"If the state representatives can't get anything, what makes you think we're going to get anything done?"
By TRACY DANG, Managing Editor
The Sealy News
The I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor is not welcome here.
That was the message more than 1,000 Austin County and surrounding area residents conveyed to Texas Department of Transportation representatives Monday at the town hall meeting at the Austin County Fair Convention and Expo Center.
"Ya'll thought I was crazy in Austin when I said my people don't want it and I don't want it," State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst told TxDOT. "We do have a traffic problem in Texas. We know that. I still believe to my very core that Texas is rich enough to build its own highways and to keep the money working here. I'm not anti-toll. I'm just anti-private equity, and I'm not for a 1,200-foot-wide swath taking up 146 acres."
Several county and city officials took the time to voice their opposition to the project on behalf of their constituents.
"I had a gentleman call today to say, 'If they come straight through my land, am I going to have to pay a toll to go feed my cows?'" Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski said.
"In a large way, myself and a couple of others have been talking about this, and I'm very much beginning to feel the sympathy that is owed to the American Indians," Sealy Mayor Russell Koym said. "We forced them out of their country. Now we're being forced out of ours. I think the United States and TxDOT can find a better way of doing this because if we can't find something better, we're in trouble."
Even though Austin County Commissioners' Court and Sealy City Council have both passed resolutions against the TTC, hundreds of residents felt the need to put in their own two cents.
Many did not appreciate that the proposed route goes through land with such historic value.
"I really want to know why you're closing borders and having foreigners coming in to build corridors that are going to be going through the many ranches and farms that's the livelihood of the people of Austin County," Carol Blazek said. "If you go right through the middle, they're not going to be able to make a living, and that's what I'm worried about. Some of these ranches and farms have been in four, five, six generations of family, and it'll be just a shame to tear it up."
Although residents will be compensated for their land if TxDOT decides to move forward with the project, there are some things that just cannot be replaced.
"I know a lot of you have had land here since the beginning of the century, and you have roots here that are deep into your land, like I do," Susan Masarik said. "You have family. You have a community. You have a sense of togetherness. Does the fair market value or 'compensation' cover any of that?"
The history that has played such an important role in shaping their lives - and making Texas the state it is today - is something the residents were not willing to give up.
"My father and cousins own this farm still, and it's still a working farm with a hand done well - how hard could that have been," Joan Gentry said tearfully. "I learned how to ride a bike there. I learned how to make sausage. I danced at the Frydek festivals there. And now you're wanting to come in and wipe out all this history. How are you planning to replace this sacred religious land there, a whole cemetery and this significant historic site? Instead of building this huge corridor, you need to be thinking about mass transit that doesn't take up as much space."
"As I mentioned, this is the colonial place of Texas," Carrell Wendt said. "Just south of here, 7,000 soldiers marched through Texas without even having a highway. They don't need one now. Now more than 7,000 folks don't want this.
"The ground on which you stand is holy that your decisions will affect the rights and liberties of thousands," Wendt said. "Tell Gov. Perry this is hallowed ground. This is a historical site. Don't let it go through our hallowed land."
While many understood TxDOT would have to acquire right of way to meet the growing demands of transportation needs, they were concerned about what the proposed corridor is doing to their property value.
"I think the value of my property has declined because I cannot sell it for what I want now because there's this corridor that may come through," JD Divin said. "I have to disclose what is (on my property). I got termites in my house, and I can get rid of the termites, but I don't 'think I can get rid of this."
Even if they could sell their land, they do not know where they would go.
"So you take our land away if the corridor comes through," Cliff Reed said. "Besides me and probably thousands of other people, where are we supposed to live? Texas is only so big."
Others were concerned about how Texas was going to come up with a food supply if the corridor runs through one of the most productive parts of the state.
Despite the concerns, TxDOT representatives said it is possible the TTC will never happen if there is no funding.
Many were concerned if private partnerships will be used to fund the project, and whether or not TxDOT is going to hire foreign companies to do the work.
"We still do not have the contractor that would develop the project or build the project if the project is going to be built, so I can't tell you if that contractor is going to be foreign or American." Saenz said. "We do have two firms we're bringing forward to help us master the project. One firm is foreign, Cintra, and the other firm is from Texas, Zachary."
"So you're saying this great state has to have foreign money to tell us even how to do something?" Gladys Laas asked.
Others did not like how TxDOT claims it does not have enough funding, yet it is spending a lot of money on "promoting" the corridor.
"What we have here today is a sales presentation," Stephen Huber said. "If the state representatives can't get anything, what makes you think we're going to get anything done? Folks, we're road kill. Collateral damage. If the representatives can't do anything about this, we're going to have a real hard time."
While a super highway with no feeder roads and limited access may get transporters and travelers to their destination faster, many questioned whether TxDOT has even considered safety as an issue.
"I evacuated from (Hurricane) Rita, and the last place I want to be is on a closed corridor," Linda Stall said. "When you're out of water and gas money, you're very vulnerable in the 100-degree heat."
One resident pointed out TxDOT already has limited weigh stations and checkpoints that keep DPS Troopers and law enforcement busy.
With a super highway with only a few access points, the TTC will just add to the problems already facing the nation today.
"My main concern is most of you folks don't realize that this corridor is going to be a conduit for slave trafficking, drugs and illegal immigration," Patrick Ratcliffe said. "If we can't stop them right now just by coming across the river, how are we going to stop them going down the super highway?"
Wharton County Commissioner Chris King mentioned railroad companies are trying to build a system that would run approximately 10 trains a day.
"Each train can handle 200 containers a day," he said. "That's 2,000 trucks a day that that train system can alleviate traffic congestion in Texas. Over one year, we're talking about over 700,000 containers that can be handled by freight, not by truck.
"If you're looking to make improvements or make corridors, I think rail is your better solution. Every railroad crossing will delete, not sever all the local roads and not sever all the lands the way the Trans-Texas Corridor is suppose to do this."
Edward Campbell brought a drawing he designed which offered an alternative solution using existing roads.
"This is the yellow brick road you want to build," he said pointing to his drawing.
"This is the yellow brick road you do not want to build," he said pointing to the proposed I-69/TTC.
Campbell was told to bring the drawing to the public hearing in February, where his suggestion will be considered in the final environmental impact statement.
STOPPING THE CORRIDOR
With so much opposition voiced during the town hall meetings, many questioned why TxDOT is even considering to move forward with the proposal.
"Have you found anybody in this part of the country that's for the corridor?" Roger Kloecker said.
TxDOT representatives responded with a no.
"Certainly, Canada has nothing to lose and everything to gain - they get a free ride," Dennis Mlcak said. "Mexico will probably get all the labor from this monstrosity. At the same time, it will be music to their mutual goods and all their revenues owned by goods from China. All this at the expense of the Texans.
"I don't think you should pursue it to the environmental stage. I think you need to go back to the drawing board. You need to separate yourself from the political aspects - mainly the governor - and people who have to gain from this. You need to come up with a plan that is feasible and one that can be approved by the populous."
While some feared TxDOT will move forward with the plans with or without their approval, many urged their fellow neighbors to at least try by voicing their opinions.
"What will it take to stop this process in its entirety?" John Muegge asked.
TxDOT said the people will have an opportunity to go on record with their comments at the public hearing in February. At that time, TxDOT will reevaluate the project in the final environmental impact statement.
"The way we can stop the project is somebody should get 1,000 letters telling their good governor, 'No more!'" Edwin Kuehn said.
Mary Barrow encouraged residents who are against the project to specifically state, "I favor the no action alternative."
As the last person finished making his comment just before midnight, TxDOT reminded residents they have "plenty of opportunities to express their concerns, either in writing or by coming to the public hearings schedule in February and March."
A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26 at Sealy High School. The open house will begin at 5 p.m., followed by the public hearing at 6:30 p.m.
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