WND Politics | December 29, 2012 | Jerome R. Corsi
NEW YORK – Believe it or not, the Trans-Texas Corridor is back.
Very quietly, Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, signed in October a comprehensive development agreement to construct a toll-road redevelopment of Interstate 35 north of downtown Fort Worth.
TxDOT signed the 50-year deal with NTE Mobility Partners Segments 3 LLC, a U.S.-based wholly-owned subsidiary of Cintra, the Spanish-owned construction company. TxDOT picked Cintra in 2005 to build what some critics called the “NAFTA Super Highway.”
Chris Lippincot, the former TxDOT information officer who is currently acting as the new public relations man for Cintra in the United States, also announced TxDOT signed a contract in September with Cintra to build a privatized State Highway 130 toll road in San Antonio.
Perry may never have abandoned his original idea to build what during the presidential administration of George W. Bush was known as the Trans-Texas Corridor project, a 4,000-mile network of privately built and operated toll roads to crisscross the state, with Spanish development company Cintra scheduled to earn the tolls under 50-year leases.
In 2009, Perry scrapped the TTC plan after a series of combative town hall meetings throughout the state showed TxDOT it faced massive taxpayer resistance.
But now, the plan apparently is being implemented in small chunks, without the fanfare of divulging a statewide blueprint Perry and TxDOT may still have tucked away in their back pockets.
Was TTC ever really dead?
Operating below the radar of public opinion, Texas currently has $20 billion in roadwork underway through public-private partnerships, according to Ted Houghton, TxDOT chairman, the Texas Tribune reported earlier this month.
Despite Perry’s pledge in 2009 to end the Trans-Texas Corridor project with Cintra, TxDOT has kept the public-private partnership toll road concept alive by proposing smaller projects for the approval of the Texas state legislature.
Nicholas Rubio, the president of Cintra’s U.S. arm in Austin, told the Texas Tribune that Cintra currently has contracts for three road projects in Texas, consisting of approximately $5 billion in private investment against about $1 billion in public subsidies.
“You have to recognize, in general, that policymakers in Texas have been ahead of the curve,” Rubio told the Tribune. “The states that have been developing P3s (public-private partnerships) are Texas, Florida, Virginia, and that’s about it.”
In October, Perry and Rafael del Pino, chairman of Ferrovial, Cintra’s parent company in Spain, attended the grand launch of a 41-mile stretch of State Highway 130 P3 project between Austin and Sequin.
Texas owns the land on which the SH 130 P3 project is built, but a private consortium owned and operated by Cintra is scheduled to build the toll road. It’s to be operated under a 50-year lease, with Cintra taking the lion’s share of the tolls collected over the next 50 years to recover construction costs and to make a profit.
To make the SH 130 toll road palatable to Texas drivers, the speed limit will be set to 85 miles per hour, the fastest posted limit in the United States.
A look-back to the Bush era
Quietly but systematically, the Bush administration in conjunction with Perry in Texas advanced the plan to build a huge highway, four football fields wide, through the heart of Texas, parallel to Interstate 35, from the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas, to the Texas border with Oklahoma.
The Trans-Texas Corridor moved ahead to begin construction following the re-election of Perry in November 2006.
Plans to build TTC-35 were fully disclosed on KeepTexasMoving.org, a now defunct official TxDOT website.
On March 11, 2005, a “Comprehensive Development Agreement” was signed by TxDOT to build the “TTC-35 High Priority Corridor” parallel to Interstate 35.
The contracting party was a limited partnership formed between Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., a publically-listed company headquartered in Spain, majority controlled by the Madrid-based Groupo Ferrovial, and a San Antonio-based construction company, Zachry Construction Corporation.
The Cintra deal meant that once the TTC was completed, anyone who wanted to drive on it would have to pay an investment consortium in Spain for the privilege of driving in Texas.
Although somewhat incomprehensible to most U.S. citizens, these public-private partnerships involve selling off key U.S. infrastructure projects to foreign entities.
Granted, the “ownership” rights of projects like TTC-35 would have remained with the state of Texas, yet selling off the leasing rights amounts in the thinking of most U.S. citizens to selling off the highway to foreign interests for the term of the lease.
Under the terms of the TTC agreements with TxDOT, Cintra would have had the rights to operate TTC-35 for 50 years and to collect all tolls on the road in that period of time.
The Comprehensive Development Agreement called for Cintra-Zachry to provide private investment of $6 billion “to fully design, construct and operate a four-lane, 316-mile toll road between Dallas and San Antonio for up to 50 years as the initial segment of TTC-35.
For this, Cintra-Zachry paid the state of Texas $1.2 billion for the long-term right to build and operate the initial segment as a toll facility.
In April 2006, TxDOT released a 4,000-page Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for what was described as the “Trans-Texas Corridor-25 Oklahoma to Mexico/Gulf Coast Element.”
The April 2006 EIS made clear that Cintra-Zachry planned to build a 1,200-foot-wide (approximately four football fields wide) complex with 10 lanes of highway – five lanes in each direction, north and south.Three lanes in each direction would be reserved for passenger vehicles and two separate lanes reserved for trucks.
The EIS design included six rail lines running parallel to the highway, with separate rail lines in each direction for high-speed rail, commuter rail and freight rail.
Finally, the design called for a 200-foot wide utility corridor that would include pipelines for oil, natural gas, water, telecommunications and data, as well as electricity towers.
According to the TxDOT Trans-Texas Corridor Plan adopted in June 2002, TxDOT ultimately would build some 4,000 miles of highway-railway-utility super-corridors throughout Texas over the next 50 years, using some 584,000 acres of what is now Texas farm and ranchland, at an estimated cost of $184 billion.
The TTC plan left little doubt TTC toll-road super-corridors were designed to facilitate international trade, primarily speeding trucks and trains carrying “inter-modal” containers from Mexican ports to destinations in the heartland of the U.S.
The full TTC build-out was designed to move goods through Texas rapidly, bypassing the major cities.
On the heels of a successful lawsuit that has stopped construction of a Union County toll road, an environmental group said it will file a new federal lawsuit Tuesday to thwart another planned toll project – the Garden Parkway in Gaston County.
The Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill alleges that the N.C. Turnpike Authority did a “defective” environmental impact study for the parkway, a planned 21.9-mile toll road that cuts through southern Gaston County.
The law center alleges that the state gamed its federally required study in order to obtain the necessary state and federal permits.
It had previously filed a lawsuit to stop the Monroe Connector/Bypass, which was supposed to begin construction this year.
The federal government requires major highway projects to do what’s known as a “build vs. no build” study, which projects the impacts of building the highway against not building it.
In the case of the Monroe Connector/Bypass, the law center said that the N.C. Turnpike Authority assumed the toll road had already been built, resulting in a “build vs. build” study.
That showed little impact from the toll road’s construction. The law center said that made it easier to receive required permits.
In May, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in favor of the law center and criticized the state for failing to do the study properly.
That has forced the state to delay the project indefinitely.
“We think (the Garden Parkway study) is worse than Monroe,” said Kym Hunter, an attorney with the law center.
The state had been expecting litigation concerning the Garden Parkway, which is one of the most controversial highway projects in the state.
Greer Beaty, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the environmental studies for the parkway are correct. She said she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit until the state has had time to review it.
Supporters of the Garden Parkway say it will provide Gaston County with a much-needed link across the Catawba River, and provide an economic jolt to the county.
Opponents say the nearly $1 billion project won’t improve traffic congestion on Interstate 85 and that it will lead to sprawl and environmental damage.
One report showed that the Garden Parkway would actually cost Gaston County 900 jobs if it were built. The reason, according to the state study, is that the toll road would encourage jobs to move into South Carolina.
After that number was publicized, parkway supporters commissioned a study by UNC Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, who said the project would bring up to 18,000 jobs to Gaston.
USA Springs bailout delayed again
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Money to bail out USA Springs still has not arrived, forcing creditors to consider alternatives, including liquidation and foreclosure.
Malom Group AG — the bankrupt company’s Swiss financier – was supposed to deposit $7 million on Dec. 9 into the account of USA Springs, which is trying to build a controversial bottling plant near the border of Nottingham and Barrington.
The payment was supposed to be the first installment of a $19.3 million bridge loan as part of a $60 million financing deal.
But USA Springs told the court on Dec. 15 that the money hadn’t arrived, making it Malom’s fourth missed deadline since Oct. 3.
Attorneys for USA Springs asked for a new deadline of Jan. 6, and the judge agreed to the extension, which is the fifth since the company filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2008.
A hearing on other issues — such as attorneys’ compensation — was set for Jan. 26.
An unnamed insider investor, with the bankruptcy court’s protection, has paid Malom a $1.2 million loan fee, a fee that was supposed to be paid back at closing, along with a potential $600,000 success fee.
If Malom doesn’t come through with the initial financing, the bankruptcy court – in its order – said it would seek the full $60 million from the firm.
Jan. 26 will also be set aside for consideration of a motion filed by Save Our Groundwater, an organization that opposes the USA Springs proposal and is seeking more documents on the redacted agreement between Malom.
USA Springs has spent $17 million over the past decade trying to get a permit to withdraw 300,000 gallons a day from the groundwater in the face of tenacious opposition from SOG and other opponents.
But shortly after the state granted the major permits, the company ran out of money, and the half-finished project has languished ever since. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW
from New Hampshire Business Review: December 7, 2011
For the third time in as many months, the bankrupt USA Springs has been unable to close on a $60 million loan because initial funding from its Swiss underwriter, Malom Group AG, still has not arrived.
The deal, which would enable the company to resume construction on its controversial partially completed bottling plant on the border of Nottingham and Barrington, was originally supposed to close on Oct. 3, with the arrival of $19.3 million bridge loan in the bank account controlled by USA Springs’ attorney.
But that deadline was extended twice until Dec. 2 because of financial turmoil in Europe, according to Malom. In November, Malom said it would rely on the sale of Brazilian securities to raise that initial bridge loan.
At Monday’s bankruptcy court hearing in Manchester, attorneys for USA Springs said Malom missed that deadline as well because it found “a better offer” elsewhere, and instead $7 million would arrive at the close of business Friday. The rest of the bridge loan would arrive by the end of the year, the company said.
“We want to make sure that Malom is true to its word,” said the company’s attorney, Alan L. Braunstein.
Malom received a $1.2 million loan fee in advance from an unnamed USA insider. That fee would be paid back at closing along with a potential $600,000 success fee
Braunstein said that Malom would pay extra interest and attorney’s fees for the delay, but the main creditor, Roswell Commercial Mortgage LLC, wanted to see any changes in writing and subpoenaed a Malom executive for a deposition.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge J. Michael Deasy granted another extension of the deal.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the parties to decide what they want to do, but at some point this thing has to go or not to go. I don’t know what time that is,” said Deasy.
But the judge added that Roswell and other creditors were understandably skeptical and that the whole bankruptcy rescue plan was in danger of “blowing up.”
The future of the USA Springs plant has never been certain. USA Springs has spent $17 million to build the plant since 1997, but it took nearly a decade to overcome the opposition of residents and environmental groups before the company finally obtained state and federal permits.
State regulators eventually sided with USA Springs, but the permit fight drained its resources and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008. The project has languished in bankruptcy ever since, after several other financial arrangements fell apart. Malom has been the most promising deal thus far.
Meanwhile, opponents have raised question with potential investors about to whether the permits were still valid — a claim that USA Springs cited as a reason to keep the names of the investors secret.
But the organization Save Our Groundwater filed a motion to find out the names of foreign investors, arguing that they might use international trade agreements to trump state environmental laws.
USA Springs maintains that SOG doesn’t have the standing to make its motion because it has no financial interest in the deal and is instead trying to sabotage it.
The court – at the request of both parties – put that matter off until after Friday, when it will be clearer whether the Malom deal will close after all.
Another hearing has been tentatively scheduled for December 15. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW
By SCOTT E. KINNEY
NOTTINGHAM — For years commuters along Route 4 between Barrington and Nottingham have driven by a rather innocuous and incomplete building along the roadside.
The building is the physical property of USA Springs, a water bottling company nearly 10 years, and counting, in the making. The structure was just beginning to take shape on the 100-acre parcel, which straddles the Barrington/Nottingham border, when the business declared bankruptcy…
…Before the filing the company had invested the better part of a decade and millions of dollars in securing the necessary permits to draw water from the local aquifer, which it planned to bottle, shipping most of it overseas…
…New investors now could mean new life for the flagging company…
…But several neighborhood groups opposed to the project essentially from its inception say the plant would have a negative effect on the water supply for Barrington, Nottingham and beyond.
They add that even if the funding is there, the completion of the plant, and its ability to bottle water, is far from assured…
Read the full article: http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011707109883