It still is to be decided whether building additional rail lines from Port Freeport to a Union Pacific rail yard off Highway 59 is a good idea. There is little question, however, that disclosing all the possible paths those lines could run is a bad one.
A push to make public every route the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District gives so much as a passing thought to has dominated discussions at the district’s previous two board meetings. During its session this month at Port Freeport, board member Chris Martin again urged that course of action in the name of transparency.
The board should be transparent about the options it is considering, but to disclose routes that are never stood a chance at being taken seriously would only serve to further inflame an already divisive issue.
The more reasonable approach is that advocated by Brazoria County Pct. 4 Commissioner David Linder and other board members who want to only release the routes a study group recommends to the federal Surface Transportation Board. Those three recommended routes are the only ones that have a chance to be approved for construction, if any of them end up being built at all.
“I don’t want to include people that aren’t going to be impacted,” Linder said during this month’s meeting. “They need to get on with their lives and quit worrying about this … thing.”
Opponents already have put in a lot of work to rile up people before any formal proposals have been laid out. They argue routes could run through the properties of people who don’t want the rail line or raise concerns about the noise passing train traffic would bring, and that the construction and operation of the line would lower property values for everyone along its path.
They could very well be right, but to alarm property owners and residents by revealing routes that never will be considered seems needlessly inflammatory.
Martin disagrees. Revealing only the three recommended routes, he said, takes away residents’ right to provide input on where the best place for the rail lines would be.
“If we’re going to spoon-feed them just three routes, then we’re preordaining their response,” the Rosenberg Development Corporation chairman said. “You’re limiting the input you get from the (Citizens Advisory Panel) because you’re limiting the information you’re giving the CAP.”
Giving them more than three routes is more divisive when the great majority have been deemed untenable by engineers who put in a significant amount of time studying the issue and have much more expertise on what makes a certain route more reasonable than another.
Transparency is something required of any project that could spend hundreds of millions of dollars and take someone’s property for private gain. No one is disagreeing about that part of the argument. The question is how much disclosure is necessary for the public to make a fair assessment of the project.
Releasing all the plans, including those that have no possibility of being acted upon, only serves to muddy that assessment and unnecessarily make an already volatile conversation more contentious .