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Kings County Blocks Soil Sampling For Bullet Train

In Kings County No Means No

Denies High Speed Rail Authority Encroachment Permits For Engineering
Work On County Rights-Of-Way

Tulare County Board of Supervisors are being asked to approve a permit for the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) engineering contractors to do soil borings – geotechnical sampling – along county rights-of-way,mostly roads. The work is already under way in Fresno County along the expected path the proposed bullet train would run – the first 29 mile segment that appears to be closest to breaking ground.

A Tulare County staff report says that in Kern County an application to do the same has been made from the Tulare/Kern County line south to near Bakersfield – what would be the third leg of the Central Valley 120 mile segment.

Does Not Comply With General Plan

The memo continues that in Kings County on the other hand, the county has refused to cooperate – saying the project “does not comply with the county’s general plan.”

Kings County administrator Larry Spikes confirmed the stance saying a letter was sent to the CHSRA. Public Works Director Kevin McAlister says the letter was sent August 16 “denying the request” referencing non-compliance of the project to the county’s general plan citing safety,circulation and the county’s dairy element, he says.

CHSRA spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley acknowledges receipt of the letter and says “we are working with Kings County to see what our next step might be.”

But McAlister says since the county is not going to change their General Plan “I don’t know how we can proceed”- essentially closing the door on any next step.

The applications are for so-called encroachment permits and are routinely approved. Not in this case in Kings County where the bullet train has strong opposition and the county itself has actually filed suit  to try to stop the project from moving forward.

Kings County sued CHSRA over any potential use of Prop 1A funds to construct the project and appears to have won an opening round with a Sacramento Superior Court judge’s ruling August 16. The practical outcome of that ruling has yet to explained by the court pending another hearing.

The court ruling mandates that all environmental approvals have to be in place to expend the state bonds funds that voters approved.

Doing the soil boring is part of the environment review.

With the Fresno to Madera work underway, the rail Authority plans to do further  geotechnical study on the next segment south – from American Ave south to the Tulare/Kern counties line –  over 68 miles, mostly in Kings County.It includes a small sliver of Tulare County in its southwest corner around Allensworth.

While the Kings County portion of the soil sampling won’t be going forward for now – Tulare’s portion will. Tulare County administrator Jean Rousseau said the agenda item today will be “more informational” and expects no opposition.

The work is being done by engineering firms and a well digger only on public rights-of-way, so no private land owners will be affected.

Confirming the delay in the geotechnical investigations a URS consultant report dated Aug 14 says the consultant is attempting to make some changes to get a permit from Kings County but the delay has jeopardized their schedule – already delayed from other problems.

Back in Tulare County a second agreement would allow the CHSRA contractors to review plans and access county road documents to“minimize the disruption of the county road system and provide reimbursement to the County for their staff time.”

The Tulare County work would begin in late September.

Construction Delay?

A URS staff report cited earlier expects a Record of Decision in the Fresno to Kern County section to be delayed until at least July of 2014.

The Tulare County staff memo says the CHSRA deadline for all engineering documents is Spring 2014.”It is anticipated that,pending several project challenges,the first of three phases may begin construction in Summer or Fall 2014”, it states.

This appears to put back what has been the latest construction schedule estimate of early 2014 for the Fresno-Madera segment with the Authority bogged down on several fronts.Until recently CHSRA pronouncements had talked about ground breaking this summer.

If Kings County has their way – bogged down it will stay.

Another delay the Aug 14 URS report says – revolves around the CHSRA board making a decision on a preferred rail alignment either west or east of Hanford. A decision has been pending for months but won’t be an agenda item at their next meeting September 10, says Lisa Marie Alley.

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