Texas Central Railroad says questions from landowners attorneys have “no legitimate purpose”

KBTX News 3 at Ten(Recurring)
Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 9:37 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2022 at 9:12 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - Back in September lawyers for nearly 100 landowners set out to seek answers from Texas Central Railroad concerning the future of the high-speed system project from Dallas to Houston.

Beckham Portela Trial Law, the Dallas-based attorneys representing the property owners sent a letter to Texas Central questioning the current status of the project, and the financial stability of the company and questioning their lack of leadership amongst other issues.

Attorneys say residents and landowners have suffered long enough and should be allowed to move on with their lives if the project is no longer going to happen.

Lawyers for the landowners say with no clear leadership in place at Texas Central, combined with what they call a “hibernation phase in search of financing” leads them to believe Texas Central is no longer pursuing construction of the project. Carlos Aguilar, president, and CEO of Texas Central announced his departure from the company on the Social Media Platform LinkedIn earlieryour clients’ this year.

Attorneys from Jackson Walker LLP, the Austin-based law firm representing Texas Central responded to Beckham Portela’s letter stating that they will not be responding to landowners’ questions.

Attorneys say they denied the request for several reasons including the questions being asked: “have little or nothing to do with individual issues relating to client desire to sell the property to Texas Central”. The letter also stated that questions being asked by Beckham Portela have “no legitimate purpose as there is no pending litigation between Texas Central and your clients.” The final reason for the denial says that questions made on behalf of landowners “seek proprietary and confidential business information.”

Attorneys say the lack of communication from Texas Central is what’s most frustrating for those involved or who have a property in limbo.

“Either answer these questions and tell people what is going on or just tell everybody what we already know, which is you’re not going to build it,” said Beckham Portela Trial Law attorney Patrick McShan. “If you say that you’re gonna build it then you should be able to answer these simple questions right? Like where are you getting your money? When are you going to get a permit to construct? Why are you leasing your office space? Why don’t you have an operating phone number? Those are questions you should be able to answer.”

McShan says having property owners wait for answers is not fair and makes selling or renovating their property a challenge.

“If you’re one of these landowners and you want to go sell your property or you want to go refinance your property or you want to decide you’re going to build a barn or something on your property you can’t do that,” said McShan. "

McShan says that most of the information property owners are seeking must be disclosed before selling a property which makes it less attractive and profitable.

“You have to disclose it and so when you have to disclose it, it stigmatizes your property, it depresses the value of your property and it prevents you from being able to freely enjoy and use your property and do with it as you please,” McShan said.

One regional-based advocate group named ReRoute the Route is closely monitoring the developments from Texas Central, especially after the railroad’s recent victory in the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Central clearing up more than $600,000 in property taxes from 2021. They don’t oppose high-speed rail but say any project should be built right and safe, or not at all.

“ReRoute the Route came about because the property owners felt like the concept of high-speed rail was very interesting and not something they’re necessarily opposed to,” said Jennifer Stevens, spokesperson for ReRoute the Route.

What advocates say they are opposed to is any project that would violate private property rights, threaten public safety, discriminate against any citizen, harm the environment, hinder established small businesses, or create financial burdens on communities.

“Texas Centrals proposed route is unacceptable, it doesn’t use existing rights of ways, it has several environmental problems and several safety problems and of course, the cost is beyond exorbitant,” said Stevens.

Despite the lack of answers from Texas Central everyone is keeping a watchful eye to see what could happen next, especially as we inch closer to a new legislative session which is less than three months away.

“I think legislation will happen whether it comes from organizations seeking it or because a legislator is committed to the issue,” said Stevens. “I know there are several members of the Texas legislature republican and democrat, house and senate who all have been vocal and raised concerns for a number of reasons.”

“Some perspectives might be the cost, some the violation of private property rights, some their concern is environmental or these kinds of things,” said Stevens. “I think we’re going to see legislation no matter what and I think the question will be what does that look like and how will it form.”

KBTX reached out to Jackson Walker LLP, the Austin-based law firm representing Texas Central and Texas Central for comment but did not receive a reply.