Jaeckle HSR meetings draw crowd, but lack answers

Three neighbors huddled over a map showing a third rail being added along the CSX rail line in Chester. The Chester Station subdivision residents focused on a thin green line that ran adjacent to the existing rail line and through their backyards.

“Yeah, we’re gone,” said Ian Wright, who lives on Chester Station Drive. The thin green line took in a portion of his backyard and that of several of his neighbors.

Bermuda Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle held two community meetings last week to discuss the Southeast High Speed Rail Project and its impact on her district. At an afternoon meeting at the Bensley Community Center, about 40 people watched a presentation by Chesterfield County’s transportation department showing the proposed location of the new rail line, crossings that would be closed and new bridges that would be built if and when the project is funded and built.

The same presentation was made at an evening meeting at Thomas Dale High School, which as many as 180 people attended. That meeting didn’t run as smoothly as the Bensley meeting. Those in attendance commented on the maps and made political statements about the project overall;  some in attendance were aggravated that the presentation maps didn’t include a significant portion of Chester, although paper maps were available. Jaeckle agreed with the political statements, saying she didn’t think high-speed rail was needed here.

“I personally am very distressed that we were just given the opportunity on July 26, the public commBut for the way it impacts Bermuda district that is shocking to me that we’re given such a minimal amount of time [to comment],”  said Jaeckle.

John McCracken, Chesterfield’s director of transportation, was on hand to field questions about the project, but he said he didn’t know much more than those who were attending the meeting.

“We have worked primarily with North Carolina for a couple of years, they have the lead on this project,” McCracken said. “When you get down to this level, we see some real impacts and there is a lot of info we’re still trying to get from them.”

While Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) representatives Christine Fix and Kevin Page attended the Bensley meeting, they didn’t comment, and no one from DRPT attended the Thomas Dale meeting. When some of those at the Thomas Dale meeting realized that there were no state or federal officials present to answer questions, they left the meeting.

“Where is the person who can answer these questions?” asked Centralia resident Tom Tennille.

Frustration mounted among those at the meeting.

“Where are our federal Congressmen who represent this area,” said Frederic Boisseau, Chesterfield resident. “Are they for it or against it?”

Jaeckle said she was concerned with people’s property values being affected, because once it shows on a map that that high-speed rail is going through, it could devalue the property. “That’s really what this meeting is for, so you could see what’s happening and make comments,” Jaeckle said.

During the county’s Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday, Jaeckle asked the board to vote to extend the comment period for the Tier II Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

“I can’t imagine Foxcroft, Woodlake, Brandermill, Salisberry or the Highlands and this board being content with a 40-day window to log citizen concerns,” Jaeckle said. “I think we need to take a stand as supervisors to ask for an extension of the public comment period because I have been told that once we submit it will be very difficult to get anything changed.”

Matoaca Supervisor Marleen Durfee said the resolution the board was voting on was tied to federal funding and support for the concept of high-speed rail. She said the resolution “will address any concerns that we have as a Board of Supervisors if there are any issues, such as grade separations or other impacts, we will have that opportunity [to comment] throughout the process.”

The board voted to approve the resolution that stated in part that the board only supported the high-speed rail project if certain conditions were met, such as “additional information be provided to the county in order to allow a more complete review.” The “additional information” requested reflected many of the concerns related by citizens during the Bermuda District community meetings.

Fix, who commented during the board’s meeting, said that beyond the public comment period DRPT would work with the county to address concerns. Fix said DRPT would work “directly with property owners to either make them whole, purchase their property if [access improvement] does not meet their needs or provide them with appropriate access.” She added that the Tier II document was not detailed and gave the widest footprint possible for what might happen during construction.

The comment period ends on Sept. 10 and anyone can post a comment about the rail project at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SEHSR and view maps of rail project at www.sehsr.org/deis/va_hearing_maps.html. Note that on maps, the page viewer should click the plus sign at the top of the page to make the maps larger.
ent period was closed on Aug.30 and now they’ve extended it to Sept. 10.

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