HANFORD – Residents fighting a proposed high-speed rail route east of Hanford are being ignored, a legislator from Hanford said Thursday.
"No one is answering our questions" is the most common complaint that Assembly Member David Valadao, R-Hanford, said he gets from Kings County residents.
"I have been contacted by numerous constituents who feel they have been pushed aside, ignored and in some cases mistreated," Valadao said.
To try to get some answers, Valadao held a community forum Thursday in Hanford at which local officials, agricultural interests and the public got a chance to address him and other legislators.
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California High-Speed Rail Authority officials answered questions, and sitting with Valadao at the forum were state Sens. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Doug La Malfa, R-Rocklin, and Assembly Member Diane Harkey, R-Rancho Viejo.
The forum was arranged to let residents voice their concerns, but was not a formal legislative hearing.
"High speed rail will put me out of business," said welder Felix Delgadillo of Hanford. "I'll lose work," because the rail line will cut up so many farms that hire him.
Frank Oliveira, who owns land in the proposed path, said: "They are not listening to the people of Kings County no matter what they tell you."
Oliveira urged the legislators to require the High-Speed Rail Authority to study the Highway 99/Union Pacific alignment, which the authority rejected in 2005.
Dairyman Mike Monteiro said the rail path would cut his new dairy in two, and urged the path be changed.
Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon joined in criticism of the authority.
"They publicly refuse to answer any questions," Verboon said. "This is not right."
But there are many questions that the authority can't answer until the draft environmental-impact report becomes public, said Jeff Ambercrombie, the regional manager for the Merced to Bakersfield portion.
Also, the authority doesn't know the answers to many of the questions of property owners until the actual alignment is chosen, said Jeff Baker, the authority communications officer.
In May, an exchange between Kings County Farm Bureau executive director Diana Peck and authority chairman Curt Pringle put fuel on the fire.
Peck complained about a lack of cooperation by the authority with Kings County officials on the route, and 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.
Pringle offered an apology in June, but denied that the authority ignored Kings County.
The question of where to put the tracks in Kings County for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield first phase has been vexing for those who own farms in the potential path.
The 520-mile San Francisco to Los Angeles project will largely follow existing rail corridor, but the proposed route through Kings County veers off the Burlington Northern Santa Fe corridor and into farmland east of Hanford.
Valadao complained that an environmental study of potential routes, due Aug. 12, focuses almost exclusively on the east of Hanford option. Others should be considered, he said. For instance, he would like consideration of an Interstate 5 route, while state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, favors a Highway 99/Union Pacific Railroad route from Bakersfield to Fresno.
The first phase of the high-speed train is expected to cost at least $43 billion over the next decade. The federal government has pledged $3.3 million, but construction must start by late 2012 to get the money.