County vocal in opposition to rail project

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Most hands were raised by Madison County residents when asked who opposed a high-speed rail bisecting the county.

At a Federal Rail Administration public hearing on Monday, residents spoke overwhelmingly against the Texas Central plan to build a rail connecting Dallas and Houston, the route of which comes through several counties, including Grimes, Madison and Leon.

While the hearing dealt mostly with a draft environmental impact study that has been performed, negative comments attacked the economics, routing and most importantly, land acquisition through eminent domain.

Travis Kelly, vice president of external affairs for Texas Central, said the turnout in Madisonville has been strong, as it has been in other meetings scheduled in the area, and provides his company with an opportunity to listen to the people the rail would affect.

"That's the nature of these meetings; these comments are for the FRA to listen to and respond to," he said. "Through this kind of public input, it better informs the planning process, and makes us aware of the many concerns."

The FRA, while it showed support for a particular route, could tweak the plans based on feedback received at meetings like this, he said.

Many people expressed concern about the two cemeteries that would be uprooted by the plan - Ten Mile cemetery and Oxford Cemetery, as well as the two-mile-per-side buffer required for building the railroad.

Residents referred to the project not as a railroad, but a land grab that eventually will cost the taxpayers large amounts of money.

The FRA, however, did not answer any questions posed at the meeting; Kelly said that the questions will be answered only in the final draft of the environmental study.

Katherine Dobbs of the FRA said there still is a significant amount of work needing to be done in the planning process.

Gene Whitesides, a landowner that will be affected by the railway, said this project does not serve the public, despite the claims of the FRA or Texas Central.

"If this project is allowed to proceed, no matter what the bank says, no matter what the deeded landowners say, no matter what the title company says, a private company claiming they have the right of eminent domain can take what is legally yours and all you can do is say 'thank you,'" he said. "I am soundly against this project."

Ronald Richards, also a landowner in the affected area, said he is 100 percent against the project, and "10 to 20 billion percent against Texas Central and its boondoggle report."

Richards cited other problems with the rail, including electromagnetic emissions, noise pollution, decreased land values and infections to the environment.

"The county will be responsible to build new roads for the ones that are closed, and then upkeep on those," he said.

Other members of Whiteside's family spoke out against the project as well.

For two more hours, residents questioned the FRA about the financing of the project, passenger estimates and the overall feasibility of the project.

Two county commissioners, Thomas Collard and Carl Cannon, expressed their opposition to the rail.

Addressing the FRA, Collard said, "It sucks what you're going to do to these people. You're going to destroy a lot of lives."

He said the county passed a resolution several years ago against the project, and will stand behind it to the end.

Carl Cannon said he was extremely concerned about property taxes in the county.

"For the last three years, we did not raise taxes, but I feel this will cost a lot of money and will force us to raise taxes in the future," he said. "I'm against this."

Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said people just are not for this project, which is evident by the turnout at meetings in numerous counties.

"It doesn't matter if you're in Madison County, or Leon County, or Grimes or Dallas, the impact is the same: you get no benefit, and you get your land and your life decimated," Workman said.

The process is supposed to take into consideration the cultural aspects as well as the human and social impacts, he said.

"It's critical that everyone hear how this project is affecting them, because that's part of the evaluation process," Workman said.

Additional comments and questions can be submitted by emailing DallasHoustonHSR@urs.com or by visiting the website at fra.dot.gov/page/P0700.

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