Stall: "This is highway alchemy. The governor wants to turn your land into state gold."
Victoria's Water Research Group voted to add opposition to the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor to its mission statement after hearing a presentation by David and Linda Stall of Fayetteville, who are fighting to stop what they see as a misguided state effort to raise revenues by seizing rural lands for the statewide transportation and utility corridor.
David Stall told the approximately 35 in attendance that Gov. Rick Perry conceived of the idea to raise dollars for the state - not because Texas needs a better transportation plan.
"This is highway alchemy," he said. "The governor wants to turn your land into state gold. It's the wrong approach to fix (revenue shortages)."
The Stalls said that under Trans-Texas, the state would raise revenue by seizing private property for its appraised value and then leasing that property to corridor "concessionaires."
State planners estimate they'll need 584,000 acres of right of way - and say they'd like to begin acquiring it as soon as possible. The corridor would crisscross the state, with one of its primary routes passing near Victoria along the proposed I-69 from Houston to Laredo.
According to the Stalls, state concessionaires would profit by operating sections of the corridor as toll roads and by sub-leasing the newly acquired state lands along the corridor for hotels, restaurants, stores, warehouses, billboards and other commercial or industrial enterprises.
They could even lease land back to the landowners from which it was seized, according to the Stalls.
Members of the Water Research Group said the prospect was chilling.
"It's terrible," said Victoria County landowner Raymond Heller. "I certainly am against that type of business. Gov. Perry needn't look for my vote."
Landowner Billy Hill of Victoria said this of the Stall's presentation: "I got the holy hell scared out of me. If Rick Perry endorsed this, God have mercy on his soul."
Linda Stall drew applause from the Water Research Group's members, gathered Monday night at the Victoria Electric Co-op Auditorium, when she said it would be a violation of Texans' personal property rights for the government to seize a family's "sacred land and heritage."
"You don't take that away so the state can build a hotel," she said.
The land on which the corridor and the accompanying development would be built would become state land and as such would be exempt from local school, county and city taxes. So the corridor would erode rural tax bases, the Stalls said.
Also, the corridor, because it would have limited access points, would not create road frontage and growth opportunities for rural communities. Profits would all go to the state and its contractors, not local businesses, they said.
But the local governments would still be responsible for providing costly police, ambulance and fire services to the corridor, according to the Stalls.
Additionally, the concessionaires would conceivably be able to "punch water wells" along the corridor's planned water pipelines and pump groundwater without complying with local limitations on groundwater withdrawals, Linda Stall said.
The corridor's proposed water pipelines would also make it simpler to export groundwater from rural areas to metropolitan ones, something long opposed by the Water Research Group, which is dedicated to preserving local natural resources intact for future generations.
The corridor would avoid the largest metropolitan counties of Harris, Bexar and Dallas to spread vehicle pollution to rural areas. That would allow the big cities to continue to grow without surpassing pollution caps, "while we get the bad air," David Stall said.
The Stalls urged Water Research Group members to log on to their Web site, www.corridorwatch.org to learn more about the fight against Trans-Texas.
"Our goal in coming here tonight is to get you to educate yourselves," said Linda. "Tell your neighbors. Go out and tell 10 people. We have to stop this in its tracks."
The Stalls are seeking legislative help in overturning portions of the recently approved House Bill 3588, which gives the state powers to fund and build the corridor.
"If we can punch holes (in 3588), it will no longer be attractive for investors to come in," said David. "The state isn't going to acquire a bunch of land if they don't think they have somebody to lease it to to make revenue off it."
Linda said she believes there is a possibility that Trans-Texas can be stopped. "I think we have a chance, because their motivation is wrong."
State planners, meanwhile, say the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor is an ambitious and visionary project.
In official publications, they describe the $145-$183 billion undertaking - the largest engineering project ever proposed for Texas - as a futuristic, 4,000 mile-long network of 1,200-foot-wide corridors designed to move people and goods faster and more safely than ever before.
State planners envision the corridor as having six 80-mph toll lanes for passenger cars and four separate lanes for 18-wheelers.
Trans-Texas would also feature a half-dozen rail lines with separate tracks for high-speed passenger, commuter and freight trains. And it would have a 200-foot-wide utility zone that will carry pipelines for water, oil and natural gas as well as cables for electricity and data.
State planners say the corridor, which will connect major cities while not flowing directly through them, will mean jobs and economic development for rural areas - even the creation of new cities.
It'll relieve congested roadways, they say, keep hazardous materials out of populated areas, improve air quality in cities by reducing emissions, and provide a safer, more reliable utility transmission system.
Greg Bowen is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6519 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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