Central Texas sheriffs voice concerns about proposed high-speed rail

Posted at 3:34 PM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:31:28-04

On Thursday, eight Texas sheriffs voiced concerns about the proposed high-speed rail project.

Texas Central intends to build a bullet train that would take passengers from Dallas to Houston in 90 minutes.

The proposed route would have a terminal in Grimes County.

Sheriffs from Ellis, Freestone, Grimes, Leon, Limestone, Madison, Navarro and Waller counties stood in front of the Grimes County courthouse to send a unified message. They were joined by the former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman who is now the Chairman of Texas Against High-Speed Rail. 

“I stand here today with the county sheriffs with each of the impacted counties from Dallas to Harris Counties who are incredibly concerned about the public safety of their citizens," Leman said at the beginning of the press conference.

Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell who spoke on behalf of the group said law enforcement officials have concerns the project will impact response time for first responders.

“Any detours could be catastrophic during or after construction should this thing go through," Sowell said.

Grimes County resident AnnaBeth Neason said she also worries the response time would increase because of the project.

"We are spread out. I'm going to say it, it's not always the fastest. You delay them because of construction and it gets even longer. If you are having a heart attack, you want them there now, not in forty five minutes," Neason said.

Texans Central Regional Vice President of External Affairs David Hagy said the project would not cross a road or close a public road. 

“During construction we are under very strict rules as well to make sure if we are crossing the roads, we get out as soon as possible. We follow very stringent rules so the conclusion of the [Draft Environmental Impact statement] is that we have very minimal impact," Hagy said.

Sheriff Sowell said construction has not even started and the community is already feeling an impact. He said his office has received reports of people trespassing on Grimes County properties that may be needed for the project.

“They’re confused about what’s going to happen. That’s why we formed this coalition to get answers in a unified way, organized way," Sowell said.

According to Hagy, his company has never received a report of that happening but they have heard rumors and posts about it. He said they have followed up with those who survey properties for them.

“I can imagine the sheriffs concern and the other sheriff’s concern. We are too," Hagy said. “When we don’t have permission to survey, we may do that from the road or an aerial survey and people assume that we have been to their property. We have very stringent rules against that and we would not allow it if we ever knew about it.”

Hagy said Texas Central has already acquired 30 percent of the properties needed for the project voluntarily. However, if they can't reach an agreement with a landowner, they would exercise the power of eminent domain as a last resort.

There will be a comment period on the DEIS until March 9. At the end of the year, a final draft is expected to be completed, which will also state whether the company can move forward with the project and start construction next year.

The coalition of sheriffs is hoping to receive answers from the company regarding public safety in the near future. According to Sowell, Texas Central only contacted them until recently.

Texas Central said the company was waiting for the release of the DEIS to contact law enforcement officials.

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