TCEQ 401 Permit Lies Between Victory & DEFEAT of HSR

Judge Byron Ryder

It?s that simple. Or so it would seem.

In a packed house, more than 250 folks from as far as Houston beseeched the staff of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to deny the required 401 certification permit.

As an overview of the 404/401 process; the project sponsor applies for a 404 permit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issues public notice announcing the application and the request for Texas TCEQ 401 certification. TCEQ conducts a water quality review and considers public comments related to water quality. The Corps makes the decision on the permit application. If the 404 permit is granted. TCEQ either issues, conditions, denies or waives certification.

The Federal Clean Water Act Section 401 grants states water quality certification authority over federal permit that may result in a discharge of pollutants to waters in the United States.

Over the Christmas holidays in 2017, the required Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was issued. Originally, the public was given 30 days to respond to the 5,647-page document that TCR and Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations, and Maintenance (AECOM) had three years or more to develop. However, an extension was granted. The hard copy was only available in county libraries and other city buildings or by downloading the Adobe.pdf version for viewing.

Something to consider; In 2008, California voters approved, 53 percent to 47 percent, the HSR project with an estimated the total cost of the project of $40 billion. Proposition 1A approved the issuance of $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds. In 2011, the California High-Speed Rail Authority issued a new cost estimate for the entire project, saying that it will cost between $98.5 billion and $118 billion and the estimated completion date would be extended at least 4 more years to 2033. AECOM was awarded California high-speed rail contracts and are overseers of the immensely over-budget and unfinished HSR.

When TCEQ was asked if the full application would be made public, a staff member stated, No?. It was further asked, if the information that TCEQ would be made public, to which was replied, ?Upon request?. Another concerned citizen asked if the panel had read the entire 5,647-page document to which one of the TCEQ staff member replied, ?No. A few members have read the sections that directly relate to the 401 permit, and I believe one administrative assistant has glossed over it.?

State Representative Trent Ashby stated that only 1 out of 165,000 constituents are for this project and stated that he, ?Formally requested that TCEQ Deny certification.? Honorable Judge Ryder requested that it ?formally be made of record that Leon County is against this project, and that I personally am totally, totally against this train.? State Representative Ben Leman, District 13 also requested that, ?public record opposed to this project? be made known.

The sentiment of the entire room, perhaps the entire state of Texas, and surely everyone who?s lives and land will be impacted should this project go forward can be summed up in the words of Gene Whitesides, LTC, USA (Ret), who has read, in detail, the entire 5,647 page document, ?I ask each and every person here to see this project for what it is: an ill-conceived, ill planned and to date, poorly executed project that does not benefit the public, regardless of what the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) and the Texas Central Railway (TCR) may state. Mr. Whitesides further commented, ?There are many errors, omissions and blatant miss-representations in the draft. How can you as an organization go from a fatally flawed draft to a final decision without addressing the errors and omissions??

One thing of note is that the satellite maps of the route are so old, they don?t show my home at all. In essence, the regulatory agencies and the public aren?t getting a true representation of the impacts.

Additionally, pages upon pages of the inconsistencies, errors and commissions we discussed last night were prepared and sent to the FRAs portal site for consideration but to date, have not been addressed by the FRA nor has the FRA stated what they will do with the information.

TECQ document regarding future dates may be viewed at: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/comm_exec/pm-ph/notices/2018/2018-08-27_08-30_09-06-texas-central-railroad-llc-swf201100483-swg201400412-pm.pdf

The final public meetings will be held on Thursday, September 6, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the Waller County Community Center - 21212 FM 1098 Loop Prairie View, Texas 77446.

Comments are open for consideration until October 6, 2018 and can be made to:

Comments can also be made directly at: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/agency/decisions/cc/comments.html

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

12100 Park 35 Circle, Bld F, Austin TX 78753;

Mail MC-118, P.O. Box 13087, Austin TX 78711-3087

e-mail: Martha.otero@tceq.texas.govBrian.McGovern@tceq.texas.gov

1-800-687-4040 or (512) 239-5000

Take Care of Texas? It?s the only one we?ve got. http://takecareoftexas.org/

Texas Bullet Trainmoving ahead, exceeds environmental standards

Statement from Holly Reed, managing director, external affairs, Texas Central

The Texas Bullet Train will bring an economic jump to the entire state in a safe, environmentally protective way.Texas Central, developers of the high-speed train, looks forward to working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and other state and federal regulators as this project moves ahead.

The train is being designed with the latest sustainable features in its planning, construction and operation. The Federal Railroad Administration?s draft environmental report on the train system said it is being built to avoid negatively affecting streams, wetlands, floodplains and other natural and cultural features.

The FRA said the Houston-to-North Texas line is going beyond industry standards and federal laws in protecting the environment. That includes silt fences and straw bales installed to minimize runoff into nearby water bodies, wetlands and other sensitive areas. Erosion control measures will be taken and vegetation will be restored at completion of construction.

The train will be ?grade separated,? crossing over or under all public roads. The project?s viaduct and elevated berm design means there will be no ?at-grade crossings,? allowing for free movement of people, vehicles, farm equipment, wildlife, livestock, vehicles and farm equipment.There will be no cars waiting for trains to pass and no risk of trains interacting with cars. There will be no crossing arms, no whistles and no loud horn ? a quiet experience for everyone.

The FRA also said the project is designed to avoid and minimize habitat fragmentation and loss by locating much of the infrastructure adjacent to existing transportation infrastructure, utility corridors and other development to the greatest extent practicable.

It said noise levels and vibration would be reduced through specific shielding methods. During final design, Texas Central will conduct additional noise and vibration assessments to minimize impacts. In most places where the track is on a viaduct, the height of the track would exceed the minimum distance to affect any livestock. Where the track is on embankment and wildlife or livestock are crossing enclosed in a culvert, noise levels would be reduced by shielding either below the viaduct or within the culvert. Therefore, no noise impacts to wildlife or livestock would be expected, the FRA said.

Also, the latest Shinkansen trains being used in Texas are lighter weight and require less energy than a typical European high-speed train, and they have been aerodynamically optimized to reduce noise.

TCEQ?s involvement is limited in scope, related to a water quality certification review. Texas Central welcomes these hearings, as it has others this year along the proposed route,as the regulatory review process proceeds.

Public participation is an important part of Texas Central?s commitment in being good stewards of natural resources and working with local communities a safe, energy efficient project that will keep Texas moving for generations to come.