Lawsuits seek injunction to halt rail work

Disruption of agricultural activity is cited in motion.

The Fresno BeeOctober 3, 2012 

High-speed rail opponents that include Madera County filed a motion Wednesday in Sacramento asking a judge to order work on California's proposed bullet train to stop until their lawsuits over the Merced-Fresno stretch are decided.

A hearing will be held Nov. 16 by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley on the motion for a preliminary injunction. The court is combining three different lawsuits that challenge the California High-Speed Rail Authority's approval in May of an environmental-impact report and selection of a route between Merced and Fresno.

The consolidated suits were filed by Madera County, which was joined by the Farm Bureau organizations in Madera and Merced counties, Preserve Our Heritage, the Chowchilla Water District and the Fagundes family that farms in Madera and Merced counties; the city of Chowchilla; and companies that own properties along the route in Madera and Fresno counties.

The rail authority is awaiting bids from would-be prime contractors for construction of a stretch of the rail line from Madera to the south end of Fresno. Those bids are due Nov. 2, and a contract could be awarded in early 2013. The agency hopes to begin making offers to buy land for right of way along the route in December or January, with the start of major construction anticipated next summer and fall -- the first portion of the statewide train system.

The motion filed Wednesday alleges that the injunction is needed because the agency's work will disrupt agricultural activity and potentially damage farms. "Many of these impacts will occur well before construction commences -- the threat of land acquisition is enough to interfere with crop financing," the motion states.

The motion asks a judge to prevent the rail authority from signing construction contracts, buying right of way or spending any more money toward work on the Merced-Fresno section until the lawsuits are ultimately decided.

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

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