On Thursday, dozens of residents voiced their opposition to a proposed high-speed rail line from North Texas to Houston that could go through Limestone County.
At a special Commissioner’s Court meeting, several residents indicated not wanting to potentially having to sell their property for the project to be completed. The company proposing the project, Texas Central, said it can exercise the power of eminent domain, as a railroad company.
Annitta Dobbs who attended the meeting said her family owns 112 acres of land that she could lose, if the project goes through the area.
“Five generations have been raised here and we’re working on the 6th so it has been on the family, a long, long time,” said Dobbs.
Dobbs said the land has been home for her family and her ambulance service business.
“I’m very concerned. If it gets approved. I lose everything. It takes my heritage from me. I lose everything. I don’t only lose my business, which that is no big deal, but I lose my heritage. I was raised here. My mother was raised here,” said Dobbs.
County Judge Daniel Burkeen who opposes to the high-speed rail project said it would have negative effects in the county.
“It’s going to disrupt travel, transportation, emergency services. But the biggest thing is the people losing their farms who don’t want to lose their farms,” said Burkeen.
If the route for the rail is chosen to go through Limestone County and Texas Central wants to purchase their land but it is unable to reach an agreement with them, the matter could go to court as the last resort.
"Our preference is not to use [the condemnation proceedings] at all. Our goal would be to compensate our neighbors, paying our neighbors rather than our attorney,” Travis Kelly, the vice president external affairs for Texas Central.
The area where the line could potentially run is currently being surveyed and some homeowners have received offers on their properties.
Kelly said the company has been making offers to landowners if they think that route will be chosen as the selected route by the Federal Railroad Administration later this year. The single alignment would be chosen taking into account public input. If Texas Central can have a preference on a route but it needs to be reviewed by the FRA, state and federal agencies involved.
“The fact that we own land or have offers on a certain route has no bearing that land is selected by the FRA or not,” said Kelly.
According to Kelly, the FRA will publish the single alignment option for the project when it releases the draft of the environmental impact statement for the project.
Kelly said the landowners they have made offers to have not been asked to vacate the land. At this time, they have been offered a portion of the total price for the land to have an option to purchase it later, if it is selected as the route for the high speed rail.
During the Special Commissioner’s Court meeting, they approved a resolution opposing to the project.
The resolution states Texas Central recently filed two petitions with the Surface Transportation Board requesting exemptions from certain railroad regulations and is seeking approval to start acquiring land through the use of Eminent Domain before the final alignments are determined.
“They need to follow the [environmental impact] rules and it would be unfair to people to let them start taking people’s land against people’s will through eminent domain before they even finish the environmental impact study, which will tell us what the impact is,” said Burkeen.
Texas Central says the environmental impact study, which is underway at the moment, is expected to be completed in 2017.
Texas Central says it is required to obtain the Surface Transportation Board’s approval to move forward with the project. In addition, it says the filings do not override property owner protections. The petition they are asking for is intended to clarify order regarding federal regulations and the first steps of land acquisition under Texas law, according to Texas Central.
The City of Waco and the City of Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization have endorsed the high-speed rail project.
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