Conroe, March 28 – Conroe and area residents are up in arms about Senator Brandon Creighton (R-The Woodlands) who quietly introduced Senate Bill 1964 on March 10, 2017, to little fanfare and no mention in his newsletter or information reports, because the Bill would open the W. Goodrich Jones State Forest to “private commercial uses.” Over this past weekend, dozens of residents of Jacob’s Reserve, a subdivision north of F.M. 1488, and of surrounding communities near the Jones Forest complained to The Golden Hammer about the proposed legislation.
BREAKING NEWS: Senator Creighton announced, however, during the Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting in an email he sent to support Bill O’Sullivan that he apologized for the “private commercial uses” language in the proposal legislation and that he would remove that language from the bill. Hopefully, Senator Creighton’s wise leadership on this issue will remove all concerns that the W.G. Jones State Forest will remain a wildlife and nature sanctuary for a long time. Citizens should express their thanks to Senator Creighton, to his staff, and to O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan read Creighton’s email out loud to the packed Commissioners Courtroom just after noon in Conroe.
Senator Creighton had several communications with The Golden Hammer over the weekend in response to the complaints and has seemed very open to discuss the issue. “These conversations are important and clearly represent the public benefit of public postings and very public and widely publicized hearings. I remain open to all feedback after there is a clear understanding of the bill,” Creighton told this newspaper, the largest daily newspaper in Montgomery County. He continued, “It is important to reserve judgment and to become informed first so that we can decide if it makes sense to proceed forward with an A&M education concept.”
Creighton stated clearly, “It [Senate Bill 1964] is by no means an effort to clear cut the forest, develop it myself or to eradicate the red cockaded woodpecker or brown headed nuthatch.”
Sadly, SB 1964 would seem to have some serious drafting problems, because the proposed legislation is far more open to a nameless board’s decision to use the land in the Jones Forest for commercial development than perhaps Senator Creighton has intended. The bill specifically provides:
“Notwithstanding any other provision in this subchapter [of the Texas Education Code], the board [of Texas A&M University] may use or lease land in Jones State Forest for the construction of buildings or improvements for multipurpose uses, including academic, research and private commercial uses, when in its judgment it is advantageous to the state to do so.”
“Net profits accruing from uses or lease of and in Jones State Forest under the authority of this section shall be used at the discretion of the board.”
In other words, the proposed statute would clearly permit private commercial uses of the land in Jones State Forest for multipurpose commercial uses. What is particularly disconcerting is that, once again, citizens are witnessing an instance in which the government is using public resources to seek private profits. Government organizations simply have no business (pun intended) operating for-profit business enterprises especially when those enterprises are for private commercial uses. Under the bill, as written a government agency may choose which private developer with which to work rather than permitting free markets to permit development occur freely.
The Forestry Department of Texas A&M University acquired the 1772 acres of the W. Goodrich Jones State Forest in 1926 with stipulations from the Texas Legislature that the public funds used for the land would only be used for research, demonstration, and education. Prior to the acquisition, loggers had extensively harvested the area. In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp established at the State Forest and provided approximately 3,000 jobs in the fields of forest protection and conservation work. The camp closed in 1936.
More than 100,000 visitors come to the Jones State Forest each year, especially to enjoy the wildlife and rare bird population. The Jones State Forest hosts a large population of the red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally-listed endangered species. Hundreds of schools bring children on field trips to enjoy outdoor and environmental education from teachers and the Forest rangers.
Oak Ridge North Mayor Jim Kuykendall is highly critical of Creighton’s proposed bill. Mayor Kuykendall expressed his concern to The Golden Hammer regarding “the conversion of Jones Forest preserve to private uses ‘that would benefit the state.’ I believe we need this 1700+ acres to be for the benefit of the citizen not the state.”
Darryl Quinn of the Westwood subdivision down the road from the Forest in the Magnolia area told The Golden Hammer, “Senator Creighton’s bill is a travesty!” John Butler of Spring added, “Stop killing natural resources for financial gain.” Conroe’s Karen Machicek said, “Leave our forest BEAUTIFUL!!!”
Renowned Conroe attorney Travis Owens, who lives in Jacob’s Reserve, said, “One of the main reasons we bought a home in Jacob’s Reserve is that the forest is there. My family and I can take a walk there and enjoy that beautiful place. It seems very strange that they’d take a state forest that’s been there for 90 years and possibly get rid of it. F.M. 1488 is already jam-packed and the last thing we need is to get rid of the one beautiful area remaining along that road and make it available for commercial development as well. The senator’s bill threatens the home values in Jacob’s Reserve, Carriage Hills, and all of the surrounding areas. I hope he’ll rethink it.”
Sarah Sadlowski of Spring has stated, “I’m signing [a petition against Creighton’s bill] because my family enjoys Jones State Forest and we support nature and all of the critters who call this forest their home!!!” The Jones State Forest is also one of the most popular mountain and trail cycling locales in southeast Texas.
Over this past weekend, Sarah Palacios Wilhelm of Conroe began a petition on change.org to oppose SB 1964 and Senator Creighton’s sponsorship of the bill which would allow for the commercial uses of the Jones Forest land. Over 4,600 signers have joined the petition to oppose the bill and the use of the Jones State Forest land for private purposes.