Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"You're stealing our land!"

Local residents oppose Trans-Texas Corridor at regional meeting


By Victoria Rossi
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2006

GEORGETOWN - The more than 250 Williamson County residents who gathered at Georgetown High School Monday night weren't there to hear a Texas Department of Public Safety official explain the ins-and-outs of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Though questions abounded, most of the meeting attendees came ready with their own answer: Don't build it.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, is scheduled to begin construction in 2010 and slated to cut a 1,200-feet-wide toll road through Texas running from Oklahoma to the Mexico border.

"I'd like for all of you that are opposed to this to raise your hands," said former state Rep. Fred Head, who is running for state comptroller in November, at the public hearing.

Nearly every hand in the room shot up.

Dieter Billek, one of the project managers for the Trans-Texas Corridor, didn't seem bothered by the show of opposition.

"That's the first time someone's interrupted me," he said, referring to a bearded man in the front row who yelled, "That's a lie!" and "You're stealing our land!" during his presentation.

"More people that oppose the plan tend to come to these meetings," Billek said.

Billek has spoken at 10 public hearings so far. He and two other corridor officials will attend a total of 54 statewide meetings.

"It's all part of the process," he added.

The town hall-style meeting, accompanied by a corridor informational video, slideshow presentation and public commentary at the end, was hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation as a way to get public input about the plan.

Some at the meeting remained skeptical about the outcome of the public meetings.

"I think it's a done deal, and they're just having these meetings to appease us," said Larry Bielss, who wore an anti-corridor sticker on his plaid shirt. His Walburt County house could be bulldozed under some of the proposed plans.

The comments and testimonies from the hearings will help the state narrow its proposed development area from a 50-60 mile wide swath of land to a strip that's 10 miles wide, Billek said. From there, state officials will choose the corridor's final alignment.

Farmers and landowners in the area have protested the plan for what they call its abuse of eminent domain rights and the miles of blackland prairie the concrete corridor will eat up.

Others have opposed the plan's use of toll roads and its sealed contract with the private, Spanish-owned construction company Cintra-Zachry.

Georgetown resident Marlene Williams, who brought her 14-year-old daughter Shelby to the meeting, said she would lose her home under any of the state's 150 plans. She squinted her eyes and shook her head when asked if she planned to start looking for a new place to live.

"I think there's still hope," she said. "We can vote for the leaders who will oppose this."

Williams, who calls herself a "conservative Republican," said she would consider switching her support to a Democrat who opposed the plan.

"I'm very disappointed in Perry," she said. "I voted for him."

© 2006 The Daily Texan : www.dailytexanonline.com