Farmers, Homeowners, and 700 Dead Cows Each Day
California’s High-Speed Rail Authority appears poised to run over everything in its way along a 220 mile per hour path of destruction through Kings County in California’s Central Valley. In May the Authority approved a staff recommendation for a track alignment in the Fresno to Bakersfield segment that deviates from the BNSF Rail Road right-of-way near the town of Laton, bypasses the City of Hanford, and rejoins the BNSF right-of-way 30 miles later near the town of Corcoran [Note 1]. In deciding to bypass Hanford the Authority is choosing to create an entirely new transportation corridor and recklessly run its railroad through homes, farms, and businesses. The people of Kings County and its Board of Supervisors are fighting mad and organizing to stop the Authority in its tracks.
The Kings County Board of Supervisors has for months been demanding that the Authority’s staff coordinate the preparation of their Environmental Impact Report (EIR) with Kings County government agencies, the Farm Bureau, and impacted landowners. To that end the Board of Supervisors met with the Authority’s representatives this past April in a forum where representatives from law enforcement, fire protection, agriculture, community development, public works, schools, and the water district laid out their concerns (more than 50) and demanded that the Authority’s staff “coordinate” with them in preparing the EIR as mandated by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
Representatives from the Kings County made it known they were fighting mad and in one presentation reminded Authority representatives that on May 11, 1880, in a field northwest of Hanford, farmers confronted representatives of the Southern Pacific Railroad over the issue of land titles and seven persons died in a gunfight. No guns were drawn at this meeting, but in referencing the Mussel Slough Tragedy the county was surely signaling its willingness to fight the Authority in court.
The County’s position is that meaningful coordination can only stem from the Authority sharing project-level details with the County. Instead of coordinating with the county to resolve the myriad of issues stemming from running high-speed rail through virgin farmland, the Authority has taken the position that “coordination” is not required. With progress in addressing their issues not forthcoming, the Kings County Board of Supervisors orchestrated a second meeting between Authority and Kings County representatives on June 7. This special meeting of the Kings County Board of Supervisors commenced at 1pm on a Tuesday and was attended by a standing-room only crowd of more than 100 angry citizens. County representatives repeated their issues raised in April and asked for answers. Authority representatives provided none. Instead, Authority’s staff merely listened again to the concerns and asserted that everything will be addressed in the Draft EIR to be released in July.
Some of the issues raised in the April and June meetings are summarized at the bottom of this article, but two merit special treatment.
The first involves Elsie Oliveira who recently learned her farm and farmhouse was in the path of high-speed rail. Her 88 acre parcel of land purchased by her grandfather is located only 1/8 of a mile from the Kings River on “rich alluvial soil”. For 83 years Elsie’s family has nourished and improved this land. She is only one of hundreds of farmers similarly affected.
Click on the link below to witness Elsie’s impassioned defense of her land made in front of the California High-Speed Rail Authority at their June Board Meeting.
A second issue worth mentioning is that of a Dairy Cow Rendering Plant. The dairy business is a $1.3 billion dollar industry in California’s Central Valley. Four Kings County dairies with 20,000 cows producing 100,000 gallons of milk each day are directly impacted by the Authority’s recent alignment decision [Note 2]. However, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of cows in the Central Valley and cows do not live forever. In fact, about 700 cows die each day and need to be disposed of properly. Baker Commodities operates one of the few remaining rendering plants in the valley where this task can be accomplished and this facility east of Hanford is now directly in the path of high-speed rail [Note 3].
The “city-boys” at the Rail Authority and their staff see Baker Commodities as merely another business to be relocated for the sake of high-speed rail that must travel in a nearly straight line. Little do they appreciate the difficulties in relocating and re-permitting a facility of this nature and the devastation the loss of this business could have on the statewide dairy industry.
In the Central Valley’s “ground zero” for high-speed rail the citizens are rightfully fearful of its impact. They are organizing through Facebook (Californians Against High Speed Rail – Kiongs County). They are attending public meetings by the hundreds, organizing to fund lawsuits, and signing petitions. They rightfully and wisely fear the unknown. Unfortunately, the contractors working for the Authority and the Authority itself fail to be fearful of anything. They continue to plow ahead with their fanciful plans even though they ought to be full of fear……that funds to complete a route from San Francisco to Los Angeles will not materialize….that potential ridership is at best an unknown….and that any track constructed will operate at a loss which is not allowed under the provisions of Proposition 1A, “the Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Bond Act”. Perhaps this lack of fear stems from the fact that their homes are nowhere near their train’s path and their only concern is for their next paycheck.
It is in the construction phase that impacts unforeseen by the Authority in its rush to complete its Environmental Impact Report and get on with construction (so Federal stimulus funds will not be lost) will finally hit home and costs will again escalate. This article ends with a partial list of additional impacts that officials of Kings County have made known to the Authority and that to date have gone unanswered by the Authority and its staff of contractors.
Partial List of Potential Impacts of HSR on Kings County [Note 4]
$100 million annual economic loss to Kings County due to farmland being taken out of production.
Half the homes in the Ponderosa Community housing tract demolished and remaining homes left devalued because of proximity to high-speed trains.
Under enrollment at Kit Carson School caused by loss of Ponderosa Community homes leading to possible school closure.
Newly constructed Fire Station #4 in the path of high-speed rail will need to be relocated.
Increased emergency response times due to roads bisected by high-speed rail.
King County’s new Development Plan will need to be rewritten to incorporate the effects of high-speed rail.
Impacts to Air Quality due to increased vehicles making the county non-compliant with AB-32 – the state’s “Greenhouse Gas” legislation.
Impacts regarding SB 375 – the state’s Sustainable Communities legislation.
Traffic Circulation and Emergency Response to schools and homes.
Impacts on existing Alternative Energy Production Sites.
Impacts on Hanford and Corcoran landfills.
Encroachment on designated floodways.
Nine canals to be crossed by HSR in Kings County Water District
Impacts on Kaweah Delta Water Conservation mitigation site.
Footnotes below document what is stated in this article.
Note 1 California High-Speed Rail Authority May 5, 2011 Board Meeting
Video of Meeting, Item #8 Alternative Analysis Report for Fresno to Bakersfield
2 hours and 49 minutes into meeting.
Note 2 Public Comments at Special Board of Supervisors Meeting, June 7, 2011
Note 3 Presentation by Greg Gatzka, Director of Kings County Community Development Agency made at Special Board of Supervisors Meeting, June 7, 2011
Note 4 Handout given to Authority Representatives at Special Board of Supervisors Meeting, June 7, 2011 entitled “High Speed Rail… Government to Government Coordination”