High-Speed Rail

Rail authority extends EIR comment period

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is extending by 30 days the deadline for the public to review and comment on a draft environmental report for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section of the proposed train line.

The extension pushes the comment deadline from Sept. 20 to Oct. 19.

The draft environmental-impact report includes thousands of pages of technical details on how building and operating the high-speed train system would affect residents, neighborhoods, cities, businesses, farms and wildlife habitat in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The draft EIR was released in July with what originally was planned as a 60-day comment period ending Sept. 20. But many organizations and individuals up and down the route -- including the Kings County opposition group Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability -- said 60 days was simply too little time for people affected by the route to digest the massive report and offer meaningful comment.

"Sixty days is unreasonable if you really want public participation," Hanford farmer Frank Oliveira told the rail authority board in Sacramento three weeks ago. "We request 180 days, or 120 days if the state would make the documents more readily available to the public."

Oliveira, who is one of the leaders of the CCHSRA, added that a person would have to read hundreds of pages a day, seven days a week, to slog through the documents.

The California Environmental Quality Act requires only a 45-day public comment period.

Last week, however, the rail authority acknowledged the complaints by the Kings County group and others seeking more time.

"We recognize the magnitude of the document and by extending the review and comment period to 90 days, we provide the public with ample access, time and ability to respond," rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said in an emailed statement.

Three hearings will be held this week in the Valley for people to testify on the report:

Bakersfield: 3-8 p.m. Monday, Beale Memorial Library, 701 Truxtun Ave.

Hanford: 3-8 p.m. Tuesday, Hanford Fraternal Hall, 1015 N. 10th Ave.

Fresno: 3-8 p.m. Wednesday, Fresno Convention Center Exhibit Hall, 848 M St.

In addition to the public hearings, comments can be sent by mail, by email or online through the rail authority's website at cahighspeedrail.ca.gov. Mailed comments must be postmarked by Oct. 19.

All of the comments that are received by the deadline, as well as engineers' and consultants responses to the concerns, will be included in a final version of the EIR that is expected to be released in early 2013.

The final EIR also will include comments that were received in the summer and fall of 2011, when the original version of the draft EIR was issued for public review before being recalled for modifications.

Approval of the document and the selection of a final route option is anticipated sometime next spring.

To read the revised environmental report, go to the California High-Speed Rail Authority's site.