SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A massive California water project has drawn opposition from the Trump administration, the government said Wednesday, the latest and one of the most serious blows to Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to re-engineer the state's water system by building two giant tunnels.
"The Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward with it," Russell Newell, deputy communications director for the U.S. Interior Department, said in an email.
Asked if that meant the Trump administration did not support California's tunnels project, Newell said yes. While the plan is a state initiative, it would intersect with existing state and federal water projects and would require approval from the Interior Department to move ahead.
Brown wants California water agencies to pay the $16 billion price tag to build two, 35-mile-long tunnels to divert part of the state's largest river, the Sacramento, to supply water to the San Francisco Bay Area and central and Southern California.
But the plan has run into its biggest obstacles yet in recent weeks, when two key water districts opted not to help fund it. While the federal government was never supposed to bear the cost of the project, the Obama administration spent millions planning for it.
The Interior Department's inspector-general last month challenged that financing, saying the U.S. agency under former President Barack Obama had improperly contributed $84 million in taxpayer funds to help pay for planning for the tunnels, which would be California's most ambitious water project in decades.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump had called broadly for more projects to bring more water to farmers in California, the country's leading agricultural state.
However, his administration had not previously taken a stand on the tunnels project pushed by California's Democratic governor, though federal wildlife agencies gave the green light in June. They found that the plan would not mean extinction for endangered and threatened native species, including native salmon.
The project would dig two tunnels, each the width of a three-lane highway, to tap into the Sacramento River. Brown's administration and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California argued the giant pipes would make for more reliable water supplies, especially for the more arid south.
Supporters and opponents disagree on the impact for struggling native species. Opponents say the tunnels could be used to drain much of the water from the West Coast's largest estuary — the San Francisco Bay and adjoining rivers.
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup and Lisa Lien-Mager, a spokeswoman for the state Natural Resources Agency, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday on the Trump administration's stand.
"At a minimum, this announcement certainly complicates the state's chances of ever funding and permitting the massive twin tunnels project," said Doug Obegi, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes the plan. "It's yet another reason for the state to transparently work with all stakeholders to reconsider this proposal."
The Trump administration has targeted several projects supported by his predecessor, from immigration initiatives to international trade deals.
Trump's policies also directly contrast with many of those backed by Brown, who has referred to the president's supporters as cave-dwellers and last month called Trump's actions in office "stupid and dangerous and silly."
Newell, with the Interior Department, released the stance against the tunnels in response to a request Tuesday by California's Democratic members of Congress for a new probe of U.S. spending on the project under Obama.
Five Democrats, including opponents of the tunnels, asked the U.S. General Accountability Office to determine whether the planning payments were illegal.
"The $84 million spent in taxpayers' money without disclosure to Congress and kept hidden from the public were decisions driven and executed by the Obama administration and that team," Newell said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke "believes that using tax dollars wisely and ethically is a big responsibility and is at the heart of good government," Newell said.
Federal and state authorities were discussing cooperation on the project since at least 2008, when George W. Bush was in office. Obama's administration pushed for the tunnels, including funding planning costs.
An Interior official under the Bush and now Trump administrations, David Bernhardt, has professional ties with a leading California water district whose support was vital to the project.
However, the district, Westlands, voted last month against participating, saying it did not make sense financially for its rural water users.
HANFORD — Hanford was hit with multiple structure fires Tuesday, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to homes and displacing several people.
The first fire happened around 3:40 a.m. Tuesday on 10 1/2 Avenue between Houston Avenue and Hanford-Armona Road, said Kings County Battalion Chief Sal Gutierrez.
By the time crews arrived, Gutierrez said a double-wide trailer home had already been on fire and had essentially burned to the ground.
Gutierrez said four county fire crews and two Hanford city fire crews immediately began attempting to work on a nearby home that had also caught fire.
He said crews were unable to to contain the fire on the wooden house and it ultimately burned down as well.
Gutierrez said one man lived in the house and he was able to get out safely and uninjured. He said the trailer has no residents and was unoccupied when it burned.
"The fire completely destroyed that house," Gutierrez said, adding the man who lived in the home is now displaced.
Fire crews stayed at the scene of the fire for almost six hours to make sure the fire was fully contained and did not leave until around 9 a.m., Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said he estimates the damage to be about $60,000 for the trailer and about a $90,000 in damage for the home.
Gutierrez said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and asked that anyone with information regarding the incident call the department's dispatch center at 584-9276.
Later on in the day, firefighters from both the Hanford and Kings County Fire departments responded to a house fire they said was caused by an overheated electrical circuit and has left seven people displaced.
Firefighters said damage to both the house and the contents was extensive, estimated to be valued at $176,000.
Around 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, the Hanford Fire Department responded to the fire, located at 416 E. Grangeville Blvd.
Fire crews found a separate structure near the house that was engulfed in flames and the fire had extended to the house.
Fire officials said it took crews approximately 90 minutes to get the fire under control due to fire in both the basement and attic of the home.
In total, 10 firefighters from the Hanford Fire Department and six firefighters from the Kings County Fire Department responded to the fire. Officials said there were no injuries in the incident.
Fire officials said the fire investigation is complete and the cause was determined to be an overheated electrical circuit in the separate building, which was furnished and contained several electrical devices being supported by one extension cord.
CORCORAN — A probation check at a home in Corcoran led to the discovery of a “chop shop” operation, said California Highway Patrol officials.
During the probation check, law enforcement personnel said they found the chop shop operation in the back of the home and located two reported stolen pickup trucks.
Officials said they found a stolen Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck that was stripped to its bare frame on the premises and another stolen Chevrolet pickup truck that was still operable. They also located a loaded firearm.
CHP Central Division Investigators conducted the check on Oct. 20 at the residence of 29-year-old Francisco Javier Medrano in Corcoran along with Kings County Sheriff’s Office Ag Detectives and personnel from the Kings County Gang Task Force.
Investigators said they detained Medrano, Jose Antonio Zamora-Reyes, 28, Melissa Medellin and Carolina Hernandez Iniguez at the premises. They said Medellin was found to be on active Kings County Probation.
Investigators said Medrano and Reyes were arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft related offenses and firearms violations, and Medellin and Iniguez were arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
Authorities said all four adults were transported and booked into the Kings County jail.
Any questions regarding this can be directed to the Hanford CHP Public Information Officer John Tyler at 582-0231.
EDD says the unemployment rate in the Kings County was 7.5 percent in September 2017, down from a revised 8.5 percent in August 2017, and below the year-ago estimate of 8.2 percent.
Figures show the county has 800 more non-farm jobs than a year ago while farm jobs remain flat. Construction jobs are up 11 percent year-over-year. The 7.5 percent jobless rate is the best September number in Kings County since 2007, before the recession.
The San Joaquin Valley Air District recently approved $4 million in incentive funding for new pilot Dairy Feed Mixing Electrification Program, seeking to expand the installation of electric feed mixing equipment and reduce diesel emissions from tractors and other mobile equipment used on Valley dairies.
The approval of this program has been four years in the making, dating back to a demonstration project by Hanford dairy farmer Philip Verwey.
Verwey’s demonstration project on his Kings County dairy replaced diesel tractor-powered feed mixing and delivery equipment with an electric feed mixing station and delivery system. The results were more than impressive following two years of operation.
Feed mixing time was reduced from 22 hours per day to less than six, the quality of the feed mixture was significantly improved and diesel fuel consumption was cut nearly in half. According to the Air District, the project is achieving more than 21 tons of NOx reductions on an annual basis.
The Electrification Program covers up to 75 percent of costs for new projects.
The South San Joaquin Valley Industrial Summit, an all-day affair Oct. 26, at the Tulare SCE Education Center, 4175 S. Laspina St., will hear from some of the Valley’s newest and most innovative companies including Hanford’s electric car maker Faraday Futures and Porterville’s electric bus maker Green Power Motors.
On the agenda is Leonel Leal, the senior manager in manufacturing engineering for Faraday Future, who guides the company’s manufacturing strategy. Leal is a former senior manufacturing engineer at Tesla Motors. Four other Faraday Futures staffers will speak as well. The company is remodeling the old Pirelli tire plant in Hanford to open next year.
Also watch for a talk on the Present and Future of the Green Transportation on Industry featuring Brendan Riley, president of GreenPower Co, who is building a new bus plant in Porterville.
Lemoore will get a 15,000 square-foot billiard hall - Kings County Billiards - at the Gateway Plaza at the northeast corner of Hanford Armona Road and 18th Avenue. Improvements to the space that used to be Sprouse Ritz are underway but could take a few months, says Rick Amerine with Commercial Retail Associates. Also in the same center are In-Shape and Dollar General - taking over the Family Dollar space.
USDA says the total California 2016 walnut crop purchased from producers reached 649,183 tons at an average price of 92.7 cents per pound. That price per pound compares to double that in 2013 but up slightly from 2015.