Thursday, August 28, 2008

More suggestions re National Geographic "Earth" article

Vernagene Mott, a Pflugerville ISD Trustee, has made the suggestion to send letters referencing the National Geographic article to elected officials and other editors at papers such as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times. She comments, “In the not too distant future, we may be dependent upon food imports just as we are petroleum imports.”

Jody Krankel, Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens, and Marcia Snyder, whose husband Ralph is on the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, have both sent an article from Country World that reports that documents uncovered by the TURF lawsuit against TxDOT may be helpful to the 391 Planning Commissions. Go here to read the article.

Related to the soil issue, the article notes “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.’”

National Geographic soil map not online

About the Sept. 08 National Geographic article “Our Good Earth,” which has a map that identifies the Blackland Prairie through the middle of the United States as one of the most highly fertile soils in the world . . .TTC-35 and the Supercorridor will pave over this valuable resource.

National Geographic has confirmed, “Unfortunately, the map was not included in the online adaptation and is not available electronically.” The map is only in the print edition, on page 92.

You can see the article online at
or by going to
At the top left-hand corner, where it says Current Issue, September 08, click under that on Table of Contents. When that comes up, click on “Our Good Earth,” which is the top featured article.

You can easily send an email letter to the National Geographic editor at

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Update to National Geographic post

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

Saturday, August 23, 2008

National Geographic recognizes our soil, not the danger to it

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

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.

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.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Out of office message

I will not be able to blog until about August 23.

Last message on July 15 TxDOT Sunset Hearing, public testimony, part 2

This is the fourth and last report on the July 15 TxDOT Sunset Hearing, beginning with the remainder of TURF’s Terri Hall’s presentation.

An update to the previous message: TURF has moved the information about the depositions of TxDOT officials (TxDOT Top Brass Commit Perjury) from their home page. To see it, go to
and scroll down to the You Tube clip.

More dynamite testimony from Terri Hall

Another topic introduced by Terri Hall was the conversion of US 281, a freeway built and open to traffic for decades, to a toll road. Her testimony shocked the Sunset Commission, and there was much discussion between the Commissioners and Hall. The Commissioners also brought Saenz back to the testimony table for extensive questioning.
Rep. Harper-Brown said that TxDOT seemed to be in violation of a state law, HB 2702, that prohibits converting a freeway to a toll road and requires that TxDOT leave the free lanes that existed before the toll lanes are built. However, as Hall’s material showed, every main lane on 281 will be tolled. The free lanes will be the access roads with lower speed limits and traffic signals. Harper-Brown commented, “If you don’t want to sit through all of those lights, you have to pay the tolls.”

(For the information of Austin-area residents, this is also the design for Austin’s 290 East, from US 183 to SH 130.)

Kolkhorst said, “I would like to give TxDOT the chance to respond to this. This goes to the heart of the Sunset Report—lack of trust.” Sen. Hegar said that the intent of the legislature was that free lanes would remain free. Rep. Flynn asked Saenz, “Did you not understand the legislative intent? We pass a law, you believe you’re doing certain things, then the Legislature is gone and it is interpreted differently. This is the disconnect that the public has and the Legislature has with this agency.”

Rep. Ruth McClendon doubted that Saenz really could not recall the details of this project, as he kept saying. TURF has provided a clip that begins with Chairman Isett saying that TxDOT changed “the terms of what an existing road means,” shows Rep. Flynn discussing TxDOT going against “legislative intent” and then shows McClendon’s very informative and entertaining questioning of Saenz about 281.

McClendon asks, “When you build these free side roads would that be a straight shot and you don’t have to ever stop?”

Saenz: “I would have to look at the schematic.”

McClendon: “Amadeo, please. We are talking about being truthful and being honest. . . . I know you know up and down what 281 looks like, and I think it’s unfair that you sit before this commission and try to pretend that you are not aware of what your department is doing. . . . I think it’s so unfair that we try to have a new day and you continue in the same vein with this dishonesty that we have gone through over the last several years.” [much applause from the audience]

Elected vs. appointed Commissioner or several Commissioners

There was discussion among the Sunset Commissioners and the public about the Sunset staff recommendation that there be one Transportation Commissioner, appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. Some were in favor of the recommendation, some wanted one elected Commissioner, and some proposed several Commissioners elected from state regions.

Kolkhorst expressed concern about a single elected Commissioner: “Cities have a huge impact. I am concerned about an elected official being more attuned to needs of urban centers. I have concerns about rural membership [on the Transportation Commission].

David and Linda Stall of Corridor Watch both testified. David Stall noted that former Chairman Williamson had said he only answered to one person [the Governor]. Stall said, “We believe we need a structural change, a State Transportation Board elected regionally.” See the Stalls’ complete recommendations at

Sen. Hegar was concerned about making a single Transportation Commissioner an elected official: “Metropolitan areas overwhelm the areas I represent.” Linda Stall responded, “This is why we are advocating regional representation.” David Stall added, “Let’s not forget TTC-35. There were 14,000 at those public hearings, and the TTC-35 plan has not changed. Black [Gov. Perry’s spokesman] said there are sufficient votes in Dallas/Fort Worth to override 14,000 along the Corridor route.”

Two former TxDOT employees testify to corruption

Two former TxDOT employees testified separately about the corruption that began in 2002/2003 when long-time professional employees were replaced with political hires. Jose Torres, an engineer, called it a “crony system” and a “misuse of taxpayers’ money” and referred to the corruption case in South Texas. Larry Cherkovski agreed with the comments of Torres and advised, “Clean house. Start at the top.”

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

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.

Conclusion of hearing

Chairman Isett explained what will happen next. “This is an advisory commission. We will draft legislation based on findings of the commission, and we will take it to the legislature. We think you will see that process will work. I’m looking forward to effect the changes we put forward. There is the legislative will to make some fundamental and significant changes in the way this agency operates.”

Friday, August 1, 2008

TxDOT Sunset Hearing--Public Testimony, Part 1

Here is the third message about what went on at the Sunset Commission hearing on TxDOT. So much valuable information came from public testimony, that I have divided this material into two parts. This message will cover the testimony through part of Terri Hall’s important presentation. There will be a fourth message beginning with the remainder of Hall’s testimony to the end of the hearing. There was more interesting material from the public that I have not covered. The Sunset Commissioners listened to all of it and received longer written documentation from many people who made brief oral comments.

Testimony from groups and citizens from all around the state

Chairman Isett commented that 80 people were signed up to speak. Testifiers included representatives from trade associations related to transportation, public interest groups, and individuals from as far away as Denton, Houston, Corpus Christi, New Braunfels, and San Antonio.

Organizations that sent representatives included the Texas Farm Bureau, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Houston Chapter of the Sierra Club, Scenic Texas, Citizens Transportation Coalition, and the Gulf Coast Institute.

People representing Central Texas organizations that have been active against toll roads and the Corridor included Carol Cespedes and Beki Halpin from Fix 290 in Oak Hill and Agnes Voges of the Blackland Coalition (Bell and Williamson counties).

Representatives of state-wide groups that have been fighting the Corridor for years testified, including David and Linda Stall, Corridor Watch; Linda Curtis, state director of Independent Texans; and Richard Reeves, Texas Toll Party.

Bill Molina, independent filmmaker with Storm Productions, testified, filmed the hearing, and has provided a short recap.
Molina is working on a new Corridor film that will be an update to his first Corridor documentary, “Truth Be Tolled.” For more details, visit his website

Intimidation of citizens by TxDOT

One of the individuals testifying was Minda McGuire from the San Antonio area, who recounted an incident from a 281 toll road meeting where former Transportation Chair Ric Williamson almost had a man arrested. A citizen wished to face the audience, and Williamson commanded the man to face him, Williamson. When the citizen stayed turned toward the audience, Williamson ordered officers to take hold of the man’s arms and turn him around to face Williamson.

This story reminded Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of a TTC-69 hearing in Grimes County where the consulting firm that arranged the hearing hired over 20 DPS officers to handle security (which was unnecessary), an occurrence that made some citizens afraid to testify. Later in this Sunset hearing, a woman from Kolkhorst’s district expanded on that story. She spoke of the intimidation factor of having unfamiliar faces from the DPS acting as security. She said they tried to “set aside the Sheriff’s authority,” but the Sheriff reminded them that he was in charge. She described the Corridor itself and the process of foisting it on the people as “a deep wound in rural Texas.”

TxDOT’s “damning testimony” provided by TURF’s Terri Hall

Terri Hall, of TURF, began her testimony by asking to show a short video deposition of TxDOT officials obtained through TURF’s lawsuit of TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and advocacy. The Sunset Commission denied her request, but said they would look at their copies, which Hall provided to them. She said it is “very damning testimony as it pertains to lobbying.”

To see this video, go to and click on “TxDOT’s top brass commit perjury.” You can see portions of depositions of Executive Director Saenz, Director of Government and Public Affairs Division Coby Chase, and Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton. Short clips of these officials publically advocating for toll roads and the Corridor are interspersed with their sworn testimony denying that they have ever advocated for toll roads and the Corridor.

Regarding TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT, when Chairman Delisi had been asked about it during her questioning, she simply said it had been dismissed. Terri Hall clarified the status of the lawsuit: “Our case isn’t dead, it’s on appeal.” The lawsuit has turned up TxDOT documents that state that the goal of the Keep Texas Moving (KTM) campaign is “to shift perception among those who are opposed to or on the fence about the TTC” and to change the political environment to “make it less hostile to the TTC” and to promote the “benefits of TTC and help inoculate it from negative attacks.”

Hall testified that the KTM campaign is “a taxpayer-funded political ad campaign, which is not only illegal, but it also abuses the taxpayers in order to line TxDOT’s pockets.” In addition, TxDOT hired five registered lobbyists for $100,000 per month to directly push CDA’s and the TTC to Congress and other elected officials.

Kolkhorst followed up on the KTM campaign, asking Saenz if it was tax dollars, and he answered yes. Saenz said he didn’t think TxDOT had spent $100,000 per month on the lobbyists. She then asked Coby Chase, TxDOT Director of Government and Public Affairs, about the $100,000. “Could you tell us how much money you are spending yearly on KTM and lobbyists?” She never really got a straight answer to this question. Chase said that TxDOT had spent $4.5 million from June, 2007, to February, 2008. Kolkhorst asked, “What about the $9 million?” [the publicized cost of the KTM campaign] Again, not receiving a direct answer, she then asked Chase, “Do you believe you have the ability in statute to advocate?” Chase: “No, Ma’am.”

Public member McMahen said, “I am shocked at how hard it is for these legislators to get answers out of an agency that has to get its funding from them.”

The next (fourth) report on the Sunset TxDOT hearing will begin with more dynamite testimony from TURF’s Terri Hall and will cover the remainder of the public testimony.