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Green Light For First HS Rail Segment?

rendering of bullet train along side freight train north of Fresno

The California High Speed Rail Authority is now three for three  combating lawsuits looking to derail the first 60 mile leg of the bullet train’s statewide route.

This week the Authority announced they had reached another agreement to settle a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit. The four Central Valley businesses which brought
litigation, Timeless Investments, Inc., Millennium Acquisitions, Inc., Horizon Enterprises and G.P,. Everspring Alliance, L.P. have filed a dismissal of their suit which challenged the Authority’s Environmental Impact Report for the Merced to Fresno portion of the high speed rail project.

A few weeks earlier, on January 28, 2013, the Authority announced the settlement of a CEQA lawsuit brought by the City of Chowchilla.

“We greatly appreciate the good faith effort of the plaintiffs to engage in cooperative talks which brought an end to this litigation,” said Jeff
Morales, CEO of the Authority. “This second settlement is another step in moving high speed rail forward, starting construction this summer and creating thousands of jobs.”

Last November, a Sacramento judge rejected arguments for an injunction that included these two plaintiffs and the Madera County Farm Bureau to halt all planning on the project suggesting the lawsuit would likely not prevail in trial. Now this Madera FB case will go to trial in April.

If this last case is dismissed it could give the project a green light to break ground on the first leg this summer. Offers to buy property for the route are in the hands of property owners.

The the focus will then turn south to Kings County where the next segment of the route is being planned as well as litigated. A hearing on the alternative routes through Kings County is expected in April in front of the Authority board.

The board will chose between a route that would head south of Fresno on the BNSF alignment and go around Hanford either on the east or west side of town before returning to the BNSF route near Corcoran. Hanford has rejected any study of a route through their city.

While Kings officials either on the county or city level are not expected to testify which route would be better not wanting to grab what is a hot potato – Tulare County representatives are expected to plead with the board to approve an east side route that would put a station just east of Hanford and Hwy 43, closer to the population centers of Tulare County instead of a possible station site between Armona and Lemoore.

The west side route is rumored to be somewhat cheaper and it could be cheaper still without a station.In fact the CHSRA has never fully authorized what has been called out on the maps as a Kings/Tulare station. Offsetting this argument is the fact the south Valley is expected to be one of the top growth areas in California in coming decades.

Also on the agenda in the next few months – a decision on the preferred location for a heavy maintenance station where the train fleet will sleep each night – expected to employ 1500. The Fresno County location is thought to be favored.

As for the litigation on the 100 mile Fresno to Bakersfield section farmer John Tos, resident Aaron Fukuda and the Kings County Board of Supervisors  have joined in a suit claiming the rail authority’s funding plans violate Prop 1A with a trial set for a Sacramento jury May 31.

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