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'Don't pave our land' Farm Bureau pleads



Texas farmers are stepping up their opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive highway project that ultimately could take about half a million acres of the state out of agricultural production – and according to opponents possibly hasten the advent of a North American Union.

“Our members are overwhelmingly opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor,” said Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke, a grain and cotton farmer from San Angelo. “There’s never been any doubt that the impact on agriculture would be negative, but now we see a growing number of people who believe the TTC would be bad for all of Texas.”

The organization has called the proposal a “disaster” for farm and ranch businesses that lie in its path, whose owners also are discovering that they have allies in their battle.

In fact, Republican Rep. Rick Hardcastle has filed legislation to delay construction of the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor because the “critical point for me is when the state disregards the personal property rights of hard-working Texans.”

Hardcastle, whose district has little support for the project, filed House Bill 3831 in the Texas House of Representatives, which seeks to halt the project until specific improvements on Highway 35 are made. He also is co-author of House Bill 2772, a statewide two-year moratorium on toll road development.

The TCC is a proposed network of privately funded, limited-access toll roads seen by some critics as part of an incremental merger of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It would be 1,200 feet wide and criss-cross the state like a spider web.

Brenham State Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst also is working the statehouse, filing two bills which are getting attention. One would kill the TTC plan by removing it from the statutes, and the second would set up a two-year moratorium on the use of private equity comprehensive development agreements.

The second plan, which would prevent outside groups from buying the rights to build and operate toll roads, and keep the resulting revenues, already has 105 co-sponsors, officials said.

Sen. Robert Nichols of Jackson has a matching bill in the Senate, with 27 of 31 state senators already listed as co-sponsors.

“It’s a prohibition, for a 24-month period, for any governmental entity in the state of Texas to enter into a tolling agreement with a private entity,” Nichols said. “It prohibits them from selling an existing roll road to a private entity in that same period of time.”

Nichols also has expressed worry that Cintra-Zachry, the Spanish company scheduled to build the TTC, has inserted “non-compete” clauses in the contracts, so that other roads that would compete with the toll roads would not be allowed – possibly for decades.

Sen. John Carona of Dallas said he sees a growing storm of public opposition to the plans, and he doesn’t think the project as originally conceived will be built.

“Pieces of the corridor will be built over the years ago,” Carona said. “They are the pieces that would have been built anyway, such as State Highway 130 in Austin.”

However, he said the projects won’t be four football fields wide.

Just days earlier, McLennan County Farm Bureau President Marc Scott said the TTC would be “devastating to the agriculture industry and to rural communities.

“As a personal note, the 1,700 acres that I produce on are all within the footprint of the proposed TTC,” Scott, a cow/calf and hay producer, said. “So this issue is very near and dear to my heart. My livelihood depends on the outcome of the TTC.”

The $184 billion plan ultimately calls for the construction of a 4,000-mile network of transportation corridors throughout Texas, with separate highway lanes for passenger vehicles and trucks, passenger rail, freight train, commuter rail and dedicated utility zones. As it is proposed, the project would use an estimated half a million acres in Texas.

The concerns about hastening a North American Union lie with the fact that the new Texas superhighways could be expanded nationwide, and allow Chinese goods landed at a Mexican port to be hauled through the United States. To facilitate that, current limits and restrictions in cross-border travel would need to be minimized.


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