Texas Central Partners responded Thursday to accusations that top officials in eight rural counties have been bypassed in the company's mission to build a $15 billion high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston.
The company's response came after sheriffs from eight of the 10 counties along the line held a news conference Thursday in Anderson declaring that they haven't had adequate input on the plans for the new rail line.
The sheriffs said they weren't contacted by the company or the Federal Railroad Administration until Feb. 13, the day before they formed their coalition to address their concerns.
"For well over four years now, Texas Central had been working to advance this project," said Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell, chairman of the sheriff's coalition. "Not one sheriff's office had ever been contacted by Texas Central or the FRA to coordinate public safety."
But Texas Central Partners contended Thursday that they have previously reached out to the counties. They said in a statement that they contacted the county judges in all 10 impacted counties in January.
In the statement, Texas Central also said it "initiated contact with sheriff's departments in May 2016 and remained in regular contact throughout its survey activities that year."
But the sheriffs on Thursday denied hearing from Texas Central prior to Feb. 13. The parties have not met yet and there is a March 9 deadline for public input on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Regardless of when anyone was first contacted, Texas Central says that with the late 2017 announcement of the proposed route and the publication of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, now is the appropriate time to get the locals involved.
The publishing of the impact statement in late December was a crucial step in the development of the line, which promises a 90-minute trip between Dallas and Houston with a mid-range stop in the Brazos Valley. But it also started the clock for public input.
"The public has been given just 75 days to review a 5,647-page document of highly technical information that took years to produce," former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman said at the news conference.
Leman is also chairman of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, which helped coordinate the sheriffs gathering. In addition to the sheriffs, Leman said Texas Central's planning also bypassed other county officials, such as commissioners, road and bridge departments and emergency management coordinators.
"There's 147 miles of rerouted county roads," he said. "Imagine the impact that has for public safety and the planning that involves."
Texas Central officials said they plan to discuss a variety of issues with county leaders soon.
"We look forward to working cooperatively with county judges, sheriffs and other local officials to develop world-class public safety, system security, and emergency preparedness plans," the Texas Central statement said.
Dallas and Harris counties, the endpoints of the proposed routes, are not part of the sheriffs' coalition and did not participate in Thursday's news conference.