High-Speed Rail Authority
The first leg of California’s $45 billion bullet train system is supposed to be built between Fresno and Bakersfield, perhaps starting next year.
There’s “overwhelming public support” in the Central Valley for the massive public works project, the state High-Speed Rail Authority has claimed. Just don’t tell that to some 20 unhappy dairymen and landowners from Kings County who bused to the rail authority's meeting in Sacramento yesterday to protest.
They say they recently learned that the authority has decided to run the bullet train tracks through some of the best farmland in the valley – theirs.
“They are going to shock and awe us,” said Joe Machado, 50, owner of a 700-acre, 1,000-cow dairy near Hanford.
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He says the latest route for the bullet train – plotted only a few weeks ago – will cut his dairy in two.
A “traction power station with a huge transformer” – a powerhouse for the electric trains – is supposed to be built next to his house, he says.
“You are going through some of the richest farmland in the county, an area that took years to develop,” he said in a phone interview. “In a three-mile span they’re going to highly impact or destroy $100 million worth of dairies.
"They haven’t even studied that," he said. "These engineers don’t have a concept of where they penciled their line. ... If these guys ran a business, they would run it into the ground.”
Another protester was Frank Oliveira, 53, who with his siblings owns more than 400 acres of orchards and cropland near Hanford. He said the latest rail route will bisect four of his properties.
“It’s prime virgin ground,” he said of one 80-acre parcel that the bullet train will claim. “It’s only had two owners in California history."
“They’re going to slice it at a diagonal, and waste a bunch of prime ground,” he said.
Machado and Oliveira said they have never been contacted by the rail authority about its plans to take their land. Three weeks ago Machado said he heard from a neighbor that the rail line was being rerouted through his dairy to avoid a nearby wetland.
Oliveira said somebody in town told his father that “we should take a look” at the planned bullet train right of way. Oliveira said he tried to go to a meeting in Hanford where authority consultants were discussing route issues, but they wouldn’t let him attend.
It’s actually no better if you hear from the rail authority, said Aaron Fukuda, a civil engineer who lives on a two-acre parcel near Hanford.
Last year, when he and his wife were planning to build their “dream home” on the property, Fukuda said he called the rail authority. A consultant from Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering concern that is designing the system, said the rail line would be several hundred yards from Fukuda’s property, he said.
“He told me it was going to be in the field next door. He said, ‘It’s great, you build a new house,’” Fukuda said.
An official from the rail authority’s right of way office told him the same thing, Fukuda said. Later, from a friend, he said he learned that the actual right of way was “right smack dab through the living room,” as he put it.
“They’re lying to the public about basic information,” Fukuda said.
The farmers, and some Kings County officials, are urging the rail authority to put the rail line along the Highway 99 corridor to the east, rather than run it through the farmland. Previously, that route was rejected as being too expensive.
The protesters said the authority’s board listened to their presentation but said little. A spokesperson for the rail authority didn’t respond to an e-mail request for comment.
“We know the government can take our property, but they’re supposed to do it properly,” Oliveira said. “This route is absolutely the worst route through Kings County, and that’s the route they’re going ahead with.”