Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Start with the governor and work your way down. Vote 'em out!"

Almost 800 attend Floresville TTC meeting

August 9, 2006

Nannette Kilbey-Smith
Wilson County News
Copyright 2006

The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC-35, continues to elicit responses from citizens in Texas counties that will be affected by the planned transportation route from the Mexican border to Oklahoma.

Nearly 800 interested citizens ranging from ranchers to homeowners, and elected officials to business owners, gathered on Aug. 3 in the Floresville High School gym for a presentation by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the chance to voice their opinions. More than 30 people signed up to speak.

Among elected officials present were Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney, state Rep. Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, and Mayor Chrystal Eckel of Poth. Former Floresville Mayor Raymond Ramirez also attended.

Transcribers were available to record participants' opinions. Attendees also had the option of registering their comments via computer.

Participants viewed diagrams and maps and voiced concerns to the TTC-35 project team. This continued until 6:30 p.m., when TxDOT provided a video and PowerPoint presentation, showing TTC-35 and arterial roads and highways highlighted in bright red, giving the impression the corridor will make Texas the commercial "heart" of the United States.

"Land can only be purchased after federal environmental clearance can be given. The state can sign an agreement with a willing landowner for an option to purchase the property at a future date," the presenter said.

Landowners choosing this option will be paid a fee, then an additional sum based on the fair market value of the property if TxDOT chooses to buy the land.

Addressing the concern of landowners fearing their property will be condemned to further the project, TxDOT releases state that "No developer for the corridor will be condemning anyone's land."

The Trans-Texas Corridor project is currently at the environmental study stage, with TxDOT gathering public comment and preparing the final environmental impact statement for submission to the Federal Highway Administration. TxDOT anticipates the statement will be with the Federal Highway Administration later this year and hopes for federal approval in the summer of 2007. Approval by the FHWA does not authorize construction, according to TxDOT information.

Judge Quinney, first at the microphone, presented a map, that highlighted parts of Wilson County and subdivisions that will be impacted by the project.

Thunderous applause from the crowd greeted the statement that Quinney and the commisioners court oppose "any part of the Trans-Texas Corridor through Wilson County," the closing statement of a resolution signed July 24 by the judge and all four county commissioners.

Many speakers voiced support for TxDOT's "no action alternative."

TxDOT, in its presentation, had identified several alternatives when researching transportation needs in Texas. Other options explored included improving or enlarging existing roadways and routes, which were determined insufficient to cope with the growing transportation needs of the state.

"Government is no longer of the people, by the people, or for the people anymore," said Hank Gilbert. "It's now of the money, by the money, and for the money!" His comments were also greeted with loud applause.

An emotional plea came from transplanted New Yorker Michael Aurora, who owns property on Roddy Road in southeastern Bexar County near Loop 1604, right in the path of the proposed corridor. The disabled veteran of both Gulf Wars told the crowd, "I'm distraught. I've found my piece of heaven, where I've got cows and hummingbirds. The TTC shatters my dreams."

Many speakers advised those gathered not to be angry with the TxDOT staff making the presentation. "Tell the big shots," David Simpson said. "They're the ones to get in touch with."

"Will the integrity of our community remain intact?" asked Penny Glawe.

"The whole state should be voting on something like this," said Edward Hauschild of Seguin, "not just the counties involved."

"Make your vote count," said Ray Littlejohn. "Vote to put somebody else in Austin."

David Wahl, a lifelong resident of Wilson County, echoed Hauschild's comments, adding, "Start with the governor and work your way down. Vote 'em out!"

Charlotte Tabor was struck by "the tone of inevitability in this room. The issue is: We're Americans! We decide what happens to us; not our politicians! No vote, no road."

David Van Os, Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general, told the listeners, "We can't let it happen! They're banking on the people thinking 'it's a done deal ' feeling powerless and hopeless.

Martin Kufus, a Wilson County resident and volunteer firefighter with the Eagle Creek Volunteer Fire Department, read from a prepared statement. "If a segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor ran through northwestern Wilson County, thousands of acres of private property would disappear from the county's tax base. He outlined a triangular area of the county experiencing fast growth and added, "The proposed corridor segment would be built through that growth area, and, by the way, in the recharge zone of the Carrizo Aquifer." He outlined how the loss of revenues would impact the county and the local emergency services who rely on funding from the county budget.

Kufus also expressed concern over the potential for an increased number of high-speed vehicular accidents, advising, "It would fall on our fire and EMS personnel , under-funded and over-tasked . alongside our local law-enforcement officers to pick up the pieces and clean up the messes, on the proposed corridor."

Echoing Kufus' comments, Andy Belew of La Vernia expressed the concern that "Emergency services will not be able to get through to provide services" if the corridor follows the projected path through northeastern Wilson County. "And there's the high probability of incidents involving caustic materials on the road, rail, or pipelines," Belew said.

Kevin Stanush of La Vernia recently placed a full-page ad in the Wilson County News at his own expense to educate readers and highlight his concerns. "Many details of TxDOT's plan remain unclear," he said. "Will portions of I-35 and Loop 1604 become toll roads? The word 'toll' was only mentioned one time in the 30-minute TxDOT presentation. " TxDOT had gathered plenty of information on TTC-35's impact on wildlife and endangered species, " he said, adding, "The Texas voter should be added to the endangered species list."

"We'll have to pay a foreign entity to drive in our own country," said Cliff Roberts. "The toll corridor will split the state -- and the country -- in half!."

"Why drive a toll road when you can drive a free one?" asked Ervin Neatherlin, who lives between La Vernia and St. Hedwig.

"This project is not good for the average Texan. It's not ethical, it's not moral, and it's not right!."Anthony Kosub said.

Paige Fuller, a teacher in the Floresville Independent School District, said she is "vehemently opposed to the project -- as a taxpayer, as a citizen of Texas and Wilson County, and a teacher in the school district," adding that "There are other options."

Jimmy Zimmerman, who ranches in three counties, including Wilson and Gonzales, took his listeners back to a time when the American colonists felt the British government was pushing them too far, Jimmy Zimmerman summed up many feelings when he commented, "The TTC is like taxation without representation. I stand against it." Words that started a revolution.

The hearings continue through Aug. 10. Look for coverage of the hearings at East Central High School and the Seguin-Guadalupe coliseum in next week's issue of the Wilson County News.

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