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High Speed Ahead: California's Bullet Train Chugging Along Towards Approval

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) will meet at Fresno City Hall this week to hear public comments on plans to approve a 144 mile segment of High-Speed Rail (HSR) that will connect Fresno and Bakersfield. With a 20,000 page environmental impact report as its guide, the group will decide how to properly ensure the least amount of farmland is destroyed and choose a path that is most efficient for the bullet line.  

Currently, the board’s preferred route would have the train go leave downtown Fresno, go around the east edge of Hanford and to the northern edge of Bakersfield. If this route is adopted it would have an effect on a small percentage of the region’s farmland, according to the Fresno Bee:

The environmental report estimates that out of more than 3.7 million acres of farmland that is considered prime, unique or of statewide or local importance in Fresno , Kings , Tulare and Kern counties, the rail line would permanently remove 3,500 to 3,600 acres from production. That includes about 435 acres on 271 small, isolated parcels that would be impractical to farm after being cut off by the railroad right of way.

In addition to proposing to arrange for the sale of larger bisected parcels to nearby farmers to keep the land in production, the rail authority says it has agreed with the state’s Farmland Conservancy Program to purchase permanent preservation easements to protect at least as much farmland in the four-county region as would be affected by the rail line.

Opponents of HSR, such as state Sen. Andy Vidak (R- Hanford) and Assembly Member Jim Patterson (R- Fresno) sought to postpone the vote.  The two politicians had hoped to move the hearing to a location that would be less friendly to the project:

In a letter Friday, Vidak asked the authority’s board chairman, Dan Richard, to put the vote off until June and then hold the meeting in either Kings or Kern counties. “While more of the public officials in Fresno may be supportive of high-speed rail than in Kings or Kern County , the Board should not just play to the ‘home crowd’ by avoiding communities that may not have officials so beholden to high-speed rail,” Vidak wrote.

Earlier last week, Patterson was joined by Vidak in seeking a delay beyond June 30 to allow more time for the public to review and prepare comments on the final document.

Opponents claim that there has not been enough time to properly anaylze the environmental impact report. However, the CHSRA notes that the report process has been underway for five years.  Their official response to those who wished for postponement made their intentions clear. “We will not delay consideration of the final EIR/EIS,” it read.

On Wednesday, day two of the hearings, the board will consider certifying the EIR and approving the route selection.

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