Friday, January 30, 2009

TNT Committee meets with TxDOT concerning I-69, TTC issues

The Groveton News

The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT) met for the second time with TxDOT last week in Trinity.

TxDOT arrived with a large contingent of representatives. Among them were District Engineer, Dennis Cooley out of Lufkin and two other engineers, Doug Booher, an Environmental Specialist with TxDOT, brought two consultants from PBSJ and Joe Krejci with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Texas Division.

TNT also had full representation: the Mayors of Trinity, Corrigan, and Groveton, representatives from the Commission’s Water Suppliers, School Boards, Cattle Ranchers, Members-At-Large and concerned citizens.

TNT gave Mr. Cooley and Mr. Booher a letter formally requesting that TxDOT rescind the I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor Draft Environmental Impact Study and that TxDOT start the entire process over including a study of the existing facilities alternative.

Connie Fogle said that TNT’s legal council, Fred Kelly Grant, Attorney and President of Stewards of the Range, prepared a Legal Analysis that was given to TxDOT, which stated:

“The Administration Must Resolve Objections as to Consistency Raised by the Sub-regional Planning Commission Prior to Issuing a Final EIS for Public Review and Comment”.

Fogle said, “If, in fact the TTC is dead, why waste more time and money sending a document to the Federal Highway Administration for approval of a project they do not intend to build?”

Three TNT Members-At–Large presented information to TxDOT: Dee Dee King gave a presentation on what the I-69 TTC will do to some of our Historical Cemeteries and Archeological Sites, Bill Fogle discussed the noise factor, which will make it un-inhabitable to live within one mile of the Corridor and Craig Whealy discussed numerous environmental issues.

Also on the agenda TNT approved forming a Transportation Planning Committee to study the mobility needs of the three cities that make up the Commission. Each city will have a separate Public Forum in February to gather input.

Fogle feels that TNT is very fortunate to have the guidance of The American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range helping their Commission through the Coordination process.

© 2009 East Texas News News:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rescind I-69 TTC from the FEIS

BEFORE it is sent to the FHWA

Connie Fogleman
Trinity-Neches Texas SRPC

Our TNT Commission appreciates Mr. Boohers comments, but, what the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission is pursuing is for TxDOT to rescind the I-69 TTC altogether from the FEIS, before they send it on to the Federal Highway Administration.

Mr. Booher has stated that TxDOT cannot do what we asked without starting a new study all over again. Which is exactly what we feel needs to be done.

TNT's question for TxDOT is: why waste more tax dollars and time having a study approved, by the EPA and The Federal Highway Administration, for a plan which TxDOT does not really feel they will pursue?"
New Alternative to TTC Announced

By: Coleman Swierc

TRINITY, TX - Just weeks ago, the Trans-Texas Corridor plans were dissolved by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Today in Trinity, alternative plans were revealed. "They are going to pursue in writing, with the Federal Highway Commission, the upgrade of 59 to I-69," said Bob Dockens, President of the Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission, "and are going to, according to their statement today, abandon what was called the preferred corridor, the one that ran west of Houston and came through Trinity county."

In essence, the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, was originally to run as a connector from I-10 west of Houston, through much of Walker, Trinity, and parts of Angelina county, was eliminated.

Now, TxDOT, is proposing the upgrade of U.S. Highway 59, to the new, Interstate 69.
"We are not going to recommend the study area that was in this area," said TxDOT representative Doug Booher, "we are going to recommend to the federal highway administration that the study area for I-69 be U.S. 59."

With the new proposal to upgrade 59, new environmental issues have come up.
Members of the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission questioned members of TxDOT, on their initial enviromental proposal, claiming crutial historical sites were overlooked.

TxDOT defended thier proposal, stating that the initial tier 1 analysis of the study area, was taken on a very broad range.

"The original study, was at a very high phase, and although it did consider those things, it did not drill down into the very high level of detail we would do if the project would continue into the second phase," said Booher.

They also assured the commission, that pending approval of the 59 upgrade, that TxDOT would consider environmental issues in much greater detail.
Booher reiterated, "If the project were to proceed, we would take into consideration all of the specific individual concerns, such as cemetaries, historic buildings, archealogical resources, wetlands, all manner of things."

Dockens and the committee seemed to agree, "I was very satisfied with the answers that Mr. Booher gave us today."

According to TxDOT, an announcement on the new environmental issues and upgrade possibilites to 59, will be announced in the following months.

© 2008 KTRE-TV:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

TxDOT says TTC is dead; opponents not so sure

The Trinity Standard
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN – The death of the Trans-Texas Corridors (TTC) and the birth of a less ambitious highway plan was announced Tuesday by state officials in Austin.

During the Fourth Annual Texas Transportation Forum hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin, major changes in the state’s highway plans were unveiled.

Amadeo Saenz Jr., TxDOT’s executive director, said the ambitious proposal to create the TTC superhighways was being dropped and is being replaced by a plan to carry out road projects at an incremental, modest pace.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it is known, no longer exists,” Saenz said.

The TxDOT official said the state will move forward with modification to proposed projects and will seek more input from Texans through additional town hall meetings and an updated Web site.

Saenz said the changes in the TxDOT plan are detailed in Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009.

He indicated the change was in response to the large public outcry raised last year to the TTC proposal.

The plan called for up to 10 toll lanes – six for passenger vehicles and four for trucks – as well as six rail lines and a corridor to carry utility lines.

One of the TTC highways that was the center of heated opposition throughout East Texas was the Interstate 69/TTC. Under this plan, TxDOT proposed to extend I-69 through the region using the TTC concept.

Its proposed route would include a segment which followed the U.S. 59 corridor south from Nacogdoches through Lufkin down to Corrigan. There it would follow a new track westward through Trinity County south of U.S. 287 and then turn southeast near Trinity toward Walker County.

Under this plan, up to 5,800 acres of Trinity County land would be needed for the TTC right-of-way.

During a public hearing hosted Feb. 7, 2008, a standing-room-only crowd of opponents filled the Trinity High School gym to voice their concerns for the plan and the disruptions such a highway would cause.

In June 2008, TxDOT announced it was dropping the route through Trinity County and planned to stick to the U.S. 59 corridor all the way to Houston.

Saenz restated that position on Tuesday and noted that if the I-69 projected needed more lanes than currently existed for U.S. 59, the state will simply widen the roadway.

He added that should toll lanes be added to various roads, tolls would be assessed only on the new lanes and not those that currently exist.

Last year in response to the TTC plan, the cities of Trinity, Groveton and Corrigan formed The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT) to oppose the proposed TTC corridor through Trinity County.

State law gives commissions such as the TNT authority to negotiate highway changes with TxDOT and organizers hoped to use this power to challenge the TTC plan.

Connie Fogle of Trinity, a vocal critic of the TTC and a member of the TNT, said Tuesday that while she hopes TxDOT is being straightforward about the change, she and other TNT members have strong doubts.

“It would be wonderful if this were true, but I’m not so sure that it is,” she said, adding that in the past, TxDOT has played a game of “smoke and mirrors” to try to relieve public pressure.

“You know they are under pressure over this. The public was up in arms during the public hearings last year and the legislature’s Sunset Commission really raked TxDOT over the coals,” she said.

Fogle said she believes TxDOT hopes announcements such as this will prevent other sub-regional planning commissioners from forming.

“We, and other commissions, have been a real thorn in TxDOT’s side and this probably is a response to that,” she added.

She noted that despite the June announcement that TxDOT would follow the existing U.S. 59 route through East Texas, the Trinity County TTC corridor is still included in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that is being forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

“As long as the Trinity County route is still included in the DEIS, its still alive. If the DEIS is approved at the federal level, TxDOT could come back someday and say, ‘Oh, you know we tried to do it this way (follow U.S. 59), but it just didn’t work so we’re going to have to go back to the Trinity County route’,” she said.

She noted that TNT attorneys obtained copies of TxDOT’s Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009 and are currently reviewing it.

“They already have noted that, as usual, TxDOT is leaving itself loopholes,” she noted.

She noted that in their announcement, TxDOT said the highway right-of-ways for things like the I-69 project would be no more than 600-feet wide – which is down from the 1,200-foot wide TTC plan.

“When our attorneys got to looking at the plan in detail, they found that it said the right-of-way would be not more than 600 feet ‘in most cases.’ They are not really limiting themselves, even though they are saying they are,” she said.

Fogle said despite the TxDOT announcement, the TNT will continue to operate to insure that the rights of local residents are protected.

They are scheduled to meet with local TxDOT officials during their next regular meeting set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Trinity City Hall.

© 2009 The Trinity Standard:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPA In Corrigan To Hear Concerns About I-69 TTC

By Christel Phillips
Copyright 2008

CORRIGAN, TX - A draft environmental impact statement prepared by TxDOT is at the heart of the I-69 Trans Texas Corridor debate. Members of the Trinity Neches Sub-Regional Planning Committee want to send TxDOT back to the drawing board.

Bob Dickens, President of the Trinity Neches Sub-Regional Planning Committee says, "We don't think the law and regulations were followed and we do not think TxDOT has taken into consideration the impact of the environment, our wildlife, our water districts, our cities, our school districts, and in essence, our way of life."

That's why the Sub-Regional Planning Committee met with the Environmental Protection Agency. The committee wants the EPA to use thier expertise to persuade TxDOT to do a better job in researching the projected highway building area.

Cathy Gilmore, Chief of the EPA Office Planning and Coordination says, "Our place is really to look at the environmental aspects of the project and whether or not they've addressed our concerns."

Pennington Water District services about 900 customers in East Texas, they told the EPA that the TTC would come straight through their water line causing a serious problems for residents.

Bill Wagner, Represenative for Pennington Water District says, "From what we hear there will be no on and off ramps to access the customers. It will stop service to new customers, it will stop maintenence, it's going to have a major impact on us."

Bottom line, the committee wants to TxDOT to redraft their environmental impact statement and address their concerns in the revision.

"We hope we presented adequate information where they will study it, re-think it and go with the I-59 Corridor," says Wagner.

The planning committee hopes that TxDOT will be able to meet with them next month so they can address today's concerns to them as well.

© 2008 KTRE-TV:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Groups warn TTC projects still alive


Country World News
Copyright 2008

Recent reports of the demise of the Trans-Texas Corridor-69 have been greatly exaggerated by the state’s transportation department, according to a sub-regional planning commission formed to take on the massive highway project.

Connie Fogle with the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission said an announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that recommended upgrading U.S. Highway 59 to an Interstate, rather than build the TTC-69 corridor, was simply a diversionary tactic.

“They wanted to put the people in East Texas minds at ease, but the new corridor alternative is anything but off the table,” Fogle said. “TxDOT is still very much considering the new corridor.”

The commission recently received a letter from Dennis Cooley, TxDOT’s District Engineer from Lufkin, indicating that the new corridor alternative will remain in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that it will submit to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) for final approval.

The letter from Cooley states that TxDOT will only recommend advancing the TTC-69 project along existing highway facilities where it is practical.

“The key word is ‘practical,’” Fogle said. “That gives them the leeway to decide where it’s practical and where it isn’t. They’re ready to put that into the Final Environmental Impact Statement, but the truth is, they haven’t made a study of the (project’s) impact on the environment. We had a meeting scheduled with EPA about this very matter, but we had to postpone it because of Hurricane Ike. But we’re not going to let it go.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2002 as a series of six-lane highways with separate high-speed rail lines, truck lanes and utility corridors criss-crossing the state. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet.

The Governor and TxDOT have promoted the TTC as a solution to the state’s transportation problems, but the project has met with formidable opposition, particularly in rural parts of the state where the corridors would have the biggest impact on small towns and agricultural interests.

The first leg of the proposed TTC system is TTC-35, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35.

TTC-69 would run generally southwest to northeast along a 650-mile long route first mapped for IH-69, from the Gulf Coast to Texarkana.

In the past year, several sub-regional planning groups have formed under the authority of Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which requires state agencies “to the greatest extent feasible” to coordinate with local commissions to “ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.”

An Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of 2007 to challenge TTC-35. The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission was formed in February of 2008 in response to TTC-69. There are now nine such planning commissions in the state.

“There is a lot at stake here,” Fogle said. “Once you concrete over that much land, it’s not coming back. You’ve lost all that agricultural land, plus, here in East Texas we have a lot of timber, and hunting is big business here too.”

In a June 11 press release, Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said public input on I-69 led the commission to recommend using existing infrastructure whenever possible along the I-69 corridor.

“When needs are identified in the I-69 corridor, we will look at existing infrastructure and work with local officials to upgrade that facility to meet transportation needs,” Houghton said. “It just makes sense. As Texans pointed out to us, a facility built on new location may be unnecessary when an existing one can be improved to handle demand.”

Fogle said the Trinity-Neches sub-regional commission is not buying it.

“We believe, based on the way TxDOT has handled this from the first, that they are just saying that so people will think it (the new corridor proposal) is off the table,” she said. “They’re building this around a plan, not a need. We think they’re going to stick with the original plan if everybody eases up on them because they think they’re only going to use upgrade existing facilities.”

© 2008 Country World News:

Monday, September 29, 2008

TTC-69 “New Corridor” Alternative Not off the table!

Connie Fogle

Press Release
Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT SRPC)
Copyright 2008

“Even though TXDOT has said the ‘New Corridor’ alternative will not be chosen for the Trans-Texas Corridor 69, we have proof that it is not off the table and could be chosen in the future,” announced Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (TNT) President, Bob Dockens.

TNT recently received a letter from Dennis Cooley, TxDOT’s District Engineer from Lufkin, stating that the new corridor alternative would still be a part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) when submitted for approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).

Just a few months ago, TXDOT announced in a major publicity campaign that they would not be recommending the “new corridor” alternative, but would recommend upgrading U.S. 59 to Interstate status as their “preferred alternative” when submitting the FEIS.

“That was a masterful slight-of-hand by TXDOT,” commented Commission Associate, Connie Fogle. Although TxDOT’s announcement appeased lawmakers and some local officials, TNT officials found an FHA regulation that allows TXDOT to go back to the “new corridor” alternative after the study has been approved by the FHA.

Cooley’s letter to the Commission confirms that the new corridor is still a real threat to the local area stating; “the effort made to evaluate the new corridors will be captured in the body of the Tire One FEIS report as an option considered; however, TXDOT will be only recommending advancing the I69 project along existing highway facilities where practical (emphasis added).”

Cooley’s statement confirms that the new corridor alternative will still be a part of the final study. TNT found the regulation (23 CFR 771.127 (b)) that allows the agency to change their preferred alternative after a study has been approved as long as that alternative has been studied in the original document.

Should the Federal Highway Administration approve the FEIS with both the “existing facilities” and “new corridor” alternatives in the final report, TNT believes TXDOT will use this legal loophole to build a new TTC 69 rather than use existing highways. TNT also points out that the word “practical” in Cooley’s letter gives TXDOT total discretion as to whether they use existing facilities.

“We will have lost the opportunity to have meaningful input into the impacts this will have corridor on our local area and economy once the final FEIS is approved with both alternatives. That’s unacceptable,” commented Dockens.

Trinity-Neches Texas
Sub-Regional Planning Commission
500 W. Church. Livingston, TX 77351
Bob Dockens, President

© 2008 Trinity-Neches Texas

Friday, September 19, 2008

TNT Sub-Regional Planning Commission meeting with EPA Rescheduled

KTRE-TV (Lufkin / Nacodoches)
Copyright 2008

The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission's September 16th meeting in Corrigan, with the EPA has canceled due to the hurricane. The meeting will be rescheduled for sometime in October.

© 2008 KTRE:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Planning committee meeting with EPA about Trans-Texas Corridor

By Mystic Matthews
KTRE-TV (Lufkin / Nacodoches)
Copyright 2008

GROVETON, TX - The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Committee, or TNT, is set to meet with the Environmental Protection Agency next week.

TNT says TxDOT has not given enough thought to the environmental impact of the corridor, and they need the EPA to examine the findings they will get from TxDOT about the TTC.

"We're not in opposition to improvement and expansion. We just want to make sure it's done right because once you cover up rural Texas with concrete you can't change it back," says Connie Fogle with TNT.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is expected to use thousands of acres in East Texas if it's built and TNT wants to make sure they realize the impact that it will have on human and animal life.

TNT says TxDOT'S plan is flawed and they want changes made before they will support the plan.

© 2008 WorldNow and

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Groups claiming TxDOT falsified toll project studies

August 21, 2008

Country World News
Copyright 2008

Members of a Central Texas sub-regional planning commission believe they have found a "smoking gun" that proves the state's transportation department alledgely falsified an environmental study on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

The development comes from a lawsuit filed by Texans United for Reform (TURF) over a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) proposal to convert part of U.S. Highway 281 into a toll road. TURF members allege that TxDOT emails show that the department "rigged" the environmental work for the 281 project to pre-determine a finding of "No Significant Impact" before the study began.

Members of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, which was formed to make sure the state involves people affected by the TTC in the process, believe the allegations by TURF are significant because it shows that TxDOT has done with the 281 study exactly what the commission has accused TxDOT of doing in relation to the corridor proposal.

"What TURF and the Edwards Aquifer Guardians have uncovered shows that the conclusion was there before the study was even done," commission member Ralph Snyder of Holland said at a meeting of the commission on Aug. 12. "They cherry-picked the information to arrive at the conclusion they want.

"This is the most important thing to happen since the inception of the TTC-35. It makes our case by showing that they (TxDOT) worked all along toward a pre-determined conclusion."

Gov. Rick Perry proposed the TTC in 2002 as a series of six-lane highways with separate high-speed rail lines and utility corridors criss-crossing the state. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet.

Perry, TxDOT and others have touted the corridors as a solution to the state's transportation problems, but opposition has arisen on several fronts, particularly in the rural parts of the state where the corridors would have the biggest impact.

The sub regional planning commissions are local groups formed in response to the Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which requires state agencies "to the greatest extent feasible" to coordinate with local commissions to "ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level."

The Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of last year to challenge TTC-35, the first leg of the proposed TTC system, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35. Eight other such groups have formed across the state, most of them in East Texas where another leg of the TTC, TTC-69, has been proposed.

The commission has asked for a supplemental report from TxDOT, which in turn has asked the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) if it has to conduct the supplemental report. The commission received a reply from Janice Weingart Brown, division administrator for the FHA on Aug. 6.

"I can assure you that concerns that you have raised will be addressed in our Final EIS (Environmental Impact Study)," Brown wrote. "FHWA is also independently reviewing and considering the environmental documents being prepared by TxDOT.

"Based on the public involvement meetings that have been conducted and our review and analysis of comments, we firmly believe we are following the prescribed processes and regulations under NEPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Council on Environmental Quality."

Margaret Byfield with the American Land Foundation, a private property rights group working with the sub-regional planning commissions, noted that the letter is dated one day before the allegations over TURF's 281 lawsuit broke. She added that the letter really doesn't comment on the commission's request for a supplemental report.

"It makes no commitment," she said. "It infers that it will address our concerns in the TIER 2 study, which is too late. TIER 1 approves the building of the highway. TIER 2 is concerned with where the highway will be built."

The commission voted unanimously to forward the letter to Fred Kelly Grant, attorney for the American Land Foundation.

Grant, who lives in Idaho, emailed commission members prior to the August meeting about the TURF 281 lawsuit. "I have already asked for documents from the discovery to include in a proposed augmentation petition for you to send to the federal highway administration," he wrote. "The inference of lack of credibility which is made in your original petition will now be actual, not just an inference."

The commission also received a copy of a May 2006 letter from then state conservationist Larry Butler to engineer Edward Pensock with TxDOT on farmland protection issues related to TTC.

In that letter, Butler said that the TTC project "will constitute the largest conversion of Prime Farmland for a single project in the history of Texas."

The letter also addressed the issue of small dams on private property that are designed to control flooding, noting that more than 260 of those small dams are located in the TTC-35 study area.

"Direct impacts include areas where the TTC-35 might eliminate the structure, causing roads, bridges, towns and houses to flood."

Current state conservationist Don Goihmert addressed the group last month and said the state's NRCS office would conduct a study for the group to further evaluate the impact of the TTC along specific routes identified by TxDOT.

© 2008 Country World

Monday, August 4, 2008

Planning group to discuss second round of demand letters to TxDOT

Polk County Enterprise
Copyright 2008

TRINITY — The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Trinity City Hall to discuss sending second letters to the Texas Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency demanding a meeting to discuss the impact of the proposed Trans Texas Corridor through the region.

Recording Secretary Connie Fogle said the most recent documents sent to the Federal Highway Administration by TxDOT do not bind the state agency to construction along existing highways. The proposed superhighway would be devastating to school districts in Trinity County.

Groveton ISD would be split in two by the highway, she said. The route also plows through environmentally sensitive areas, she added. The loss of timber acreage along would have a major economic impact on a region that depends on timber and tourism, Fogle said. The timber producers would not be the only ones impacted, though. The latest maps continue to divide grazing areas used by cattle ranchers.

These second letters will demand a meeting with the planning commission within two weeks, Fogle said. The group will decide the location, time, date and agenda for the meeting with TxDOT and the EPA during Wednesday’s meeting.

The planning commission also plans to hold a preparatory meeting workshop prior to the meeting with the two agencies. The planning commission also will have an open forum for members of the public and associate members to discuss their concerns about the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The planning commission sent a letter to Richard Greene, administrator for the EPA’s Region 6 on June 18 that advised him of the creation of the planning commission under Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code. The purpose of the group is to coordinate projects that affect the cities of Groveton, Corrigan and Trinity, especially the I-69 Trans-Texas Corridor.

After the group formed, Groveton ISD, Apple Springs ISD, Corrigan-Camden ISD, Pennington, Trinity Rural Water District and Glendale Water District joined the commission. It now covers 607,233 acres. The EPA letter signed by each of the mayors on the commission states the commission’s belief that draft environmental impact statement for I-69/TTC does not address the issues that will severely impact the area. “The DEIS is grossly inadequate in every criteria of study called for by NEPA,” the EPA letter states.

“We believe the primary reason the study is inadequate is because the agency in charge, the Texas Department of Transportation, has utterly failed to coordinate its ‘study’ with the local governments and the citizens of our community. There have been no meaningful discussions with the local governments in our area with regard to the specifi c impacts on transportation, economic, or social interests of our citizens.”

The letter continues by stating that the interpretation of the National Environmental Policy Act by the courts have made it clear that the impact study is not to be completed based on the preconceived idea that the studied project is to be completed regardless of the adverse effects on the human environment.

The several failures to comply with NEPA are listed in the letter as follows: Coordination with local government is a mandated method for the project planners to gain vital information as to the impact of the project on local government, which bears the burden of providing services to the public, the letter says.

For example, the I-69/TTC DEIS lacks equal consideration of the human and natural environment. Even in its non-specific treatment of the impact, the study weighs these critical impacts differently. Specifically, the study discusses the impact to wildlife, the need to mitigate wildlife corridors, and even the consideration of wildlife bridges and tunnels.

It includes a map of the potential mitigation area for the replacement properties for the protection of species, yet makes no mention of the human impact, such as the redistricting our schools, rerouting our school buses, or ensuring our first responders can reach the life threatening emergencies upon which our citizens depend.

This one-sided analysis points to the very reason Congress directed the agencies to coordinate this study with local governments, which the Texas Department of Transportation has failed to do.

While consideration of the impact to wildlife is being discussed, there is no analysis of the human impact and specifi cally the impact on the timber industry, which is the economic backbone of our community. For example, one logging contractor in our area employs 43 individuals and pays approximately $1.2 million in wages annually. These employees live in our community.

© 2008, The Polk County Enterprise:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

From July 15 TxDOT Sunset Hearing, public testimony

TxDOT pushes Rural Planning Organizations in contravention of legislation—testimony from Hank Gilbert

Susan Rigdway Garry
Anti-Corridor/Rail Expansion (ACRE)
Copyright 2008

Hank Gilbert, former Democratic nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, testified about the proposed Rural Planning Organizations (RPO’s). He is especially interested in the RPO’s because of the possibility that the RPO’s are being pushed by TxDOT in an attempt to make the public believe that they are the same as the 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions. Gilbert is president of one of these new 391 Commissions, the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission.

This is a very important issue. If TxDOT is behind the formation of RPO’s, the RPO’s will be controlled by TxDOT through the regional Councils of Government (COG’s). On the other hand, the 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions are formed by the citizens through their local governments, and they have their own powers, given to them by statute.

Gilbert said, “I don’t believe he [Saenz] exactly told the truth a minute ago. Chairman Delisi, she wanted to make this a love fest today and she committed to honesty. But they have already broken that honesty when it was brought up about the RPO’s earlier today. We had a person at that meeting [on RPO’s] who sent me an email of what went on at that meeting on July 10. TxDOT, specifically Amadeo Saenz, addressed this and said they had come up with money at TxDOT to help fund and reimburse the COG’s if they created an RPO.”

Gilbert continued, “What’s important is that TxDOT has promulgated regulations to create RPO’s, which legislation actually failed last session. . . . So TxDOT decided to push the RPO issue forward so when the legislature comes into session they are having the legislation filed to authorize by statute what they have done by regulation. Then, they will pull the COG RPO’s into the Transportation statute and totally control all of the RPO’s. They’ll be nothing but a sounding board instead of a real board.”

Saenz contradicts Gilbert

After Gilbert’s testimony, Saenz then returned to the testimony table. “What Mr. Gilbert just presented is not factual. First of all, for the commissions, we have not adopted or done anything with the RPO’s. This was a conference, there is a mechanism in there that if they would be formed, which is one of the recommendations, then we can use state planning funds from the federal side to be able to cover their planning needs. But we have not taken any action on anything like that.”

Kolkhorst said “I’m not sure I’m for these RPO’s. . . Let’s not move forward on these RPO’s quite yet until we get through this.” Another Sunset Commissioner commented, “They need legislation to do it.” Kolkhorst replied, “I think what Hank [Gilbert] was trying to say is they’re doing it before we get there.”

Gilbert documents his testimony

Gilbert had documentation from the RPO conference including the agenda showing that TxDOT sponsored the meeting, that Saenz was on the agenda to speak about RPO’s, and info from COG’s about their new efforts to form RPO’s with the assistance of TxDOT. The list of attendees listed 45 TxDOT employees out of 200 registered in attendance at the meeting. Gilbert provided copies of his documentation to the Sunset Commissioners—the proof that his information IS “factual.”

TxDOT is already working on a plan to create its own system of RPO’s so that residents will think they are getting their own powerful Sub-Regional Planning Commission that represents them, but they will really be getting an RPO that represents TxDOT.

© 2008, ACRE:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Austin, we have a problem

by Virginia “Dee Dee” King and Connie Fogle
Groveton News
Copyright 2008

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced June 11th that it will recommend that the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) Project be developed using existing highway facilities “wherever possible”.

TxDOT is trying to slip through the current Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for approval by the Federal Highway Administration to get financing to start construction! As Craig Whealy wrote in his Letters to the Editor (June 19th), “when a project moves from a Draft EIS to Final after federal approval, all discussion and legal challenges come to a screeching halt.” The finalized EIS (Tier II) “does not preclude the use of the Preferred Alternate at some time in the future.”

TNT (like that acronym?) has requested a meeting with TxDOT to get answers to the concerns in Trinity and Polk counties. No reply, yet.

So, who and what in the heck is TNT?

Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission whose purpose is to coordinate with state and federal agencies on any concerns involving our counties. Mayor Grimes Fortune (Corrigan), Mayor Troy Jones (Groveton), Mayor Lyle Stubbs (Trinity), and member at large Bob Dockens make up the Board of Directors.

TNT wants the existing EIS rewritten to no longer include Trinity County, and to start addressing the Polk County issues involving US Hwy 59.

Connie Fogle, Dee Dee King, Jessica Parish, and Craig Whealy, all Planning Commission Associates, along with representatives from three other Planning Commissions sat in a meeting, on July 15th, between the ECTSRPC (East Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission) and the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service), in Holland, TX.

Though the Topic of Discussion was “The Impact of the Trans-Texas Corridor, I-35 Segment”, TNT associates benefited from some insights presented by Donald Gohmert, State Conservationist and Dennis Williamson, Acting Soil Scientist. These insights brought home possible issues if the current DEIS is approved.

Two other Planning Commission Associates attended the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting in Austin, July 15th, concerning the proper functioning of TxDOT. Created in 1977, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission is to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies

Noble Campbell, a TNT Associate member, attended the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting on TxDOT. Noble had prepared a 3 minute presentation for the commission, where he said “My second worry relates to an aspect of the supposedly agreed restructure of the route of the "corridor", moving it to the "footprint of existing highways" …from Laredo to Texarkana.

"The manipulations of the Environmental Tier I activities, at step 9, marks step 9 as a beginning of Tier II. There is an effort underway at TXDOT that Tier II of the original corridor route will not be eradicated, meaning that the original corridor route will remain legal and intact through eternity…and at this point, we get the 50 year hogwash treatment.

'There are four counties in the loop which was planned to bypass Houston on the west side… We are concerned that the "50 year hogwash treatment" may revert to about a "5 year hogwash" when TxDOT gets stuck in the middle of Houston and complains its way out, explaining that it has to revert to the Tier II route (in the current TTC/I-69 DEIS) through the four counties noted. (Waller, Grimes, Walker and Trinity)”

July 18th, the Sunset Advisory Commission posted the hearing report at listed 6 issues that Sunset had identified concern-ing TxDOT at http://www. and added 16 more from the public hearings.

Hank Gilbert, of Whitehouse TX, submitted Number 16: which requires TxDOT to properly coordinate with all local governmental entities in the proposed pathways of their future projects, not just the elected officials TxDOT deems important. (Hank Gilbert, President – Pineywoods Sub-Regional Planning Commission)

© 2008, The Groveton News:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rocks for the Goliath Road

Small-town leaders in Central Texas think they’ve found cracks in the Trans-Texas Corridor’s armor.

Fort Worth Weekly
Copyright 2008

BARTLETT — Sitting in Lois and Jerry’s Restaurant, surrounded by a blue-jean and overalls lunch crowd, Mae Smith and Ralph Snyder don’t look like giant-killers. In fact, the small-town mayor (5’ 2”) and the salvage shop owner (6’ 6”) look more like a Mutt and Jeff comedy team.

But along with mayors, business leaders, and farmers in Bell County, north of Austin, and their counterparts in several other parts of the state, Smith and Snyder are taking on a Texas Goliath — the Trans-Texas Corridor, the monster transportation project being pushed by Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Two years ago, the I-35 section of the project, planned to parallel the existing interstate, was seen as a done deal, and TxDOT was busy signing contracts with the Spanish-U.S. consortium called Cintra-Zachry to build a section of the corridor and operate it as a private toll road. Now, however, much of the political support for it has drained away in the face of widespread grass-roots opposition. Even the project’s backers say the small-towners’ group may have a chance of causing major holdups — and perhaps even fatal delays.

Smith, Snyder, and a growing group of leaders in other small towns and rural areas in the TTC’s path have found what they believe to be a chink in the giant’s armor, and they are exploiting it for all they’re worth — backed by national property-rights groups that have fought government land seizures in other states with some success.

In the last two years, Smith, the 64-year-old firebrand mayor of Holland, and the leaders of three other Bell County towns, with a combined population of less than 6,000, had grown increasingly worried about the threat that the TTC project posed for their communities. Frustrated by their inability to get state transportation officials to pay attention to their fears, the mayors found a provision in state law that allows for the creation of local planning commissions — and then requires TxDOT and other state agencies to coordinate projects with those commissions.

So they created a planning commission and began asking for consultations and records on TTC. And what they found in the process astounded them.

Smith said that TxDOT claims in official documents that it has studied the Corridor’s expected effects on communities it will run through — but that it has done no such studies. In the draft version of its environmental impact study, she said, the agency wrote a summary — the only part many busy lawmakers are likely to read — that varied wildly from the information in the body of the report.

The local officials charge that the transportation agency report broadly misstated its own consultant’s findings regarding jobs that the TTC would create and failed to mention heavy losses in personal income and in the tax base the project would cause. They say TxDOT has also ignored requirements in state and federal law that it consider effects on air quality and the environment, look into other alternatives — or even to state why the TTC, with its grand vision of toll roads, train and pipeline rights of way, and commercial areas controlled by private corporations, is needed at all. And, perhaps most importantly for one of the state’s richest farming areas, they charge that TxDOT has failed to consider the major impact the project would have on their federally protected farmland.

As a result, the planning commission is pressing for TxDOT to redraw its environmental impact statement and to stop any further work on the TTC until proper studies have been done and requirements met — or expect to be sued.

TxDOT officials have said only that they have contacted the Federal Highway Administration to find out if the Central Texas group, which now includes a fifth town, in Milam County, has the power to compel it to respond. TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippencott wrote in an e-mail that, “We are awaiting further guidance from [the federal agency] on whether and how to revisit the already-completed portion of this process.” Gov. Rick Perry, who has been the power behind the push for the TTC, declined to comment.

Perhaps worse news, from TxDOT’s point of view, is that, since the Central Texas group formed, four more local planning commissions have been formed in East Texas, two more are being organized on the other side of the state, and the Sierra Club is getting into the action, pointing out problems with the environmental assessment on another major portion of the TTC and asking that that work be delayed as well, until a new impact study is done.

The small-town group’s formal request to the state agency cites so many sins in the Corridor planning process, Smith said, that the detailed document “can almost indict people for the way TxDOT has purposely ignored state and federal law.”

Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code is the not-so-secret weapon of the Central Texas officials who are fighting the Corridor. The code “says that TxDOT and other state agencies have to coordinate project planning with local planning commissions,” Smith explained, “so we formed one” – specifically, the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, of which she is president.

The commission was created in August 2007, by which time TxDOT had already released its draft environmental impact statement on the part of the Corridor project that affects Bell and Milam counties, known as TTC-35. In the draft statement, Smith said, the agency “claimed to have studied the highway’s environmental impact and the impact it would have on the communities it ran through, but that wasn’t true.” So the group asked for a meeting with TxDOT to talk about it.

At that first meeting, in October, Smith said, TxDOT officials admitted they hadn’t studied the environmental impact the planned 1,200-foot wide corridor would have on the area covered by the four towns — Holland, Bartlett, Rogers, and Little River-Academy (Buckholts has joined since then). That area is part of the Blackland Prairie, covered by the federal Farmland Protection Act.

A second meeting revealed that the environment wasn’t the only thing TxDOT hadn’t studied. The local commission concluded that in fact, TxDOT hadn’t studied much of anything with regard to Bell County “They had no idea how to answer questions about [the TTC] dividing our cities in half and the effect that might have on school districts, on the agriculture business this area depends on, or the effect that highway would have on our emergency services,” Smith said.

TxDOT officials, she said, promised they would do that work when they began the second phase of the project — that is, after they decided exactly where to put the superhighway. In the meantime, however, the agency was already buying land and making deals with contractors. “That’s not OK with us,” she said. “That’s not the law. You can’t begin to study the impact you’ll have after you’ve made your plans; you have to make your plans around the impact you are going to have.”

The planning commissioners also found that the state highway agency’s draft environmental study didn’t even agree with itself — the summary wasn’t supported by the text of the report.

And so Smith’s group sent out a formal request on May 20 to Edward Pensock Jr., the engineer who is director of corridor systems of the TxDOT’s turnpike division, asking the agency for a supplemental report on the project’s environmental impact.

The Central Texas commission backed up its request with a 28-page list of “deficiencies” in the current environmental assessment. Perhaps as important as the request itself is the commission’s insistence on when it should be done.

“We want the supplemental environmental impact study done by TxDOT prior to any further work or planning on the highway,” Smith said.

TxDOT wasn’t happy with the request and sent it on to the Federal Highway Administration, asking whether it indeed has to do a supplemental report. The federal agency’s answer is expected by the end of the month. And if the ruling favors the local commission, the entire TTC could be held up until that new report is complete.

A TxDOT official who asked not to be named said the state agency has satisfied its obligations by holding hearings and meeting with the commission — and that it isn’t required to actually address the commission’s request for a new study.

Not so says Snyder, the only non-elected member of the commission. “We’re a political entity, and as far as this request is concerned, there are things that TxDOT ignored under federal law,” he said. “And they’ve got no choice but to abide by those federal laws.”

Snyder predicted that the feds will pressure TxDOT to do the additional study before further work is done on the TTC plans. But if that doesn’t happen, he said, he’s confident that the commission can force the state agency’s hand through the court system. “We’ve got the law on our side,” he said. “TxDOT has to do this thing right, or there will be no TTC.”

The Central Texas group has environmental, economic, and legal issues to pick with TxDOT. One of their key points, for instance, is TxDOT’s claim that when the new superhighway is complete it will add 434,000 permanent new jobs and $135 billion in additional personal income in the state.

But in fact, the report done for the state agency on the TTC’s economic impact doesn’t make that prediction on new job creation, and suggests that the project would decrease personal income across the state by $90 million a year because of land to be taken by the project. On the TTC-35 section alone, the Perryman Group consultants predicted governments will lose $94 million in taxable property.

More than 4,000 acres would be lost just in Smith’s planning region, which includes an area roughly 30 miles by 30 miles. Additionally, the Perryman Group’s report, which was all but ignored by TxDOT in its draft environmental statement, predicted hundreds of millions of dollars would be lost from the agricultural sector.

In its request for a new impact report, the small-town group wrote that TxDOT’s draft environmental statement “should have revealed the [Perryman] study … and then analyzed those facts to determine the economic impact” on the region.

“In plain language, they had a study done, and then when the figures didn’t match what they wanted, they just made up some figures and put them in the summary they passed out,” Smith charged. “Just made them up.”

In addition to the financial losses to individuals and governments in the area, the TTC would force area governments to build their own overpasses and underpasses for all except state highway crossings — and some crossings could carry tolls. “None of those issues were even considered” in TxDOT’s draft environmental statement, said Smith.

Beyond that, the planning commission charges, are all the federal laws and even state needs that are being ignored by the TTC planning process, including the Environmental Protection Act.

But there is one overriding concern that the Central Texas commission members share, and it is more basic than tax losses or expensive overpasses. It is the land itself, the rich black clay that defines their region’s culture and economy. And in saving the land, they believe they’ve got the federal government — and, oddly enough, some of the federal government’s most implacable opponents — on their side.

Just a few miles east of I-35, near Salado, lies the heart of the Blackland Prairie. The gently rolling hills reach to the horizon, the fields alternating with stands of Osage orange, hackberry, cedar elm, oak, and pecan orchards. Corn ready for harvest stands next to the dark brown of the milo tops and the rich green of cotton. Recently harvested wheat fields expose the rich black clay from which the prairie gets its name.

Holland’s downtown, a block of old brick buildings dating back more than 100 years, is a throwback in time. The only lunch spot in town is closed for vacation. At noon a siren shrieks, calling the hour.

So when Mae Smith drives up in her dusty dark green Dakota pickup, we head over to Bartlett, to meet reinforcements and find lunch. She wears jeans and a red blouse, and her blonde hair is cropped short.

“Most of the people living here have been living here for generations,” she explains as she drives. “And they like this life. They may work in Temple or Austin, but they still live here. Just like their daddies and their daddies.”

Stepping out of the truck 20 minutes later on Bartlett’s main drag, we’re met by the huge figure of Snyder. He has the same searing blue eyes as Smith.

“Let me tell you something about the Blackland Prairie,” Snyder says. “In 1850 this was the most heavily populated area in the United States west of the Mississippi. That’s because of the soil here. Now the blackland, a fine clay, runs from Mexico up to Canada.” In some parts of the country, the swath of soil is 250 miles wide, but here it’s just 30 miles across. “And if you take any of it away, well, it’s gone forever, and these towns depend on the ag business.”

At one point in the lunch, he makes a dash to his truck and comes back with an ear of corn. “Take a look at that,” he says, peeling back the husk to show off a large ear with golden kernels. “The black clay here expands with the winter rains and then gives off the water during the summer months. We’re in the middle of a drought, and this was grown without irrigation. Farmers will be averaging 130 bushels of corn around here per acre without irrigation. This soil is a national treasure. To pave it over is a crime.”

Farmland is lost every day in this country to urban sprawl and road development, but this fertile region has federal law on its side — the Farmland Protection Act — as well as state protections. Although most of the Blackland Prairie in Texas is being farmed, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has identified the remaining 5,000 acres of the formation as deserving “high priority protection” — and has already recommended that TxDOT not put another huge highway through the area, but stick to the I-35 corridor to build any additional freeway capacity.

The Farmland Protection Act has already been used in freeway fights. According to the lawyer for a national property rights group, the Federal Highway Administration cited that law in rejecting plans for a new highway in Indiana, in favor of an alternative that had less impact on farmland.

The property rights group in question is called Stewards of the Range. And one of its founders is neck-deep in the TTC controversy.

Snyder was the linchpin in getting the Bell County planning commission off the ground. In the spring of 2007 he attended a meeting called by Margaret and Dan Byfield in the town of Jonah, about the TTC. “There had been a lot of misinformation put out by TxDOT on the Corridor, and the Byfields were meeting with the folks ... to give them the real story,” he said.

The Byfields, who joined us for lunch, are controversial figures. Margaret, 41, helped found the nonprofit Stewards of the Range in 1992, when the federal government moved to take away her family’s right to run their herds on 1,100 square miles of federal land next to their Nevada ranch. Dan Byfield, 54, is the president and founder of another land rights group, the American Land Foundation. When they met, the two were already involved with their respective organizations in the long-running private property rights called the Sagebrush Rebellion, which has pitted Western U.S. farmers and ranchers against environmental groups fighting for causes like the protection of wetlands and endangered species habitat.

The couple moved to Central Texas about five years ago — only to find that the behemoth TTC was being aimed within a mile of their property. It was the attorney for Stewards of the Range who drew up the Bell County group’s demand letter to TxDOT, asking for a new environmental impact study.

“We’ve often fought with environmental groups,” Dan said, “but in this case we seem to have come full circle and are fighting [alongside] them.”

It was from Dan Byfield that Snyder heard about the local government code provision that allows for creation of the sub-regional planning commissions. Similar federal provisions had been used by the Stewards of the Range to force the federal government to deal with counties in the West.

“I told him we ought to try it up in Bell County,” Snyder recalled, “because those people were already looking for a way to stop the TTC from destroying the Blackland Prairie.”

His first step was to approach each of the four mayors with his idea. “And then I got on the agenda for the city councils for each of the four cities and explained to them how a commission worked and that we wanted to form one. And as there was zero opposition to it, we did.” The school boards of the four cities joined as well.

“It wasn’t hard, because I knew everyone. Heck, I probably know everyone in Bell County,” said Snyder, 64, who owns three farms besides his salvage business.

From the viewpoint of Snyder, Smith, and the Byfields, the whole TTC is a land grab disguised as a transportation issue. Snyder pointed to a study done in the 1990s by the Federal Highway Administration and TxDOT. “That study says that you can expand I-35 in the existing right of way to build enough road to take care of our transportation needs until 2025,” he said. “But that study has been thrown away for the TTC. So it’s not about transportation.

“But the TTC is planned at 1,200 feet wide so that there will be room to lease land to McDonalds and gas stations and motels along the highway, and they’re going to lease the rights to use the pipelines and rail lines they’re planning. That’s when you get to see it for what it is: the use of eminent domain to grab hundreds of thousands of acres in rural Texas to make money.”

While none of Snyder’s property would be affected directly by any of the proposed routes of the TTC, he’s passionate on the issue. “A lot of people here have been here for as many as six generations. They’re not all very sophisticated, and they’re the ones who are going to be taken advantage of,” he said. “They’ve got no idea what their land is worth, they don’t trust lawyers, and they’re ripe. … You cut these towns up and you’ll kill them; they’ll never be the same again.”

A fellow in overalls at the next table leaned over to say, “I agree with you. I hope you stop it.”

Then Sammy Cortez, a huge young man whose arms are covered in tattoos, stopped by. “I can’t see it,” he said of the TTC. “People have been living on and working this land forever. They’re not going to give it up. I don’t even know why we need a new road.”

“That’s what most people are beginning to ask,” Dan Byfield said.

Another few miles away, through more lush farmlands, is the town of Little River-Academy. The drive comes with Smith’s travelogue of memory — here’s where the old road was, that pecan orchard is new, her uncle used to live over there.

At Gunsmoke Motors, wrecker service owner Ronnie White was inflating a stack of tractor-tire inner tubes. His family and friends were planning to celebrate the Fourth with a five-mile float down the Little River. A Navy veteran who took part in the Cuban missile crisis action and served in Vietnam, White has been mayor of this town, population 1,645, for 27 years. Now he’s also a member of the planning commission.

Light-hearted in talking about his holiday plans, he grew serious when the topic turned to the TTC. “The politicians and the people behind the corridor plan, they talk about how it will help the economy. I know I’ve had a few run-ins with the mayor of Temple — that’s the largest city in Bell County, with a population of close to 60,000. He’s all for it. He thinks the TTC is going to bring more money, help his city’s economy. But down here, out here in rural Texas, we don’t think that way.

“Our lifestyle is our wealth. Our land is our wealth,” he said. “People have been here for generations, and we’re happy with the way things are. If you start telling us you’re going to take our land and put up new shops and we’re going to start making a few more dollars and all we have to do is give up the way we live, well, that’s not something people around here are going to go for.

“When they were taking land for I-35, they took a much wider piece than they needed,” White said. “And we asked why they needed to take that much. The answer was that they’d need it in the future. Now they’re saying the same thing when they’re talking about taking 1,200 feet of land. Well, I say, ‘You already took all that land for I-35, so now use it.’ ”

Pensock, the TxDOT official, sounded supportive when he talked about the Central Texas group. “These folks that form regional subcommittees are very concerned folks,” he said, “and we definitely want to hear what they want to say and know what their thoughts are. We’ve already met with Mayor Smith and some of the other folks from the Holland area several times and spent a lot of time trying to give them information and answer their questions.”

He’s not quite so definite about what his agency needs to do in response. Does TxDOT have to meet the commission’s demand for a new study? “Well, they have a voice and a right to be heard,” he answered. “But Texas is a big state, and there are a lot of voices to be heard.”

Pensock doesn’t think that simply widening I-35 without taking more land is a real option. “People look at those broad medians and those gently sloping embankments and picture that we can just lay down another 12-foot lane. That’s not really the case. For one, our highway engineering specifications are quite rigorous. And then there’s the matter of why we put those medians there in the first place. They’re there to help prevent head-on collisions. Our first guiding principle is how to best keep traffic flowing while minimizing accidents.

“So say you take away those medians and turn them into lanes. Well, we think that will increase the risk of horrible accidents. And those gentle embankments? If you cut them at a steeper angle to add lanes, or get rid of them altogether and put up a retaining wall, you’ll get your lanes but at what price? How many more accidents will you have and how much more severe will they be?”

For now, TXDOT is waiting on word from the Federal Highway Administration before moving on the commission’s request for a supplemental study.

Fred Kelly Grant, president of Stewards of the Range, who wrote the commission’s request to TxDOT, said he’s thought from the first that the TTC issue would end up in court.

And Margaret Byfield said that, if that happens, the 5,000-plus-member Stewards group is ready to fund the fight. “Our membership opposes the corridor. And we’re nationwide, so we have the financial backing, and we’ve already got the attorneys. So we are ready to go to court.”

Smith said the commission has talked to officials of the Environmental Protection Agency and has a meeting scheduled with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with protecting farmland.

“We’re tired of fooling around,” she said. “We want the supplemental studies done. And we’re coming at them from state law, from the EPA, the NRCS … from all sorts of directions.”

While the Central Texas group is lining up its arguments and allies, it also appears to have exported its revolutionary sentiment to other parts of the state. The several newly formed planning commissions in East Texas and around El Paso are considering asking for TxDOT to re-do the environmental studies on TTC’s impact in their areas as well.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has also asked TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to withdraw and redo the impact study on I-69, the leg of TTC planned between Laredo and Texarkana. The environmental group backed up its request with an 84-page document pointing out errors or omissions in TxDOT’s original report on that road.

Smith said she expects to see an attempt in the Texas Legislature next year to eliminate the part of the local government code that allows for the formation of local planning groups like hers. Grant, the Stewards of the Range attorney, said that even if that happens, legislators won’t be able to strip already-existing commissions of their powers.

“The public hearings that TxDOT holds are just that,” said Smith. “The people come in and speak what’s on their mind, but then TxDOT goes on its merry way. But with the commission we’ve formed, with four mayors and four school board officials, well, we’re all elected officials — TxDOT is compelled by Texas law to speak with us.

“We may not be able to stop a toll road,” she said. “But we set ourselves a goal when we formed: to get I-35 finished and expanded before anyone jumps into a toll road. And we believe that if that’s done, then people will see that a toll road isn’t needed at all.”

© 2008, Fort Worth Weekly:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Is the Trans-Texas Corridor I 69 issue over?

Groveton News
Coyright 2008

CORRIGAN – Is the Trans Texas Corridor-I 69 issue over? The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission says no, at last week’s meeting held at Corrigan City Hall. Approximately twenty-five people attended the meeting to hear the commission’s plans.

According to TNTSRPC President Bob Dockens, on June 11 the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) held a press conference and announced that the department would no longer explore building the TTC-I69 through undeveloped areas of East Texas.

During the press conference, TXDOT officials said the I-69/TTC would use existing highway facilities, which in this part of the state means U.S. 59 through Angelina, Polk and San Jacinto counties.

According to Craig Whealy, member of TNTSRPC, “The maps are still in place for the TTC-I-69 and it could resurface in five, ten or fifteen years.”

“The thing we need to do is have some conversations with politicians to get rid of the maps,” stated Whealy.

“We have sent letters to TXDOT and will be hearing from them by July 18,” said Whealy. The planning commission will meet with TX DOT and they will address the commission’s questions.

Connie Fogle, member of TNTSRPC stated, “It’s a smoke screen, this is not over. We are going to be fighting this battle for several years.”

Dockens stated that the fight is not over.

“Spread the word to your friends, we need your support,” said Dockens.

“We need each entity to get a group of questions together for the TxDOT meeting,” stated Dockens.

According to Dockens, if the I-69/59 is put in place, Hwy 59, as we know it will only be feeder roads. The new roads will be limited access toll roads.

The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission held their first meeting after representatives from Trinity, Groveton and Corrigan met on April 22, 2008 at Groveton City Hall.

The TNTSRPC was formed under the authority of the Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391 which allows counties and towns to “join together and cooperate to improve the health, safety and general welfare of their residents.”

Under chapter 391, state and federal governments must coordinate with local planning commissions concerning “com-mon problems of transport-ation” before building roads or other transportation facilities through their jurisdictions.

The TNTSRPC Board members are Bob Dockens– president, Corrigan Mayor Grimes Fortune– vice-president, Trinity Mayor Lyle Stubbs– secretary, Groveton Mayor Troy Jones– treasurer, Connie Fogle– member and Craig Whealy– member.

© 2008, The Groveton News News:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Caution! Don’t Be Fooled!

Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Dear Editor,

I would encourage you to ask some tough questions on the TTC-69 project to those politicians who are taking credit for its demise.

I am an associate member of the Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission, which was formed this spring under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391,

Our commission was formed to prevent TTC-69 or other multi-modal transportation systems from coming through Trinity and Polk Counties. Members include Trinity mayor Lyle Stubbs, Groveton Mayor Troy Jones, Corrigan Mayor Grimes Fortune and local businessman and former elected official Bob Dockens. We are in the process of bringing in associate members from the Trinity ISD, Groveton ISD, Apple Springs ISD and Camden/Corrigan ISD as well as 3 Water Districts. The commission’s jurisdiction includes over 600,000 acres within these two counties.

To fully understand the language contained within the existing Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) specific to TTC/I-69. This is a very important document that is the basis for all “build/no-build” projects within TxDOT. It is federally mandated and trumps all financing issues. Without federal approval, nothing happens.

TxDOT chose to use a “tiered” process to construct the DEIS. In Tier One (the current version that was a basis for public comment) they present only two (2) alternatives for discussion: 1) NO BUILD; or 2) the Preferred Alternative Corridor, which is the path that snakes around Houston to the north and destroys farms, ranches and timberland through some of the most pristine parts of East Texas. At the public meetings this past Winter/Spring everyone had the choice between these two options. As I understand it, some 28,000 comments were submitted with the overwhelming majority choosing the NO BUILD alternative.

TxDOT chose to move ALL DISCUSSION and ANALYSIS of Existing highways (ie—US 59, US 77, etc) to the Tier Two analysis citing that they simply do not have the data available to accurately analyze this alternative. This is interesting, since you would think an existing highway would have volumes of information on costs, environmental considerations, etc. I found quite a bit of cost information on past projects related to widening US 59 north of Humble during a brief internet search.

Many of us, including the Sierra Club, find this prejudicial and not in keeping with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines for the administration of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which sets the guidelines for an acceptable DEIS report.

Approval of the current even if they claim to be using the existing highways “whenever possible” does not preclude the use of the preferred alternative corridor at some point in the future. They can simply dust it off and, when all of the financing is in place and the political election cycle is past us, proceed as planned.

I cite documents from Deputy Director Steve Simmons in last week’s press: “In addition to the main route, the agency also will consider access connections to the regions of the state that want to be connected to TTC-69 through other routes, such as Bryan-College Station.” Simmons then went on to say: "TxDOT intends to secure a consultant contract on TTC-69, just as they did Cintra Zachry on TTC-35. That partner will work with TxDOT to plan the route; determine the phasing based on demands and traffic and explore financing options.”

Wait a minute – they say they were going to use the existing right-of-way on current highway. Why do they need to plan the route? It should be self-evident. And then there is the discussion of the “connectors” to places such as Bryan-College Station; well, if you look at the map of the preferred alternative corridor that everybody opposed in the Tier One Process, we are right back to where we started – only now if the DEIS goes to Final, we won’t have any say where or how they build. All options currently identified in the Tier one Study of the existing DEIS will be fair game.

© 2008, The Groveton News:
The Bait and Hook Scam

Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor

By now everyone is East Texas has heard it on the 5 o’clock news or read in some newspaper about TxDOT changing the TTC course and it will not be going through East Texas. And we did this merely by voicing our opposition at the TTC hearings!!!

I cannot tell you how many excited calls I have had saying “We won; they won’t be going through Trinity /County.”

Well, I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but this is just another ploy to get the counties who have failed to establish a Sub-Regional Planning Commission to quit trying. TxDOT is hoping everyone will take the bait and it seems as though they have.

In my mind, you put it all together and the agencies have set up a scam a bait and hook” –the bait is to get all commissioners to back away with the general public and consider that TxDOT has done the right thing, from public pressure; the hook is when the public and commissioners do that, the prey is trapped. Then, sometime in the next 3 or 4 years, when all financing and plans are ready for construction, Tier 2, which will have begun without scrutiny, will suddenly find why they must go from established routes to a route that destroys the ecosystem, which we’re trying to save. And, then its: “Oh my”, “we tried so hard, but we’re sure the people will understand that we tried and it just didn’t work. Sorry…

The Houston Chronicle on June 11, 2008 reported Amadeo Saenez, TxDOT’s Executive Director as saying: He will recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for TxDOT, that only existing highways, principally US 59, will be considered for the route. “Anything not on an existing highway will be set aside and not moved forward, adding that in the distant future—perhaps 50 years from now—that may become necessary.”

The Huntsville item wrote on June 11, 2008: 'TxDOT to look at using existing roads for corridor." Saenez was quoted as saying “Any route that was a new location is no longer going to be moved forward—it’s out of the mix. I can’t say it’s never going to happen, because 50 years from now someone might need to build a second or third loop around Houston.”

Quiz: Can you find the loophole at the end of each statement?

This is not a dead issue by any means. The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission and the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission are working diligently to ensure that TxDOT does not get to Tier II of the DEIS.

I urge all those counties that have not yet established a Sub-Regional Planning Commission to DO so ASAP. This is the only legal way to have control over whom and what goes through your jurisdiction.

Connie Fogle, member-At-Large,
Trinity–Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission

© 2008, The Groveton News:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Governor Reportedly Pondering Special Session To Curtail Power Of Sub-Regional Planning Commissions

by Vince Leibowitz
Capitol Annex
Copyright 2008

There are rumblings in the Capitol that Texas Governor Rick Perry is looking at the possibility of calling a Special Session of the Texas Legislature to curtail the power of Regional Planning Commissions.

Why? Because Sub-Regional Planning Commissions have become the latest weapon in the arsenal of opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Perry is reportedly considering calling a special session on transportation issues with altering Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code being the session’s number one priority.

Chapter 391, the codification of the Regional Planning Act of 1965 codified by the 59th Texas Legislature, has a proviso that has become particularly nettlesome to proponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor, Chapter 391.009(c):

In carrying out their planning and program development responsibilities, state agencies shall, to the greatest extent feasible, coordinate planning with commissions to ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.

Because these commissions are considered political subdivisions of the state, they are on equal footing with state agencies like TxDOT.

One Sub-Regional Planning Commission in particular, the Eastern Central Texas Regional Sub-Regional Planning Commission, has become a particularly nettlesome thorn in the side of TxDOT. They have demanded, in a 28-page missive, that TxDOT conduct another Environmental Impact Study specific to their region. TxDOT, of course, is required under the National Environmental Policy Act, to conduct an EIS, and the current Draft Environmental Impact Study for TTC-35 is, according to the ECTRSRP, “deficient in issue analysis.”

Whether Perry will call the special session or not remains to be seen, but Austin sources tell Capitol Annex that the issue has been discussed between TxDOT and the governor’s office.

The funny part, however, is that the existing sub-regional planning commissions would be grandfathered, but legislative action could severely clip their wings and possibly stop new SRPCs from either forming or acting so boldly.

© 2008 The Capitol Annex

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission formed

The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

GROVETON-Representatives of Groveton, Trinity, and Corrigan met Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at the Groveton City hall for the first meeting of the Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning commission (TNTSRPC).

The TNTSRPC was formed under the authority of the Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391, which allows counties and towns to “join and cooperate to improve the health, safety and general welfare of their residents.”

Under Chapter 391, state and federal governments must coordinate with local planning commissions concerning “common problems of transportation” before building roads or other transportation facilities through their jurisdictions, including the Trans-Texas Corridor. (The local commission is only the second SRPC to be formed in Texas.) The TNTSRPC also expects the state and federal governments to address a list of concerns ranging from impacts to the local agricultural community to loss of the county tax base.

Serving on the TNTSRPC governing board are mayor Troy Jones, of Groveton, Mayor Lyle Stubbs, of Trinity, Mayor Grimes Fortune of Corrigan and Bob Dockens as at-large representative. Craig Whealy and Connie Fogle will participate in the commission as Associate Members.

One of the main purposes of TNTSRPC will be to prevent negative impacts from the Trans-Texas Corridor within their jurisdiction. The Commission will also be inviting other units of government, such as school boards, hospital districts, and first responders.

Also at the meeting to assist in the first organization meeting were Dan Byfield, President of the American land Foundation and Margaret Byfield, Executive Director of Stewards of the Range.

Both groups assist and teach landowners and other organizations how to use existing law to protect their priorities, private property, economy and way of life. The Byfields were instrumental in helping start the first Sub-Regional Planning Commission in Bell County. They held and sponsored, along with TURF, the ‘How to Fight the TTC’ workshop in Lufkin back in March. They will hold another workshop in May. Anyone interested in attending can call 800-452-6389 for more information.

The Trinity County MeetUp, a local citizens group, will be assisting in the TNTSRPC in research on issues of concern to bring before TxDOT and the EPA. Their next meeting will be held in Groveton at the Senior Citizens Center at 6:00 p.m, Thursday, May 1, 2008. The public is invited to attend.

© 2008, The Groveton News:

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Road Ahead: Group fighting Trans-Texas Corridor

Country World News
Copyright 2008

As proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) would consist of a series of six-lane highways criss-crossing the state with separate lanes for cars and commercial trucks, high-speed rail lines and utility corridors. Each corridor could be as wide as 1,200 feet. The TTC is touted by Perry and other state officials as the best way to relieve traffic congestion on the state's highways.

If members of a small group with a long name - the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission - have their way, the highways will never get built. By utilizing a little known state law, the commission is ensuring the state hears what the commission has to say about the corridor.

The Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, requires state agencies "to the greatest extent feasible" to coordinate with local commissions to "ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level."

The Eastern Central Texas commission was formed in August of last year to battle TTC-35, the first leg of the proposed TTC system, which would run about 600 miles from Gainesville to Laredo, roughly parallel to IH-35.

The commission consists of mayors Mae Smith of Holland, president of the commission, Arthur White of Bartlett, Ronnie White of Little River-Academy and Billy Crow of Rogers along with Holland business owner Ralph Snyder. Five non-voting members are also included on the commission.

The commission has met twice with representatives of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Smith said the meetings were productive.

"We opened some eyes," she said. "When they (TxDOT officials) left our last meeting one of them said, 'We've got to go back and read some things.' All we're trying to do is make sure they work with us and follow the law."

White said that feelings against the TTC run deep in the rural areas that would be most affected. One proposed TTC-35 route would parallel State Highway 95, effectively cutting the towns of Holland, Bartlett, Little River-Academy and others in half.

"For us, this isn't about the money," White said. "It's about being happy. It's about taking up so much of this good river bottom land. It would destroy a lot of farms in this area, and once that land is gone, it's gone. When you come right down to it, we have to eat before we can drive anyway."

Last month the commission took its message and tactics to East Texas to help people in that region mobilize opposition to the I-69 project, a federal project that would cover seven states. The Texas portion would run approximately 650 miles from Laredo to Texarkana. According to the TxDOT website, the Texas part of I-69 will be developed under the TTC master plan.

Smith and Snyder represented the East Central Texas commission at the Lufkin meeting on March 17, which was hosted by the American Land Foundation, Stewards of the Range and Texans United For Reform (TURF). Around 50 people attended the meeting. Participants received a workbook detailing what is meant by "coordination" under Chapter 391, how to form a 391 commission and the correspondence necessary to notify both the state and federal governments of local demands.

"We went to Lufkin and told the people in East Texas that they have to get on the ball and form those commissions now," Smith said. "The Governor can call a special session any time he wants and change that law, because it allows for an effective, legal argument against the Trans-Texas Corridor. Even if we don't stop it, we can delay it for a long time and at least make sure the rural concerns are being heard."

Since that meeting, the City of Groveton in East Texas has passed a resolution to form a 391 commission like the East Central Texas model. Smith said that two more cities could join the commission.

Fred Kelly Grant is an attorney who serves as an advisor to the commission. He is also president of Stewards of the Range, a property rights group.

"This is one of the most important projects in the nation for stopping federal and state government in its tracks and it's all done by local people who represent our views," Grant said.

The TTC proposal has drawn harsh opposition from some cities along the proposed routes and especially from farmers, ranchers and private landowners. A public hearing on TTC-35 held in Temple two years ago drew more than 1,500 people, most of whom opposed the project.

Though no more public hearings are scheduled on the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the I-69/TTC project, TxDOT has extended the public comment period to April 18 (the comment period began in December). TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said in a statement on the agency's website that the agency has held 95 environmental meetings and hearings on I-69/TTC and received more than 14,000 comments.

TxDOT is in the process of narrowing the study area for the TTC-35 route, according to TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia.

Smith said the East Central Texas commission and others that form in its wake are not going to go away.

"Like I said, we may not stop them from building the Trans-Texas Corridor, but we're going to keep coming at them," she said. "We're going to show them plenty of reasons why they shouldn't build it. And we're going to make sure they follow the law."

Comments on the TTC can be mailed to: I-69/TTC, P.O. Box 14428, Austin, Texas, 78761 or submitted online at

© 2008, Country World News