Hanford farmer says high-speed rail plans flawed

The Fresno BeeAugust 29, 2012 

A Hanford farmer challenged Federal Railroad Administration officials in Fresno Wednesday to reject plans for high-speed train routes in Kings County and the San Joaquin Valley.

Frank Oliveira, whose property would be affected by one of two route options running through Kings County, complained that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has excluded the county from planning and design decisions for the proposed train system. He and other members of the Citizens for High-Speed Rail Accountability say the alleged exclusion, dating back to 2005, violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

"Once you know there's a problem at the start of something, you're far better off fixing it before you go along with the day's work," Oliveira said. Scrapping the current plans, he said, would avoid what he said would be unsolvable problems if the project moves forward.

Fresno's hearing, and others Monday in Bakersfield and Tuesday in Hanford, let residents, business owners, local government officials and others sound off on the 30,000-page draft environmental impact report for the Fresno-Bakersfield section of the train system.

(Read the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s report at fblinks.com/eir)

But unlike the Bakersfield and Hanford hearings, which attracted scores of commenters, only 16 people testified to the state and federal rail officials in Fresno.

Some spoke of how the train line would affect their property. Some spoke in support of the project, while others, including Oliveira, voiced opposition.

"The FRA cannot escape responsibility to practice its due diligence in this matter now that these violations have been reported to you," Oliveira told David Valenstein, an FRA division chief. "Comply with the law that you are charged with protecting, or you clearly will be complicit in its violation."

All of the comments from the hearings, as well as those submitted in writing, will be included in a final version of the EIR, which is expected to be available in early 2013.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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