Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau--FOR Prop. 11

Regan Beck, associate legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau, spoke to the Coupland Civic Organization at their October 26 meeting. He covered the issues of interest to farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents during the last session of the Legislature.

Regarding trying to protect property rights, he called it “all in all, a good session, but not a great session.” The TFB’s efforts were partially successful against eminent domain. Regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor, he said, “We want to take it off the books. We were so close at the end of the session in getting this [and other things that were in HB 300, the TxDOT Sunset bill], but it fell through.”

He noted that HB 300 would have repealed the Trans-Texas Corridor. It also included diminished access protection in eminent domain actions. Since HB 300 failed to pass, the Legislature had to extend the existence of TxDOT during the special session and will have to deal with TxDOT’s Sunset process during the next regular session.

The good news—TFB is pleased with $30 million in aid that passed for rural Texans, including funds for boll weevil eradication, feral hog control, and repair for earthen flood control dams. [Ed Komandosky, secretary/treasurer of Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District, spoke to the last meeting of the Coupland Civic Organization about the funding and repair work on the dams in our area.]

Beck calls SB 18 “a great bill that included good faith negotiation to treat the landowner as fairly as possible, by negotiating in good faith upfront before the property is condemned.” SB 18 also included more disclosures for the property owner and a ten-year buy-back provision, whereby if the condemning entity did not use the property within ten years, the owner could buy it back for the same price he was paid for it. Unfortunately, SB 18 was one of the bills left unpassed when time ran out at the end of the session.

Much of the problems that property owners have with condemning entities are not even with governments, but with others who have been given the power of condemnation, such as pipeline companies. There was a provision that the comptroller would be notified of all entities that have power to condemn. Then, if an entity does not sign up with comptroller, it loses its condemnation power. Unfortunately, this was not passed.

Beck said, “HJR 14 was passed and is Proposition 11 on the ballot. We still need to do more on eminent domain, but Prop 11 helps.” When asked if the TFB was prepared to start early next session to get more eminent domain protections, he said yes. He noted that this last session, it took too long to get more protections through the Senate--too long to get some Senators on board--and then the legislation failed in the last-minute gridlock. In this coming session, Beck hopes that the Senators already will be prepared to support protections, so that legislation can move through faster.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Proposition 11--a needed first step for protection against eminent domain

Some are against Prop. 11 because it does not contain strong enough protections against eminent domain. However, such entities as the Texas Farm Bureau and Corridor Watch are for Prop. 11 because it is a first step. The TFB and other advocates intend to go back next session of the Legislature and push for even stronger protections. Below are excerpts from Corridor Watch's David and Linda Stall:

"Proposition 11 strikes back against the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo v. City of New London ruling that private property can be taken by the government for the private benefit of another for economic development purposes or increasing tax revenue.

"If passed, Proposition 11 would specifically prohibit the use of eminent domain power 'for the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenue.'

"This was a very serious threat in the original Trans Texas Corridor plan. When that plan became law in 2003 it included the power to take land for ancillary facilities for the express purpose of generating revenue. Since then the legislature removed that sweeping authority. Proposition 11 would ensure that such power is never restored.

"Additionally, Proposition 11 would restrict the expansion of eminent domain authority to more public or private entities; and, would limit excessive use of eminent domain to eliminate urban blight.

"Even if Proposition 11 passes, additional protections will be required to fully protect our private property rights. In 2007 the legislature overwhelmingly passed law (HB-2006) that would have provided much needed protection. Unfortunately, our Governor objected to granting those protections and vetoed that law.

"What message will you send the Legislature? The votes cast FOR or AGAINST Proposition 11 will serve as an indicator of public interest in protecting private property rights. If the measure passes strongly it will signal a continued public demand for protection of private property. If the measure fails, it will signal a loss of public concern over private property rights.

"Those of us who still want to see strong protections(like HB-2006) adopted into statute need Proposition 11 to pass by a large margin."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Learn how you too can stop the Corridor from coming through your community

We have just witnessed a major blow against the Corridor--TxDOT chose the "no-build" or "no action" alternative for the TTC-35 Environmental Impact Statement, meaning that TTC-35 would NOT be built, at least as far as this environmental process is concerned.

A major reason that TxDOT was forced to choose the "no-build" option was the "coordination" action taken by the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) in Bell and Milam counties. Sitting in the path of TTC-35, these five small cities and their associated school districts stopped the Corridor in its tracks. Dan and Margaret Byfield and their non-profit American Stewards of Libery were instrumental in forming the ECTSRPC.

Now, American Stewards of Liberty is holding its annual Call America conference in Denver, November 5-7, to teach others how to implement this "coordination" strategy. For further information, go to the website stewards.us and click on Call America 2009.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Corridor--especially TTC-35--continues to be killed

This week, more of the building blocks enabling the Trans-Texas Corridor, specifically TTC-35, have been destroyed. Previously, in the special session, legislators killed the funding mechanism for the Corridor—the Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDA) with private companies. Also earlier this year, TxDOT announced it would not proceed with the overall Corridor plan and would consider it segment by segment. Now, TTC-35 has been terminated in two different ways.

First, TxDOT has canceled the contract with Cintra, the Spanish corporation, and its partner Zachry to build TTC-35. Cintra/Zachry had a CDA with TxDOT to plan and build TTC-35. In the special session, the overall CDA process was done away with, and now Cintra’s specific CDA has been canceled. Cintra has produced a plan, has been paid millions for planning, and may be paid more millions for the state to extricate itself from the complicated contracts negotiated by Giuliani Bracewell (the law firm of Perry pal Rudy Giuliani). However, Cintra will not do any building on TTC-35 except for the two southern segments of SH 130 that are underway and which will now be considered SH 130, not part of TTC-35.

Secondly, the environmental process on TTC-35 ends with a recommendation by TxDOT to the Federal Highway Administration to do nothing—called the “no-build option” or the “no action alternative.”

TxDOT, using taxpayer funds, spent years of time and energy and millions of dollars on TTC-35, reportedly $131 million for planning and environmental work. In addition to all of this wasted effort and money on the part of TxDOT, there are the untold volunteer hours, contributions, and worry on the part of residents in the threatened areas and supporters around the state.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the 4,000-page document showing a general TTC-35 route, was released in 2006, and the Final EIS was scheduled to be released in 2007. TxDOT officials said that the decision not to build TTC-35 was in response to comments from citizens received during the environmental process. Of course, during the entire TTC-35 ordeal, TxDOT has not cared at all about citizens’ opinions.


Even though citizen comments per se did not affect TxDOT, it was important that tens of thousands of residents attended the various levels of meetings and hearings, spoke against TTC-35, signed petitions, and submitted written comments. This effort formed the foundation of community organizations working against the Corridor and the process of influencing legislators and electing new legislators.

This, in turn, resulted in the legislature gradually turning against the Corridor and eliminating the Comprehensive Development Agreement tool.

The reason that TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration finally had no way to continue with the TTC-35 EIS was the action of the ECTSRPC in Bell and Milam counties. Five small towns and their associated school districts formed their Sub-Regional Planning Commission, and by state law, TxDOT was compelled to “coordinate” with their Commission. This meant that TxDOT had to take into account what the ECTSRPC citizens wanted and cover all required issues in the EIS process. TxDOT had not done this, meaning that the EIS was not legal and could not be recognized as legal by the Federal Highway Administration.

The ECTSRPC announced: “Selecting that option [no build] was exactly what the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC) forced TxDOT into choosing. . . . The planning commission began a series of what is called coordination meetings in the fall of 2007, by utilizing a little known state statute that forced the behemoth agency to come to Holland, Texas. . . . TxDOT came to Holland on three different occasions where they were asked to explain why they were going to destroy five towns and their school districts with a 1,200 foot-wide, 146 acre per mile toll road.

“‘Through coordination, we forced them to our table and then we used the federal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) statute to box them in a legal corner out of which they could not escape,’ stated Ralph Snyder, a local Holland businessman and board member of the ECTSRPC. ‘That's what forced TxDOT to recommend 'No Build' to the Federal Highway Administration because we had shown how TxDOT, as the agent of the federal government, had violated the federal statute in at least 29 ways,’ Snyder continued.

“Fred Grant, president of American Stewards of Liberty, is the originator of the coordination strategy that brought TxDOT to their knees.”

Some more time and paperwork is required to complete the TTC-35 EIS process, at the end of which the Federal Highway Administration will issue its Record of Decision approving the “No Action Alternative.” This is what so many of us asked in our comments, never thinking it would actually happen--it hardly ever happens--but now it is the final result!

Even though the Legislature has gradually turned against the Corridor concept, the legislation enabling it is still on the books. In addition, the Trans-Texas Corridor began as Gov. Perry’s “vision,” and he has never renounced it. We have to remain vigilant as long as the Corridor statute has not been repealed, and as long as Perry or anyone else who supports the concept is in the governor’s office.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau switches from Perry to KBH

KBH has just received the important endorsement of the Texas Farm Bureau. In the past, the TFB has endorsed Perry, even as it has issued strong statements against the Trans-Texas Corridor and in favor of stronger protections against eminent domain. Now, the TFB sees a viable alternative to Perry in KBH and has made the switch. Excerpts from their endorsement release:

When it comes to selecting the next governor of Texas, the choice boils down to one question for farm and ranch families in the Lone Star State: Which candidate can you trust?

"Time and again U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has earned both our trust and respect by listening to our concerns and acting on issues that matter," said Kenneth Dierschke, president of the Texas Farm Bureau.

Dierschke cited many examples of her support for Texas agriculture. Among them: her record in dealing with the Endangered Species Act, property rights issues, health care reform, the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act and various trade issues.

On farm issues in particular, the senior senator from Texas has stood strong for farmers and ranchers from the Lone Star State, Dierschke added.