In a unanimous vote, the Grimes County Commissioners Court passed an ordinance that could create significant hurdles for the controversial Texas Central Rail project. The ordinance sets the stage for a showdown between big businesses seeking to profit from eminent domain and the property rights of landowners.
The rail will now be required to have proof of eminent domain authority to qualify for a permit from the county before building over county roads.
The high speed rail is a $12 billion project of Texas Central High-speed Railway (TCR), a Texas based private company, and the Central Japan Railway Company. Purportedly, the rail will allow passengers to travel between Houston and Dallas in approximately 90 minutes.
Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-speed Rail, the project’s primary organized opposition, lauded the passage of the ordinance, “Today marks a significant step towards ensuring this Japanese funded company does not run roughshod over this region and toward stopping the harassment of landowners by Texas Central.”
On the other hand, TCR denounced the commissioners’ actions, stating that they had taken an “anti-business position.”
The rail has faced near unanimous opposition from the counties between the two urban centers, largely due to the extensive use of eminent domain that will be required. Residents along the vast swath in the Texas Central’s path will not benefit from the rail, and the project has faced sharp criticism over forcing families off their land for the gain of a private corporation.
As part of the ongoing battle over eminent domain, the ordinance sets in place a policy requiring Texas Central to show proof of eminent domain authority or be denied a permit. With the federal government recently ruling that the Texas Central rail was outside their jurisdiction, and no legislation existing to answer the lingering question of whether or not high speed rail companies specifically have eminent domain authority under Texas law, TCR has assumed eminent domain authority, and is suing several landowners who have not complied with the project.
At a press conference on the steps of the Grimes County Courthouse, County Judge Ben Leman explained why he believes the ordinance was necessary:
“Surprisingly, Texas Central now claims that without federal jurisdiction, they do not need any sort of approval from the State of Texas to use eminent domain or to begin construction. It is unfathomable to think any entity, could ever self-declare they are a railroad, give themselves eminent domain authority, and start bullying landowners, using scare tactics and issuing legal threats against our citizens…without any governmental body granting them this authority, approving this project, or regulating this endeavor.”
Opponents to the rail hope that the other counties will take similar measures to halt the train and reign in eminent domain abuse. Leman continued, “I will be reaching out to all of the 8 pass-through counties in the path of this project to coordinate our efforts for them to pass similar regulations as well.”
TCR remains unfazed, “Regardless of the action today, this high-speed rail project will continue, working closely with local governments to make this project a success for each community it will serve.”
Ultimately, both sides expect a clash over the issue of eminent domain authority and high-speed rail in the upcoming state legislative session.