SACRAMENTO – More than 15 people from Kings County sounded off to the California High-Speed Rail Authority board Thursday, voicing frustration over a proposed route for tracks through their farms and homes.
But they have little confidence that their pleas will change the route where construction is planned to begin in late 2012 between Fresno and Bakersfield.
"I'm in the path, and I still get postcards to 'Resident,' " said Hanford dairy farmer Jerry Fagundes. "If you're going to take my house, at least know my name."
About 25 people bused from Hanford to Sacramento early Thursday to complain about what they say is a lack of communication with the authority, its staff and consultants about how high-speed trains will affect their properties.
Aaron Fukuda, whose Ponderosa Road neighborhood just east of Hanford would be displaced by the rail line, said he's been frustrated in his dealings with the authority's staff and consultants.
"In a project of this scope ... you want to know things before you make decisions," Fukuda told the board. "But in our situation, you have failed to contact the people who know the land to make informed decisions."
Some property owners found out only in the past few weeks that their land is in the path of the proposed tracks, which generally follow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line south of Fresno but swing through farmland north and east of Hanford to avoid running through the city.
Karen Stout, a Laton farmer, said she only learned this week that the tracks are planned to run through her two 40-acre walnut orchards. "I don't know why I wasn't contacted about this," she said.
The Kings County group complained that Prop. 1A, a $9 billion bond measure approved by voters in 2008, requires the system to be built along established transportation corridors. E.J. DeJong, who farms about 3,000 acres and milks 5,000 cows at his Hanford-area dairy, and others asked for proof that the authority examined established freeway corridors such as Interstate 5 or Highway 99 before opting to build through the heart of Kings County.
After the meeting, authority officials said that the I-5 and Highway 99 corridors were evaluated – and ruled out – in a 2005 environmental review for the entire statewide high-speed rail program.
"People forget that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific rail lines are also major transportation corridors," said Jeffrey Barker, the authority's deputy executive director. "We are following a major transportation corridor, even if we're not adhering to freeways.
"And if we were along I-5 or 99, we'd have just as many people here upset," Barker added. "It would just be different people and probably with different reasons."
Board Chairman Curt Pringle said authority representatives have held more than four dozen meetings with city and county government officials in Kings County.
"The route discussion you see today isn't one made in a vacuum without any conversations with people in your county," he told the crowd. "In fact, it was made through conversations with people in your county, and the route has changed."
But Pringle also offered an apology for scolding Kings County Farm Bureau director Diana Peck at the board's May 5 meeting in Sacramento.
After Peck complained about a lack of cooperation by the authority with Kings County officials on the route, Pringle bristled that Peck was not a formal representative of the county and suggested that next time, she "bring a note" from the county supervisors.
"I may not have responded [to Peck] with the proper amount of respect, and I apologize to her and all of you for that," Pringle said Thursday. "That's certainly not our intention here."
Pringle said he was "rankled" by Peck's assertions that the authority has ignored government officials in Kings County, "and I knew that wasn't correct."
Authority board member Tom Richards, a Fresno developer, said he remains concerned about the complaints of the Kings County residents.
"I want to have an active role in ensuring clarification of the issues they've raised," Richards said. "I want to ensure there are conversations in the near future and throughout development and construction of the line in their area."