Thursday, May 15, 2008

“We’ve become a real burr in their side and we’re going to keep at it.”

Byfields fight Trans-Texas Corridor


By Philip Janksowski
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2008

Taylor-area residents Dan and Margaret Byfield hope to become the Trans-Texas Corridor’s worst nightmare.

The married couple head up two land rights organizations, the American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range, that aim to keep rural communities from having land encroached upon by state and federal agencies through eminent domain.

Both organizations operate across the U.S., in Wyoming, California, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska, but their current main goal is to challenge TxDOT in hopes of completely eliminating proposals for the quarter-mile wide superhighway.

Currently they offer advice to residents of small towns and rural communities on how to corral TxDOT into coordinating with them, rather than just listening to and ignoring grievances some cities have with the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Byfields work in Texas is based on a local government code from 2001, which requires state and federal agencies to coordinate “to the greatest extent feasible” with future planning commissions created by two or more governmental entities — usually a city or county.

“As individual cities, their opinions aren’t going to be listened to,” Dan Byfield said.

They provide extensive literature with step-by-step instruction on how to create planning commissions and how opponents to the Trans-Texas Corridor should approach cities and counties that are sitting on proposed future areas for the highway.

According to what they think are the most accurate plans — aerial photos indicating where roads and railroad tracks would be constructed — the corridor would come right through Rices Crossing, just west of Taylor Airport up to about a mile from the Byfields’ home and office on State Highway 29. None of the photos are official plans.

Margaret and Dan Byfield both founded their own land rights advocacy groups prior to marrying. The 5,000-member strong Stewards of the Range emerged in order to support a lawsuit filed in 1991 by Margaret Byfield’s family in Nevada to keep the U.S Forest Service from seizing their land for water rights. That lawsuit is still ongoing.

The American Land Foundation, created by Dan Byfield, was created by his own interest in land rights and is funded by the Farm Credit Bank of Texas.

“It’s probably why we’re married, because we found each other out in this big country fighting the same fight,” Margaret Byfield said.

Already they have forced TxDOT and the Environmental Protection Agency to the table with officials in Bell County, where four cities along with four school districts created a planning committee at their guidance. In that county, the Byfields said the corridor would take away between 4,000 and 5,500 acres of farmland while cutting many communities off from their only area hospital.

“The TTC plan currently says an overpass would be every five or eight miles, or at a major road. They would force fire trucks to go up and down the highway in order to just get to the other side. If their neighboring fire department can’t get to the other side that’s huge,” Dan Byfield said.

They also have created coalitions between government entities in Trinity, Waller and Nacogdoches counties. The two organizations will hold a seminar Thursday in El Campo to instruct government officials on how to create commissions.

The Byfields have not contacted Taylor city officials or Williamson County commissioners about the Trans-Texas Corridor because of their perception that the two are both strongly in favor of the corridor—Taylor because of the rail possibilities and the county because of economic outgrowth that may arise from the superhighway.

Their ultimate goal is to completely halt any future planning or construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor. They believe IH-35 should be expanded instead. The most probable course of action will likely involve multiple lawsuits, they said, which their organization will help fund. The Byfields also said they have connections to lawyers who will try those cases for bargain rates. Dan Byfield has a law degree himself.

“We’ve become a real burr in their side and we’re going to keep at it,” Dan Byfield said.

© 2008 Taylor Daily Press:

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