High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail boss to ag: We'll listen better

The head of the California High-Speed Rail Authority told a group of farmers in Madera on Friday that the agency has not done a good enough job in listening to their concerns about the project.

"We need to do a better job of communicating," Roelof van Ark, CEO of the High-Speed Rail Authority, said at the Madera County Farm Bureau's regional conference.

Farmers have complained that the project will destroy farmland, hurt property values and make farming in the area difficult.

The project calls for an 800-mile system linking the state's urban centers with trains capable of speeds up to 220 mph. Service is not likely to begin until 2020 or later, after the system has grown to link Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The first phase of the plan is expected to stretch from Borden in Madera County to a location south of Corcoran.

To help alleviate farmers' concerns, van Ark said the authority is creating an agricultural working group that will include farm industry leaders and farmers.

"We want to find out what your concerns are so we can find solutions," van Ark said.

Van Ark acknowledged that the project will disrupt some farmers' lives, but he said the impact may not be as severe as some think. For example, he said, farmers in other countries with high-speed rail are able to farm near the train's tracks.

And almond growers who worry that wind generated from the trains will disrupt bees from pollinating don't need to be concerned, he said. The trains may generate winds of only about 10 mph.

"This is not a tornado," van Ark said. "But we have not done a very good job of explaining that to people."

Julia Berry, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, was pleased that van Ark agreed to speak to the group and wants more involvement from farmers.

"I think there is a realization that there needs to be more communication and this is a step in the right direction," Berry said.

Her hope is that van Ark and other members of the authority will gain a better understanding of large-scale agriculture production in California.

"It is not like it is other foreign countries with high-speed rail," Berry said. "So I think there is a bit of a learning curve that needs to be addressed."

Related stories from Fresno Bee