Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in Coupland

The Coupland Civic Organization (CCO) thanks Coupland teacher George McAdams and Superintendent Gary Chandler for bringing the school’s flutophone group and the guitar class to perform at the CCO’s Christmas program on December 16. A standing-room-only audience of parents, grandparents, and other community members greatly enjoyed the music. Also, thanks to the CCO’s hospitality committee for the holiday refreshments.

The steeple and windows of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland are outlined with Christmas lights, and together with the lights on the Old Coupland Inn and some elaborate displays on homes, Coupland’s Christmas lights make a beautiful scene in the middle of the countryside.

St. Peter’s choir presented their Christmas Cantata on December 19. Additional St. Peter’s Christmas activities include the Christmas bags that the Sunday School children have made for the church members who are not able to be out and about. Also underway is the annual Angel Tree project to provide gifts for children in the community.
Christmas time in Coupland--a wonderful time of year! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Coupland hears about neighboring cities' expansions--incorporation committee forms

At the Coupland Civic Organization meeting on October 25, an audience of about 60 heard from Taylor and Elgin officials about their cities’ annexation plans and their thoughts on the situation in the Coupland area.

Taylor’s plans

Taylor City Manager Jim Dunaway said that since Taylor’s last annexation, there are no more plans to go south along Hwy. 95. If Taylor goes south, it would be on 973. The new high school will open in the fall of 2011, and Taylor may annex there in 1012 or 13. In addition to the area around the new high school, Taylor will focus toward its northwest in the Chandler Road area.

The line between Pflugerville and Manor is Manda-Carlson Rd. because of an agreement. Pflugerville does not want to be any farther east, at least right now. Also, in August, Pflugerville and Taylor agreed that Pflugerville relinquished its ETJ in the Rice’s Crossing area, giving up its ETJ there that was in Williamson County. Dunaway said that Taylor was talking to Manor and Elgin “trying to negotiate a line between us.”

Elgin’s plans

Elgin Mayor Marc Holm said that Elgin and Coupland are in a similar situation. There is intense growth east of Austin. It is going to continue to be a desirable area. There are a lot of plans still in play. There will be pressure on Coupland, with developments coming.

He and other Elgin officials explained that their effort to voluntarily add property to the Elgin ETJ by sending letters to people who are in the Elgin ISD is a defensive effort in response to aggressive annexation by Manor. Manor is attempting to move to its northeast. If Manor is successful, its ETJ would be north of Elgin, between Elgin and Coupland, and moving toward Coupland. If Elgin can expand its ETJ toward Coupland, this would protect Coupland from Manor.

Mayor Holm said that Elgin is having to respond or decisions will be made for it. That’s a challenge that Coupland and Elgin have in common. He concluded that Central Texas is still the area for growth. He advised Coupland to create our own city or the decision will be taken away from us, and not too far in the future.

Taylor and Elgin in discussions

Jim Dunaway, Taylor city manager, said if Coupland does not choose incorporation, we have to decide which city will take us over. Current city officials can’t tell us what future city councils will do.

Taylor is in discussions with Elgin and Manor to agree that those cities will stop at the Williamson County line. If this comes to pass, it leaves Coupland only within the reach of Taylor for future annexation, given that Pflugerville says it does not want to come past Manda/Carlson Road. However, both Dunaway and Mayor Holm said we can’t predict what future city councils will do.

Business development could threaten Coupland

Greg Vick, Elgin interim city manager, doesn’t think the biggest threat to Coupland now is from a city; he thinks it would be a big development. Someone could be planning a big development for the Coupland area, and when something happens, it’s too late for us to have any control over it. Right now, Coupland has the ability to make these decisions. Greg Vick said the threat is not so much residential developments, but business developments.

Coupland incorporation committee

At the end of the meeting, Susan Schmidt announced that she is forming a committee to work on incorporation. She asked people who were interested to get in touch with her.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The 2011 session--eminent domain protection redux

Sen. Craig Estes has refiled his bill to limit eminent domain takings to projects that are only for public use. Last session, the Senate passed this legislation, but it got caught up in the log-jam of bills that did not pass in the House when time ran out. This time, it is called Senate Bill 180, which redefines “public use” and includes compensation for diminished access. SB 180 also ends land speculation by the government.

Estes said, “I believe one of the most important functions of government is the protection of private property and the interests of property owners. Our ability to own and profit from private property is fundamental to not just our economic liberty, but also our personal liberty."

Here's hoping that this session does not end in the disarray of the previous session, when valuable legislation like this, that was on its way to being passed, was simply lost when time ran out.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October Coupland meeting on Taylor and Elgin expansion

The October Coupland Civic Organization meeting will be the last in the series of presentations about the changing situation around Coupland. The CCO has heard from Taylor’s city manager and mayor pro tem and Pflugerville’s city planner. The group also has had a community round-table discussion about the situation. CCO directors have presented information about the small cities of Weir and Creedmoor and their experiences with incorporation.

Taylor and Elgin are considering the future of the area between them, which includes Coupland. Some residents who are close to Coupland but are in the Elgin school district have received letters from the City of Elgin asking them to voluntarily join Elgin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

On October 25, the CCO will present the Taylor/Elgin situation. Speakers will be Taylor City Manager Jim Dunaway, Elgin Mayor Marc Holm, Elgin City Manager Greg Vick, and Elgin City Planner Gary Cooke. The meeting is Monday, October 25, in the Fellowship Hall of St. Peter’s Church. Refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m., and the program will begin at 7.

More on solar farm in Coupland area

Update on the 600-acre, $240 million solar farm at the intersection of Manda-Carlson Road and Felder Lane, about 3-1/2 miles west/southwest of Coupland:

On September 15, the Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens Association hosted a meeting at the New Sweden Parish Hall to get more info to area residents.
RRE Solar, formed late last year, is the company doing the project. A consultant for RRE Solar, Angelos Angelou of Angelou Economics, said that they have not yet chosen a construction company. He said that when a company is chosen, RRE will put the concerns of the surrounding residents in the contract. He noted that RRE has purchased right-of-way for a line to connect the solar farm to the nearby LCRA transmission line and thus to the ERCOT grid.

They hope to break ground here in November; construction should take 2-1/2 to 3 years.

Clay Fischer presented the findings of Zephyr Environmental. Zephyr did not find any endangered species on the site, although nearby residents said they have spotted whooping cranes on their properties. Cottonwood Creek and a tank are on the RRE site. Fischer said, “All plant work will happen outside of these areas. RRE and Zephyr have developed stormwater pollution prevention plans to stop erosion during construction and operation.”

Fischer claimed that there were no cultural resources on the site or within one mile of the project boundaries. However, residents pointed out that the Carlson Community historical marker is across the road from the project, at the intersection of Lund-Carlson Road and Manda-Carlson Road.

Daven Mehta, CEO of RRE, explained that the solar panels will be 6 to 7 feet high, fixed at a 30 degree angle. Unlike some solar panels, these will not move, and there will be no noise. The panels will be set back from the property boundaries. There will be two fences with a gravel road in between, the fencing will be 20 feet back from boundaries, and the panels will be 50-70 feet inside. The fence and panels will be screened from view by berms and plantings of trees and shrubs around the property.

When asked about lighting, Mehta said, “We don’t work at night and only need lights for security.” RRE is considering new type of lighting that mitigates the brightness reaching neighboring properties.

At the previous BPCCA meeting, some attendees thought that the solar farm was not the worst project that could be put on this property. It is a large parcel that was owned by out-of-state owners, and some neighboring property owners were concerned that it was being considered for high-density housing or an Austin landfill.

Some adjoining property owners at the September meeting disagreed with the above analysis and are unalterably opposed to the solar farm. Some neighbors were considering having their own environmental study done.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New book on "the unfinished history" of the I-69 part of the Trans-Texas Corridor

Thanks to Martha Estes for letting us know about a newly released book that sounds very interesting. Matt Dellinger’s “Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway” deals with the TTC-69 part of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Publishers Weekly says that this book about “the controversial I-69 highway . . . makes for colorful, quirky reading.” As was true about the now-dead TTC-35, TTC-69 also will run from Canada to Mexico and is a NAFTA highway. Whereas TTC-35 was slated to run through Central Texas, TTC-69 is planned to go through East Texas through the Houston area and on to the Rio Grande. Dellinger discusses the many options in play, including “the controversial practice of allowing foreign companies to lease roads long-term and charge escalating tolls.”

In the Statesman, Ben Wear says, “Dellinger details the back-room origins of the now-dead Trans-Texas Corridor. . . . And the book makes indelible characters out of key players in that issue.”

Dellinger is on a national tour and will be at Austin’s Book People, 603 N. Lamar, on Friday, October 1, at 7 p.m. for reading, discussion, and signing.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Federal Highway Administration pounds "final nail in the coffin" of TTC-35

Thanks to Marcia Snyder for sending the info below. The FHWA has issued the final Record of Decision on the Trans-Texas Corridor paralleling IH 35 and has chosen the No Action Alternative. Because the FHWA specifies that the “project is concluded” and “the project ends,” it would be very hard if not impossible for the pro-Corridor elements to resurrect TTC-35.

Margaret Byfield, American Stewards of Liberty, cites the following analysis from attorney Fred Grant, who was instrumental in forming the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission:

“The Federal Highway Administration has pounded the final nail in the coffin of the Trans-Texas Corridor-35. The Agency’s final Record of Decision, issued on July 20, 2010 selected the No Action Alternative but went further in ordering that 'a study area for the TTC-35 Project will not be chosen and the TTC-35 Project is concluded.' Twice the ROD states that the 'project is concluded', and six times it states that 'the project ends'. If TXDOT attempted to revive the 35 Corridor project and use the same EIS, this ROD would provide the base for issuance by a United States District Judge of a Declaratory Judgment prohibiting the action.”

Margaret says: “The Eastern Central Commission needs to count this as another major victory. They didn’t withdraw the study as requested but wrote the ROD in such a way that TXDOT cannot use this study in the future. Congratulations to all.”

I say, "Champagne for all!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July Coupland Herald is out!

The July issue of the Coupland Herald newsletter is out. Highlights include a map of area city ETJs advancing toward Coupland and the country's largest solar farm in the Coupland area. What next?! To read the Herald, go to and click on Coupland Herald in the left column. To see more photos from the paver installation project and the Depot Dedication event, click on "new" Depot Dedication.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Coupland dedicates newly restored Depot on June 19

June 19 marked the official Depot Dedication. Coupland Civic Organization President Barbara Piper introduced three long-time Coupland residents, who presented some history of the community and the significance of the Depot. Ruth Thiele spoke of rescuing the Depot, moving it to the center of Coupland, and restoring it as the 1976 Bicentennial project of what was then the Coupland Community Club.

Irene Florida explained the change from the Community Club to the current Civic Organization, which is a non-profit organization. She recounted the beginning of the planning and fundraising for the current restoration during her tenure as CCO president. Loretta Patschke told some entertaining stories of growing up in Coupland, talked about the generations of Coupland families, and discussed the meaning of the Depot. She concluded with a heart-felt plea that current Coupland residents do what they can to preserve the valuable and traditional way-of-life that still exists in the community.

Board member Bradley Nelson demonstrated working crossing lights and bell, from his railroad memorabilia collection, that he has installed in front of the Depot. Attendees enjoyed a barbecue sandwich lunch and seeing the Depot and its collection of artifacts. Mickie Ross brought a display of literature and antique toys from the Williamson Museum. Francis Smith of the Elgin Depot Museum also attended.

Family members of Eldridge and Deanna Tidwell offered rides in their horse-drawn wagon around Coupland. Fire Chief Tracy Gardner displayed some of the latest trucks from the Coupland Volunteer Fire Department.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Personalized paver installation at Coupland Depot

Coupland Civic Organization directors take a break: Seated, left to right, Dottie Hahn, President Barbara Piper, Barbara Franklin. Back row, Ruby Wabbel, Susan Garry, Bradley Nelson.
Hunter Matysek and the parents of Taylor Boy Scout Troop 167.

Hunter Matysek discusses the paver project with CCO paver committee chair Barbara Franklin.

Bradley Nelson and helpers install his working crossing signal in front of the Depot.
Saturday, June 5, was paver installation day in front of the Depot. As part of his work to become an Eagle Scout, Hunter Matysek of Boy Scout Troop 167 of Taylor, took on the project of removing the old sidewalk pavers, cleaning them, leveling the ground, and reinstalling the old pavers, along with the new personalized ones. His fellow scouts, along with parents and siblings, also worked on the project.
The CCO board members provided a lunch for the scouts and their families. Special thanks to Walter Hahn who barbecued the brisket.
Reporter Lauren Chiodo covered the event for the Taylor Daily Press. Her article, along with a color photo of the project, was on the front page of the June 8 issue.
Coupland resident Rebecca Newman and her three sons were all helping with the pavers. Her oldest son Jared, now a junior at A&M, became an Eagle Scout with Troop 167. Jake, 15, and Jordan, 12, are members of the troop. Rebecca explained that many of the parents have science and technology backgrounds, so they are able to teach the scouts to do their projects in a professional manner.
While the scouts were working on the pavers, CCO board member Bradley Nelson installed authentic signal lights and bell at the Depot. The working lights and bell are from his private railroad memorabilia collection.
The redone sidewalk with the new personalized pavers looks great! The paver project will continue as a long-term fundraiser for the Depot facilities. You can still order pavers for a donation of $35 each. Adding a train logo is an additional $10. The sidewalk is designed so that new pavers can be added in the future. To order pavers, please call fundraising chair Barbara Franklin at 856-0039 or CCO President Barbara Piper at 856-2635.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Coupland area to be site of largest solar farm in U.S.

When we envision hundreds of acres of solar panels, we may think of an unpopulated area that is not good farmland. We probably don’t envision hundreds of acres of solar panels covering up our valuable Blackland Prairie. However, the Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens Association (BPCCA), at their June 14 meeting, heard from a group who plans to put a solar farm on 550-600 acres on the west side of Manda-Carlson Road at Felder Lane, about 3-1/2 miles west/southwest of Coupland.

Over 70 attendees filled the New Sweden Lutheran Parish Hall to hear the group describe what they called “the largest solar plant in this country . . . one of the largest in the world.”

Marilyn Samuelson, BPCCA Vice President, moderated the meeting about the “City of Pflugerville Solar Farm Energy Project,” a project of RRE Austin Solar. In attendance was Victor Gonzales, the mayor pro tem of Pflugerville--the site is in the Pflugerville ETJ. The site also is in the Elgin ISD (EISD), but an EISD representative did not come. A representative came from the office of Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis.

Angelou introduced the people from the companies that are behind RRE: NEPC India Ltd. (Chennai, India), and Power Tech Pvt. Ltd. (Jamnagar, India). Raj Kumar Khemka is Vice Chairman of NEPC India. He was accompanied by two directors, Mr. Mehta and one other.

Angelou explained that the $240 million project will be built over a period of 2-1/2 years. He said, “This is going to be the largest project in the state of Texas. At 60 megawatts, it will be the largest in the U.S. There will be four to five permanent employees, with three to four hundred during the construction phase.” Construction could begin in January, 2011. The solar farm will connect to the nearby LCRA electric transmission line.

Elgin ISD and the City of Pflugerville have approved the project and will give it tax benefits. RRE is expecting the support of Travis County in the near future. The project has a letter of support from the State of Texas and will receive federal incentives. Angelou said, “Governments have to incentivize or the project can’t happen.”

Mehta mentioned that the project also would benefit from the carbon tax credits that will go into effect if a cap-and-trade system passes the Congress.

The RRE presentation referred to approval from and benefits for Elgin schools and Pflugerville, although the project is several miles from Elgin schools and Pflugerville. The people who are actually next to the plant have no authority or recourse. However, some attendees, realizing that this large site is available for any type of project, think that a solar plant is not the worst project that could be placed here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coupland Civic Organization to hold Depot Dedication on June 19

The Coupland Civic Organization (CCO) will dedicate its newly restored historic Depot on Saturday, June 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Long-time Coupland residents will talk about the history of the Depot and its significance to the community.
Before being moved to the center of the community where it is today, the Depot had been moved from its original location next to the tracks and placed on a farm. Ruth Thiele will speak about the Depot being moved from her uncle’s farm and being restored for the first time in 1976, as Coupland’s project for the United States Bicentennial.
Irene Florida will discuss the beginning of the planning for the current restoration, which took place while she was CCO president. Loretta Patschke will talk about the experience of growing up in Coupland and what the Depot means to the community.
Beginning at 11 a.m., the CCO will host a picnic-style lunch, and the Dedication presentation will begin at noon. The Depot will be open so that residents and visitors can view the CCO’s restoration work and the historic pictures and artifacts that are on display. A horse-drawn wagon will provide rides through the community.
CCO board member Bradley Nelson will demonstrate authentic train-crossing lights and bell that he has installed at the Depot. The lights and bell are from his private railroad memorabilia collection.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BPCCA June 14 meeting on large solar farm for NE Travis County

The Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens Association is the rural community group in NE Travis County. They cover the New Sweden/Lund/Manda/Carlson areas. A very large (500-1,000 acre) solar farm is being proposed for Manda-Carlson. The BPCCA has arranged a meeting about this project for June 14. The public is welcome. The BPCCA release:

"The Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens Association (BPCCA) will meet Monday, June 14, 7:00 pm. at the New Sweden Lutheran Parish Hall, 12809 New Sweden Church Road. Guest speaker will be Angelos G. Angelou of Angelou Economics and will bring information to the group concerning the proposed solar farm in the Manda-Carlson area. The public is welcome to attend.
"BPCCA was organized in 2001 with the mission statement 'To ensure the beautiful, endangered, and historic Blackland Prairie of northeast Travis County is preserved. To ensure progressive economic growth meets the requirements of this rural environment and proud heritage. To ensure our elected and appointed officials understand the citizens of northeast Travis County will not allow the Blackland Prairie to become the dumping ground for Central Texas and other counties.' BPCCA’s boundaries in northeast Travis County are: Manor City Limits and/or FM 973 on the west, Travis County/Williamson Country Line on the north, Travis County/Bastrop County line or Elgin City Limits on the east and Highway 290 on the south between the city limits of Elgin and Manor."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

SH 130 in the red--taxpayers making up the difference

The Statesman’s Ben Wear reports that the Texas Transportation Commission may be considering lowering tolls for trucks on SH 130 in order to lure more trucks from I-35. The article has an interesting discussion on what level of tolling would result in more trucks taking 130 at what result to overall toll revenues.

Wear notes that financially 130 is in the red. He reports, “The 2002 financial prospectus for investors who put $2.2 billion into Texas 130, Loop 1 and Texas 45 North showed initial toll rates unchanged until 2015, when a 50 percent increase was scheduled. Transportation commissioners have the power to raise rates before then, but they aren't talking publicly about doing so. But they might be considering it privately. According to figures from TxDOT Chief Financial Officer James Bass, the three-road system has required $68 million in tax money to balance the books over the first three years.”

So why is it a good idea to continue to build toll roads where taxpayers will be paying the investors? By the way, ground has been broken on the tolled interchange at 290 East and 183—a tolled interchange being paid for by taxpayer stimulus money.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Coupland Civic Organization discusses pros and cons of incorporation

The Coupland Civic Organization (CCO) will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, May 24, at 7 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland. Come at 6:30 p.m. for refreshments and visiting. The program will be the third in a series of community discussions about the expansion of surrounding cities toward Coupland. There will be a panel discussion on the pros and cons of “Incorporation—Is it right for Coupland?”

The CCO thanks Pflugerville Planning Director Autumn Speer, who spoke at our April meeting about Pflugerville’s growth. Attendees also enjoyed hearing from Loretta Patschke, of Patschke & Patschke Real Estate and a Coupland resident, who discussed new projects and events in Taylor.

Also thanks to Taylor Mayor Pro Tem Ella Jez and Taylor City Manager Jim Dunaway for speaking at the CCO's March meeting.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

TTC-35 FEIS--Is 'No Action' good enough? Should it be totally withdrawn?

Happy Mother’s Day!

TxDOT has released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Trans-Texas Corridor that was proposed to parallel IH-35 (TTC-35). Those who commented during this environmental process have received a card from TxDOT announcing that they can view the FEIS at The FEIS also is in public libraries in the Corridor area and TxDOT district and area offices. TxDOT will provide CD and paper copies of the FEIS to the public for the cost of reproduction and shipping. The deadline for commenting on the FEIS is May 26.

In addition to viewing the text of the FEIS, you also can see previous comments from the public, organizations, and officials in the appendices.

This FEIS has recommended the “No Action Alternative,” which means, according to TxDOT, “the TTC-35 project would end.” The Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission is concerned that this situation would result in this FEIS being left on the table, where it could possibly be resurrected in the future. The Commission has petitioned the Federal Highway Administration to completely withdraw and discard the FEIS.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Water pipeline lawsuit dismissed--problem of eminent domain by non-profits fronting for profiteering remains

In November, 2009, we covered the new water pipeline of Cross County Water Supply Corp., which will bring water from Burleson County to the Manor area. The 52-mile pipeline was the subject of an American-Statesman article:

As we previously reported, Cross County is set up as a non-profit. However, behind Cross County are for-profit entities who hope to profit handsomely from selling water for development in the SH 130 area. Quoting the Statesman, “Cross County counts as its customer Blue Water Systems, run by Austin real estate investor Ross Cummings, which has developed wells in Burleson County, said Pat Reilly, a director of Cross County. Blue Water, in turn, has a deal to sell water to publicly traded Southwest Water Co., Reilly said.”

Burleson County landowners Terry and Linda Ausley would not give permission for Cross County to survey their land, Cross County sued them, and they counter-sued, saying that Cross County “was formed . . . as a Texas nonprofit corporation for the sole purpose of fraudulently providing a mechanism for obtaining easements below market rate via threat of condemnation for purposes of securing a pipeline location . . .”

Since the suits were filed, Cross County did not cross the Ausleys’ land, but went around it.

Ausleys’ lawsuit dismissed

Thanks to Madeleine Hensley for letting us know that the Ausleys’ case was dismissed and getting a copy of the opinion.

On April 16, Federal Judge Sam Sparks dismissed the Ausleys’ lawsuit. The case had been transferred to Federal Court because the Ausleys had alleged a violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Because Sparks found no RICO violation, he dismissed the case. Further, while not actually ruling on the matter, Sparks’ opinion recognized that Cross County DID have condemnation authority.

This brings us to the underlying problem in this situation: a for-profit water corporation can set up a non-profit corporation to condemn land and sell bonds for a water pipeline from which the principals will profit greatly.

This is a state law problem. The Legislature needs to change state law so that for-profit corporations cannot set up non-profit corporations as fronts to profit off of the water resources of the state. Water supplies, or lack thereof, are becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Some officials and legislators are already saying that the state needs to revamp its water policy, given the finite supply of groundwater and the increasing demands on it.

One of the major reforms that is needed is some way to keep rapacious water profiteers from stripping a region’s water resources and using eminent domain against property owners. This is an eminent domain abuse that the Legislature needs to put a stop to.

Friday, April 16, 2010

New toll road documentary "Truth Be Tolled" wins award

News from Bill Molina about his latest documentary . . . Bill’s original award-winning “Truth Be Tolled” movie that concentrated on the Trans-Texas Corridor was very informative and had a big influence in mobilizing state-wide opposition to the TTC. His latest edition, “Truth Be Tolled (281 Special Edition)” is about the proposed transformation of the free highway 281 in San Antonio to a tollway. This documentary, Bill reports, “has just been nominated for a 2010 REMI Award and is an Official Selection of the 43rd Annual WorldFest-Houston International Film and Video Festival.”

The premiere festival screening was April 13 in Houston. More info from Bill: “WorldFest ( is one of the oldest and largest film & video competitions in the world, with more than 4,500 category entries received from 37 countries in 2009. So to win here is quite a significant honor. The Festival will screen just 55-60 feature films and 100 Short Film Premieres, with a complete and absolute emphasis on the American and International Independent feature films and with a continuing annual spotlight on an individual country and its films.”

For more information about the film:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More time to comment on CAMPO's hazardous freight rail bypass

My previous post was about commenting on the hazardous freight rail bypass through Southeastern Central Texas that is in CAMPO’s 2035 Transportation Plan. Their deadline to comment on this bypass was April 12. CAMPO now has announced an extension of this deadline until May 14. There also is an additional public hearing to be held on May 10. Their message is below.

“Following work on the draft 2035 plan's policy framework by the CAMPO Policies and Resolutions Committee, the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board released the document for public review and comment on April 12th. Because the policy framework, including the draft Plan's goals, objectives and policies, is substantially different from what was distributed with the draft CAMPO 2035 Plan in March, the public comment period on the entire 2035 Plan, including the policy framework, has been extended until May 14th and a second public hearing on the draft Plan has been scheduled for May 10th.

“The public comment period now ends at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 14th; the second public hearing will take place on Monday, May 10th at a meeting beginning at 6:00 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center, 500 East Cesar Chavez Street (CAMPO has arranged for free parking for the public hearing).

“An on-line comment form for the draft plan is available until 5:00 p.m. on May 14th.”

To see the map with the bypass on it, please go to and click on the 2035 Transportation Plan in the top paragraph. The map is on page 35. Putting a hazardous freight rail bypass through our area will cause environmental and social damage. Please send your comments to CAMPO asking them NOT to put this bypass in their 2035 Plan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hazardous Freight Rail Bypass through Eastern Central Texas

The CAMPO 2035 Draft Transportation Plan shows a Hazardous Materials Rail Bypass between FM 973 and Coupland. If you are in the Southeastern Williamson or Eastern Travis County area, please be aware of this proposal.

You can send comments to CAMPO about this bypass; the deadline is April 13.

There are many reasons that the proposed rail bypass is not a good idea. The rationale for the bypass is to free up the line through Austin for passenger rail. However, there is not enough demand for passenger rail between these cities, and there is not enough public transportation to move passengers around these cities if they arrive by train. There will not be enough passengers paying enough for tickets to support the service. Texas and local taxpayers will all be paying for the rail transportation of relatively few passengers.

Since there is no need for the passenger rail through Austin, there is no need for the proposed bypass through the SE Williamson/E Travis Co. area.

The bypass will cause the unnecessary destruction of all the natural and cultural resources that will need to be studied in the Environmental Impact Statement that will be required for this project. The land east of Austin is part of the Blackland Prairie that is ranked as some of the most valuable farmland in the world by authorities such as National Geographic. (September 2008, “Our Good Earth—The future rests on the soil beneath our feet—Can we save it?”) The map on page 92 shows the Blackland Prairie through Central Texas as “highly fertile” and “highly fertile at risk.”

The bypass will unnecessarily cause damage to the natural resources, such as farmland, streams, vegetation, and wildlife. The bypass also will damage the cultural resources of communities, historic sites, and residences.

If rail advocates are determined to build this unnecessary bypass, they should place it along SH 130. SH 130 already forms a corridor east of Austin and already has overpasses. Use SH 130 rather than tearing up more land and dividing communities.

To send in comments, please go to:
At the top of the page, there are links to see the entire CAMPO plan and a link to the comment page.
The section is entitled “Public Comment Opportunity on the draft 2035 Plan.”
The deadline for comments is April 13 at 5 p.m.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Group demands complete withdrawal of Corridor DEIS

The Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC), which was instrumental in bringing the Trans-Texas Corridor in Central Texas (TTC-35) environmental process to a halt, has taken another step to completely kill the Corridor through Central Texas. The five mayors whose cities and respective school districts form the ECTSRPC have filed a petition with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) demanding that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that was filed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) be withdrawn.

In the fall of 2009, TxDOT asked the FHA to issue a “no action” or “no build” decision on the DEIS. Holland Mayor Mae Smith, who is also president of the ECTSRPC, explains, “If the FHA issues a ‘no action’ record of decision on the environmental study as requested by TxDOT, the study remains available to use in the future should the governor change his mind and decide to build the TTC.”

According to information released by the ECTSRPC, “Technically, an environmental study can be reused unless it is completely withdrawn from consideration and discarded by the lead agency, which is the Federal Highway Administration.” The Texas Legislature has turned against the Corridor and did not reauthorize the method of financing it, but TxDOT’s power to create the Corridor is still in statute. Bills to remove the Corridor from statute did not make it through the last session of the Legislature.

To see the “Petition to Withdraw the DEIS,” go to

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TFB--"fervor for private property rights justice has not cooled"

Thanks to Martha Estes for calling attention to the Texas Farm Bureau article by Mike Barnett on the upcoming eminent domain battle in the next session.

Barnett points out that the TFB's endorsed candidate Hutchison experienced a disappointing loss to Rick Perry; then he reiterates the determination of the TFB "to achieve true eminent domain reform. . . . TFB's fervor for private property rights justice has not cooled."

Barnett does not think that a Perry victory in November is a slam-dunk. Whoever wins, the TFB is going to continue their property rights fight, following the success of getting Prop. 11 into the Texas constitution last year. However, "Prop. 11, which prohibits the government from acquiring land for non-public use, was only the first step." Now, the TFB will continue to work for additional protections in the areas of fair market value, loss of access, and the right to repurchase.

"We must lay the groundwork now to remind our state representatives and senators of the importance this issue holds for all Texans. . . . When they go into session next January, state legislators must quickly affirm the language from last session’s SB 18, which unanimously passed the Senate but was tied up by the voter ID wrangling in the House as the session closed."

"Any delay could be fatal to our efforts. If whoever is elected governor chooses to veto the reform bill, it would take every remaining day of the session to accomplish an override. There are many who are opposed to this effort to protect private property rights who will be seeking derailment at every opportunity."

"With the disappointments of the last two sessions, it would seem the deck is stacked against Farm Bureau in our eminent domain efforts. Not so. We are a grassroots organization of true believers. The fire to protect our rights as property owners burns deep within. We’ve come very close to achieving our goals two times. . . . The third time will be the charm."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Could Texas Farm Bureau face Perry payback?

Since our rural Coupland area did not go for Perry, I have been wondering if there will be Perry payback against such rural interests as the Texas Farm Bureau. The TFB had endorsed Perry previously, but went for Kay this time. Perry is known for getting revenge against those who go for his opponent, once he wins.

Peggy Fikacs explores this question in her article "Farm Bureau unworred about Perry payback."

Fikacs mentions the Texas Medical Association's former chief lobbyist Kim Ross, who believes Perry was responsible for his ouster after the TMA backed Tony Sanchez instead of Perry in 2002. I myself am aware of another similar situation from the Perry/Sanchez campaign.

However, Fikacs reports that the TFB "neither regrets its support for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison nor worries about reprisals from Gov. Rick Perry." TFB spokesman Gene Hall comments, “Our most recent endorsement of him was followed by the veto of the eminent domain reform bill, which is the most important property rights legislation in the last 20 years. Supporting him and not supporting him seems to be very similar.”

According to Fikacs, "Hall stressed the group has not closed the door on a Perry relationship. He's also not concerned about the Hutchison endorsement affecting his job security, though Perry is credited with a long memory toward those deemed political enemies."

Fikacs asked Perry spokesman Mark Miner if the TFB "might face payback." Miner responded, “We're focused on the general election and looking forward to receiving the support of numerous organizations as we did in the primary.”

Fikacs adds, "He didn't say, 'Or else.'"

Friday, March 5, 2010

Coupland area does NOT go for Perry in the primary

Here we are, past the primary, and Gov. 39% has become primary winner 51%. I hope that if his victory in the Republican primary leads to another term, Perry's "vision" of the Trans-Texas Corridor is too far gone for him to resurrect it, at least through the Highway 95/Coupland area. The Corridor is still in statute--TxDOT still has the authority to create it. But TTC-35, the route paralleling IH-35 from the Oklahoma border to the Mexican border, is no longer on the drawing board, since its Final Environmental Impact Statement ended with a finding of "no action" or "no build." If Perry decides to come back and pursue TTC-35, the environmental process will have to start over, with years of work and more millions of dollars.

At least, we can see that in the Coupland area, the two precincts around Coupland did not follow the state-wide voting trend. Pct. 433, including Coupland and east of Coupland voted:

Perry 37%
Hutchison 37%
Medina 26%

Pct. 413, beginning just west of Coupland, voted:

Perry 32%
Hutchison 35%
Medina 34%

(percentages rounded)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fred Barnes cites Trans-Texas Corridor as Perry defeat, cronyism

In the Feb. 22 Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes has an article on the Texas gubernatorial race--"Texas Deathmatch."

Barnes notes about Perry, "But he has suffered two significant defeats as governor, and accusations of cronyism and slipshod ethics have grown in recent months.
He proposed building the Trans-Texas Corridor. . . . The plan, which would have included seizing large amounts of private land, was killed [although we know it's not totally killed] by the Republican-led legislature. So was his proposed mandate to vaccinate every sixth-grade girl against a virus that causes cervical cancer. On both issues, former Perry aides were lobbyists for the private companies poised to benefit the most."

In a televised debate sponsored by the Dallas Morning News, [Hutchison] said: “You might ask why did we have a plan for the Trans-Texas Corridor? Why did the governor mandate vaccines for our young daughters? It was because there were lobbyists that were first, not the people of Texas.” Perry, who has defended both proposals, didn’t respond.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coupland Civic Organization hosts candidates on Feb. 22

The Coupland Civic Organization will hear from several candidates on Monday, February 22, in the Fellowship Hall of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland. Attendees will hear statements from the candidates, followed by a question and answer session. Speaking will be all three candidates for Judge for County Court-at-Law #3—Republicans Doug Arnold and Judge Randall Pick and Democrat Allyson Rowe. Also speaking will be Jeff Maurice, Democratic candidate for Precinct 4 Williamson County Commissioner.
The audience also will hear from Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Judy Schier Hobbs. Even though Judge Hobbs, who is a Republican, does not have an opponent, either in the primary or the general election, the CCO appreciates her giving us information about the Justice of the Peace office.
A light meal will be served at 6:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Texas traffic counts are flat--we need maintenance more than we need new roads

Interesting analysis from Roger Baker, with backup data, that Texas traffic counts are flat--NOT increasing, even though this may conflict with perceptions. The below is verbatim from Roger:

Everyone knows that TxDOT loves to build roads. And so do the contractors that TxDOT hires. And not only do these contractors love to build the roads, but they are generously willing to help elect the politicians who decide to build these roads.But at some point, somebody really needs to ask if we need more roads in Texas than we already have. The answer is that we probably don't.

How do we know that? The most recent Federal Highway Administration data shows that from Nov. 2008 to Nov. 2009, the actual use of roads in Texas only increased by .1%, as we see here:>

In other words, taking the best data for travel on all the roads in Texas combined over the last year, we see that it would take about 100 years for the level of traffic to go up by even 10%. Consider the implications. The legislature is not willing to raise the gas tax, so this necessarily causes the gas tax revenue, both the state and federal portions, to be about flat. Which situation then makes it really really hard for TxDOT to borrow against this revenue stream, which is falling short of even keeping up with inflation.

Even though the travel demand on their current roads is flat, they they still want to build more roads, which would obviously cause TxDOT's maintenance funding shortfall to get even bigger. If TxDOT is as broke as they claim, and demand is flat, then why would they worry so much about anything beyond maintaining the Texas roads we already have?

At least not until someday when the economy recovers and/or we discover a new supply of cheap oil, causing people to start driving more and needing lots of new road capacity, right? TxDOT likes to complain that they can barely afford to maintain their current Texas roads. But the way they chose to deal with the problem is in a way that may be nice for their contractors, but is practically guaranteed to make TxDOT's maintenance problem worse.

Like they say, when things can't go on any longer, they won't. - Roger

Saturday, February 6, 2010

USDA scraps National Animal Identification

Great news from Judith McGeary of Texas Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance! The U.S. Department of Agriculture is dropping its plans for national animal identification. This plan would have forced owners of even one horse, chicken, or other farm animal to have chips implanted in every animal and to notify an authority every time the animal was moved off their property—for instance, for a trail ride, or if an animal temporarily got loose. By way of the computer chip, the authorities would know if the animal had left its property, and legal action could have been taken against the owner. Thankfully for small ranchers and rural animal owners, this plan has been scrapped.

Judith says, “Thank you to the thousands of people who called, wrote, organized meetings, and more. We succeeded in making our voices heard.” USDA will now work on requirements that apply only to animals moved in interstate commerce. For more details, see:

As for the future, Judith notes, “We must be involved and vocal, so that agribusiness does not develop yet another high-tech, big-industry boondoggle. We must be active at the state level to ensure that the state agencies do not implement unnecessary and burdensome rules.”

Thanks to Judith and her organization and to everyone who worked against this plan that would have been so intrusive and legally harsh for rural animal owners.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

High-speed rail not for Texas yet

The Dallas Morning News has an interesting update on the prospects of high-speed rail in Texas entitled “Most federal rail grants probably will bypass Texas.”

Michael Lindenberger reports, “The federal government is about to hand out a river of cash to states willing to build a network of bullet trains. . . . It's the nation's first major investment in true high-speed rail. . . . [W]ord already has emerged that Texas’ chances of snagging much of what it has requested are slim.”

This word comes from Karen Rae, deputy commissioner for the Federal Railroad Administration. She said that applications for the funds from other states had more support from governors and legislatures. She says Texas has “no central vision, no common vision for rail in Texas.”

This is welcome news to those who are still recovering from Perry’s “vision” of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Texas needs a break from central planning—a vision imposed on residents and landowners from the governor and other top officials, their aides and consultants, and their construction contractor contributors.

Lindenberger explains, “The first $8 billion of what could be several times that much money over the next five years is expected to be awarded in the next several weeks. . . . Texas has requested $1.8 billion in the current round of funding, most of it to fast-track a bullet train proposal.” Untold billions more would be needed to actually build and operate the train. Probably, train riders would be subsidized by all taxpayers.

Before Texas commits its funds and its land to this proposal, we must be sure that the project is needed and economically feasible—not a project where the main goal is to direct tax money to construction interests.

The Texas High-Speed Rail site has this map of the Texas T-Bone proposal, which shows the route going through Williamson County east of IH-35. To see a larger version, go to

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kay Bailey Hutchison specific anti-Corridor ad

Succinct anti-Corridor statement from KBH.

A special version will run during the game tomorrow night. A special ending has been tailored just for this purpose. I can't find it to post here, so you'll just have to watch for it.