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U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, calls for President Joe Biden to declare Castner Range a national monument.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, calls for President Joe Biden to declare Castner Range a national monument. (Anthony Jackson, El Paso Times/TNS)

EL PASO, Texas (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, coauthored a letter with two high ranking House members urging the U.S. Army to collaborate with other federal departments on the environmental remediation of Castner Range.

Escobar coauthored the letter with Democratic U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and John Garamendi. Grijalva represents a portion of southern Arizona and is chair of the House Natural Resources Committee; Garamendi represents a portion of northern California and is chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

The letter was sent Dec. 16 to Jack Surash, deputy assistant secretary of the Army.

The authors said the Army entering into a "Memorandum of Understanding" with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management would be an "important initial step" to facilitate the transfer of the land to the Department of the Interior.

"Given the potential for creation of a national monument, we believe that Bureau of Land Management participation at this stage would be prudent," the letter read. "Working in concert from the initial stages of the process will allow the Army and BLM to work efficiently and avoid the cost of rework, as well as identifying and prioritizing areas for remediation based on public access and cultural, historic, and natural resources."

According to the letter, if the lands were transferred to the DOI, the department could provide public access to the land as well as supporting conservation of the site's natural, historical and cultural values.

The proposed Castner Range National Monument has received support from the El Paso City Council, El Paso County Commissioners Court, El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board and numerous local organizations like the Exercise, No Extra Fries hiking group and the Frontera Land Alliance.

"The community surrounding the Range has expressed support for the creation of Castner Range National Monument that would provide permanent protection and appropriate recreational access to portions of Castner Range," the letter read.

On April 19, Escobar introduced H.B. 2752 to designate Castner Range as a national monument.

Between 1926 and 1966, the site was used as a firing range for small arms, assault weapons, and field and air-defense artillery.

Since 2017, the Bureau of Land Management and the Army pledged to collaborate on reviewing historical, cultural, and natural resource values, as well as providing public access opportunities.

"The community has worked for decades to see these lands protected and opened to the public, and we urge the Army to use all the tools at its disposal, including entering into an MOU with the BLM, to make progress towards those goals," the letter read.

To sign a petition asking President Joe Biden to designate Castner Range as a national monument, visit CastnerRangeNationalMonument.org.

ADJackson@elpasotimes.com

©2021 www.elpasotimes.com.

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