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Residents oppose Red Oak water line
The Ellis County Press

LANCASTER - Eleven residents on Houston School Road have pitched in $1,000 each to fight a proposed Red Oak water line from cutting through their front yards.

And that's just one side of the street.

On the other, the owner of a 320-acre nature preserve plans to fight - with the help of environmental groups and attorneys - Red Oak's attempt to condemn the property and put in a 60-inch water line, a project Red Oak officials have already sold bonds for.

Opposition to Red Oak's water line down Houston School Road - a two-lane street from Ovilla Road to Main Street in Lancaster - has increased, with residents becoming more vocal and worried about eminent domain.

Red Oak City Attorney Betsy Elam, in a council meeting two months ago, jokingly told city officials, 'we can condemn deed-restricted property.'

'Hell yes, it would be a problem,' said Lancaster resident Frank Mathis, who, along with 10 other neighbors, has banded together to fight Red Oak.

'They will have to cut through people's front yards, tear down trees, brick mailboxes. Going through the nature preserve would not meet resistance.'

Polly Shields owns a massive nature preserve directly across the street from Mathis, and is sympathetic to him and his neighbors' worries about eminent domain.

'I was a victim of eminent domain in Dallas [before I moved here], so I know where they're coming from,' she said. 'But I don't agree going through the nature preserve, either.'

Besides, Shields said, one of the highest points in southern Dallas County lies 60 acres behind her back yard, and if a water line were to be constructed, crews would have to

elevate it.

'That and they'd have to get all the equipment in there, which would crush trees and [vegetation].'

When Red Oak sold bonds earlier last year for the water line, officials found out the project would not be done without a fight - the protest coming from Houston School Road residents who said they would not benefit directly from a water line going through their city.

'They need water, and a water line, I don't dispute that,' Mathis said. 'I just don't see why Red Oak didn't think of this [opposition] to begin with. It doesn't make sense.'

Additionally, the Rocket Special Utility District and the City of Waxahachie are also planning to tap Dallas water through the Red Oak line.

According to Mathis and neighbor Joe Herrera, an engineer, the city would have to make 10-foot trenches to place the line, and make several sharp turns - this would slice through front yards filled with trees and brick mailboxes.

Herrera's property, if Red Oak were successful in obtaining right-of-way, would be literally cut in half. Construction equipment, he said, would literally be 'at my front door.'

Red Oak's engineers and Lancaster officials have been meeting to discuss proposals on obtaining a link with the Dallas water line - a 40-inch line, according to Herrera, is currently located in Shields' nature preserve.

Earlier this year, Red Oak backtracked on the Houston School Road plan and decided to go with a route that would have put a 36-inch line down one side of Highway 342, and then in later years take a separate 36-inch line down the other side.

However, city leaders said they thought legal issues would arise if bonds used to pay for one project went to another - and so Red Oak went back to their original plan for Houston School Road.

This time, though, engineers have proposed cutting through the middle of Houston School Road - bypassing both Mathis and the 10 neighbors' mailboxes and trees - and Shields' nature preserve, which was given to her and an operating land trust by the federal government.

Though tearing up Houston School Road would be inconvenient, Shields said she supports it if it leaves both sides untouched.

Mathis, though, said his neighbors were willing to fight on Red Oak's side to get the water line going through the nature preserve.

'You could look at it this way,' Mathis said, 'You could come down here with a water line, and run into 14, 15 lawsuits, or you could go through the preserve and maybe [deal with] one or two.'

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