Group of Texas lawmakers seek motion for Texas Supreme Court to rehear high-speed rail eminent domain case

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 10:43 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KBTX) - A group of Texas lawmakers are asking the Texas Supreme Court to rehear the eminent domain case for the Texas Central High-Speed Rail Project.

The eleven lawmakers who signed on to the filing of an Amicus Curiae Letter to the court say Texas Central does not have the right to eminent domain under clear definition of state law and precedent based on past decisions. The court declined to review the case in June where an appeals court ruled in favor of the project.

Christie Parker lives on the edge of Harris County. The proposed route of the Texas High-Speed Rail Project goes through land she owns where her in-laws live and family operates a wedding venue. Parker says the land has been in her family since the 1830′s.

“That’s the main source of income for my in-laws, and the actual wedding venue, that house was built in the 1890s, and so it’s historical just in that fact,” Parker said. “If [the project] went through, it would definitely shut down.”

Christie’s plight is one reason why these lawmakers filed the letter requesting a rehearing. The legislators, which includes Rep. Ben Leman (R-District 13), say Texas Central does not have the right to eminent domain to build the project for a number of reasons, one of them being that the law defines high-speed rail separately from a railroad.

“It clearly meets the definition of high-speed rail in the state of Texas under current law,” Leman said. “Under that law, it does not prescribe specifically that high-speed rail has eminent domain authority.”

Peter LeCody is the president of Texas Rail Advocates who says other organizations beg to differ.

“The Federal Railroad Administration, the USDOT - the Department of Transportation, TxDOT, everyone has indicated that this is a railroad,” LeCody said. “They are well on their way now with a lot of the permitting that they received and the authorizations to be able to build their system.”

Leman argues the High-Speed Rail Project doesn’t meet the definition of a railroad.

“They don’t have any trains. They don’t have any track. They don’t own any rail facilities that are moving people from point A to point B, or any way, shape, or form,” Leman said.

“If you start out as an electric utility company, a brand new company, and you haven’t put up your first transmission tower yet, are you not going to be called an electric utility?” LeCody said. “Well, the same thing should apply with a railroad. They’ve had the same decision handed down to them time after time again. This just kind of sounds like it’s recycled activity again. I think the courts have pretty much decided in favor of Texas Central.”

Leman also cites previous decisions made by the courts for high-speed rail proposals.

“The last time a high-speed rail project was trying to materialize here in Texas, the state agency called Texas High-Speed Rail Authority, which is a state agency kind of like TxDOT, that had jurisdiction over high-speed rail projects, that was the entity that qualified all of the aspects of a high-speed rail project,” Leman said. “If they don’t not get their approval for that project to construct, that entity could not use any eminent domain.”

All Christie Parker wants is for the state supreme court just to hear the case. She says even if the proposed route was moved off her property tomorrow, she would still advocate for all the landowners who are fighting to keep their land.

“I planned on passing [my land] down to even my kids, and we just wouldn’t have that ability,” Parker said. “We would have to shut down. It’s definitely devastating to not only me, but my entire family. Private property rights are huge, and this is going to be monumental if they just refuse to hear it.”

KBTX reached out to Texas Central for their thoughts on the matter, but they told us they couldn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.

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