Proposed Rail Yard To Bring Much-Needed Economic Boost By Hearne Mayor Ruben Gomez As an elected official, I’m hearing the arguments from all sides of the proposed UP rail yard debates. I’m sympathetic to Robertson County’s Brazos Bottom landowners who have deep sentimental attachments to properties that have been owned by the same families for generations. I also understand the needs of local merchants and others who will likely either benefit from this economic development or will suffer should it not be built in Robertson County. Just like the pronouncements we’ve been hearing daily from both of the national political parties, Hearne has a strong interest in creating new local jobs, creating local job training programs, and moving our local economy forward. These goals respond to important societal needs and further the common good. Interstate commerce and international trade issues are affecting Hearne. The construction of new rail classification yards in Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico is part of a major Union Pacific rail expansion that is being prompted by NAFTA, the widening of the Panama Canal, escalating numbers of shipments through Texas ports, and increasing demands for cost-effective rail transport. With growing shipping demands, UP has spent the past several years evaluating sites in Texas. The company ultimately selected a six-mile long Hearne to Mumford site as its preferred choice in the Lone Star State. While the precise location has only recently become known, rumors of this yard have been circulating for years. When UP first approached the City of Hearne, officials suggested placing the yard near US79/US190, Valley Junction, Hearne Airport, and Hearne Industrial Park so the city could annex it, assess city property taxes, and qualify for infrastructure grants. Hearne ISD would also have gotten a significant annual property tax windfall. Additional locations have since been proposed and rejected. In spite of our “druthers,” as the company footing the bill for this new $200+ million facility, UP’s best business interest will likely determine the precise location of this new yard and whether it winds up in Robertson or another county. Having each and every benefit of this yard in Hearne and Hearne ISD would be great. A proposed UP yard at any Robertson County site near Hearne, however, would confer significant indirect benefits on Hearne and the regional economy. Several hundred high-paying permanent new local jobs would be created. This wouldn’t be a one-time deal. In the shipping business 150 years, UP would be providing hundreds of high-paying Robertson County-based jobs for the next 150 years. Upwards of a thousand temporary construction workers would be in town for some eighteen months. Local contractors and workers would land temporary jobs; new hotels and restaurants would be built; hotel rooms would be booked; vacant houses would be sold; new houses would be built; rental housing and RV parking spaces would be needed. Local places to eat and other businesses would see increased traffic. Significant increases in local hotel and sales tax revenues would benefit the city. Job-training facilities would likely be built in Hearne to help equip local students and UP employees with needed skills. New railroad-related businesses would likely open nearby and provide other new jobs. In Texas, governments and some private entities have the power of eminent domain. In Robertson County, eminent domain has been used for historic railroad and highway construction, the pipelines and power lines that traverse the county, the Twins Oaks and Oak Grove power plants, recent highway improvements from the Falls County line to Hearne, and Mumford ISD’s new athletic complex. Eminent domain will likely be used again should TxDOT ever build a by-pass around Hearne, should a Japanese company build a bullet train through the county, or should a Canadian company build the Keystone Pipeline to our east. In recent years, conveniently located Hearne has been working hard to become a progressive, businessfriendly city. Anyone who has driven through town recently has seen the positive changes taking place. Increasing numbers of people, however, are starting to worry that today’s UP discussions might turn into another Campbell’s Soup fiasco (where UP decides to take its new yard and its new jobs to another county). After seriously considering placing a new plant in Hearne back in the late 1950s, Campbell’s decided against Hearne and opted to put its plant (which is still operating) in Paris, TX. How many Robertson County residents now work for Campbell’s or grow vegetables for its soups? None. Fifty plus years worth of good jobs and tax revenues have been lost to the local economy. While Hearne used to be full of railroad families, these numbers have been dwindling in recent years. By creating a major classification yard just outside of town, UP plans to bring similar families back to the area. Should UP go elsewhere, this important catalyst for local growth and any potential local economic or tax benefits would be lost to all governments, schools, businesses, and residents of Robertson County. I just hope that the affected Robertson County landowners and UP will be able to work things out so UP doesn’t take this yard to another county. Our local economy would benefit significantly from this sizeable capital investment by a major national corporation. Local folks deserve convenient access to good-paying jobs that are here in Robertson County.