March 19, 2008

Putting up a roadblock of questions

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

LUFKIN — Mae Smith, the 64-year-old mayor of the teeny Central Texas town of Holland, seized the civic center lectern like a dragon-slayer ascending the throne.

In a fiery red pantsuit and a voice that echoed without the help of a malfunctioning microphone, she and her cohorts revealed to a crowd of about 50 souls clad in denim and plaid a little-known weapon against the foe of all in the room: Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor.

The weapon, Smith said, doesn't involve marching on the Texas Capitol, like more than 1,000 did last year, some on tractors and horses. It doesn't involve clever Web sites that have been launched with cartoon characters and screaming rainbow text. And it doesn't involve confronting TxDOT big shots at public hearings across the state, like thousands did last year.

No, the mighty sword revealed by Smith is something called the Eastern Central Sub-Regional Planning Commission.

"It's a mouthful," Smith acknowledged quickly of the bureaucratically nebulous name. "You ought to try saying it with a lisp."

Re-conquest of Texas

Smith insists that such a commission is the best way for rural communities to empower themselves and fight the massive highway-tollway-rail project, slated to cover 4,000 miles, cost up to $183 billion and take a half-century to build.

The corridor, pitched by TxDOT as the answer to Texas' urban traffic crisis, is perceived by many rural folks as a land grab, an assault on rural life, the Spanish re-conquest of Texas by the Madrid-based company Cintra, which won the first contract.

But since Smith and three other mayors of nearby towns in Bell County formed their nine-member commission in August, they've already had an influence on the process.

Just since October, several representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation have traveled to Holland — population 1,180 — to meet with Smith and her cohorts, not once, but twice, to discuss citizens' concerns over the project. The most recent chat lasted four hours.

The fine folks of the Environmental Protection Agency paid a visit in January.

"They wouldn't be coming to us if they didn't have to and if a law wasn't on the books saying they had to," Smith said.

The law to which Smith is referring is found in Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code. Strengthened in 2001, the provision 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."

In other words, the law may require TxDOT officials to sit in a room for hours, months, years, maybe even decades, as members of the Eastern Central Sub-Regional Planning Commission dwell on how the corridor might affect their water lines, EMS response times and any unforeseeable impact on their rural way of life.

ECSRPC commissioners plan to prolong the "coordination" process until, as Smith puts it, "they do it right or change their mind. I have no time limit, honey."

If all goes according to plan, the mighty Trans-Texas Corridor will succumb to a death by a thousand questions.

And the plot becomes all the more menacing if other rural towns across Texas join in, which was the goal of Smith's Monday speech in Lufkin.

"Delay is victory!" was a common battle cry to the crowd.

The workshop, entitled "How to Fight the TTC," charged participants up to $30 a pop for a barbecue lunch and step-by-step instructions on how to create a commission of their own. It was sponsored by corridor foes such as the American Land Foundation, Stewards of the Range and Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF).

The folks at TxDOT don't appear to be flipping on the hazard lights just yet. Spokesman Chris Lippincott said his agency would happily meet or exceed legal requirements to coordinate with such commissions. But he questioned any intentions of commissioners who want to use the law for — in my words — evil rather than good.

"My understanding, and I haven't read the law, but they're not called 'obstruction committees'; they're called coordination committees," he said.

'Time is of the essence'

"I don't profess to be able to predict whether or not they could stop the project, but again, the law, it's not found in the 'how to stop a road' section of the state law," he said.

There's no doubt in the minds of some who attended the workshop. A few conspiracy theorists even preached that "time is of the essence" because, when the governor gets wind of their scheme, he could call a special session to change the law.

Paul Hale of Cass County, northeast of Lufkin, got so wound up at the historic significance of thwarting the TTC that he proclaimed it on par with the "Roman highway debacle" — whatever that means.

But if he and others intend to spread the word, their first order of business should be drawing more than 50 people to the meeting.

© 2008, Houston Chronicle:

March 17, 2008

Anti-corridor groups apprise locals of ways to 'just say no to TTC'

March 17, 2008

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

Plots by Communists to infiltrate America. The disintegration of borders and rural areas. Citizens mobilizing and rising up against government agencies and big business.

It all sounds like the plot for a summer blockbuster, but it's something that could be happening in your own backyard.

These were just a few of the topics addressed in the "How to fight the TTC" workshop, held Monday at the Pitser Garrison Civic Center in Lufkin. The conference served as an informational meeting aimed at informing citizens and local government officials how they can unite in trying to stop the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor project.

The TTC, a new grid of superhighway being proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), would crisscross the state and connect Texas with the rest of the nation in a thoroughfare that would take large trucks and heavy traffic off of local roads and place them into one, fast-moving highway. But with a budget at an estimated $145 billion to $183 billion, many organizations are questioning if the money could be spent elsewhere. Plus the fact that the overall plan would involve the confiscation of 584,000 acres of privately owned Texas agriculture and rural land doesn't have environmentalists too pleased either.

"There is a rogue agency out there that isn't listening to you and what you have to say," said Dan Byfield, president of the American Land Foundation, one of the hosts of Monday's workshop. "If you form your own committees, you can force TxDOT to work with you and let them know how you feel." Byfield gave a step-by-step process on how activists can form a sub-regional planning commission and circumvent local government committees altogether in a continued grass-roots effort to stop the TTC.

The conference was hosted by the American Land Foundation, the Stewards of the Range, and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, with the heads of all the organizations giving seminars on topics ranging from community coordination and organization, to detailed legalities that groups can utilize to fight TxDOT and possibly stop the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"This plan has not considered the environmental impacts on our communities," said Hank Gilbert, director for TURF, and the program's moderator. "The more community involvement, the louder the community voice, and the more the state government will be forced to take notice."

One of the bigger underlying issues at hand was that the TTC would be the first step toward a unification of Canada, America and Mexico in an effort to create a "North American Union" similar to the European Union, which could even maintain its own currency, the Amero. In its final realization, the highway would begin in Chinese-controlled ports in Mexico and run all the way up through Canada, basically dissolving any ideas of borders or searchable cargo.

Standing Ground, a newsletter printed by the ALF that was distributed at the conference, touched deeper on the subject: "This treatise is the blueprint for the North American Union... which would signal the destruction of America as we know it by merging the United States, Canada and Mexico into a single economic and political entity... Once only considered a conspiracy theory, the NAU is dangerously close to reality, with timetables set for partial completion in this decade."

Attempts to reach a TxDOT official for comment Monday afternoon were unsuccessful, but according to the TxDOT Web site,, because of the corridor, "drivers will face less congestion, businesses will have more reliable transportation networks, users will have more choices, including rail and transit, and more job opportunities will arise due to new and improved trade and transport corridors." All of which sounds good on paper, opponents said, but remains fishy in the eyes of the various organizations gathered at Monday's meeting.

With the deadline for proposals from developers to orchestrate the project being pushed back to March 26, there is still time for advocacy groups to let TxDOT know how they feel. Opinions are varied about the outcomes of the TTC, but as one Texan landowner who asked not to be named put it, "if TxDOT tries to come and take my land, they'll find me waiting on the porch with a loaded gun."

For more information visit, and

© 2008, Lufkin Daily News:

March 16, 2008

Anti-corridor groups plan Monday workshop at civic center

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2008

There's been a lot of talk about the new Trans-Texas Corridor — the next-generation "super-highway" — and opinions are varying. Now the debate is coming to Lufkin's doorstep.

On Monday, the American Land Foundation, Stewards of the Range and TURF will hold a workshop at Lufkin's Pitser Garrison Civic Center on how to stop the Trans-Texas Corridor 69. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A portion of Texas citizens have voiced their opposition to the TTC-69 in public meetings held by the Texas Department of Transportation, but believing they are not being heard, four cities and their school districts have found a way to force TxDOT to "coordinate" with them on the TTC-35 and they are sharing their information across the state.

"Utilizing Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code, four rural towns in Bell County, Texas formed the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission forcing TxDOT to come to them," stated Fred Grant, attorney and president of Stewards of the Range. Grant has been helping the four cities and school districts for the past six months.

According to, the official Web site for the Trans-Texas Corridor, Texas is growing and is in dire need of a state thoroughfare. The Web site lists some startling statistics: during the past 25 years in Texas, population increased 57 percent, road use grew 95 percent, while state road capacity only grew 8 percent. The predictions for the future of Texas are even grimmer if the corridor isn't built, with road use growing 214 percent while road capacity only growing 6 percent, according to TxDOT, "Right now, we face increased congestion, deteriorating roads, safety issues, and air pollution, all of which hinder mobility as well as current and future economic opportunities," as stated by the TxDOT Web site.

Members of the various commissions campaigning against the corridor will attend the workshop to help answer questions for city leaders, businesses and concerned citizens. "If we can get commissions established up and down the I-69 Corridor we have a real shot at stopping this monster," said Hank Gilbert, director of TURF and one of the workshop speakers. The seminar is open to the public, and everyone is encouraged to attend.

Sign up by calling the American Land Foundation at 800-452-6389, or go online at Pre-registration costs $20 and will be $30 at the door. A workbook and a barbecue lunch will be provided. The Pitser Garrison Civic Center is located at 601 N. Second St.

© 2008, Lufkin Daily News:

March 8, 2008

TxDOT continues coordination with Regional Planning Commission

Texas Department of Transportation
North Texas E-News
Copyright 2008

For the second time in three months, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has come to Holland, Texas to meet with the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) over the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"They (TxDOT) are required by law to meet with us, and it's good to know they will comply," said Mae Smith, president of the ECTSRPC and mayor of Holland.

TxDOT sent eight staff, including Ed Pensock, director of Corridor Systems of Texas Turnpike Authority, Doug Booher, Environmental Manager, Dieter Billek in charge of the Master Development Plan for the Trans-Texas Corridor, John Bourne, an economist and contractor with TxDOT, John Obr, Area Engineer for the Waco District, and Richard Skopik, P.E., district engineer for the Waco District. Each made presentations and answered specific questions raised by the ECTSRPC.

"We are pointing out all the deficiencies in their environmental impact study, their economic studies, as well as all of the federal laws they must abide by, but have failed to do," said Ralph Snyder, ECTSRPC director and Holland businessman.

TxDOT informed the commission that they expect a Record of Decision by the Federal Highway Administration on the TTC-35 by the summer of 2008. TxDOT admitted that the ECTSRPC was doing exactly what was needed and lauded the commission's work in representing rural concerns.

"If you don't tell us these things, nobody will," said Skopik.

The Commission's stated purpose is to prevent the Trans-Texas Corridor from running through their jurisdiction, which is comprised of the cities and their respective school districts.

"The commission is becoming a powerful tool to show TxDOT, the EPA, and the Federal Highway Administration where they are not abiding by federal statutes," said Kerry Owens, member of commission representing Academy School District.

The meeting continues the coordination process started by the ECTSRPC with TxDOT to inform the state as to their objections and specific concerns with how the TTC will take up to 3,500 acres in their jurisdiction which the commission believes will destroy the communities and school districts of Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy, and Rogers.

© 2008, North Texas e-News: