Texans oppose high speed rail through their communities, as they did when it was packaged as part of the Trans Texas Corridor. Impacts deemed 'catastrophic'!
Montgomery County leaders, residents rally against proposed high-speed rail
by Liza Winkler
February 3, 2015
An estimated 800 Montgomery County officials and residents gathered Feb. 2 at the Lone Star Community Center in Montgomery to speak out against the proposed construction of a 240-mile high-speed rail project between Houston and Dallas by 2021.
“[The high-speed rail] is one of the biggest threats to Montgomery County in many, many years,” retired Montgomery County Judge Alan Sadler said. “Once those [assessed property value] decreases take place if this train hits this route in Montgomery County, the entirety of the county will pay the tax differential to make up for the loss. It is extreme.”
The Texas Department of Transportation narrowed the list to two possible rail routes last fall. The routes include the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line planned to travel through Tomball, Magnolia and other parts of Montgomery County and a utility corridor expected to travel near Hwy. 290 in Harris County and north through a portion of Grimes County.
“The concern I have is a project like this can come through and affect private property, cut ranchland in half and create obstructions for [Montgomery County officials] if we build roads in the future,” Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal said. “We’re going to make sure we do everything we can to make sure Montgomery County stays strong, we protect the natural beauty and protect private property rights as we know it.”
Texas Central Railway, or TCR, officials have stated the multibillion dollar rail project will be privately funded and not use any public money. During the meeting, Doyal expressed concern rail officials could eventually ask for public financing and burden taxpayers in the future.
Local leaders speak out
The entire Montgomery County Commissioners Court was in attendance at the meeting and voiced concerns about the high-speed rail project, as well as State Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe and Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands. Several residents also spoke out against the project and expressed concern the rail could infringe on their properties and force them to move.
Though the project has been in development for a few years, Metcalf said he first heard about the details of high-speed rail project and the potential effect on Montgomery County in early January. Once a final route is selected, Metcalf expressed concern rail officials could be granted federal eminent domain power to seize land and stressed the importance of private property rights.
“I’m personally not a happy camper right now for TCR’s lack of transparency in this process,” Metcalf said. “Montgomery County—when we’re all going together, we’re unstoppable. We need to call Congressman [Kevin] Brady’s office we need to call Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn. This is at the federal level.”
Though the BNSF route is proposed to travel through much of Magnolia, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley said he has not received any contact from TCR or FRA officials to discuss plans for the high-speed rail.
“I do know if you mess with the folks of Montgomery County around Magnolia, you’re going to get pushed back,” Riley said. “I guarantee we will support anything we need to do to make sure this [rail] doesn’t happen.”
TCR and Federal Railroad Administration officials held 12 public meetings last fall in select communities affected by the potential rail routes, but no hearings were held in Montgomery County during the process, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said.
“We will do everything we can to fight for you and keep your land in your family’s name,” Noack said. “This is nothing more than a land grab, which is going to take the land our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents worked [for] with their hands. It’s something this community is not going to stand for.”
In addition, a statement from State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, was read aloud to the crowd in opposition of the rail. Catie Spivey, deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, spoke on behalf of the congressman against the rail.
During the meeting, local officials encouraged residents to send letters and emails to the FRA, TCR and TxDOT, as well as other state and federal leaders to protest the construction of the rail.
Property values, environmental impact
Mark Castleschouldt, chief appraiser for the Montgomery County Appraisal District, said properties in the county have already lost value from the perception the rail will be constructed, and land will continue to depreciate significantly if the project is carried out.
“We’re going to see value lost from current and future projects,” Castleschouldt said. “I’m a taxpayer too, and we’re all going to pay for that. It’s going to shift the tax burden to every single citizen in Montgomery County due to the loss of initial value and future value of development.”
Jennifer Lorenz, executive director of the Bayou Land Conservancy, said the organization operates conservation easements throughout the county and is planning to fight against the rail project to preserve wetlands, local wildlife and watershed areas.
Kyle Workman, administrator of notexashsr.com, said he is supporting local opposition groups spanning from Ellis to Montgomery counties and encourages residents to stand together to fight against the project.
Selecting a final route
The high-speed rail public scoping document is expected to be available in early February with input from the 12 hearings held last fall, said David Hagy, executive director of community outreach for TCR. TxDOT and FRA officials are expected to carry out the environmental impact statement review process over the next 18–24 months.
At the meeting, some Montgomery County officials stated the final high-speed rail route will be selected on Feb. 20. However, Hagy confirmed the route will not be selected on Feb. 20 and said it will be chosen at a yet-to-be confirmed date after the FRA provides TCR with mitigating factors for the project.
“[The FRA] gives us some mitigating factors and how that will affect what we can do and where we go [with the exact rail route],” Hagy said. “We want to get down to a one [route] obviously as soon as possible. It’s cheaper, it calms people down, gives people certainty and it gets rid of the other routes and a lot of the confusion. I don’t know when that final route will be [selected].”