Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath was asked to comment about a proposed rail being discussed publicly by officials of the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District, which meets in West Columbia for meetings.
“First and foremost … I have no idea of where they are going with this project and they made it clear they didn’t know as well,” Spenrath said in an email to the Journal-Spectator on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
He said several weeks ago a Fort Bend County commissioner stopped him at a Houston Galveston Area Council event and asked if he and a group of elected officials could come and share information about a planned rail project running from the Port of Freeport to Kendleton.
“When asked why I needed to attend, he said one of the possible routes route might crossover into Wharton County,” Spenrath said. “I asked if the rail had eminent domain authority and he said not in Wharton County.”
A week or two later, while Spenrath was away at a conference, someone called his office and set up a meeting.
“It was later my understanding that some 10 people were coming,” Spenrath said. “When the date arrived, only two people and Commissioner (Richard) Zahn were in the room. The two people at the meeting were from the Port of Freeport.”
According to the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District’s website (www.bfbrd.org), the reason this entity was established was “to determine the feasibility of a proposed freight rail connector between Port Freeport and an intermodal rail hub near Rosenberg/Kendleton.”
Added Spenrath: “We were shown an extremely vague and ambiguous map. I could not determine any county boundaries or roads other than the San Bernard River in some areas.”
Wharton County officials were told that the rail district has no definitive routes at this time and that the project would not happen for many years.
“The map did indicate two rail routes from the Port of Freeport north to Kendleton. The map showed the primary route passing near Needville and the other slightly veered into Wharton County,” Spenrath said. “Again, the map was difficult to decipher but it appeared the secondary route ran near the proposed wildlife refuge that had recently come before our commissioners court several weeks ago.”
WC officials were assured that no routes had been approved and the meeting was “just for conversation.”
Spenrath said he continued to ask if the rail district had eminent domain authority in Wharton County and was told no.
“They could only cross into Wharton County if the landowner agreed to sell their land,” Spenrath said. “I am fairly certain they told me that only one land owner might be involved.”
At this point there is speculation from WC officials that another rail district map exists.
“(Zahn) said that he heard a map was out that had a third route running through a portion of Matagorda County and more into Wharton County than we were first told,” Spenrath said. “I did not see that map until late last week. It was just as difficult to make out as the first map because no county roads were marked.”
Spenarth said after viewing the latest rail district map, he again contacted the Port of Freeport representative and asked her to re-confirm that the rail district had no eminent domain authority in WC.
“She did confirm that, which means they must have land owner agreements to come this way,” Spenrath said. “That’s the last I have heard about the rail project. I do not believe the project will be viable in Wharton County unless landowners agree. Wharton County would definitely have concerns with potential drainage issues and anywhere the rail might be trying to cross a county road.”