Austin and College Station, March 29 – Senator Brandon Creighton (R-The Woodlands) and Texas A&M University issued statements to attempt to clarify their positions with respect to Senate Bill 1964, which has attracted substantial community opposition in The Woodlands, Conroe, Magnolia, and the area surrounding the W.G. Jones State Forest, which the bill would impact. The primary objection to Creighton’s bill is that it would seem to allow for “private commercial uses” of the Jones Forest and for-profit enterprises, as indicated in some of the language of the legislation.
On Tuesday, March 28, 2017, during the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, Creighton emailed a statement for local political activist Bill O’Sullivan to read in which Creighton indicated that he would remove the “private commercial uses” language from the bill.
Creighton issued a letter to his constituents from his Senate Office in Austin in which he acknowledged “On March 10th, I filed Senate Bill 1964 relating to the Jones State Forest at the request of the Texas A&M University System. Since that time, I have heard from many constituents and stakeholders and I would like to clarify the intent of the bill.” Creighton explained that former Senator Tommy Williams, who held the Senate District 4 seat before Creighton, was the person who requested that Creighton file the bill. Creighton stated further, “I am asking for a hearing to discuss the merits of the University’s request to use between 5-10% of the Jones State Forest (southern end near State Highway 242) for educational purposes…Whether or not the University uses a portion of the forest should be a public discussion.”
Creighton wrote in the letter, “As an 8th generation Montgomery County resident, I cherish the big thicket, natural timberland and foliage, including the wildlife that occupies the forest. I am not interested in clearing the forest or destroying any wildlife.”
Texas A&M’s press statement
Texas A&M University issued a press release on March 29, 2017, also to quell concerns. The University explained, “The Texas A&M University System asked State Senator Brandon Creighton to file a bill to allow a public conversation at the Legislature about how, in the future, Texas A&M University System could further fulfill the mission as a land grant institution by potentially using a small percentage of Jones State Forest in Montgomery County for new educational purposes beyond its current use. Senator Creighton agreed and filed Senate Bill 1964.” The school clarified that “Absolutely no development plan has been decided for Jones State Forest. Furthermore, absolutely zero funding is currently dedicated for any construction at Jones State Forest.”
Unfortunately, Texas A&M University’s March 29 press release continued, “As introduced, S.B. 1964 would simply authorize the A&M System board of regents to consider approving some of Jones State Forest land in the future for ‘multipurpose uses, including academic, research and private commercial use.”
The University further explained, however, that the “private commercial use” phrase was included in the S.B. 1964 bill since classroom facilities typically permit independently operated food vendors, coffee shops, and other services for students and faculty. The University supported Senator Creighton’s statement read during the Commissioners Court meeting and reported in The Golden Hammer on March 28, 2017:
“However, to eliminate public opposition registered in fear of Jones State Forest becoming a massive corporate development, A&M System fully supports Sen. Creighton’s decision to eliminate the words ‘private commercial use’ from S.B. 1964. Thus independently operated vendors would not be permitted.”
Both Texas A&M University System and Creighton had additionally assured that only 178 acres of the entire 1772 acre Jones State Forest property would ever potentially “be considered for new educational purposes. This area is in the southernmost part of Jones State Forest and was particularly identified because it is located outside any ecologically sensitive areas and immediately adjacent to already developed properties.”
Creighton and Texas A&M have further stated that Creighton will add “a comprehensive conservation easement to protect in perpetuity the remaining 90 percent of the entire property property, a total of 1544 acres.
Texas A&M University clarified that it still owns the Jones State Forest but dedicated the Forest in 1929 through the University’s Forestry Department, now called the Texas A&M Forest Service.