Monday, March 22, 2010


Mayors Demand Trans Texas Corridor DEIS be Withdrawn

CONTACT: Mae Smith, President 254-657-2460

Holland, Texas ---Five mayors in Central Texas have filed a petition with Federal Highway Administration demanding that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement filed by the Texas Department of Transportation on the I-35 and I-69 Trans-Texas Corridors be withdrawn.

“We know that the governor and TxDOT are playing a political shell game by asking for a “No Action” option on the Trans-Texas Corridor,” explained Mayor Mae Smith, president of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission. “If the FHA issues a ‘no action’ record of decision on the environmental study as requested by TxDOT, the study remains available to use in the future should the governor change his mind and decide to build the TTC,” Smith added.

For two and a half years, five mayors and their respective school districts fought against the governor and his transportation department through their ECTSRPC to prevent them from building a 1,200 foot-wide toll road through their commission’s jurisdiction in Eastern Bell and Western Milam counties.

This is our third petition with the Federal Highway Administration showing all the flaws of TxDOT’s environmental study,” stated Ralph Snyder, a Holland businessman and member of the planning commission. “Since TxDOT announced they have formally withdrawn the TTC from consideration, there is no viable project legally before the FHA and they simply must withdraw it from consideration,” Snyder said.

Technically, an environmental study can be reused unless it is completely withdrawn from consideration and discarded by the lead agency, which is the Federal highway Administration. In 2009, the Texas legislature rejected the governor’s and TxDOT’s plans to fund the TTC and before the primary elections, TxDOT announced the TTC was “dead.”

However, on February 1, 2010, during a joint hearing of the Senate and house Transportation Committees, Amadeo Saenz, executive director of TxDOT, was asked by Senator John Carona “If TxDOT changed its mind tomorrow and decided to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, does it have the statutory authority to do so?” Saenz answered “Yes.”

“As much work we’ve put in on this issue, we do not want to leave any stone unturned,” said Mayor Ronnie White of Little River-Academy, who also serves as a board member of the ECTSRPC.

The ECTSRPC was formed under Section 391 of the Local Government Code that forced TxDOT to coordinate their plans with the five cities that all said “no Trans-Texas Corridor shall be built through our jurisdiction.” A copy of the “Petition to Withdraw the DEIS can be obtained at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mayors Defeat Trans-Texas Corridor and TxDOT

Contact: Mae Smith, President/Mayor, 254-657-2460

Holland, Texas - Five local mayors took a stand 27 months ago and formed the state's first sub-regional planning commission to stand up against and stop once and for all the governor's massive land grab known as the Trans-Texas Corridor. No one thought they could.

Today, the Texas Department of Transportation and the governor announced that the State of Texas has officially killed the project by selecting the "No Build" option under the environmental impact statement study. Selecting that option was exactly what the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) forced the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) into choosing.

"Believe me, it wasn't what they wanted to do, it's what we forced them to do," stated Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland and president of the ECTSRPC. The planning commission began a series of what is called coordination meetings in the fall of 2007, by utilizing a little known state statute that forced the behemoth agency to come to Holland, Texas.

TxDOT came to Holland on three different occasions where they were asked to explain why they were going to destroy five towns and their school districts with a 1,200 foot-wide, 146 acre per mile toll road. "Through coordination, we forced them to our table and then we used the federal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) statute to box them in a legal corner out of which they could not escape," stated Ralph Snyder, a local Holland businessman and board member of the ECTSRPC. "That's what forced TxDOT to recommend 'No Build' to the Federal Highway Administration because we had shown how TxDOT, as the agent of the federal government, had violated the federal statute in at least 29 ways," Snyder continued.

Fred Grant, president of American Stewards of Liberty, is the originator of the coordination strategy that brought TxDOT to their knees. "Had we not had five courageous mayors who represent a total of 6,000 people stand up to the governor and his rogue state agency, the Trans-Texas Corridor would have destroyed hundreds of thousands of private acres of prime and unique farmland, as well as, the economies of every community it dissected," stated Grant.

The TTC-35 is just one of the 4,000 miles of toll roads that nine state planning commissions are fighting.

"TxDOT can still continue to build 130, TTC-69, and the Ports-to-Plains toll roads, but defeating the TTC-35 is a major victory for the rural people of Texas."

To obtain a copy of the petition filed by the ECTSRPC showing the federal violations of TxDOT, please contact American Stewards of Liberty at 512-365-2699.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Texas Mayors Petition Federal Highway Administration to Reject the Trans Texas Corridor

Five Texas Mayor's and their school districts have filed a formal request with the Federal Highway Administration to reject the environmental study for the Trans Texas Corridor, the superhighway championed by Governor Rick Perry. The corridor is an internationally funded toll road designed to connect Mexico to Canada that will take 146 acres per mile of private property from Texas citizens. These five Mayor's have taken a courageous stand placing a 30 mile wide gap in the massive project.

Holland, TX -- The Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) has filed a petition with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) demanding they reject the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Trans-Texas Corridor I-35 project.

The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is a quarter mile-wide transportation system championed by Governor Rick Perry as the first leg of an internationally funded toll road designed to connect Canada to Mexico for international trade. The Texas Legislature authorized the TTC in 2003, and Texan's have been fighting the massive project ever since.

However, it wasn't until August of 2007 that a group of five mayors and their city's school districts representing a total of 6,000 citizens banded together, that they found a way to slow down the massive project. They formed the ECTSRPC under Chapter 391 of the Local Government Code which gave them the ability to require the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to coordinate the project with the Commission. They, in effect, created a thirty-mile gap in the middle of the TTC I-35 corridor route.

During the first meeting with TXDOT in October of 2007, the agency stated that the DEIS, the environmental study necessary to move the project forward, would be sent to the FHWA for final approval by January 2008. However, Commission members raised objections and cited critical concerns all stemming from TXDOT's refusal to study the direct impact on the local communities and their economies.

Last year, they even called on the FHWA to require the agency to conduct a supplemental study. It has been 20 months since the first meeting, and TXDOT has yet to file for final approval.

The corridor will take 146 acres per mile. The total length of the Texas I-35 corridor spans approximately 550 miles directly affecting more than 81,000 acres of private property and hundreds of small, rural communities. This direct impact, such as the division of award-winning school districts and cutting citizens off from emergency services, was never considered in the DEIS.

Also, barely mentioned in the DEIS is the critical farmland known as the Blacklands Prairie. TXDOT's preferred route will destroy thousands of acres of the Blacklands, which is the heart of the local economies represented by the ECTSRPC. The Blacklands are considered to be some of the most productive and unique farmlands in the nation. They produce bountiful crops annually without irrigation making it a prized resource in modern America where water conservation is a key concern.

"The TTC destroys our farmlands and threatens our ability to feed our nation," commented local businessman and ECTSRPC director, Ralph Snyder, "yet TXDOT did not think it was worth mentioning in their environmental study."

In response, the mayors and school districts took a stand, right in the middle of the proposed superhighway. Now, they are calling on the Federal Highway Administration to reject the study in its entirety and begin anew, this time taking the local concerns into account. According to the Texas Administrative Code, the three year window to complete the study expired as of April 4, 2009, giving rise to the petition to reject the current study. "Significant changes have occurred since TXDOT started the original DEIS, and by law, they must begin a new one," stated Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland, Texas and president of the ECTSRPC. "Texans have lost confidence in this department so we are calling on the FHWA to delegate a new agent or conduct a new study themselves," Smith continued.

This past Legislative Session did not go well for TXDOT, which was up for reauthorization. The Legislature failed to pass legislation that would have continued the state agency. In addition, the Legislature failed to authorize Comprehensive Development Agreements necessary to continue the TTC I-35 project. And, prior to the 2009 Legislative Session, TXDOT launched a campaign renaming the TTC and promising the public significant changes to the original concept.

"All of these changes require the FHWA to begin a new study," claims Fred Grant, a consulting attorney with the commission. Grant believes that since the Legislature failed to reauthorize TXDOT, none of the provisions allowing construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor survived, which in turn left no authority for TXDOT to proceed with plans to construct TTC I-35.

"What these five un-paid mayor's and their school districts have done is remarkable," commented Margaret Byfield, executive director of Stewards of the Range, which helped the Commission organize. "They have taken on one of the nation's largest state agencies, a national agenda to build a road from Mexico to Canada, and international financiers looking to make millions from Texas drivers by exercising their local control authority."

The ECTSRPC filed the 27-page petition with FHWA on Thursday, June 18, 2009.

For a copy of the petition and more information go to

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dan Byfield on "391" Commissions, TTC

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

At its March 30 meeting, the Coupland Civic Organization heard a presentation from Dan Byfield, president of the American Land Foundation, a national property rights organization. Along with his wife Margaret, who founded another property rights group Stewards of the Range, Byfield was instrumental in forming the “391 Commissions” in Texas to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The first “391” was founded in 2007 in Bell County—the East Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC). One of its members is the City of Holland, and also speaking at the meeting were Mae Smith, mayor of Holland and president of the ECTSRPC, and Ralph Snyder, a Holland businessman and a director of the ECTSRPC. Snyder and his wife Marcia helped found the ECTSRPC.


Byfield recounted that two-and-a-half years ago, he discovered a requirement in a Texas statute that TxDOT and other state agencies must “coordinate” their planning with local planning commissions. The requirement is in Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code, hence, the name “391 Commissions.” He said, “I told Ralph we needed to start a commission. Ralph started meeting with officials in his area [eastern Bell County], formed the commission, and state agencies started coordinating with this commission.”

There must be two incorporated cities, two counties, or one city and one county to start a “391,” and then other entities such as school districts can join. The ECTSRPC began with Holland, Bartlett, Little River-Academy, and Rogers and then added their school districts.

TxDOT at bay--environmental process

Byfield said, “For two years now we have held TxDOT at bay. There’s no Corridor through our jurisdiction. We put a 30-mile-hole through the Corridor; they’re not going to build a road with a 30-mile gap.” The ECTRPC and Buckholts residents became concerned that TxDOT might bypass Bell County by going farther east through Buckholts, so Buckholts joined the ECTRPC, thus gaining its protection.

The ECTSRPC has stopped the Corridor through the environmental process. TxDOT cannot proceed until the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Tier 1 is out. Snyder said, “There were 26 items that TxDOT was obligated to do that they didn’t do. We asked for a supplement to cover these items.”

The ECTSRPC made a formal demand that TxDOT stop the development of the Corridor and restudy it in a supplemental environmental study. The FEIS is still at the Federal Highway Administration, and Snyder says, “If they don’t approve it in the next couple of months, they have to start over.”

Mayor Smith and Ralph Snyder on Texas T-bone high-speed rail

Mayor Smith asked, “Why destroy the Blackland that you cannot replace? Stand up for your land! A statute is on the books that they have to listen to us. When we call, they come to Holland, Texas. We are 45 percent of Bell County.”

She also is concerned about the latest high-speed rail proposal, which is called the Texas T-Bone. A line will run through the state north to south, with a line coming toward it from Bryan that “T’s” into the north-south line in the Temple area. This line would damage the rural areas of Bell County represented by the ECTSRPC.

About high-speed rail, Snyder asked, “Who gets to pay for the planning, for the studies, for the state’s loan to foreign companies, for the decreased value of land on each side of it? We do!”

The ECTSRPC asked for our support in their fight against high-speed rail. They appreciated that the Coupland area had fought the previous high-speed rail proposal, and also that we were among the early opponents of the Corridor.

Legislative attempts to abolish "391's"

About possible attempts in the Legislature to abolish the “391’s,” Byfield said, “There is coordination language in federal statute as well. The National Environmental Policy Act has coordination in it.” Also, he believes the state “can’t do away with the statute because the COG’s [Councils of Government] were created under it.”

To form a Sub-Regional Planning Commission, the cities and counties must be in the same Council of Government. Williamson is not in the COG with Bell County; it is in the Capital Area COG, along with the counties of Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, and Travis.

Eminent domain

Regarding eminent domain in this legislative session, Byfield said there are eight bills and three constitutional amendments filed. He said there are some “good bills, supported by the Texas Farm Bureau, but they aren’t supported by the governor. We don’t know that we will see good legislation. This session is very important for rural Texas.”

Supporting "391's"

The speakers were asked, since Coupland is not incorporated, how we can participate in the Sub-Regional Planning Commission process. Snyder mentioned supporting the American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range: “These two foundations operate on donations.” Mayor Smith added, “Support the commissions that are out there.” Currently, there are nine in Texas. News and descriptions of all of them are at

Attendees were given copies of Standing Ground, the publication of Stewards of the Range and American Land Foundation. You can view it online at The site of American Land Foundation is

© 2009 ACRE:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TxDOT Announcement a Clever Ruse

Press Release
Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC)
Copyright 2009

Holland, Texas – Today’s surprise announcement by Amadeo Saenz, Executive Director of TxDOT, that the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead, has many believing this is nothing more than a clever political maneuver right before the 81st Legislative Session begins next week.

“If Mr. Saenz and TxDOT are to be taken seriously that the TTC is dead, then we call on him today to demand that the Environmental Impact Study for the TTC be rescinded and start the entire process over,” demanded Mae Smith, President of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC).

Just a few months ago, TxDOT submitted a request for approval of their final environmental study for the Trans-Texas Corridor I-35 segment from the Federal Highway Administration and are awaiting its decision. “If they are not moving forward with the TTC concept, then why have they asked for its approval from the FHWA?” asked Smith, noting that until this action is taken, Mr. Saenz’s comments can be viewed as no more than a political statement.

The ECTSRPC was formed immediately after the Legislature adjourned in 2007, under a little-known statute of Section 391 of the Local Government Code. Section 391 allowed the five cities in Bell and Milam County which include Bartlett, Holland, Little-River Academy, Rogers and Buckholts, to form a regional planning commission to combat the Trans-Texas Corridor. Since that time, nine commissions have formed across the state forcing TxDOT to change their plans and appear to be working more closely with local governments.

“We appreciate the wisdom of the Texas Legislature to put laws into place in the Texas statute that gave us the ability to form a completely autonomous commission to fight the State’s lead transportation agency without any strings attached,” added Smith. “We hope the legislature will guard against any efforts to infringe on our local control.”

TxDOT has indicated it will be using their Corridor Advisory Committees and Corridor Segment Committees as a way to garner “local input” to guide them through their new plan. “That’s exactly why we formed our regional planning commission,” noted Smith who also pointed out that TxDOT’s corridor committees were not developed until after the local government commission began forming and requiring the agency to coordinate the TTC with their local governments.

TxDOT’s new plan does away with utilizing the Trans-Texas Corridor name and reduces the width of the corridor in most places from 1,200 feet to 600 feet. It also removes the “non-compete” clause from Comprehensive Development Agreements that prohibit improvements on existing highways.

“The only serious change is the removal of the ‘non-compete’ clause and most other changes are nothing more than window dressing,” stated Smith. “Although this is a great step in the right direction, we believe this is nothing more than a clever ruse prior to the Texas Legislature convening in Austin next week.” “There will be a new Speaker of the House and a new Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which all legislation, good and bad for TxDOT, will have to pass through.What better political move could be made than an announcement that the TTC is dead right before the Session,” Smith concluded.

The ECTSRPC has held several coordination meetings with the agencies involved with the TTC project including Region 6 Environmental Protection Agency, TxDOT, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Service and most recently the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. They have also received a letter from the FHWA making it clear they are currently in the process of reviewing the final environmental study for approval.

“We have no indication from TxDOT or any of the other agencies that they will be pulling back the TTC concept,” stated Smith.

Smith said the ECTSRPC’s next action will be completing the Draft Buckholts to Bartlett Rural Transportation Plan, which the 391 Statute authorizes them to prepare. “As the only planning agency in our region with the singular task of representing the rural communities in Eastern Bell County and Milam County, we felt it was critically important that we develop a transportation plan that reflects the view of the people who live here.” The first public meeting on the draft plan will take place January 13, 2008 in Holland at 6:30 p.m.

Contact: Mae Smith, President 254-657-2460

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Agency not part of corridor planning

Country World News
Copyright 2008

The state's environmental agency told a sub-regional planning group recently that it has not been involved with the planning process of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) and does not plan to get involved until the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is released.

Clyde Bohmfalk, a program specialist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), told the East Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission that the agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in 2002 specifically for transportation issues, but that TCEQ has not been involved with the planning process up to this point.

The memorandum between TCEQ and TxDOT states that "TxDOT is committed to performing early identification efforts to assess potential environmental concern related to proposed transportation projects, and initiating coordination with TNRCC (now TCEQ) during the early planning stages of these projects."

Mae Smith, president of the Eastern Central Texas planning commission, said the commission had a good meeting with TCEQ, but she was disappointed to find out that the environmental agency has not been involved with the planning process for the TTC.

"We were prepared with dozens of questions regarding air quality, water runoff, flooding, erosion and concerns about the Trinity Aquifer, but TCEQ said they weren't sure if they had even seen the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the TTC," Smith said. "It's hard to imagine the state's leading environmental agency didn't have a larger role in the planning stages of such a huge project, but that's been how TxDOT has operated from the beginning of the whole process."

If TCEQ waits until the final EIS is released, it will be too late for the agency to have a say in whether or not the TTC gets built, she added.

"TCEQ keeps saying 'Phase II, Phase II, but that's too late," she said. "By Phase II, it will already be decided that the TTC will be built. This is the largest transportation project in the history of our state and the fact that our primary environmental agency isn't involved in the planning stages of the EIS is unbelievable."

The Environmental Impact Study is currently awaiting final approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Gov. Rick Perry first proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2002, as a series of six-lane highways, each one as wide as 1,200 feet, with separate lanes for cars and commercial trucks, high-speed rail lines and utility corridors. Perry, TxDOT and others have touted the TTC as a way to relieve traffic congestion on the state's highways.

Rural towns, agriculture producers and the Texas Farm Bureau have opposed the TTC from its inception. The opposition led to the formation of sub-regional planning groups that formed under 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." There are now nine such sub-regional planning commissions in the state, of which the Eastern Central Texas group was the first.

The Eastern Central Texas commission is made up of representatives of the cities of Bartlett, Buckholts, Holland, Little River-Academy, Rogers and their respective independent school districts.

Smith said the commission's primary complaint against the TTC has been that it will take about 6,000 acres of prime farmland out of production and that a large chunk of land will be taken out of local school districts' tax bases and given to the state forever.

"Right now, our planning commission knows more about the environmental issues in our jurisdiction than TxDOT and it's our hope we can get TCEQ to assist by holding TxDOT's feet to the fire," she added.

In other news related to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a citizen's advisory group has issued a report rejecting the concept of TTC-35. The report, issued last month, recommends a "more inclusive solution that respects local communities and private property rights while addressing statewide and local transportation needs."

The committee, one of two citizens' advisory committees appointed to advise the Texas Transportation Commission on planning issues in the I-35 and I-69 corridors, recommends that TxDOT coordinate with Texas Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups to minimize the impacts on farmers and ranchers. A report from the I-69 citizens' committee is expected soon.

© 2008 Country World news

Friday, November 28, 2008

The nature of sub-regional group debated

by Paul A. Romer
Temple Daily Telegram

HOLLAND - A group of rural politicians from East Bell County that have banded together to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor look and act like a governmental body, but the state has yet to recognize it as such.

In July 2007, the mayors of Holland, Little-River Academy, Bartlett and Rogers, with help from a special-interest group named Stewards of the Range, created an organization called the Eastern Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission. The sole purpose of the group is to quash the corridor, to make sure it doesn’t split up local farmland and school districts.

The sub-regional commission held public meetings with state agencies such as TxDOT, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas branch of the National Resources Conservation Service.

By all appearances, the commission looks to be an acting governmental body.

Fred Kelly Grant, president of Stewards of the Range, said the group has followed the “letter of the law” in the way it was organized.

Others point to the law, specifically chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code, as a reason the group should be considered “extra-governmental.”

“Chapter 391 allows regions and subregions to organize, but the governor must so designate,” said Jim Reed, executive director of the Central Texas Council of Governments, which was created under chapter 391. “My understanding is the governor has not so designated. Whether they have legal standing under the state of Texas is under debate, although I don’t think anybody would debate that getting together to solve problems is a good thing.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry’s office would not comment about whether the subregional commission is recognized by the state. Eight more have been created in Texas over the past 18 months.

Some government officials see the creation of these commissions as an attempt by a special-interest group to twist the law in their favor and introduce more bureaucracy into the planning process.

Since 1965, when Chapter 391 was created, 24 planning commissions have been created in Texas. These commissions, generally referred to as councils of government, encompass all counties in the state.

Bell County and six neighboring counties are tied to the Central Texas Council of Governments, with offices in Belton.

The idea that more commissions could be created using boundaries other than what has already been established is new.

“Why spend money and create another bureaucracy that does the same thing as the council of governments?” Reed asked. “For over 40 years CTCOG has been the vehicle chosen to speak regionally and we’re honored to play that role for all communities in the region, including those who have joined the subgroup.

“We happen to think our vehicle, being recognized by the government at both the state and federal level, is the advocacy vehicle that can receive good results for Texas … Our mission statement is accomplishing together that which we cannot accomplish alone.”

Reed admits the local council of governments has not spent much time on corridor issues that concern the rural subregional commission.

The issue is not vital or as important to all seven counties, he said.

The subregional commission argues that by banding together it has been able to find out more information and play a more significant role in the planning process than would have been possible through the council of governments.

A planning organization from within the council called the Killeen-Temple Urban Transportation Study recently passed a measure that would give rural leaders in East Bell County a place at the table for planning area roadways.

An attempt to expand the jurisdiction of the transportation study is under way with one scenario calling for one member of a proposed 12-member board to represent the interests of East Bell County.

Mae Smith, mayor of Holland, said the transportation study does a poor job of representing the interests of rural east Bell County, and she and her partners are not about to dissolve their board to join an organization where they might have less impact.

Earlier this year, commissioners in Brewster County were invited to be members of a subregional commission being formed in its area. Before making a decision whether to join, the commissioners court consulted with Austin attorney Greg Hudson.

Hudson said he advised commissioners in Brewster County that they were well represented by the Rio Grande Council of Governments.

“Where did they find the authority to create a district smaller than what the governor created?” Hudson asked about subregional planning commissions.

Then there is the question of how the subregionals pay for expenses. Hudson said he sees a real problem if a subregional commission uses taxpayer money.

So far any spending of tax money by the local subregional commission appears marginal. A week ago, Holland taxpayers paid for lunch for the rural commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials after a two-hour meeting in Holland, Ms. Smith said.

If a subregional commission were determined not to be what it purports to be, its members may not be afforded the legal protections extended to those who serve on a legitimate board or council. In other words, members may be opening themselves up to personal lawsuits.

“They may have a noble cause and have absolutely honorable intentions, but they may want to contact their local city attorney to make sure they have governmental protections,” Hudson said.

Ms. Smith said Holland’s city attorney drew up the resolution form used to create the rural commission.

“I can assure you we are legal,” she said. “If the state of Texas wants to go to court over this, we have documented everything and we are ready.”

Penny Redington, executive director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils, said the rural commission here is “duplicative,” which was one of the issues the law to form the commissions was created to guard against.

“If they have succeeded in creating a commission, there are huge responsibilities such as annual audit requirements and open meetings requirements, to name just two. It’s a serious undertaking, not something you do on a lark, on a whim.”

© 2008 Temple Daily Telegram

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Snyders receive "Spirit of Liberty" Award

Ralph & Marcia Snyder recieve "spirit of Liberty' Award
Left to right: Fred Grant, President, Stewards of the Range, Marcia Snyder, Ralph Snyder

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

Ralph and Marcia Snyder, of Holland, Texas, have been fighting against the Corridor ever since it was authorized in 2003. In 2007, they were instrumental in forming the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC), the first of the 391 commissions that are forming state-wide to protect their areas against the Corridor.

They recently received the “Spirit of Liberty” award at the annual convention of Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation held in Austin. This award is given to individuals who work tirelessly to protect private property and their local communities from government intrusion.

Mae Smith, mayor of Holland and president of the ECTSRPC said of the Snyders, “Without their knowledge and dedication to our community, we would never have known what to do or how to fight the Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to destroy our community.”

The ECTSRPC has forced TxDOT to coordinate their plans with the commission during several meetings. The commission also has met with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation are property rights organizations leading the fight against the Corridor.

© 2008 ACRE:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is Trans-Texas Corridor dead or only undead?

Fred Afflerbach
Temple Daily Telegram
Copyright 2008

Put a fork in it. That’s what two Texas politicians recently said about the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

“Everybody in Austin knows it’s dead. Everybody across the state knows it’s dead. It’s just something to be talking about,” House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said at a debate in Midland on Oct. 19, according to a published report.

But folks fighting the corridor here in Central Texas call it election season bluster.

“Yes, they are still planning to do it,” said Mae Smith, Holland mayor. “That’s nothing but political talk. I don’t believe anything Mr. Craddick says, or any politician says prior to election.”

Ms. Smith is also president of the Eastern Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission, a group of mayors and school board members who are working to stop the corridor by pushing environmental impact studies. The commission says expansion of Interstate 35 is a viable alternative.

“We’re not denying there is a traffic problem. But keep it in the footprint of I-35 . . . and not destroy our prime farm land, school districts and towns,” Ms. Smith said.

A spokeswoman for Craddick responded Thursday.

“The House overwhelmingly voted to place a moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor because of various issues that were raised, such as property rights and toll roads. Currently, the House Transportation Committee, the House Appropriations Committee and the Sunset Advisory Commission, as well as the state auditor, have been investigating these matters. It is clear from what has come back from these committees that the Trans-Texas Corridor will be addressed once and for all in this next session of the Legislature.”

And that worries folks like Ms. Smith. Once the election is over, the Legislature will go back to work pushing the corridor.

Speaking from the Milam County seat of Cameron on Wednesday, State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan - not up for re-election until 2010 - said he agreed with Craddick’s statement.

“I think the speaker had it right the other day when he said, ‘I think everybody knows it’s dead,’” Ogden said.

Rather than a Trans-Texas Corridor for utilities, motor vehicles and trains, Ogden believes efforts will be directed toward developing an interstate-quality highway from South Texas to East Texas parallel to Interstate 35.

Again, Ms. Smith said the commission adamantly opposes any new thoroughfare east of I-35, through the Blackland Prairie.

“They’re still wanting to stick it right on top of us. A smaller version, even more so, should go right in the footprint of 35.”

Another commission member and a small business owner, Ralph Snyder, said Craddick and Ogden supported the corridor from its inception and they weren’t changing direction now.

“It’s just a way to keep the people placated for the present time. It’s election time,” Snyder said. “It’s a done deal. It’s been a done deal for years.”

But Snyder isn’t saying raise the white flag. He says the commission could have some impact how and where the final project is built.

Meanwhile, down at the Texas Department of Transportation, spokesman Chris Lippincott said TxDOT was waiting on the results of an environmental impact study the Federal Highway Administration is conducting.

“It is a big complicated study,” Lippincott said. “It’s a big project.”

After the study is completed in early 2009, Lippincott said TxDOT would open the discussion for public comment. He would not elaborate on Craddick’s statement.

© 2008 Temple Daily Telegram:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on Craddick saying TTC is "dead"

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

The ACRE message about the quote from House Speaker Craddick that the Trans-Texas Corridor was “dead” has prompted interesting comments. Some who commented were concerned that people would think because Craddick said the Corridor was “dead” we didn’t have to struggle against it anymore. This is not the case; we do need to continue our efforts.

The quote is significant because Craddick had never said anything like this about the Corridor before. It is significant that so many politicians, including Craddick, in this campaign season think it is necessary for them to oppose the Corridor in order to get elected. This is a big change. When we started fighting against the Corridor, politicians weren’t saying this. This means that we are making progress.

We can’t say that the Corridor is dead until it is officially killed legislatively. So we all need to continue working toward this end, but I think it is encouraging that more and more politicians are coming out against it in their campaigns.

Here are comments from representatives of some of the organizations that have been in the forefront of the fight against the Corridor.

DAN BYFIELD, American Land Foundation:

“Don't believe that the TTC is dead. Politicians will say anything to get re-elected. Mr. Craddick had the opportunity the past two sessions to kill this, but why would he now reveal that it's dead? The Legislature is the only body capable of ‘killing’ the TTC, but they're not in session.

What is very revealing about this statement is his need, like so many other politicians running for office, to say anything about the Trans-Texas Corridor - especially something this negative. He realizes it is a hot button issue with his constituents and fellow House members (who will be voting for him for Speaker), otherwise he would never have mentioned it on the campaign stump.

We are making a difference, but if Mr. Craddick and others who voted for the TTC get back into office, nothing will change and the TTC will live on.”

AGNES VOGES, Blackland Coalition:

“I doubt seriously that Craddick has the truth in this matter. Granted, TTC may have hit a snag or two, but one way or the other, it is still happening. Again, the LAW has to be changed before this thing is dead. If not, then there is nothing that will keep it from being resuscitated at any time they can get their fingers on some money.”

LINDA STALL, Corridor Watch

“The law creating TTC remains and it should be changed . . . and some oversight legislation for PPPs put in place. We are hearing from a few people around the state that their Counties are getting into strangely oversized road projects, and we are concerned that the push will shift to developing ‘County projects’ that then are shifted to TxDOT and linked together . . . TTC under the radar.

“It is nice to hear that Craddick realizes it’s in his interest to say the Corridor is dead. I am always leery when a leadership official says something like that, just in case he's trying to get people to stop speaking out . . . and to undermine his opposition candidate's ability to make political mileage out of the Corridor as an issue.”

TERRI HALL, San Antonio Toll Party and TURF:

“Craddick's comments are no more true than saying the sun won't rise tomorrow. This is an election year, period. NO law has been changed or policies reversed to prove this statement correct. In fact, they've gone underground and are cheating in how they're supplementing the environmental record to make it appear they'll use existing right of way for TTC-69 using clever language rife with get of jail free cards. Also, TTC-35 is barreling forward unabated.

“It's huge he [Craddick] even feels the need to say it to get re-elected!”

© 2008 ACRE:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

National Geographic recognizes our soil, not the danger to it

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

The September issue of National Geographic has an interesting article, “Our Good Earth,” on the soils of the world and the dangers to them.

If you have access to this issue, please see the map on page 92 and notice how TTC-35 and the NAFTA Superhighway will create a path of destruction all along our nation’s most valuable farm land.

Even though National Geographic ranked this soil as one of the “most highly fertile soils in the world,” the article did not mention the imminent threat to it posed by TTC-35, even though it covered threats to some other soils.

The article is online at in the September issue. I can’t find the map online. It is on page 92 in the print edition. [See the scanned image below]


I have sent the letter below to the magazine. Perhaps if more of us write, National Geographic will recognize the importance of this topic.

Blackland Prairie TTC
Blackland Prairie: DARK GREEN
Trans-Texas Corridor Priority corridors:

To the Editor of National Geographic:

Regarding “Our Good Earth” in the September 2008 issue, one imminent danger not covered in your article is the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is underway in Texas and forms the first stage of the NAFTA Superhighway. Your map on page 92 illustrates that one of the largest areas of the most highly fertile soils in the world begins at the Texas-Mexico border and runs north to the northern Midwest.

Much of this Blackland Prairie in Texas, from the Mexican border to the Oklahoma border, is slated to be paved over by the Trans-Texas Corridor route called TTC-35—an almost quarter-mile wide swath of 10 vehicular lanes, 6 rail lines, and pipeline and utility zones. It is proposed to proceed north from Texas as the NAFTA Superhighway, covering hundreds of thousands of acres of the world’s best farmland, right through the middle of “the world’s breadbasket.”

Texas farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents have been fighting the Corridor for years, and we would like to alert the rest of the country, indeed the world, that one of the largest areas of “Good Earth” in existence is in extreme danger from an unnecessary project that benefits only those who will profit monetarily from its construction, while permanently depriving the world’s population of this invaluable resource.

It is very easy to send a letter to the editor of National Geographic through

© 2008, ACRE:

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

Cox addresses speed limits, other considerations at TTC meeting

Gainesville Daily Register

Though stalled in the water for now, discussion on the Trans-Texas Corridor 35 project continues, according to a report from Cooke County’s representative on the project.

Sheila Cox, who was a vocal opponent to the multi-modal toll road project when first presented to the public, was appointed to a regional corridor advisory committee last year. Cox submitted a summary of the advisory committee’s actions from July 23 in Austin, in which she said the project is far from being “dead.”

“... The TTC is still very much alive and continues as a threat to all Texans,” she said in her summary, which appeared in its entirety in the July 25 Register.

The next meeting of the advisory committee is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 21, a Thursday, in Austin (exact location TBA — most likely at the Greer Building on south side of the Capitol on 11th Street). The public is allowed to attend, Cox said, but are not allowed to speak or participate in the discussion.

She said she would like to see a good “delegation” from Cooke County at the Aug. 21 meeting.

“We’re designated at the convergence point for the Trans-Texas Corridor system, so we have much to lose by not being involved and much to gain if we are,” Cox said.

Chairs for guests are situated around the delegation room, while committee members are seated around tables, she noted, noting there is ample room.

Cox said there are usually five to 10 people watching the meetings. She noted Jan Johnson of Cooke County had attended the last two Austin meetings.

Though Cox’s summary of the July meeting had some sharp comments of her fellow committee members, she said feedback has been positive so far.

“I’ve had lots of people contact me, telling me they appreciate me for bringing them up to speed on what’s happening,” she said in an interview this morning.

According to Cox’s summary, the meeting agenda included presentations by two corporations who are members in NASCO (North American Super Corridor Coalition), Cox said. Those presentations were by Scott Braden, President of the Southwest and High Plains Divisions of McLane Trucking Company, and by Russell Laughlin, Vice President of Alliance Texas which is headed by Ross Perot. Both of these presentations included emphasis on the need for the NAFTA Super Highway as a trade route from Mexico through the United States and into Canada.

Also emphasized in these presentations was the role of the Trans-Texas Corridor in the implementation of an international express highway system.

In the question and answer wrap-up of Braden’s presentation, which had highlighted the requirements of major trucking firms, Cox said she asked what was the most cost-efficient miles-per-hour speed for trucks to travel. Braden replied, according to Cox, that 62 mph had been proven to be the most cost-efficient speed and at that speed even the pollution levels were less than at higher speeds.

Braden later indicated that his company’s truckers are ordered to not exceed 62 mph and he described his company’s electronic monitoring system that allows each of their trucks to be monitored during their entire routes.

Cox said she addressed the concern that the TTC corridors are proposed to have 80 mph speed limits for trucks and based on his comments that it would appear that the widespread non-attainment pollution control areas in Texas would only worsen with many trucks from other companies traveling at much higher speeds than 62 mph.

Laughlin commented on the TTC’s plans for Alliance, located north of Fort Worth and south of Denton, which contains Alliance Airport.

“I've given you the plan and the development,” Laughlin said, according to Cox’s notes. “Now you have the plan and the development, so get with the plan or get out of the way.”

Cox said she replied by emphasizing cooperation.

“I asked Mr. Laughlin where is the interaction from the citizens in his closing comment that stated ‘so get with the plan or get out of the way.’ He was speechless and did not respond to my question and at that point the meeting facilitator moved the discussion to the next meeting agenda item,” Cox said.

The committee had several other points of “lively discussion,” according to Cox.

One of those lively discussions dealt with a comment made by committee member, Lana Wolf, mayor of Arlington.

Wolf, according to Cox, said “the TTC needed to get moving faster from the talking stage to the doing stage ... the only opponents to the TTC are coming from those farm people.”

Cox said the opposition to the TTC comes from both major political parties in Texas and not just those in rural, agricultural settings. Cox said she quoted the state Republican and Democratic parties’ platform planks against TTC and eminent domain abuse from various years.

“Wolf seemed shocked by the comments in the Republican and Democratic Platforms and she said that ‘it was just words on paper and no elected official would agree to a platform like that and they would leave the parties to become independents,’” Cox said. “I mentioned that would be an option for them but that the Independent Texans Party and the Constitution Party of Texas had similar platforms also strongly stating opposition to the TTC, abusive eminent domain and the Constitutional infringements of private property ownership.”

Cox said the comments by Wolf, Laughlin and Braden are cause for concern.

“There is a disregard that is prevailing — not just in some of the members of the committee, but it is prevalent in so many areas of government,” she said this morning.

For information on attending the advisory committee meeting, contact Cox at 1(940)727-2187 or at

© 2008, The Gainesville Daily Register:

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: