Friday, July 17, 2009

At present the SCTSRPC does not have any scheduled meetings.

Our next meeting will be to review the TTC/Vision 2009 Final Environmental Impact Statement once it is released for public comment. TxDOT anticipates that time line to be Summer of 2009.

For updates, see the City of St. Hedwig website:

To email the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission please click

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I-35 Segment 4 Kick off meeting

President’s Update

Kathy Palmer, SCTSRPC

Well this was certainly an interesting meeting.

It was held at the TxDOT District office in San Antonio and we had a variety of attendees from Laredo through to Seguin, including members of the San Antonio and Seguin Chambers of Commerce, a Frio County 911 Coordinator, City of St. Hedwig, City of Seguin and City of Laredo Planning and Zoning Commissioners, a Guadalupe County resident and a Guadalupe County Texas Farm Bureau representative.

Kudos to Judge Marvin Quinney, as he was the ONLY elected County official to attend.

Commissioners and Judges from Bexar County, Atascosa County, Medina County, Zapata County, and LaSalle County although invited, were nowhere to be seen. Being that the intent of this Segment Committee is to make sure your folks in your Counties are given yet another avenue to make their concerns, comments and considerations heard relating to the expansion of the Alternate I35 Corridor, one would think at least an alternate from those Counties would have been present.

This project, the consideration and recommendation of the best way to alleviate congestion of both vehicular traffic as well as transportation of commerce on I35 via an alternate route around San Antonio, will take at least 18-24 months. During that time, the members of the Segment 4 Committee will meet monthly to “cuss and discuss” ways to create a win/win/win scenario to the best of it’s ability.

Win for the Citizens of the areas affected, Win for the alleviation of the traffic and transportation of goods, and win for a 50 plus year plan so that, wishfully thinking, we will have a handle on where we want to be and how we want to make it happen.

It appeared by the input given at the start of the meeting approximately ¾ of the folks in attendance are very pro Commerce however it has to happen, while those in the rural areas are pro property rights and use of existing right of way. There was lively debate as to the differences in the definition of “economic viability” as those in the city see the definition as commercial businesses all up and down the main roads and successful movement of commerce in those areas, while those in the rural areas see the definition as commercial business is good as long as it is not forcefully taking over the properties of residences along the roadways and building such roadways to bring trucks and freight through their once quiet farmland.

The Segment Committee members have been tasked in each of their individual areas to:
  • Identify transportation needs, Examine Existing and Planned Facilities
  • Identify areas where new location facilities may be needed
  • Prioritize the individual needs into a Master Plan
  • Finalize the Corridor Development Plan
While TxDOT is adamant that they want to “make sure we are getting the most out of the current facilities”, it is the Segment Committee members responsibility to hold them accountable to that expectation.

As members of the SCTSRPC, St. Hedwig and Wilson County as well as a portion of the representation of Guadaulpe County are all continuing with the original input of unfettered use of existing right of way on I10 and SH1604. Existing and future SH130 is a major part of this IH35 alternate plan, which directly affects Guadalupe County (Marion and Seguin via IH10), St. Hedwig (IH10 and SH1604), and Wilson County (SH 123 and expansion of SH1604).

The Committee’s main goal is to make sure that when a final recommendation is made of the Alternate to I35, that it indeed solves the true problem in the areas it will affect. That is the challenge that confronts each and every member as they will all be vying in the beginning for their individual areas while at the end will be tasked with prioritizing each issue brought to the table into a final Master Plan.

Eventually, the Segment 4 Master Plan will then be merged into the Segment 1-3 Master Plan therefore creating the “new”, specific, alternate route to I35 from the Texas/OK boarder to the Texas/Mexico boarder. As you can see the TTC 35 has not gone away, it has simply been broken down into smaller chunks to be analyzed and then reconstructed. TxDOT is looking for a “cohesive transportation system for the I35 Corridor with interstate multimodal transportation solutions”.

It is imperative that the public give competent, factual input to each of the Committee members as this runs its course. Following the NIMBY approach will not work. In order for the Committee member to be able to give it’s input as a reason to keep their issue at the top of the list, factual information from an environmental, historical and/or economical aspect must accompany the issue.

Meetings are open to the general public and you are encouraged to attend. This is an important issue that will affect each and every citizen in the East Bexar County, Guadalupe County and Wilson County area whether you think it will or not. Please contribute and help the Committee members in your area as they strive to make sure their area is not left behind or worse yet, paved over.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Despite name change, TTC still exists

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News

ST. HEDWIG — As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) unveiled its “updated vision” for the Tran-Texas Corridor (TTC) Jan. 6, members of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (391 Commission) watched with interest.

The commission formed to coordinate with TxDOT on transportation issues and concerns in the local area, primarily the impact of the TTC.

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,” TxDOT spokesman Karen Amacker told San Antonio’s WOAI News that day.

“Texans have spoken, and we’ve been listening,” said TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz in Austin, quoted in a TxDOT press release. “… I believe this transformed vision for the TTC and other major corridor development goes a long way toward addressing the concerns we’ve heard over the past several years.”

The local 391 Commission held its regularly scheduled meeting in St. Hedwig the following day. High on the list of updates were the latest revelations on the TTC. Commission President Kathy Palmer of St. Hedwig cautioned all present against celebrating the end of the TTC just yet.

“Yesterday, it was reported that the TTC was dead,” Palmer told members. “Actually, what’s dead is the name. The concept is still in place.

“It’s a little different,” she continued, adding that the width of the proposed transportation corridor has been scaled down from 1,200 feet to no more than 600 feet.

“Now, rather than a single-concept project, this will be a series of projects,” Palmer said. TxDOT will refer to the smaller projects by their segment names, for example, State Highway (S.H.) 130 or Loop 1604.

“They’re still thinking of the corridor as a whole to move goods from seaports to the north,” Palmer said. “San Antonio to Dallas is the priority now.”

The reason for the renaming of the project, Palmer said, is that the Texas Legislature is beginning its new session.

“The TTC had such negative connotations, TxDOT feared the Legislature would pull all funding for it,” Palmer explained. “Unless the draft environmental impact study [now awaiting approval with the Federal Highway Administration] and all funding is pulled, all that we heard in the last four years on this project is still a possibility.”

The new name TxDOT is using for the project is “Innovative Connectivity in Texas|Vision 2009.” View the full document HERE.

New segment committees have been formed to discuss individual projects that comprise the TTC. Palmer told the commission new rules for segment committees had been adopted; new representation would be invited by TxDOT to share citizen concerns with the committees.

New representatives on the 391 Commission include Marion city Councilman James Gray, Guadalupe County commissioners Judy Cope and Cesareo Guadarrama III, and East Central Independent School Board (ISD) President Steve Bryant.

Other entities with invitations to join the commission include the city of La Vernia, the La Vernia ISD, and the Marion ISD.

In other business, members raised issues to discuss with TxDOT during the commission’s next workshop, Feb. 25. Items include:
  • The potential increase in traffic from S.H. 130 on I-10 from Seguin to Loop 410 when S.H. 130 is complete.
  • Landowner access on stretches of S.H. 130 in Guadalupe County where properties will be split by the proposed roadway.
  • The impact on bus routes on small arterial roads within the East Central ISD if TTC construction begins.
  • The impact of potential TTC construction on residential access in Wilson and Bexar counties on F.M. 3432 and U.S. 87.
  • The impact of potential TTC rail and/or vehicular routes on the city of Marion, its school district, and its emergency services.
Members also agreed to cap the number of entities represented on the local 391 Commission; member entities can be municipalities, school districts, counties, and water utilities. At present, five entities are represented: the cities of St. Hedwig and Marion, Wilson and Guadalupe counties, and the East Central ISD.

Wilson County Pct. 4 Commissioner Larry Wiley expressed concern over the growth of the commission.

“If we get too large, we lose the interconnectivity we have with each other,” he said. “But I want to leave open the prospect for adding other entities that may need to join.”

“Some possible member entities already have a voice, because they have a seat at commissioners court,” Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney said.

Bryant expressed concerns that Bexar County was not represented at the table, except by his district.

St. Hedwig city Councilman Susann Baker recommended capping the membership at eight entities and an adjustment to the bylaws to reflect this; the item met with full approval by the commission.

The 391 Commission will meet again Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. in the St. Hedwig City Hall. Although the meeting is open to the public, it will be a workshop with TxDOT; therefore, no public input will be permitted, Palmer said.

© 2009 Wilson County News:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

We Are Not Going To Back Down

Kathy Palmer, President SCTSRPC

“The Trans Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,” Karen Amacker (TxDOT spokesperson) told 1200 WOAI news just today.

Before we have “No More TTC Parties” however, let me explain what that means.
  • The TTC project instead of being one large project as originally proposed, will now be broken down into many smaller projects with each having their own individual name.
  • The width of the route will be changed from 1200 feet to approximately 600 feet in most places.
  • The route will still include in some areas, not only vehicular traffic, but rail and truck only lanes.
Please do not misunderstand me, this is a great accomplishment and one that would not have occurred had folks not decided enough was enough. What I hope to prevent however, is folks thinking we won the battle and therefore the war is over. It is far from over.

In TxDOT’s own Vision 2009 document (TxDOT-Vision-2009) page 5, you will see the following:

“What’s in a Name? Quite a lot. The Trans-Texas Corridor name has taken on unintended meaning that can obscure the facts. The Texas Department of Transportation has decided to put the name to rest. Instead, we will implement a corridor program that will house the tools of innovative project development and delivery springing from TTC events, but will use the names generally associated with individual projects from the beginning, such as State Highway 130, Interstate 69, and Loop 9.”

The DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) for the TTC concept is still under review and awaiting final approval from the Federal Highway Administration. TxDOT does not have any intent to dump that DEIS and start over, which means that if/when it is approved, it will have the original TTC concept in it thus allowing it to be used if TxDOT chooses to revert back to the original concept. I am not saying they will, but if folks do not stay vigilant and make sure they don’t, depending on who is in office and what the Texas Legislature allows or disallows, anything can happen.

Now you may ask, how does the Legislature have anything to do with the TTC Concept continuing?

The Legislature is who dictates the funding. If they withdraw the funding, then and only then will the project die. At that point, in order for any part of the project to move forward, funding must be found, whether it be state money, federal money or a combination thereof.

For those of us that have been involved in this for some time, we saw the writing on the wall of the name change when the Corridor Advisory Committee reports (See TTC I-35 report link HERE) stated that the TTC name evoked negative images in most Texan’s minds. We knew the only logical thing TxDOT could do was to dump the TTC name in the hopes that folks would then begin to back off.

I know I am not alone when I say that backing off now is the farthest thing from my mind.

I will be addressing the SCTSRPC in our meeting tomorrow and again tomorrow night at the East Central Citizen’s Forum to reiterate that now more than ever we need to stick to our guns and make sure our cities and the folks that live within them are protected.

It might take more effort now than before, since there may be more than one project related to the old “TTC” that will require coordination, but we did not form the Commission just to turn around and dissolve it at the drop of a hat.

I look forward to continuing working with TxDOT as we strive to assist them in providing for the transportation needs of the future while protecting what we have worked so hard to build in the past. Stay strong, stay focused, do your homework and research what you hear. Remember that knowledge is power.

Have a very Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

East Central school district joins 391 Commission

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News

EAST CENTRAL — The East Central Independent School District (ISD) is the newest member of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, or 391 Commission. District trustees approved membership during the regular board meeting Dec. 16.

Organized by the city of St. Hedwig and officials from Wilson County, the commission serves as a liaison between its member entities and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). In addition to the founding members and the East Central ISD, the commission also includes the city of Marion and Guadalupe County.

District board President Steve Bryant attended the last 391 Commission meeting in St. Hedwig and told trustees the district could benefit from membership.

“Especially with the Trans-Texas Corridor [TTC-35], which will cut right through our district,” Bryant said. “It’s critical we have a place at the table to mitigate circumstances caused by TTC-35.”

Bryant was impressed with the discussions between TxDOT and the commission’s existing members.

“The attitude of TxDOT toward this commission was much better than their attitude toward the general public when they held their [TTC] meetings,” he said. “I was also impressed with Kathy Palmer, who chairs the commission. She has really done her homework, and TxDOT knows it.”

Board approval to join the 391 Commission was unanimous.

© 2008 Wilson County News:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcome aboard East Central ISD!!

Kathy Palmer, President
South Central Texas SRPC

Tuesday night December 16,2008 the ECISD Board unanimously approved the resolution to join our 391 Commission.

They will be joining us at our January 7th meeting as we discuss what we would like addressed by TxDOT in our follow up Coordination meeting to be held in February.

Have a blessed Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Public Notice

South South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission

Date: December 18, 2008
Place: St. Hedwig City Hall
Time: 2:00 p.m.


1. Call SCTRSPC meeting to Order

2. Welcome new members to the Commission

3. Roll call & establish a quorum

4. Reading and approval of minutes

4. Citizens to be heard

5. Old Business:

a. Discuss any actions from other 391 Commissions around the state
b. Update on inviting Marion, Guadalupe County, Elmendorf, and Marion ISD to join the SCTSRPC
c. Update from TxDot

6. New Business:

a. Update/discuss Corridor Advisory Committee report
b. Discuss/take action on dates for January TxDOT meeting
c. Discuss/take action on specific member issues to bring up at the TxDOT meeting in January
d. Discuss possibility of Staples, TX, joining the SCTSRPC
e. Discuss/take action to determine best size of the SCTSRPC
f. Update/discuss Segment Advisory Committee

7. Announcements

8. Set time, date and agenda for next meeting

9. Adjournment

I certify this agenda was posted at the St. Hedwig City Hall, Wilson County Courthouse, and at by 12:45, Friday December 12, 2008.

Kathy Palmer, President, SCTSRPC

City of St. Hedwig
PO Box 40
St. Hedwig, Texas 78152
(210) 667-9568

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Very Positive Beginning

Kathy Palmer, President
South Central Texas SRPC

I met with several folks at the TxDOT District Office in Bexar County today in preparation for the follow up January 391 Coordination meeting. Mario Medina, District Engineer, Clay Smith, Area Engineer, and Phil Howlett, Mobility Engineer were present as well as myself.

We discussed the fact that per the intent of the October 29th meeting, the January meeting is to bring to them specific areas within our Commission’s jurisdiction that need to be addressed. Prior to the January coordination meeting and after the December 18th SCTSRPC meeting I committed to give them a list of the items the Commission agreed it wants to discuss, so that TxDOT in turn may do the research necessary to enable them to answer our concerns.

In turn, Phil will be in attendance at our December 18th meeting to update us on any issues related to the status of the TTC 35 DEIS which is currently awaiting FHWA approval. If needed he has also committed to be present at any additional meetings in the future, even if they were not “Coordination” meetings.

Mario, Clay and Phil were all pleased to hear that Guadalupe County and the City of Marion have joined our Commission and are looking forward to working with them. They feel it is certainly a win/win scenario to have elected officials from our member entities all present in the same room working together with TxDOT to cover our jurisdictional concerns in the best manner possible.

Mario has committed to help the Commission understand the Transportation end of things and to help us come up with solutions to our concerns to which he hopes we can all agree. Mario, Clay and Phil are also very willing to work with each member entity individually on specific issues that may not need to be brought through the 391 Commission, i.e. stoplights at certain intersections, drainage issues etc.

The general tone of the meeting was one of both parties attempting to work together for a common good.

I see this as a very positive beginning to a long standing relationship between our SCTSRPC and TxDOT.

Thank you to all the member municipalities and counties that have come together to form this Commission. We would not be here without you.

Links to SCTSRPC Related Articles:

TXDOT Coordination Letter 7/31/08

TXDOT Reply 9/25/08

SA Express News Article 9/10/08

Wilson County News Article 11/5/08

Seguin Gazette-Enterprise 11/30/08

Wilson County News Article 12/03/08

Links to TxDOT information:

Please note the SCTSRPC does not necessarily support the information contained in these links. They are simply posted here to make it easier for you to access this information without having to go to multiple websites.

I35 Corridor Advisory Committe Article 11/12/08

I35 Corridor Advisory Committee Final Report 11/12/08

2008-2011 TxDot Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for Bexar County

2009-2013 TxDot Strategic Plan for Texas Transportation Issues

TTC-35 DEIS Executive Summary Tiering Process

Texas State Statute 227 TTC Access to FM Roads

Texas Farm Bureau Responds to TTC Advisory Committee Report 12/01/08

Sunday, November 30, 2008

County joining planning group

By Ron Maloney
The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise

SEGUIN — County commissioners voted unanimously this week to join a group they hope will gain them access to state officials planning State Highway 130 and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Kathy Palmer, a St. Hedwig city planner and at-large member of the South Central Texas Sub-regional Planning Commission, Tuesday extended an offer to Guadalupe County that it join the group, which was established last July and so far includes as members representatives of her city, Marion and Wilson County.

Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code provides cities and counties with access to state and federal planners on projects that could affect “the health, safety and general welfare” of the member communities, Palmer told commissioners.

“It allows each entity to bring its concerns or the concerns of its citizens directly to the table,” Palmer said. “This gives your community and other members of the commission the ability to coordinate with members of those government agencies.”

So far, nine of the “391 commissions” have been established around Texas. St. Hedwig decided to meet with its neighbors to try to form one when it realized state officials were planning for a Trans-Texas Corridor route that could bisect their city — and nobody at the state level had contacted St. Hedwig to discuss it.

“By law, they were supposed to come to each municipality and county government, sit down with all of us and tell us how it affected us,” Palmer said. “We’re the second-largest city in Bexar County, and TxDOT had no knowledge of that. They didn’t know who we were.”

St. Hedwig is concerned the state could take new right-of-way for the Trans-Texas Corridor, and the city wants the state to use existing rights-of-way such as Interstate 10 or Loop 1604, she said. Guadalupe County, she noted, had previously passed a resolution of concern about the Trans-Texas Corridor, which could cross the southern reaches of this county or Wilson County.

County Judge Mike Wiggins said his understanding was that the concept behind the “391 commissions” was to provide a pipeline for communication on the Trans-Texas Corridor, but the underlying legislation applied to any state or federal project with local impact. He has discussed the idea with his counterparts in other communities, he added.

“I spoke with Judge (Marvin) Quinney from Wilson County, and his belief is it’s beneficial to be informed of things before they become a done deal,” Wiggins said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Cesareo Guadarrama III asked if Staples, the county’s newest city which incorporated earlier this year over concerns about State Highway 130’s effect on their northeast Guadalupe County community, shouldn’t consider participation, as well.

Wiggins noted he’d recently attended Staples’ first city council meeting and swore in its mayor and aldermen.

“They’re going to be impacted by State Highway 130, and I think they might be able to benefit from this,” Wiggins said.

Palmer said she’d be happy to talk to Staples Mayor Eddie Daffern and the city’s aldermen.

“They can contact us,” she said. “If any entity in the region wants a place at the table, all they have to do is talk to us.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Roger Baenziger made the motion to support the planning group — and join it.

“I think this is a really good organization,” Baenziger said. Guadarrama seconded the motion and it passed 4-0, with Precinct 4 Commissioner Judy Cope absent.

Palmer recommended that, like in Wilson County, officials in Seguin consider appointing members of the court or other elected officials to lend the group a little clout.

“What we have found, particularly in the beginning, is that TxDOT tends to ignore you, if you’re not an elected official,” Palmer said.

Wiggins said commissioners would be asked to choose the county’s representatives at a future meeting.

© 2008 The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Guadalupe County Joins South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission

November 25, 2008

Kathy Palmer, President SCTSRPC

Well it is official! The South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission officially welcomes Guadalupe County to the table.

In a unanimous vote the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court voted to pass the resolution to join our 391 Commission.

We are now made up of the following entities: The City of St. Hedwig, Wilson County, the City of Marion, and Guadalupe County. Between the 4 of us we now cover the following TxDOT roadways: SH1604, US 87, IH10 and SH130 (not to mention numerous Farm to Market Roads) and we look forward to the continuing coordination meetings with TxDOT as well as other state and federal agencies.

Have a wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Coordination Works

Bringing back local control to the communities is making a difference.

November 15, 2008

Kathy Palmer, President
South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission

On November 13-14, the Call America National Convention was held in Austin. I just returned from participating in this event, where the main theme was “Coordination”, and a substantial amount of conversation was had about the efforts around the nation where Coordination has worked. From California to Montana to here in our great state of Texas, Coordination is giving back local control to the citizens and their communities.

In Texas, we have nine 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commissions which invoke the Coordination clause in the Texas Local Govt. Code, allowing the formation of the Commission with two cities, two counties or a combination thereof. The Commissions were formed because of the grassroots movement in the local communities directly affected by the current proposed path of the Trans Texas Corridor, both TTC-35 and TTC-69 but, these Commissions have evolved into more than just a way to oppose the TTC. They have given control back to the local communities for everything from transportation issues, to environmental issues, to Homeland Security issues relating to zip codes and 911 addresses.

I was privileged with the opportunity to speak to several hundred individuals from around the nation, sharing how our SCTSRPC came to be, and I in turn heard from individuals from Montana, California and Wisconsin and the results their efforts in coordination have brought to their communities.

Prior to attending the convention, I made a stop at the TxDOT building in downtown Austin. My intent was to attend the I35/I69 Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting and hear their report to the Texas Transportation Commission however, the posted date of the meeting was incorrect, and I missed it by one day.

Therefore, instead of hearing from the Committee (of which their final report is below as well as an article from WOAI) I had an impromptu meeting with the Associate Executive Director of Innovative Project Development Phil Russel and Public Information Officer Gabby Garcia. I spent about an hour and a half with them discussing various things from 391 Commissions, the I35 and I69 Corridor Advisory Committee reports, to the Segment Committees in the process of formation. It was very interesting to hear things from their side, to say the least.

What came out of both the Call America Convention and my impromptu meeting with the Executive Levels of TxDOT is that Coordination works. Bringing back local control to the communities is making a difference. I would encourage all citizens that really want to be heard to contact your 391 Commissions, your local City Councils, your local Commissioners Court, and to keep up with if not attend the public meetings put out by TxDOT relating to the Corridor Advisory Committees and upcoming Segment Committees ( Corridor Advisory Information ). With all information from all sides, you yourself will be able to begin to better understand the direct impact proposals discussed in these meetings will have on you. That in turn will enable you to be more involved. Remember, knowledge is power and power is coming back to the local levels through “Coordination”. We are making a difference.

Links to SCTSRPC Related Articles:

TXDOT Coordination Letter 7/31/08

TXDOT Reply 9/25/08

SA Express News Article 9/10/08

Wilson County News Article 11/5/08

Links to TxDOT information:

Please note the SCTSRPC does not necessarily support the information contained in these links. They are simply posted here to make it easier for you to access this information without having to go to multiple websites.

I35 Corridor Advisory Committe Article 11/12/08

I35 Corridor Advisory Committee Final Report 11/12/08

2008-2011 TxDOT Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for Bexar County

2009-2013 TxDOT Strategic Plan for Texas Transportation Issues

Monday, November 3, 2008

South Central Texas SRPC Holds First Coordination meeting with TXDOT

Marion City Council votes unanimously joins SCSRPC

On Monday November 3, 2008 the Marion City Council voted unanimously to join our efforts on the SCTSRPC. We welcome them to the table and look forward to making sure their concerns are heard. They will most certainly be a valuable addition to our Commission.

Next meeting: December 18, 2008 2pm St Hedwig City Hall Agenda TBD

We had a great initial Coordination meeting with TXDOT on October 29, 2008 which lasted approximately 2 hours in length.

A substantial amount of discussion was had between our Commission and TXDOT relating specifically to the TTC-35 and how it could possibly affect St. Hedwig and our neighbors. Others present at the meeting were representatives from Marion City Council, East Central ISD, St. Hedwig Fire Department, La Vernia City Council and La Vernia ISD.

We will have a second Coordination meeting with TXDOT in January 2009, date TBD, to discuss in more detail the traffic issues that need to be addressed relating to the expansion of 1604, TTC-35, and other issues. The intent of this meeting is for the 391 Commission to come to the table with specific issues and to offer solutions to those issues, thus making TXDOT completely aware of the cause and effect of any new construction of state roads or expansion of existing roads within our area.

We in the St. Hedwig, Wilson County area and our neighbors will no longer be ignored when it comes to federal and state agencies making changes in our area without them first having a true understanding of what those changes mean to our citizens. We appreciate TXDOT coming out to St. Hedwig’s City Hall for our initial as well as follow up meeting, and look forward to working closely with them not only now, but for many years to come.

Now if we could just have our local radio and television stations start referring to us by name (St. Hedwig) instead of East Bexar County….. we are after all 30.1 square miles in size, second only to San Antonio as the largest incorporated City Limits in Bexar County….but one thing at a time I suppose.

Kathy Palmer, President SCTSRPC

Commissioners are as follows:

President Kathy Palmer Chairman St. Hedwig Planning and Zoning Commission
Vice President Mary Jo Dylla St. Hedwig Mayor
Secretary/Treasurer Susann Baker St. Hedwig City Council woman

Ralph Gerhart Wilson County Resident

Larry Wiley Wilson County Commissioner

Judge Marvin Quinney Wilson County Judge

Kathy Palmer has been invited to be part of the Call America 2008 Annual Conference “Coordinating America’s Local Leaders” in Austin, TX Nov. 13-15. She will be a guest speaker as well as participating along with 2 members of other Texas 391 Commissions and Dan Byfield President of the American Land Foundation in a Q&A panel on Friday during the “Bringing Control Home in Texas” session. For more information on the entire seminar click on

TXDOT Coordination Letter 7/31/08

TXDOT Reply 9/25/08

SCTRSPC Press Release

SA Express News Article

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission Meets Next Week

Next meeting: September 23, 2008 2pm. St. Hedwig City Hall Agenda 9/23/08

Wilson County and the City of Saint Hedwig have joined together to create the ninth 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commission in the State of Texas, the first in the ACOG Region 18. We had our first meeting on July 31, 2008.

Commissioners are as follows:

President Kathy Palmer St. Hedwig Planning and Zoning Commissioner
Vice President Mary Jo Dylla St. Hedwig Mayor
Secretary/Treasurer Susann Baker St. Hedwig City Council woman

Ralph Gerhart Wilson County Resident

Larry Wiley Wilson County Commissioner

Judge Marvin Quinney Wilson County Judge

SCTRSPC Press Release

TXDOT Coordination Letter

SA Express News Article


July 08 Minutes

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Highway plans spurs formation of group

Elaine Ayo
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

St. Hedwig has homes on large lots and a longtime tradition of rural living. And folks there want to keep it that way.

“We want to be able to maintain as best we can the reason we moved out here in the first place,” said Kathy Palmer, the city’s planning and zoning commissioner.

But a new master plan and recently updated zoning maps are no match for a proposed route of Trans-Texas Corridor 35 that would slice straight through the city of about 2,000 people and create headaches for several city departments, officials said.

With neighboring Wilson County, St. Hedwig has created the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission , the ninth such commission formed in the state since last year and the first in the San Antonio area.

St. Hedwig officials say the commission is a way to ensure the state hears their concerns about the corridor proposal, which follows FM 1518 and cuts across the western third of the town’s 30 square miles.

An alternate route being considered would follow Interstate 35. None of the routes for the proposed network of statewide toll roads have been finalized.

State law allows the creation of such commissions and requires state agencies to coordinate plans with them “to the greatest extent feasible.” “The term ‘coordination’ is actually very important,” said Dan Byfield, president of the American Land Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting property rights. “It creates a great amount of power for the local unit of government, that (the state must) work with them. They can’t ignore them.”

Byfield and his wife, Margaret Byfield , executive director of another property rights organization called Stewards of the Range, have been helping local governments in the proposed paths of two TTC projects running between Mexico and the Dallas-Fort Worth area and between Mexico and the Texarkana-Shreveport area.

Concerns over the corridor route may have sparked the formation of the commission, but its potential impact is broader, Wilson County Commissioner Larry Wiley said.

“What we’re wanting is to put ourselves on a more level playing field with other government agencies, to represent the health, safety and welfare of the city, of our county,” Wiley said.

The South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission had its first meeting July 31 and has another scheduled for Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. at the St. Hedwig City Hall at 13065 FM 1346.

Board members want to finish devising the structure of the commission before inviting other area entities to join, Palmer said.

“It’s making folks aware we’re not just a little Podunk city and you can’t run us over,” Palmer said. “We have a plan.”

Portions © 2008 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Groups claiming TxDOT falsified toll project studies

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission Update

August 12, 2008

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News
Copyright 2008

Mayor Dylla provided an update on the formation of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission. Current members are Wilson County and the city of St. Hedwig. Palmer is the commission's president, Dylla will serve as vice president, and Baker is the secretary.

The commission will allow St. Hedwig and Wilson County commissioners to discuss road improvements, maintenance, and new roads, as well as other issues, on a level footing with the Texas Department of Transportation.

The commission will meet Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 2 p.m. to discuss bylaws. The meeting is open to the public.

© 2008 The Wilson County

Sunday, August 3, 2008

From July 15 TxDOT Sunset Hearing, public testimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saenz contradicts Gilbert

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

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

Gilbert documents his testimony

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

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

© 2008, ACRE:

Saturday, August 2, 2008

South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission Holds First Meeting

Next meeting: August 27, 2008 2pm. St. Hedwig City Hall 8/27/08 Agenda

Wilson County and the City of Saint Hedwig have joined together to create the ninth 391 Sub-Regional Planning Commission in the State of Texas, the first in the ACOG Region 18. We had our first meeting on July 31, 2008.

Commissioners are as follows:

President Kathy Palmer St. Hedwig Planning and Zoning Commissioner
Vice President Mary
© 2008, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF): www.texasturf.orgJo Dylla
St. Hedwig Mayor
Secretary/Treasurer Susann Baker St. Hedwig City Council woman

Ralph Gerhart Wilson County Resident

Larry Wiley Wilson County Commissioner

Judge Marvin Quinney Wilson County Judge

TxDOT Coordination Letter

South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission Formed

Press Release
South Central Texas Sub Regional Planning Commission (SCTSRPC)
Copyright 2008

St. Hedwig- Representatives of the City of St . Hedwig and Wilson County met July 31, 2008 at the St. Hedwig City Hall for the first meeting of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (SCTSRPC).

The SCTSRPC was formed under the authority of the Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391 which allows counties and cities 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 the ninth SRPC to be formed in Texas.) The SCTSRPC also expects the state and federal governments to address a list of concerns ranging from impacts to the local agricultural economy to loss of the county tax base.

Serving on the SCTSRPC Board of Directors are Mayor Mary Jo Dylla, of St. Hedwig, Councilwoman Susann Baker, of St. Hedwig, ViceChairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and at large member Kathy Palmer, of St. Hedwig, Judge Marvin Quinney, of Wilson County, Commissioner Larry Wiley, of Wilson County. Ralph Gerhardt, of Wilson County is an at-large member of the Commission.

One of the main purposes of the SCTSRPC will be to prevent negative impacts from the Trans Texas Corridor and other transportation projects within their jurisdiction. The Commission will also consider inviting other units of government, such as school boards, water boards, 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 as well as others across the State of Texas.

The next meeting of the South Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission will be held in St. Hedwig at the St. Hedwig City Hall at 2pm, Tuesday September 23, 2008. The public is invited to attend.
SCTSRPC-391 Commission Members

Kathy Palmer, Chairman St. Hedwig PZ Commission President

Mary Jo Dylla, Mayor of St. Hedwig Vice President

Susann Baker, St. Hedwig City Council Secretary/Treasurer

Marvin Quinney, Wilson County Judge Member at Large

Larry Wiley Wilson, County Commissioner Member at Large

Ralph Gerhart Wilson, county resident Member at Large

TBD Marion, City Council Member at Large

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:

Friday, May 23, 2008

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

by Vince Leibowitz
Capitol Annex
Copyright 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2008 The Capitol Annex