Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Once the land is lost, there's no way of getting it back."

Disappearing Frontier

Roadway may lead to loss of open space, runoff


By Andrew Egan
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2006

With the election season past, proponents of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor proposal weathered their reelection campaigns well, including the corridors original proponent, Gov. Rick Perry.

The largest proposed public works project in Texas history, the corridor will be a series of toll roads, railways and utility lines extending across the state. Many state officials tout the project as the only answer to alleviate trade and traffic concerns resulting from population growth while various citizen groups have criticized the Perry administration and Spanish-based contractor, Cintra-Zachary, for their vague plans for the corridor.

Environmentalists and farmers also worry about the loss of open space and potential ecological consequences, such as runoff.

These fears aren't important in the project's current phase, because they are considered later in construction planning, said Gabby Garcia, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

"Basically, what we're trying to do now is narrow down our [proposed] area, and that's it," she said.

The Texas Department of Transportation submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement addressing environmental concerns for the specific 10-mile-wide study area the department is considering for the corridor to the Federal Highway Administration. The department is hoping for federal approval by next summer, Garcia said.

The project is so early in its development the department does not know exactly how much land the project will need, she added.

The text of the impact statement shows that no matter how much land is used, it will include a good deal of prime farmland. Prime farmland soils consist of between 37 percent to 47 percent of each the proposed narrowed study areas, according to the statement.

Much of that farmland is in the belt running from the Red River to San Antonio known as the Blackland Prairie. The prairie is valuable for cattle and cash crops such as corn, said James Greenwade, Natural Conservation and Resource Service spokesman with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It's some of the best crop land we have in Texas for dry-land agriculture," Greenwade said.

Once the land is lost, there's no way of getting it back, and the consequence could be a reduction in valuable cash crops the area produces, said Warren Mayberry, Texas Farm Bureau spokesman.

"No matter how many acres it finally winds up taking, it's very safe to say the corridor will have an impact on agricultural output," Mayberry said.

The decrease could also hurt some farmers, he added.

Pat Henson has had his hands in Texas' soil for over 50 years. He owns and operates a 600-acre farm north of Temple and said he worked as a conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resource and Conservation Service for 35 years.

Henson said he opposes the corridor because of the loss of prime farmland while economic conditions facing farmers become increasingly strained.

"The price of the product we're selling hasn't gone up, but the price of everything we buy has," he said.

In the end, the size of the corridor will have too much impact on the land while not doing much to help the community, Henson said.

"Their thinking is if a little bit does a little good, then a whole lot will do a lot of good," he said. "We don't do that in the farming community."

© 2006 The Daily Texan: