A Texas Tech University student is aiding his family and the Brazos River Bottom Alliance in an attempt to stop a railway from being built on their property.
Phillip Morello, a senior geosciences major, said his family owns land that could be at risk of eminent domain if Union Pacific Corp. decides to build the railway to a proposed rail yard.
He said a majority of the landowners in southern Robertson County, located northwest of College Station, are related and have been in the area for long time. His family has been there since the late 1800’s, he said, which is why they do not want to break apart their property.
“The problem is the tracks for the rail yard will cut landowners off from the rest of their property,” Morello said.
The railway will divide the land into two parts, separating the land closest to the Brazos River, he said, which is more valuable for crops because the land is more fertile.
Morello has plans to help the alliance convince Union Pacific there are better places to build its facility.
He said he has a project that provides Union Pacific with better locations geologically and environmentally to build a railway.
“I am using a geographic information system to create different maps,” Morello said, describing the program, “that will show elevation [and] runoff, aquifer to surface impact, and crop yield to show how the railroad is detrimental to the area.”
Morello said historically, land in Robertson County is known for its porous soil, which is why runoff is important. He said if chemicals go in to the soil or the river it would be harmful for crops. This means the railroad is not only negative for landowners, he said, but for tenant farmers that occupy the land.
He said he knows Union Pacific wants the facility to be centrally located to connect with Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston, and his project will provide a central location close to Waco, which is 66 miles northwest of the proposed railroad.
Kathleen Hubbard, a member of the Brazos River Bottom Alliance, said the alliance is a united front made up of landowners, farmers, and residents against the location of the rail yard.
“It is just the wrong site,” Hubbard said. “There are other alternatives for the project where land won’t be taken away from families.”
Hubbard said she was not sure if Morello’s project will help the alliance by changing the location of the rail yard but she is hopeful.
Director of Public Affairs with Union Pacific, Clint Schelbitzki, said the proposed site is at a strategic location because it will connect several major markets in Texas.
“When you go to Hearne, you’ll know the phrase ‘crossroads of Texas,’” said Schelbitski, “well that’s the same for Union Pacific in Hearne. It really is the crossroads of our Texas operations.”
He said the facility will function as an inbound and outbound rail yard that will transport rail cars to customers throughout Texas. The location of the facility is ideal because it will connect seven Union Pacific subdivisions and converge them in the Hearne [Texas] area, he said.
Union Pacific’s acquisition department in Nebraska is working day to day with about 20 landowners in the area of the proposed facility, said Schelbitski.
Hubbard said the interaction she has had with Schelbitski is a letter written to her in response to a letter she sent to Jack Koraleski, president and CEO of Union Pacific, informing her that Schelbitski should be the point of contact for future correspondence.
She said there has been no effort by Union Pacific to contact her as a landowner.
Morello said there has been little contact with his family by Union Pacific, only letters acknowledging their concern.
Schelbitski was contacted for comment by email and by phone about Union Pacific’s correspondence with the river bottom alliance and landowners, but he was unavailable.
In response to emails and phone calls to Schelbitzki, Raquel Espinoza, director of corporate communication and media at Union Pacific, said it is her position to communicate with the media about this project.
“We are very much willing to speak with any landowner on an individual basis,” Espinoza said, “but we are not at a stage yet to have a group meeting with landowners.”