight the corridor. Gary Oliver, 60, a political cartoonist for the local newspaper, has composed a protest song on his accordion. "Move to Marfa for the peaceful life,/ So far away from the stress and strife," he sings. "Then you put your ear down on the highway floor,/ Hear the many trucks in the distance roar ... La Entrada, here come a lot of highway blues."

And Vicente Celis, 42, who moved here from Mexico in 2003, shows off the digital slide show he's developing, An Inconvenient Truth--style, to explain La Entrada to other residents. He makes reference to the documentary's swimming-frog example of global warming--the frog that doesn't realize it's boiling because the water temperature increases so slowly. "The same thing is going to happen to us," says Celis. "But [we] don't have to let people boil us."

Residents do have hope. The arrival of massive numbers of 18-wheelers depends on Mexico's infrastructure. So far, work on the trans-Mexican highway hasn't broken ground, and the port in western Mexico needs repair. The results of a government-funded study about how well the plan would work for West Texas will be released soon. But for the locals who see this land as a refuge--and, on occasion, a Hollywood backdrop--the decision to build or not to build isn't even a question.

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