Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX) Board of Directors welcomed a new member, considered 5 standard right-of-way agreements giving RAMS Inc. authority to act on behalf of NETEX, received an updated regarding an Economic Development Grant and received monthly updates from NETEX Board treasurer and the rail operator during the regular monthly meeting held this week at Sulphur Springs Municipal Building.
NETEX accepted the resignation of Bonnie Hunter, who has served as the Hunt County representative on the board for several years.
NETEX Board of Directors Chairman Brian Lee said he was contacted by Hunt County Judge Bobby Stovall, regarding Hunter’s letter of resignation as Hunt County’s representative on the NETEX Board of Directors. Hunt County Precinct 1 Commissioner Mark Hutchins expressed an interest in serving on the board. Hunt County Commissioners Court officially selected Hutchins as that county’s representative to serve on the board, the Titus County Judge and representative explained.
The NETEX Board, after officially accepting Hunter’s resignation, welcomed Hutchins, who then assumed the duties for Hunt County by taking his seat with the board. Hutchins said although he is still settling into the job of commissioner, he was happy to volunteer to be involved in learning about the railroad and infrastructure to help ensure Hunt County will have needed railroad services in the future.
Hutchins noted he and his wife have six children, the youngest are 5-month-old triplets. He has served as a paralegal for a law firm and has been involved with local politics for a number of years.
Although he was unable to act, Franklin County Judge Scott Lee sat in for Larkin Jumper, the Franklin County Precinct 2 Commissioner and NETEX representative, who was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Mike Selak also sent an email March 31 notifying the NETEX Board of a personnel change for Northeast Texas Connector, a division of Freedom Rail Group. Selak said Jeff Lederer is no longer with their organization, but wish him the best in his new endeavors. The head of Freedom Rail asked that further questions or communications be directed to him or Daniel Wyatt, and or the local contacts, Miguel and Amanda Fernandez.
Selak, via phone call, gave the monthly operator’s update in place of Lederer. He noted that March was a good month for North East Texas Connector. He reported less trouble getting to and from interchange and had 137 carloads, up from 72 carloads in February, which was impacted by the winter storms.
While operations on the track continued during February’s extreme winter weather, some customers did not move their cars at all during that time. Approximately $50,000-$100,000 worth of damages along bridges also were reported in Hopkins Count. Lederer had been working with Hopkins County grants administrator Beth Wisenbaker to report the damage to FEMA and potentially have the county apply for assistance for repairs.
While NETC like others is recovering from the storms rail maintenance was slower over the last month, with 8 ties installed in the run around track at the Co-Op in Sulphur Springs. CDL did repairs on Lee Street at Spur 322 and returned it to service also, Selak noted in FRG’s monthly update for NETC.
Selak the 65 additional cars this month increased the yearly carload total to 311, up from 285 in 2020, a 9 percent growth. NETC has been injury free for 273 days. That means no first aid incidents, no recordable incidents, no environmental impacts, no root cause analysis, no near misses, no derailments and no crossing accidents on the line. There also were no findings from the FRA, environmental, OSHA or state on the line. Selak said NETC has been injury free since they began operating the NETEX line. Although the group during a fall inspection was noted to have many findings, the most recent inspection the federal group had not findings
Lederer in February had been contacting county judges and courts along the rail asking for assistance in removing debris from the right-of-ways in their counties. Until updates can be made by the various county officials and NETC, that is on hold.
NETC also previously asked NETEX to consider modifying their operating agreement. Instead of first updating the entire rail to Class 1 standards then going back to update to Class 2, NETC wants to skip the Class 1 step for financial reasons and go straight to Class 2 milestone as more issues were identified on the rail than were initially anticipated. They also asked for a few extra years to reach that milestone for the entire rail line. The matter was tabled last at the February meeting, with negotiations still ongoing between attorneys for both groups. They were not able to consider the item at the April 1 meeting.
At the February meeting, NETEX Board agreed to receive general copies of standard right-of-way agreements for review. Upon approval of the standard forms by NETEX after review by attorney Ron Stutes, NETEX would then allow Lederer to act as signator on standard agreements on NETEX behalf to streamline the process. ROW agreements would then only be submitted to NETEX if agreement changers were required.
That plan was upset by the departure of Lederer from FRG/NETC. So, this month presented for NETEX Board approval were five standard right-of-way agreements, with RAMS Inc. to be given authority to execute the documents on behalf of NETEX. Stutes and RAMS Inc.’s Jarrett Mankin had worked on changes to the five agreements presented April 1: a pipeline longitudinal, wire line longitudinal, industrial grade crossing, pipeline horizontal and wire line crossing agreements. Stutes said aside from a few minor changes for grammar, spelling and formatting recommended no significant additional changes. General agreements for land use, seasonal farm crossing and road crossing still need to be drafted, but the five are good starting points, the attorney noted.
NETEX Board approved the five standard right-of-way agreements with authority for RAMS Inc. to execute those types of documents on behalf of NETEX.
Sulphur Springs Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Roger Feagley updated the NETEX Board on steps regarding grant funding for a trans load facility.
“We have gotten the grant in our name. Unfortunately, the timing if COVID hurt us because all of the COVID grants had to be done before they went back to do our end,” Feagley said.
Requests for proposals for engineering services were sent to nine. Three responded: a company out of Houston area, one from Tyler and one from Paris. The Paris company was selected, for several reasons, but mostly because “inspections could be a problem for some of the others. We wanted to make sure everything was inspected as we went.”
The grant and project budget was transferred from Franklin County to Hopkins County for a transload facility.
“You can’t ask for the price until you select an engineer. When we asked for the price, it was considerably more than was in the budget, so we had to contact EDA and find out if we could pay the higher price. They said yes, about 2 days ago and I’m meeting today to talk to the engineers, about seeing if we can negotiation a little lower price on that engineering contract. That’s where we’re at,” Feagley said at the April 1 meeting.
When asked about a statement made last fall regarding the project being “shovel ready,” Feagley said that doesn’t mean the project is designed and ready to turn dirt.
“Shovel ready normally means in our business that there’s a road there, there’s water there, there’s sewer there, there’s electric there and there’s fiber there,” Feagley said. “Now, it doesn’t mean that we’ve already designed the project because we’ll be working with EDC and NETC to design actually where the railroad tracks will go.”
Board member Mickey Barker asked if a timeline has been established for construction of a transload facility in Hopkins County. Feagley noted there is a deadline to have it completed in about 18 months.
“We think that if we get this going and we get some dry weather that we can be through by Christmas,” Feagley said.
Feagley said he was hoping to have “some kind of layout” to show the NETEX Board at Thursday’s afternoon meeting, but is still trying to get things hammered out for an engineer for the project.
NETEX Board Treasurer Neal Barker reported March was a pretty normal month for NETEX.
He reported the the money market at $51,542 and operating account at $230,058, which is a little higher than was reported for February. They did receive a payment $2,051 and a NETC commission of $5,240 and a law firm invoice of $1,384.
Lee pointed out that keeping the funds at a consistent level, which Neal Barker noted is allowing the fund to slowly grow.