April 29, 2008

Nacogdoches County will fight TTC as new member of regional planning commission

Nacodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2008

County commissioners reaffirmed their stance against the Trans-Texas Corridor, and they took another step toward keeping county government transparent when they met Tuesday.

First up on the court's agenda, commissioners heard a presentation by Connie Fogle on behalf of the newly formed Pineywoods Sub-Regional Planning Commission.

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

"Critical in the code is the word 'coordinate,'" she said. "This does not mean the commission has to cooperate. The intent is to put Sub-Regional Planning Commissions on equal-footing with state agencies."

The Pineywoods commission is against the TTC, but supports expansion of U.S. Hwy. 59 to Interstate status.

There are now four Sub-Regional Planning Commissions in Texas, but the law that allows the groups to exist and operate has been in existence for more than 10 years.

"It's really amazing that it's a forgotten law," Fogle said to the commissioners. "We are inviting you to join us.

"You have to realize that our governor, Rick Perry, is determined, although I don't quite understand his reasoning at this point, to push this transportation system down our throats without giving us a say-so in this," she added. "Now, they will have to come and sit across the table from us and address our concerns — that's the whole purpose of the commission."

When Fogle asked the commissioners if they had any questions, Precinct 2 Commissioner Reggie Cotton asked about the Texas Department of Transportation's handling of the project.

Fogle claimed that TxDOT has hired five lobbyists, at $10,000 each per month, totaling $50,000 per month in taxpayer money, for the TTC, yet "they are telling us they don't have the money to fix our roads."

"That's illegal," Cotton said of the hired lobbyists.

"Yes, it's illegal," Fogle said. "TxDOT is a state agency. They are supposed to do what they are told by our governor, state Legislature and the representatives."

Commissioners voted unanimously to join the Pineywoods Sub-Regional Planning Commission. In the court's next meeting, commissioners will select a representative of the county as a board member on the commission.

© 2008 Nachodoches Daily Sentinel: www.dailysentinel.com

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: www.easttexasnews.com

April 22, 2008

County tables resolution to organize panel

April 22, 2008

By Holly Green
The Hunstsville Item
Copyriht 2008

It has been roughly three months since residents of Huntsville and Walker County attended town hall meetings to voice their opinion on the Trans-Texas Corridor/I-69 project to the Texas Department of Transportation.

There was no question then that there was strong opposition to the proposed 1,600-mile national highway, and it seems as though residents’ efforts to stop it has not lost any of its momentum.

Several residents attended the Walker County Commissioners Court on Monday morning, expressing concerns about the project and encouraged the court to take another step of action.

The five-member court agrees with the majority of the county, signing an “I-69 Opposition” resolution on Feb. 11 that officially stated their position.

With the absence of Precinct 3 Commissioner Buddy Reynolds, the court considered another resolution to create a sub-regional planning commission within Region 16 — the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

The commissioners and Walker County Judge Danny Pierce tabled the approval of Resolution 2008-18 “Southeast Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission” in order to further research its purpose and potential benefits to the county.

According to the resolution, the goal of the commission is “to coordinate with governmental units sharing similar needs to plan for the rapidly expanding population of the state and the unique needs of governmental units herein.

“Municipalities of less than 20,000 population in this region have a culture carrying forward the rural values of the state of Texas which requires consideration in planning for development ...”

The commission would “make recommendations concerning major thoroughfares, streets, traffic and transportation studies, bridges, parks, recreation sites, public utilities, land use, water supply, sanitation facilities, drainage, public buildings, population density, open spaces and other items ... ”

The commission would be under Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code.

If created, the commission would include the cities of Huntsville, New Waverly and Riverside, requiring that two partner together.

The court consulted county district attorney David Weeks on the issue and he said from a legal standpoint, creating the commission would only add an extra level of bureaucracy and may not give the county any other advantages for stopping the TTC/I-69 project.

“I’m not sure this commission gives the county any greater voice than it already has,” Weeks said. “I could maybe see it for smaller towns that have a limited voice but the Commissioners Court already has the authority to request more oversight (from TxDOT).”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Tim Paulsel said creating the commission may be taking on an overwhelming amount of additional responsibilities.

“If we form this commission, we’re going to be busy,” he said. “It’s not just related to the I-69 project. It covers streets, traffic control, transportation, drainage and other things.

“I’m not against it, but we need to understand what we’re getting into.”

The commissioners discussed narrowing the resolution to focus on the TTC/I-69 project specifically.

“This is a ‘shall’ document,” Weeks said. “It’s all very specific. I don’t see any way to limit it to the TTC or it giving us any more bargaining chip than we already have.

“We need to think long and hard before adopting this commission. There’s a lot more at stake than the TTC.”

Weeks said that Gov. Rick Perry could also play a role in the commission, having the authority to oversee the rules and regulations.

According to Pierce, Waller County adopted the resolution and Austin County decided against it.

“We plan on meeting with the judge from Waller County and go over advice he received and how they interpreted (the commission) — whether it has to encompass all these other issues. If it does, we would not have the time to do this. If we could shrink it to focus on I-69, we’re ready to do this.”

Pierce said in a short conversation with Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, he was advised to think carefully about the decision.

“Rep. Lois Kolkhorst advised me to speak with Austin County,” he said. “The county did not pass this resolution, but a group of smaller cities in that area did.

“We’re not in opposition to the commission, we just want to make sure what we do doesn’t impact the involvement with other issues that we already have.

“We’re going to research it further and if it will help us stop (I-69), then that’s what we’re going to do.”

Pierce said he has had several meetings with TxDOT representatives, expressing his concerning issues on why the county cannot support the TTC/I-69 project.

Both the commissioners and residents expressed their frustration with TxDOT, never receiving “direct answers.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner B.J. Gaines Jr. said the county must continue to fight until the project is dead.

“I’ve spoken with TxDOT representatives who have said the project will probably go forward using the existing footprints which would be (highway) 59,” he said. “I have also spoken with state legislators who have said they believe it’s a dead issue because it won’t pay out as a toll road.

“But it’s not officially dead. We need to take every step possible until it is officially dead.”

According to the TTC’s Web site, Keep Texas Moving, I-69 is a planned highway “connecting Mexico, the United States and Canada. Eight states are involved in the project.

“The proposed I-69/TTC extends from Texarkana/Shreveport to Mexico — possibly the Rio Grande Valley or Laredo.”

The initial study area is roughly 650 miles long.

TxDOT held a total of 46 public hearings for the formal environmental study that took place in February and March.

Public comments for tier one (or phase one of the project) closed April 18.

There were more than 17,500 comments submitted.

Keep Texas Moving said “(TxDOT) will evaluate the comments in order to prepare a final environmental impact statement. The report will then be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

This work could be completed in early 2009.”

The TTC/I-69 project, according to Doug Booher, TxDOT environmental manager for the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, may never reach tier two.

“There’s no guarantee,” he said at Walker County’s second town hall meeting in January. “The project might not make it to tier two. There has to be a need and we have to know where the funding will come from before we can move forward.”

© 2008 The Huntsville Item: www.itemonline.com

April 17, 2008

SRPC to allow input on TTC

By: Chantel E. Gage
Waller County News Citizen
Copyright 2008

HEMPSTEAD - The Waller County Commissioners' Court approved a resolution authorizing the formation of a Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission, during Tuesday's meeting at the county courthouse.

"A Sub-Regional Planning Commission is a commission made up a group of people who must be members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council for Region 16," said Trey Duhon, vice president of Citizens for a Better Waller County.

The SRPC is being created under Chapter 391 under the Texas local government code. The code allows cities to form a planning commission that gives local governments the ability to have interlocal coordination when it comes to private property and land. This includes state agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation.

"The main reason why this commission is being created is because of the TransTexas Corridor. This will give us the ability to have input on how it is going to be done," Duhon said.

"TxDOT would be forced to give full disclosure of finances, contracts, and environmental reports on the TTC."

The TTC is a corridor that would basically stretch along U.S. Highway 59 from Texarkana/Shreveport, La. to Laredo and U.S. Highway 77 as well as U.S. Highway 281 in South Texas.

In some instances the corridor runs straight through Waller County citizen's property.

According from TxDOT, the governmental body is trying to create the corridor in order to facilitate and control the movement of people and goods in and through the state, providing economic enhancement, and addressing transportation needs for the next 20 to 50 years.

"The reason why we went straight to the city of Waller and Waller County is because of time. We are concerned that the government might change the law to restrict the authority that the Sub-Regional Planning Commission has," said Don Garrett, president of Citizens for a Better Waller County.

The requirements to create a SRPC are "a minimum of two cities or one city and one county, and once created, other entities can join," said Duhon.

Since the SRPC has been approved by the commissioners, Garrett and Duhon plan to ask other cities and local government entities to join the SRPC so that they can have direct input into state transportation projects which impact their jurisdiction.

© 2008 Community Newspapers Online: www.hcnonline.com
Waller Council forms group to fight TTC

By:Robin McDonald
Waller County News-Citizen
Copyright 2008

WALLER - Waller City Council passed a resolution approving the formation of a Waller County Sub-Regional Planning Commission as a tool to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor proposed Interstate 69.

The Texas Department of Transportation is presently working on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will provide information on how the TTC might affect Waller County, among other areas.

In February, the city came out in opposition to the encroachment of the TTC, through the city limits and extra-territorial jurisdiction.

According to the Citizens for a Better Waller County web site, the TTC-69 project is a high priority corridor for the Trans Texas Corridor. It is planned to be approximately 600 miles long, running from the Texas/Mexico border to northeast Texas, roughly following U.S. Highway 59. Waller and Grimes Counties are in the current study area.

With the WCSRPC, Waller can join with other municipality and county planning commissions to request that TxDOT disclose their environmental impact studies on the area. TxDOT is required by law to coordinate with Regional Planning Committees, and may not ignore them, in accordince with the authority granted in Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code.

Members from the Citizens for a Better Waller County were present at the meeting, including President Don Garrett, Vice President Trey Duhon, and directors Bill Herman Michelle Sorenson.

Garrett spoke, and noted that Chapter 391 is a "very important piece of legislation" holding TxDOT accountable, while it attempts to push the corridor, in some cases over 1200 feet wide with few on and off ramps, through rural counties without scrutinizing the environmental impact.

"Having this committee empowers you," Garrett noted, "and they have to coordinate with you.

"This gives notice to TXDOT that if I-69 comes through Waller County, they are put on notice," Garret said, explaining if TXDOT were to ignore the requests of the commission, the city, along with other communities in the area, could file litigation against the Department of Transportation to ensure they comply with the law. Other surrounding counties have done this in the past, after TxDOT ignored their requests.

Council woman Nancy Arnold noted, "This shows that grassroots activities can make an impact."

Councilman Maurice Hart agreed, saying, "We need to have a voice in this. There are no people more qualified to determine what the needs and wants are in Waller County, than the people here in Waller County," he concluded.

Director Troy Duhon said, "it's imperative that we do this sooner rather than later," explaining that Governor Rick Perry, in his zeal to push the TTC through, may try to have a special session and try to change the law so that Chapter 391 no longer exists or wields power through grassroots organizations.

© 2008 Community Newspapers Online: www.hcnonline.com

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 www.keeptexasmoving.com.

© 2008, Country World News www.countryworldnews.com