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High Speed Rail Chair Defends Process,Court Action Looms

Screen shot 2012-07-02 at 8.33.40 AMHigh Speed Rail Board Certifies EIR for Fresno To Bakersfield Route

May 7,2014

FRESNO, Calif. – The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) Board of Directors today certified the Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) for the Fresno to Bakersfield project section of the high-speed rail program and approved a high-speed rail alignment within the Fresno to Bakersfield project section. This allows the Authority to take additional steps toward continuing major work on the project from Fresno to the south. Today’s action also approved the preferred alignment from the southern edge of the already-approved Fresno Mariposa Street station, swinging east of Hanford and down to the 7th Standard Road in Kern County northwest of Bakersfield.

Today’s proceedings followed a day of comments by the public on the final EIR even though the California law – CEQA requires public comment only on a draft EIR explained the counsel for the Authority.

Dan Richard

Dan Richard

Dan Richard Fires Back

Responding to familiar criticism that the final EIR adoption was “being rammed through” with no time for public review – chair Dan Richard pointed out the agency was operating by the same rules as all public agencies and the public has had many months to examine the draft EIR.

Regards criticism that “California High Speed Rail would destroy Valley agriculture” Richard pointed out the route would mean the loss of 3500 acres of ag land in the 4-county region while Fresno city, in the past 40 years, has allowed the development over the top of 50,000 acres of farmland. Further he said, a study predicts if trends don’t change 173,000 acres of Valley farmland of will be converted to urban uses.
Richard says high speed rail has the promise to revitalize city downtowns to help them ”reduce urban sprawl,”  ag’s biggest enemy.

Richard also alluded to air issues saying “children coming to school in Hanford often arrive with their inhalers” adding that “21% of Valley kids suffer from asthma due to poor air quality.”

”That happened long before high speed rail” pointing out that the train could be part of the solution.

Richard alluded to opponents in Kings County who have joined with  the County to sue to stop the project. Richard said they have “reached out” to try to work out differences suggesting that process has worked virtually every where else in the Central Valley with farm groups and environmental groups including in Bakersfield where the CHSRA and the City are now in talks.

Legal Face Offs

He said the final EIR was delayed to try to work out differences with Kings County but now “I doubt that will ever happen.” He said opponents have” demonized” the rail board.

“Kings County won’t let us do work on soil sampling along the route on public lands  and we will probably have to go to court” to move forward.

In another legal wrangle the King County suit to stop the project by freezing state bond sales, having been appealed from the trial court, will get a hearing at the Third District Court of Appeal Friday, May 23, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. with each side allotted a total of 30 minutes  for oral argument in front of a panel of judges. A decision should follow.

An alternate source of state funding has been proposed by Governor Brown that is being talked about in Sacramento using cap and trade (pollution mitigation) funds that could be part of the 2014-15 state budget.

On Tuesday the Authority staff defended the route selected noting that Highway 99 alignment was strongly opposed by Union Pacific railroad and as far as I-5,that route would not serve the substantial population centers in the Central Valley already boasting more than a million people between Fresno and Bakersfield.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The Fresno to Bakersfield high-speed rail section is approximately 114 miles long from south of the terminus of the Merced to Fresno project section to north of the City of Bakersfield. The preferred alternative is comprised of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe alternative (BNSF), the Corcoran Bypass alternative, the Allensworth Bypass alternative and the Bakersfield Hybrid alternative. Proposed stations are identified as the Downtown Bakersfield station on Truxtun Avenue, and the East of Hanford/west of Visalia station option located near State Route 198.

Unanimous Vote

On Tuesday, the Board of Directors heard a staff presentation and took public comments on the Fresno to Bakersfield Final EIR/EIS. After deliberations, today the Board of Directors considered whether to certify the document under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by approving the project to 7th Standard Road and adopting document required under CEQA. The Board then voted unanimously to certify the Fresno to Bakersfield Section Final EIR/EIS. Then they unanimously approved a high-speed rail alignment within the Fresno to Bakersfield project section.

Responding to criticism that construction  of the route would raise air issues the board announced an agreement with the Air Board that would certify construction  would have a “net zero affect” on air quality through various mitigation efforts.

In the next step, the Federal Railroad Administration will consider approving the project and issuing a Record of Decision under the National Environmental Policy Act, anticipated in June 2014.

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