Saturday, February 02, 2008

"They think that the country folk are just going to wither up and blow away."

Hundreds turn out to block development of road

February 02, 2008

Nachodoches Daily Sentinel
Copyright 2008

Concerned about the local impact of Gov. Rick Perry's planned Trans-Texas Corridor, hundreds of citizens in rural communities held public meetings Thursday and Saturday to exchange information and organize efforts against the highway project.

Many of the more than three hundred attendees of Thursday's meeting at the Martinsville school, and dozens of others who met at the Libby community center Saturday, worried that the proposed route for the highway sears through their communities, threatening to take private land and disrupt their rural way of life.

The meetings, held in advance of official public hearings later in the month sought to develop a strategy for fighting the Interstate-69 branch of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The TTC system consists of several highways, billed by state officials as a necessary advance in the state road system. The draft environmental impact statement for TTC/I-69, a proposed 650-mile interstate highway from South Texas to Northeast Texas, defines the preferred routes for the component of the TTC system that would affect communities in East Texas.

Grey Burton, the superintendent of Martinsville ISD opened Thursday's meeting by describing one vision of the highway — a ten-lane interstate with 85 mph speed limits, bounded by rail lanes and utilities, with few entrance and exit opportunities. Burton said limited interchanges with local roads was a problem.

"That kind of concerned me a little bit," he said

While some, including Nacogdoches city officials, have been hopeful that the highway would be a boon to cities along its proposed route, many, like those who met recently, have voiced concern over various issues, including fear that removing a 1,200 foot-wide swath of land from the tax roll would deplete the small communities' coffers, and anger that Austin may contract with a foreign company to develop the multi-billion dollar project.

Resentment for the highway brought together citizens from communities inside and outside of Nacogdoches county, such as Garrison, Alazan, Stockman, Shady Grove and Pine Hill. State Rep. Wayne Christian attended both public meetings, applauding the grass roots effort and offering advice on how to get the government to listen.

One of the meetings' organizers, Larry Shelton, outlined arguments against the roadway he said would take his self-made Libby home away from him. He encouraged those at the Libby meeting to learn the talking points and write their comments to officials at all levels of government.

"Let's give everyone in government an earful," he said. "They think that the country folk are just going to wither up and blow away."

Pre-addressed envelopes, free stamps and informational packets summarizing anti-TTC arguments were available at the meeting. Literature and stickers from the anti-corridor Web site were also distributed.

Many in the audience Saturday contributed suggestions for advancing the fight against the highway. Some suggested that East Texans have their relatives in other parts of the state contact public officials to amplify the public outcry. Others said earning the support of corporations in the area like Pilgrim's Pride would help the cause.

Thursday's meeting in Martinsville also revealed a strong anti-immigration sentiment among many who fear the highway will increase the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Others at both meetings were displeased that the Madrid-based Cintra corporation is one of the two developers contacted by Austin officials for building proposals. The other possible developer is the San Antonio-based group, Zachry American Infrastructure, Inc.

The informal public meetings Thursday and Sunday precede official public hearings to be held across the state by the Texas Department of Transportation in the coming weeks. The hearings will record the public's comments on the tier one draft environment statement, which outlines the scope, purpose and proposed route of the highway. The Nacogdoches meeting will be at The Fredonia on Thursday, Feb. 14. An open house will be from 5 to 6:30 p.m,, when the public hearing will begin.

Comments may also be submitted online at the official Web site of the project,, or mailed to the agency. The deadline for submitting comments on the tier one impact statement is March 19, 2008.

If tier one is approved using the input from communities, TxDOT will publish a tier two document, which would "address site-specific alignment alternative" and identify "individual properties that could be affected," according to the agency. That document would likely be the subject of further public hearings.

Michele Marcotte contributed to this report.

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