Thursday, September 30, 2004

One Big Happy Family


Toll road panel hires PR firm

September 30, 2004

Compiled from staff and wire reports
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday to hire a team led by the Austin public relations firm TateAustin to market its toll road operations for the next two years. The award of what is expected to be a $750,000 contract is subject to final negotiations and another vote by the board.

TateAustin's team, which beat out four other competitors, includes McLean, Va.-based Wilson Research Strategies; Katie Nees, a toll road expert with the Carter Burgess engineering firm; Austin transportation consultant John Langmore; Briley & Stables Creative, a Richardson-based graphic design company; and Stacy Rhone, an Austin public outreach specialist whose employment with the authority sparked conflict-of-interest accusations against her sister, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, who voted for the toll plan in July.

© 2004 Austin American-Statesman:


"When government can take property to give it to private parties, interest groups will try to commandeer that power to enrich themselves."

Rein in Abuse of Eminent Domain


Guest Column

By Henry A Miller
Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2004

A chain of events caused construction of 277 huge transmission towers in Karnes and Goliad counties. In 1998 the Texas Public Utility Commission and electric utilities decided to take private property in order to construct huge transmission lines across the state prior to deregulation taking effect. Commissioners and utilities agreed the only problem facing them was just how contentious land owners might be (Wall Street Journal, 1999). There would be no regulatory problems because the chief regulator, Chairman Patrick Henry Wood, III was in their pocket.

Americans supposedly have property rights protected by State and federal constitutions. Laws and regulations are supposed to govern the taking of property. The law of eminent domain requires a public need.

When your property rights are threatened by a profit making company helped by the government, you can give in or fight. In fighting you are going against all odds. The trend over the last twenty to thirty years has been that when your property rights are threatened you might as well give up because the big and powerful can not be stopped. The courts tended to approve the takings. This has caused those wanting to take your property and the regulators to become lax in following the laws. Why bother, property owners are defeated before the start.

100 or so property owners first knew of the proposed line in July 1999. Most took conventional wisdom and gave up. Some decided to see what could be done. We sought expert legal advice from lawyers that deal in eminent domain and procedures at the PUC. One said it was pointless to practice before the PUC. One said Commissioner Wood made up his mind that the 277 were needed. Wood controlled the other commissioners and was judge and jury in power line matters. Public need is supposed to be the reason that private property is taken.

A short chain of events was to rubber stamp the application. Utilities apply. The charade of following procedures was to happen. Application approved, no one the wiser, no matter what, a done deal. “No matter what” happened, contentious property owners chose to question the process? Two lawyers were found. A principled administrative law judge was assigned.

The utility asked to be ordered to construct the 277. The PUC had the right to do so and avoid a hearing to prove the need. Knowing it was a mere formality; the PUC ordered a hearing where the utility was to prove the line was necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience, or safety of the public. Knowing it was just a part of the charade the utility didn’t bother much in their attempt to prove the need. To the actors’ surprise, Administrative Law Judge Barbara Owens ruled that the utility failed to prove the line was necessary… and recommended the application be denied.

Regulations give the PUC limited rights to overrule the ALJ. Going beyond the limits, Wood overruled the ALJ saying the line was needed to improve market conditions. Market conditions serve the utilities and the power generating companies for their profit.

“When government can take property to give it to private parties, interest groups will try to commandeer that power to enrich themselves. The force of the state becomes a prize to be won in a political contest. Groups which hope to profit from forced redistributions of property will attempt to influence the government to use eminent domain in their favor. But, properly applied, the public use limitation prevents this by making it impossible for interest groups to profit”, Pacific Legal Foundation, in reference to a July 2004 decision by the Michigan Supreme Court said to have national implications. That court reversed a twenty year trend that allowed governments to take from one and give to another in order for the other to make a profit.

The 277 towers symbolize government taking from A and giving it to B so B can profit. Lawyers, Catherine J. Webking and Shannon K. McClendon have taken our case through the administrative hearing, district court, 3rd Court of Appeals, and on August 24 filed with the Texas Supreme Court.

Wallace Jefferson has been appointed Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court. “He is perfect for the job because he will decide issues based on the law — he has no political agenda whatsoever, and he is not beholden to anyone," Lamont Jefferson(lawyer and brother of Wallace) (San Antonio Express 9/14/04). The same can be said of ALJ Barbara Owens, not so of Chairman Patrick Henry Wood, III.

The Texas Supreme Court now has the opportunity to right a wrong, to force the PUC to follow the law and to take away the utilities’ political prize.

We are therefore hopeful that the 277 towers will come down.

Note: The Texas Supreme Court declined to rule on the case. On April 4, 2005 a request for rehearing was filed at the Supreme Court. The Court has ordered the PUC and the utilities involved to file a response, due 6/29/05, to our filing for a rehearing. The Texas Farm Bureau on 6/29/05 filed an amicus brief in support of our case.

© 2004 Victoria Advocate:


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

CTRMA picks TateAustin and friends to spin toll road projects

TateAustin to steer mobility authority's marketing, PR

September 29, 2004

Austin Business Journal
Copyright 2004

Austin's TateAustin Public Relations has landed the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority account. TateAustin will undertake CTRMA's community involvement initiatives and market its toll tags.

The account is worth $750,000 over a two-year period.

Brad Mays, Jed Buie, Kerry Tate and Dave Shaw will oversee the account.

"We have a long history of working on transportation projects and issues in Central Texas," Mays says. "TateAustin isn't a stranger to these kinds of issues."

TateAustin has pulled in a handful of transportation experts to help on the account. They include:

* Katie Nees, former deputy executive director of the North Texas Toll Authority.
* John Langmore, a local transportation consultant.
* Wilson Research Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based research firm.
* Briley and Stables Creative Inc., a Richardson-based advertising graphic design firm.
* Stacey Dukes-Rhone, an independent consultant for community outreach.

TateAustin was selected from among four that vied for the account. Other firms that bid for the account were New York-based Burson Marsteller; Oldfield Davis Inc. of Dallas; Vollmer Public Relations Inc. of Houston; and Sanders Wingo Galvin & Morton Advertising Inc. of El Paso.

© 2004 Austin Business Journal


Sunday, September 26, 2004

TxDOT declines to release proposals by Trans Texas Express, Turner Collie & Braden, and Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte

Bidders' state corridor plans kept under wraps



Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2004

The Trans Texas Corridor Plan at this point may be mostly lines on a map and a gleam in the governor's eye.

But the 4,000-mile, $183.5 billion vision of broad swaths of roads and rail crisscrossing the state is realistic enough to heavy hitters in the transportation world to have drawn proposals from three coalitions of companies interested in building the Denison-to-Brownsville corridor.

Each corridor , according to the conceptual plan, would be 1,200 feet wide and eventually would include six highway lanes for cars, four lanes for large trucks, six rail lines and a corridor for utility lines.

The content of the proposals will remain a public mystery for the time being. The Texas Department of Transportation, citing the need to protect trade secrets of those seeking what is likely to be a multibillion-dollar contract, declined to release the three proposals, or even the executive summaries that it had requested from the bidders.

The agency earlier this year received an unsolicited proposal from Sugar Land-based Fluor Enterprises Inc., and four partners that are hoping to build the segment paralleling Interstate 35 for more than 500 miles. After that, the Transportation Department prepared and released a request for proposals from companies interested in bidding on the project.

That request drew two more proposals, which were turned in just before the Sept. 23 deadline.

The proposals came from: Trans Texas Express, based in Dallas, a consortium of 10 companies that includes Hensel Phelps Construction Co., engineering firm Turner Collie & Braden Inc., and law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP; and from Cintra, Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA, a Madrid, Spain, group with two partners.

The Transportation Department, which depends primarily on the state's 20-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax to fund its highway projects, has an annual budget of about $5 billion for construction and maintenance of the state's existing 79,000 miles of state and federal roads. Because that money is devoted to existing needs, the assumption has been that the Trans Texas Corridor projects could only be built with some combination of private money, borrowing through bonds that would be repaid through tolls, and other funding mechanisms.

Gaby Garcia, a spokeswoman for the department's Texas Turnpike Authority, said her agency likely will take several months to evaluate the three proposals and decide which of the bidders, if any, will make a short list and be asked to submit more detailed proposals.; 445-3698

Copyright (c) 2003 Austin American-Statesman: