Friday, October 05, 2007

"Such a democratic farce could make a tinhorn dictator blush."

'T' is for 'Taking'

Did Texas sell T. Boone Pickens powers of eminent domain?

October 4, 2007

Watch Your Assets: Exposing the misuse and abuse of the public commons
Vol. 1, No. 6.
Texans for Public Justice
Copyright 2007

A political shopping spree may have accelerated the efforts of Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens to hijack sweeping government powers of eminent domain. The tycoon wants these extraordinary powers to benefit his private utility companies: Mesa Water and Mesa Power. The $1.8 million that Pickens spent on Texas’ last two elections made him the state’s No. 5 individual donor—up from No. 12 in 2002. Pickens wants condemnation powers to lay 320 miles of utility lines from suburban Dallas to the Texas Panhandle—with or without the approval of the owners of the private land that he would excavate.

Pickens Becomes Texas’ No. 5 Individual Donor

Election Cycle -----Total State Donations----- Pickens' Rank

-----2000 --------------------$104,000--------------------- NA----------
-----2002 --------------------$385,503--------------------No. 12--------
-----2004 --------------------$636,500--------------------No. 5---------
-----2006 ------------------$1,206,348--------------------No. 5---------


Such a power grab by a single entrepreneur would be stunning in a conservative state. As recently as 2005 Texas’ Republican leaders appointed an interim legislative committee to study the abuse of eminent domain to promote economic development.1 When appointed co-chair of this committee, Rep. Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) issued a stern warning in a House media release. “I believe it is important that private property be protected,” Woolley said in the statement. “Eminent domain should be used in limited circumstances for necessary, traditional, public uses.”2

In their very next session, however, lawmakers enacted legislation that helped put these expansive powers in Pickens’ hands. With Pickens spending up to another $1 million on state lobbyists this session, not a single lawmaker of either party voted against the legislation, which now is the law of the land.


Pickens made an initial fortune through his Mesa Petroleum, which expanded through aggressive buyouts of other energy companies—including those much larger than Mesa. Pickens later founded BP Capital, a hedge fund specializing in energy trades. His most recent venture, Mesa Water, seeks to make a fortune off the “new oil” through water rights he has purchased in the Texas Panhandle.

The vehicle for Pickens’ related land grab is a state water law that allows a handful of people to form a so-called “fresh water supply district.”3 These districts wield the power to condemn private land for infrastructure far beyond their own borders. In this way, a Pickens-controlled district covering eight square miles in the Panhandle is on the verge of acquiring the power to condemn private land for a pipeline all the way to Dallas. Such districts also are authorized to raise cheap money by issuing tax-exempt bonds.

Although the legal requirements to form such a water district already were minimal, this year the legislature watered them down further. Going into the 2006 election that preceded this legislative fix, Pickens personally contributed $1.2 million to state candidates and political committees. Recipients of his largesse included each of the 16 senators who faced election in 2006 and one-third of the 150-member House.4 Republicans received 94 percent of all the money that Pickens doled out to state candidates (see Pickens’ contributions in the appendix).

Pickens spokesperson Jay Rosser said in an interview that there is no connection between his boss’s political activity and the recent changes to water-district law. “We weren’t behind the changes in legislation,” he said. Rosser said the increase in Pickens’ Texas political contributions mirrors an increase in Pickens’ net worth that also has been accompanied by major increases in his charitable contributions. In May, for example, UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston each received $50 million checks from the recently formed T. Boone Pickens Foundation.

Rosser did not dispute, however, that the water district that Pickens is seeking in the Panhandle would not have been viable without the recent legislative changes. Until last month, petitions to create a water district required the support of a majority of the registered voters within the proposed district’s borders. Changes enacted this year dropped this electoral requirement for a more feudal one. Now a district can be formed with the backing of whoever owns the majority of the appraised land value within its proposed borders.4 Similarly, the 2007 legislature revoked a requirement that only local registered voters could serve on the boards of these water districts. Now any Texas resident who owns property in the district can sit on the board.5 The newly relaxed requirements for board members seem particularly advantageous to Pickens.

Six weeks after Governor Rick Perry signed the new water-district rules into law, Pickens sold a total of eight acres of his sprawling Mesa Vista Ranch in the Panhandle to five people who depend on him for their livelihoods.6 Three of these buyers are Pickens company executives who live hundreds of miles from the Panhandle parcels that they bought from Pickens. The only local buyers were Alton and Lu Boone (no relation to T. Boone Pickens), who manage Pickens’ ranch near the town of Miami in Roberts County.

Jive Five: The Owners of Pickens’ Proposed 8-Acre Water District

Landowner----Residence--------Pickens Link------

Robert L. Stillwell----Houston, TX------General Counsel, BP Capital
Ronald D. Bassett----Granbury, TX------COO, BP Capital
G. Michael Boswell---Dallas, TX---------Vice President, Mesa Power
*Alton Keith Boone---Miami, TX--------Manager, Mesa Vista Ranch
*Lu G. Boone----------Miami, TX--------Alton Keith Boone’s wife

*Listed in Pickens’ petition as “electors” who presumably will vote on the creation of the district on November 6, 2007.

A Pickens attorney then filed a petition with Roberts County Commissioners on August 6 to create a fresh water supply district to be confined to the eight acres of land that Pickens sold to his associates three days earlier.7 Although this petition was filed before the weaker rules governing water-district petitions took effect on September 1, this petition would not be viable without the legislature’s recent changes affecting water-district boards.

Fresh water supply districts previously had to be governed by boards that consisted of five locally registered voters. Pickens’ pending petition boasts only two people who meet these qualifications: Alton and Lu Boone. Thanks to the legislature, however, these qualifications for board members changed on September 1. Now any state resident who owns property within the district can serve on the board. This opened the door to the three Pickens executives who recently bought land within the proposed district but live hundreds of miles away.

Acting on Pickens’ petition on September 4, Roberts County Commissioners voted 4-1 to hold an election on November 6 on whether or not to create the proposed water district. Apparently, the only people who will decide the outcome of the upcoming water-district election—that could affect millions of Texans—will be Alton and Lu Boone.8 Such a democratic farce could make a tinhorn dictator blush. (Will the county hold a runoff in the unlikely event that either Alton or Lu Boone vote against the express wishes of their patrón?) Yet this farce allows Pickens to leverage broad governmental powers—condemning land and issuing municipal bonds—without any semblance of governmental accountability.


This round Pickens is better positioned. In addition to benefiting from the legislature’s newly weakened requirements for water districts, Pickens has sweetened the deal by promising a substantial public benefit. The new plan calls for investing $10 billion to build the world’s largest wind farm in the Panhandle.13 The 320-mile water pipeline that Pickens has proposed building over private land would include power lines to transmit clean wind energy to the smog-covered Dallas area. “At some point, portions of Texas—such as the Dallas Metroplex—will face critical shortages of energy and water,” says Rosser. Pickens’ project is a way to meet these critical public needs.


Yet Mesa Water also has said that the pipeline will allow it to legally extract up to 200,000 acre-feet a year from the Ogallala Aquifer. The indulgent pumping limits set by the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District would permit the loss of half of the aquifer’s remaining waters by 2050 in order to feed the metropolitan area that leads the state in per-capita water consumption.

Texas has an urgent need to develop clean energy sources such as the wind farm that Pickens has proposed. Yet other companies are pursuing wind projects here and other tycoons—including Warren Buffett and the Hunt family of Dallas—want to string new transmission lines across the state.14 Texas can offer private investors a solid return on clean-energy investments without granting broad powers of eminent domain to a water district in a tycoon's pocket and without gutting one of the world’s largest aquifers. Texas can make better deals on much better terms. It should.

Some will rob you with a fountain pen. - Woody Guthrie

Watch Your Assets is a Texans for Public Justice project.
Lauren Reinlie, Project Director.


1 This followed the Texas Legislature’s passage of SB 7, which sought to reverse the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 decision Kelo v. City of New London.

2 “Speaker Craddick appoints Rep. Beverly Woolley as co-chair to the Interim Committee to Study the use of the Power of Eminent Domain,” Texas House news release, October 14, 2005.

3 This authority stems from a 1919 statute created to finance drainage projects.

4 Pickens also gave money to most of the 16 senators who did not face a 2006 election. The all-Republican exceptions were: Robert Duncan (Lubbock), Troy Fraser (Horseshoe Bay) and Kel Seliger (Amarillo). Seliger’s district includes Roberts County, where Pickens seeks to create his water district.

5 See HB 2983 by Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and the identical SB 1179 by Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy). The law also requires the backing of at least 50 people owning land inside the district if there are 50 landowners there. This is not the case in the district Pickens is pursuing in the Panhandle’s Roberts County.

6 See HB 2984 by Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and the identical SB 1178 by Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy).

7 The New York Times reported in 2003 that Pickens owned 121,685 acres of rural land in Texas and Oklahoma and that his Mesa Vista home covered 22,000 square feet. “A Takeover Artist’s New Target Is Land, New York Times, October 5, 2003.

8 The so-called “Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1.” See “Pickens proposes Roberts County water district,” Amarillo Independent, August 30, 2007; “Kaufman County won’t vote on Pickens’ pitch for freshwater district,” Dallas Morning News, September 5, 2007; “Billionaire’s Power Play,” The Bond Buyer, September 9, 2007.

9 While T. Boone Pickens himself is registered to vote in Roberts County, he no longer owns land within the proposed water district. A month before the election, Roberts County officials said they had determined that Alton and Lu Boone were eligible to vote but they had not decided if T. Boone Pickens himself would be eligible. Pickens spokesman Jay Rosser said that his understanding is that just Alton and Lu Boone would vote.

10 See “Water in Storage and Approaches to Ground-Water Management, High Plains Aquifer, 2000
,” U.S. Geological Survey, Circular 1243, pages 32-34.

11 The City of Amarillo separately bought rights to 72,000 acres of water in 1999 from Roberts County landowners led by Mood Land & Cattle Co.’s Salem Abraham.

12 Opponents challenged the first district that Pickens proposed by petitioning the county to form a rival, countywide district that would be democratically controlled. After this challenge, the Pickens group withdrew its first petition in 2003.

13 Pickens has proposed building up to 2,700 turbines over 200,000 acres to generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

14 See “Buffett, Gates, Pickens May Profit From Texas Power Shortage,” Bloomberg News, September 17, 2007.

© 2007 Texans for Public Justice:

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stroll by the Oligarchy Saloon, catch a whiff of spilled Insider Brew, hear a few strains from the Old Boy jukebox & start crankin' out the B.S. again

The "Vengeance" of the Trinity Pavers

Oct 04, 2007

Jim Schutze
The Dallas Observer
Copyright 2007

Michael Morris, Director of Transportation for the NCTCOG, lives in Arlington -- so, like, what does he care if Dallas paves the Trinity, anyway?

At the last Trinity debate I attended, I picked up a definite grumbling and uneasiness among the toll road backers after the event was over. A common comment was that their side “had the facts” but, unfortunately, “emotion and sound bites seem to carry the day.”

I have a different view, of course, based in part on the fact that the audience at this particular event laughed out loud and derisively at the mayor. He suggested that now is the time to put our municipal trust in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It looks to me like the Vote NO! -- i.e. Pave the Trinity -- people have lots of the really complicated arguments why putting a major highway between flood control levees inside a park is an excellent idea. Meanwhile the TrinityVote people have common sense on their side: Why in the hell would we build a highway where it floods and in the middle of a park?

A prominent government official, speaking privately to me yesterday, said he believe that in matters like these, common sense often carries the day against the voices of experts and authorities. “The authorities told those people in the Twin Towers to stay at their desks,” he said.

I don’t know if it’s frustration over losing the debates or just the general meanness of spirit you often get from hired guns, but the voices from the Pave It! camp – especially the henchmen and aides de camp -- have carried a certain nasty tone and edge from the very beginning. Please take a gander at an excellent specimen of this on the TrinityVote site.

TrinityVote, as you may be aware, just got its hands on a trove of e-mails between city staff and the hired guns of pavement, all of which they have posted on their site. The particular one I am offering here is an e-mail in which former city council member Alan Walne assures former mayor Ron Kirk, former County Judge Lee Jackson and Vote No! political consultant Carol reed that “there will be plenty of time to be angry and take vengeance out where that is do (sic) right after we win in November.”

Let me ask you something. This is an important civic debate about flood control, the future safety of the community and the nature of a vast central park in the city that could become the city’s sacred heart for centuries to come. Not a single advocate on the TrinityVote side is getting any money out of this. They’re all in it from a sense of civic duty and commitment.

Do they really deserve to have Alan Walne and Ron Kirk and Lee Jackson angrily plotting to “take vengeance out?” I think that’s a real window on the Vote No! side’s inner nature.

It’s a window you won’t be seeing soon in The Dallas Morning News and certainly not under the byline of Bruce Tomaso for certain sure. I hope he’s getting a bonus. (I called him about the e-mails last week. The News’ editor, Bob Mong, called me back. I’m not allowed to ask Tomaso questions.

Today a News reporter, Rudy Bush, was scheduled to come to Unfair Park HQ for the second time to ask me questions. (This morning, we put it off for another week.) Under Morning News rules, they can ask us questions, but they can’t answer our questions. How’s that for a window?

The Trinity River debate is proving my long-held conviction. The Dallas Morning News can take any kind of propaganda dry-out pledge it wants, join any 12-step program it can find for recovering information abusers. Doesn’t matter. Next time it strolls by the Oligarchy Saloon, catches a whiff of that spilled Insider Brew, hears a few strains from the Old Boy jukebox, it’s gonna fall off the wagon again and start crankin’ out the bullshit again.

Poor old thang. It just can’t do no better.

Yesterday’s drunken ode to Unhelpful Untruth ran under the headline, “Transportation planner says Trinity toll road vital to area,” and was authored by Tomaso, who, when this is all over, must be nominated for the UnPulitzer.

In this offering, Tomaso reported the amazing news that Michael Morris, a staffer at the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCG), believes the Trinity Toll Road must be built through the planned park downtown and inside the flood control levees. Or else!

Tomaso writes:

Without it, he said, other plans to address the downtown traffic mess become difficult if not impossible to carry out. Congestion will grow worse, Mr. Morris said, and so will air pollution …

The tiny bit of background and perspective Tomaso fails to bring to this story is that Michael Morris has been the main promoter, huckster, used-car salesman par excellence behind this thing from the beginning. A story saying Michael Morris wants the toll road built through the park is like a story with a headline, “Mark Cuban Found to Love Self.”

Morris is a henchman for NCTCG, which is the voice of the suburbs in regional planning. Of course he wants this road to go downtown, and of course he doesn’t care if it ruins our park. Of course he knows that the vast majority of the vehicles on the road will be making suburban and regional trips.

In Morris’ view of the world, Dallas is the path of least resistance.

Highway planners know -- they have conceded -- that four out of five vehicles in the Mixmaster downtown are trucks and cars trying to get away from downtown Dallas, not go to it. So why shouldn’t we move all that misery out where it’s from and where it wants to go?

Because people out there will fight it. And the planners like Morris think the city is too weak and too poor to fight it with the same vigor.

I spoke to Morris yesterday to ask him where he got the numbers he was used in Tomaso’s story, showing that it’s too expensive to put the toll road anywhere but under water between the levees. He said he got them from the North Texas Tollway Authority.

I called the people at the NTTA to whom he referred me. They declined to take my call, so I put in an open-records demand.

I don’t mind going that route, but let me ask you something: If all these numbers and studies proving that the Captain Nemo route is the most cost-efficient are so important and so crucial to the debate, don’t you think the NTTA would publish all this stuff on their Web site instead of refusing to take calls and making me use legal demands for the data?

I think a lot of the unease on the part of the Pavers has to do with the fact that Donna Blumer, Sandy Greyson, Angela Hunt and the rest of the TrinityVote team are kicking the crap out of them in debates around the city.

If the TrinityVote people have some kind of innate advantage, it’s called common sense. And common sense is a hard thing to get rid of, no matter how much money you spend.

Really. The best thing to do is just stay at your desk and don’t contribute to crowding in the stairwells. Really. We’ve got numbers that prove it. Stay at your desk.

© 2007 The Dallas Observer:

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"I can't wait to read the fine print.”

TxDOT commissioner talks up TTC, I-69


By Chris Sansone
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2007

With more than 1,000 people moving to Texas on a daily basis, a top state transportation official told an audience in Rosenberg Wednesday the I-69 portion of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) will bring not only economic development, it will bring much-needed funds to Fort Bend County.

Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton told business leaders attending the Fort Bend Regional Infrastructure Conference the TTC will act as a funding mechanism to allow construction and maintenance along the U.S. 59 corridor, as I-69 will incorporate the existing highway's “footprint”, drawing new highways, railways and utility rights of way along the route.

“The low tax system and less regulatory system is attractive for people to move to Texas to create opportunity and wealth,” Houghton said, “and we need to find ways to get it done.”

Houghton said the TTC-69 project would be broken up into six local sections, with the groups including county judges and city mayors of the jurisdictions the TTC route runs through, all of whom will help shape the corridor throughout the region.

“The entire corridor will not be 1,200-feet wide, which has been widely reported,” Houghton said. “It will all depend on what you want,” adding each group would decide what their portion of the corridor will look like.

Each route could include separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks; freight railways; high-speed commuter railways; and infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.

Houghton said he met briefly with County Judge Bob Hebert and will be back in Fort Bend County Oct. 26 to “roll out the information” and get the region's group together.

“What I've heard today I like,” Hebert said following Houghton's remarks, “and I can't wait to read the fine print.”

The conference, sponsored by the Rosenberg-Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce, was held at the Rosenberg Civic Center.

© 2007 Fort Bend Herald:

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"If we take another six months to talk about this, we just lost $50 million."

Transportation planner says Trinity toll road vital to area

Dallas: Alternatives to downtown traffic reliever would be too costly, City Council panel told

October 3, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The region's top transportation planner told a Dallas City Council committee Tuesday that killing the Trinity toll road, as a November referendum proposes, would "have devastating consequences for residents of the city."

Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, called the toll road, known as the Trinity Parkway, "the most important thing I see on the transportation horizon for the city of Dallas."

Without it, he said, other plans to address the downtown traffic mess become difficult if not impossible to carry out. Congestion will grow worse, Mr. Morris said, and so will air pollution, as the region adds 1 million new residents every seven years. And, he said, the city will lose an opportunity to improve a dangerous highway intersection and spur economic development in the southern sector.

"The Trinity Parkway ... needs to be built, and it needs to be built as soon as possible," Mr. Morris told members of the City Council's Trinity River committee.

On Nov. 6, Dallas residents will vote on Proposition 1, a ballot measure to abolish the high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees. The road has long been planned as part of the Trinity River Corridor project, which also includes a downtown park with lakes and trails, improved flood controls, wetlands, an equestrian center and other features.

Volunteers led by City Council member Angela Hunt gathered signatures this spring to put the measure on the ballot. They contend that having a toll road adjacent to the park will mar what could be a spectacular downtown attraction. They have also questioned the spiraling cost of the toll road, whose price tag is now near $1 billion.

But Mr. Morris said the only other possible route identified for the toll road, along the Industrial Boulevard-Irving Boulevard corridor, would cost an additional $500 million – money that state and regional highway agencies don't have.

Mr. Morris also serves as executive director of the Regional Transportation Council, a body of local officials from throughout North Texas who meet to establish priorities for transportation financing.

That council has a long list of highway projects awaiting funding. "There is no big pot of money with $500 million in it for you to build on Industrial," he said.

The toll road is expected to carry 90,000 to 100,000 cars a day. Without such a "reliever route," Mr. Morris said, a $1 billion state project to rebuild the Mixmaster and Canyon in downtown Dallas becomes exceedingly difficult to pull off. He talked of bumper-to-bumper traffic during what would be a long and unpleasant construction period.

Neither Ms. Hunt nor other representatives of those supporting Proposition 1 returned telephone calls seeking comment on Mr. Morris' remarks.

Ms. Hunt is not a member of the City Council's Trinity River committee, having been excluded from that panel by Mayor Tom Leppert, who supports the toll road and is campaigning against Proposition 1.

The Trinity Parkway would run about nine miles, from U.S. Highway 175 southeast of downtown to where State Highway 183 splits off from Stemmons Freeway near Texas Stadium.

At its southern end, the toll road would eliminate what many South Dallas residents regard as an eyesore and a safety hazard: the elevated S.M. Wright Freeway, which makes an abrupt, almost 90-degree turn where it becomes C.F. Hawn Freeway.

Locals refer to the sharp turn in the 43-year-old freeway as "Dead Man's Corner." Mr. Morris called it a "safety nightmare."

"I don't think you would ever have seen that built in North Dallas," Mr. Morris said. "I'm ashamed as an engineer that that turn exists."

Council member Dwaine Caraway, whose district is near the interchange, said removing it and rebuilding S.M. Wright Freeway as a boulevard at ground level would be a great benefit for the neighborhood.

"Imagine the economic development that could take place along a new, landscaped road at ground level," he said. "That is a tremendous opportunity."

In urging quick action to get the Trinity Parkway built, Mr. Morris said highway construction costs are going up about 10 percent a year, mostly because of rising prices for materials.

On a $1 billion project, that's $100 million a year.

"So if we take another six months to talk about this, we just lost $50 million," he said.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News:

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“Even after the Austin Chamber of Commerce (Take on Traffic) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a misleading campaign..."

75% of Public Feedback Tells CAMPO “NO TOLLS”

Oct 3, 2007

Austin Toll party
Copyright 2007

Austin, TX - According to the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) report [.PDF] just released, 75% of the public oppose more toll roads in Central Texas, according to the “Tolling” category of CAMPO’s public comments (1,446 Opposed - 358 For). The public gave comments to CAMPO, over a six week period, via community meetings, public hearings, fax, email and letters.

Opposition to specific toll way projects reach as high as 82%, according to CAMPO’s online questionnaire - with the mega tollway at the “Y” in South West Austin being the most unpopular. Citizen group has been pushing a less costly, non-tolled alternative that is faster to build.

“Even after the Chamber of Commerce (Take on Traffic) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a misleading campaign, that never once mentioned the “Toll” word, the public is still saying no to tolls,” said Sal Costello, founder of, “Sen. Watson has also not been honest with the public. CAMPO chair Sen. Watson, a former Chamber president, uses the same Chamber strategy of not using the “Toll” word, which has been deemed radioactive. Watson, has been pushing the freeway toll plan for months, while telling the public via email and public appearances, he’s opposed to toll roads.”

CAMPO chair Sen. Kirk Watson has set the toll road vote to take place next Monday evening on Oct 8th.

CAMPO and TxDOT have just released documents that confirm $910 million tax dollars (intended for free roads) will be spent to shift portions of 71W, 71E, 183, 290W and 290E to toll ways, under this toll plan.

Contact: Sal Costello, founder of

© 2007 Austin Toll Party:

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Star-Telegram endorses Proposition 7

The purchase price


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

The Texas Constitution generally forbids any governmental entity -- city, county, hospital district, school district -- to grant public money or a "thing of value" for the benefit of an individual, business or corporation. There are some exceptions -- economic development dollars certainly benefit specific businesses and corporations -- but Article 3, Section 52 generally has been interpreted to put strict limits on diverting public funds for an individual's use.

So what has that got to do with eminent domain? A government entity sometimes takes land under eminent domain statutes but then doesn't need the property for the project in question. Or perhaps there's been no progress on the project over a prescribed amount of time, or the original project is canceled.

The Texas Legislature thinks that the original landowner (or the heirs) should have the opportunity to get the land back for the same price that the state paid when it took it. Seems reasonable.

The problem is that Article 3, Section 52 prohibits such an exchange because the market value of the land would in most cases be higher than the price paid when eminent domain was exercised. This could be viewed as granting value to the original owner, who now would have a piece of property worth more than what was paid for it.

The key to deciding how to vote on Proposition 7 is simple: An eminent domain "sale" is not a willing one. The government says to a property owner: "We are taking what is yours, and this is what we're willing to give you for it. If you don't like it, too bad, because that's what you're getting."

In a normal property transaction, an owner doesn't have to sell for a theoretical "fair market value" -- he or she can wait until the offer meets what the owner thinks is the value of the land. In an exchange forced on one party, if the merchandise is not "used" by the buyer, the merchandise should revert to the (unwilling) seller, and the original purchase money should revert to the buyer.

The Star-Telegram recommends a yes vote.

Proposition 7

On the ballot: "The constitutional amendment to allow governmental entities to sell property acquired through eminent domain back to the previous owners at the price the entities paid to acquire the property."

© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Master plan for 'Ports-to-Plains Corridor' in the works

Ports-to-Plains Corridor Enters A More Serious Planning Phase

October 2, 2007

Liz Moucka
Texas Contractor
Reed ACP Construction Data
Copyright 2007

Austin, Tex. – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced it will form a working group to develop a financial master plan a Ports-to-Plains Corridor, which would create new jobs and economic opportunity for West Texas. Ports-to-Plains is a proposed divided highway corridor stretching from Laredo on the Mexican border, through Midland/Odessa, Lubbock, and Amarillo in West Texas north to Denver, Colorado.

Designated as a High Priority Corridor by Congress in 1998, the Ports-to-Plains corridor is intended to expand economic opportunity and serve international trade from Mexico to Canada. Despite the congressional designation, adequate federal funding has not been provided to cover the cost of the project.

Earlier this year, Cambridge Systematics issued a report to TxDOT outlining the rural development opportunities if Ports-to-Plains is built as part of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor project. In addition to being be a catalyst for economic development and job creation, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor could provide a way to transfer energy generated by wind turbines in West Texas to other parts of Texas and the southwest. Wind farms are currently located in 14 West Texas counties creating electrical generation capacity rated at 3,676 MW.

Electrical generation capacity is expected to reach 7,038 MW in western counties by 2010, according to the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Additionally, with nearly 40 percent of all U.S. agricultural products being exported, a Ports-to-Plains route would help farmers and ranchers from West Texas and throughout the U.S. Midwest compete in the global marketplace.

Construction Underway On Union Pacific Intermodal Yard In San Antonio

San Antonio, Tex. – General contractor SpawGlass and earthmoving contractor M. Hanna Construction have begun site preparations on the 300-acre Union Pacific Intermodal facility on the south side of San Antonio. The $90 million state-of-the-art terminal is expected to generate $2.48 billion in cumulative economic impact for the area over 20 years. Located strategically between rail lines traveling to and from the West Coast and Mexico, the 300-acre rail port will ship and receive containers and trailers with household goods and other items supporting retailers and distribution centers, as well as auto parts for the new Toyota plant in San Antonio.

The routes easily accessed by the facility will be along San Antonio’s Loop 410; Interstate 35 and the future Trans-Texas Corridor TTC-35 (Laredo to Dallas/Fort Worth and northern states); State Hwy. 37 (Port of Corpus Christi); I-10 (Houston and the Southeastern U.S. and El Paso on to Los Angeles). First Industrial Realty Trust, Inc., a leading provider of industrial real estate supply chain solutions, in partnership with 4M Realty, has been selected as the developer for the facility. Access and egress points for trucks and automobiles at Interstate 35, will increase the viability of an adjacent business park which First Industrial is currently planning.

When completed in late 2008, the new facility will use a combination of advanced computer systems and technology to coordinate all movement of rail cars, trucks, trailers and containers so that a truck entering or leaving the facility will be stopped at the gate for only 30 to 45 seconds, compared to the national average of four minutes.

© 2007 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. :

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Monday, October 01, 2007

"The Trans-Texas Corridor would not have been approved at all if Texans had been better informed."

Group opposes proposed transportation corridor

October 1, 2007

by Janice Francis-Smith
Oklahoma Journal Record
Copyright 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY – David and Linda Stall said they want the people of Oklahoma to be informed regarding a proposed transportation corridor linking Mexico and Canada.

The Trans-Texas Corridor plan has progressed to the point where developers will soon be knocking on doors in Oklahoma to extend the corridor, said the Stalls. But perhaps the plan would not have been approved at all if Texans had been better informed, the co-founders of the Corridor Watch group said.

Public/private partnerships can be a good thing if they are executed properly, said David Stall, but many of the contracts approved as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan are heavily weighted to benefit the private partner at the expense of taxpayers. Some lawmakers did not thoroughly read the legislation that allowed for such contracts, and had voted for the plan ignorant of the lack of accountability inherent in the Trans-Texas Corridor deals, said the Stalls.

Under some of the contracts, private businesses are given the power of eminent domain to seize private property, and are provided the assistance of law enforcement to collect tolls. However, many of those contracts are not subjected to competitive bidding processes, which ensure taxpayers get the best price for construction projects. And though they are making use of public funds, the private companies involved are not required to disclose their financial information to the public.

Many of the contracts – which may extend for 30, 50 or even 99 years – also include a “non-compete” provision, preventing municipalities from building roads for miles around. Municipalities in Texas have been defeated in court in their attempts to alter the terms of such contracts in light of changing circumstances decades after such contracts have been approved, said Linda Stall.

When state agencies build a toll road, the state has the power to alter the amount of the toll. If more money is needed to maintain the road, the price may be increased. If lawmakers’ constituents complain about the cost of the toll, the state can lower the price. But when a toll road is operated by a private entity, the state has no control over the amount of toll that is charged, said Linda Stall.

The Stalls were invited to Oklahoma by Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise, or OK-SAFE, headed by retired U.S. Air Force Col. George Wallace. Wallace said his group has begun a grass-roots campaign to withdraw the state of Oklahoma from membership in NASCO, North America’s SuperCorridor Coalition.

“NASCO members include cities, counties, states, provinces and private sector representatives along the Corridor in Canada, the United States and Mexico, dedicated to maximizing the efficiency and security of their existing trade and transportation infrastructure,” reads NASCO’s Web site. “The NASCO Corridor represents the existing trade and transportation infrastructure roughly shadowing U.S. Interstate Highways 35, 29 and 94, and the connecting transportation infrastructure in Canada and Mexico critical to national and international trade. This includes major intermodal “inland ports” along the corridor and under development.”

Wallace questioned if trucks loaded in Mexico or Canada would be thoroughly checked before allowed to travel in the U.S. In addition to safety concerns regarding the weight and cargo of trucks entering the U.S., such vehicles could also be used to transport illegal aliens and/or terrorists, said Wallace. Furthermore, many of the design-build-operate contracts are being awarded to foreign companies.

© 2007 Oklahoma Journal Record:

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"Prop 12 would allow TxDOT to use general state revenue to pay back money borrowed for roads."

Prop-ping up Texas road spending

Proposition 12 would allow agency for the first time to borrow against general state revenue.

October 01, 2007

By Ben Wear
Astin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

So, you've no doubt decided already how you're going to vote on Prop. 12.

Me, neither.

In fact, until I started working on this column, I couldn't have told you that there are 16 amendments to our ever-ballooning Texas Constitution awaiting you on the Nov. 6 ballot, including one involving county inspectors "of hides and animals." Or that Proposition 12 would allow the Texas Department of Transportation for the first time to use general state revenue — sales taxes, oil taxes, etc. — to pay back money borrowed for roads. Up to $5 billion of borrowed money.

Actually, it would amend the constitution to make that possible. To really make it happen, the Legislature would have to pass what is called "enabling legislation." There was a bill to do that in the session this spring, one meant to accompany Prop. 12, but it perished.

If Prop. 12 passes, lawmakers would have to come back in 2009 and fill in the dots.

Those dots are pretty important. Could the bond money be spent on toll roads, or only on free roads? Both? Could the agency borrow it all at once, or over several years? Could it be spent only on new highway lanes? What about passenger rail, or Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor? Could it be used for those?

Then there's the question of where this $5 billion might be spent. Mostly in congestion-plagued metro areas, or evenly spread around state House and state Senate districts?

Historically, the Legislature, unlike Congress, has pretty much avoided specifying in law where Texas spends its transportation money. What political influence there is on that, and there is some, is more of the unofficial, stern-phone-call kind. But given how politically active the Transportation Department has been lately — Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson seemed like a 182nd legislator last session — and the distrust some legislators have toward the agency, there's no telling whether that hands-off policy will continue.

The money could come in handy.

The department had been in a flush period, thanks mostly to earlier amendments and legislation that allowed it to borrow about $7 billion and pay it back with gas taxes and fees. There was also a brief spike in allocations from Uncle Sam from the federal gas tax. And there were deals in the works with private companies to build toll roads. Road builders were walking around with perma-grins.

Circumstance and the Legislature have pretty much wiped off those grins. The federal money is drying up, most of that borrowing stash is committed and those private toll roads have fallen into disfavor. The Transportation Department, going into worst-case-scenario mode, said last week that after this year there'll be no more money for new roads.

An arguable point, certainly, one certain to be argued over the next couple of years. Prop. 12, if nothing else, might provide some money to tide us over until that spat is resolved.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www.

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The Texas Legislature voted unanimously for Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor in 2003.

A Good House Cleaning is in Order...

© 2007 Keye TV Channel 42 (CBS):


Sunday, September 30, 2007

"I’m all for sending this Texas A&M University cheerleader back to the farm... a growing number of other Texans feel the same way."

Time to give Gov. Goodhair the brush-off

September 30, 2007

By Mary Madewell
The Paris News
Copyright 2007

Enough is enough.

It’s time for Gov. Goodhair to go.

And I don’t mean to Washington, D. C., as our nation’s vice-president. It’s pretty obvious that’s what Texas Gov. Rick Perry has in mind as a step up in his career as a politician, but it sends chills through my bones to think of Goodhair being one heart beat away from leading the free world.

Shucks, he can’t even lead his own Republican faithful, let alone stand for everything that is right in a democracy. At every turn, Perry has tried to do an end run around the separation of powers that has made our republic work for more than 200 years.

I’m all for sending this Texas A&M University cheerleader back to the farm. There is a growing number of other Texans who feel the same way.

In doing research for this column, I stumbled upon an abundance of material from an organization I didn't know existed, but learned has been working for years to oust the unpopular governor. I say “unpopular” because he squeaked in a second elected term with only 39 percent of the vote. I would guesstimate there are far less Texans who would vote for him today after the stunts he’s pulled since November 2006.

Perry said following that election that it didn’t matter about the 39 percent because he gets to govern 100 percent of the time. That one remark was a forecast of things to come.

First thing out of the box, Perry angered Texans and Texas lawmakers when he misused limited executive power authority to require young girls be vaccinated against the HPV virus. Legislators appropriately reversed the mandate.

It turned out Perry had received campaign money from the makers of the drug, Merck Pharmaceuticals. Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, is a Merck lobbyist.

Earlier, Perry angered educators with an executive order instructing Texas Education Agency to implement a 65 percent rule, which requires districts — no matter its population and demographic make-up — to spend 65 percent of all funds on classroom instruction. Some smaller districts just can’t get there because of fixed facility, maintenance and transportation costs in addition to support staff necessary to implement federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

Perry has used his veto pen to kill bipartisan legislation that would have given Texans a clear, unadulterated shot at a 30-month moratorium on the governor’s hated plan to build the massive Trans-Texas Corridor along with his freeway-to-tollway privatization scheme. Texans should be up in arms about foreign investors making huge profits off Texas motorists. Instead, we should raise the gasoline tax and link that tax to inflation. That way, Texans can reinvest profits in more highways using a pay-as-you go plan rather than saddling future generations with transportation debt.

Our own state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, supports such a plan and has pledged to work toward that goal during the 2009 legislative session.

Perry also struck bipartisan eminent domain reform designed to protect private property rights and prevent the taking of more than 1 million acres of prime farm and ranchland for his Trans-Texas Corridor.

Gov. Goodhair sold out consumer protection for homeowners by stacking the Texas Residential Construction Commission with appointees from the construction industry. Perry took $690,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry of Perry Homes (no relation) and then appointed Perry Homes attorney, John Krush, to the commission.

With his post sine die veto pen, Perry weakened bipartisan criminal justice reform that would slow the pace of incarceration and provide for alternative funding mechanisms to rehabilitate rather than incarcerate troubled Texans.

My thoughts turned to impeachment last week after Paris Junior College president Dr. Pam Anglin said that Perry had pretty much “dug in his heels” to do battle with community colleges over the complete restoration of health care funds Perry vetoed from the Texas Legislature’s biennial budget after lawmakers left Austin.

The impeachment process provided by the Texas Constitution is quite simple. Charges must be brought by a majority vote in the Texas House with the trial taking place in the Senate. The House is charged with prosecuting the case with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas presiding. A two-thirds vote is required for removal from office.

Like our United States constitution, impeachment is based on “high crimes and misdemeanors," but after more than two hundred years there is still no consensus as to what this phrase means in practice.

The process should be used rarely. James Ferguson (1915-1917) is the only Texas governor to be impeached and convicted by the Texas legislature.

Some history buffs have said his impeachment had to do with his attacks on the University of Texas. But one of the reasons for the impeachment involved accusations that Ferguson was giving highway contracts to his friends and taking kickbacks.

I would imagine if enough Democrats and independents put resources together, skeletons can be found in our governor’s closet. I would suggest looking both at the governor’s mansion and at Perry’s new digs, for which Texans are paying $10,000 a month so Goodhair has a plush residence to entertain his wealthy friends and contributors.

That, interestingly enough, is the purpose of a growing number of grassroots organizers who are pushing for impeachment proceedings to be introduced in the 2009 legislative session. Information about the network can be found at

In my opinion, Perry is a wolf without the sheep’s clothing. It will take more than good looks and a healthy head of hair to fend off Texans once enough get fired up to take Goodhair out of office.

Mary Madewell is interim managing editor of The Paris News.

© 2007 The Paris News:

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