HANFORD — A company that processes dead dairy cows from Kings County has come out publicly against the California high-speed rail project.
Baker Commodities, the company that operates the processing facility east of Hanford, sent a representative last week to a Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing in Sacramento to speak in support of SB 985.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, would put the $68 billion project back on the ballot to give voters a second chance to consider it in November. When voters initially OK’d funding in 2008, the cost was estimated at $33 billion.
LaMalfa delayed a committee vote on his bill last week, fearing that majority of Democratic members would kill it. He could bring it up again for a vote again if conditions are more favorable politically.
Baker’s public opposition to the project marks a departure for the company, which until now has been quietly negotiating with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to avoid disruptions to its plant.
One planned alignment announced last year would go right through the middle of the facility, forcing the company to relocate.
Baker officials remain concerned that the alignment — known as Hanford East because it swings through dairies and farmland east of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks through town — would lead to costly delays and dead animals piling up on local dairies while the company tried to move its facility.
“There was never any reassurance that we would come out whole should our facility have to be relocated,” said Dennis Luckey, executive vice president for Baker. “We were probably as impacted ... as any business out there. It was definitely going to take out our entire facility.”
“It would be almost impossible to get any re-permitting to [rebuild] that facility,” said Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon. “It’s important to protect that.”
But all bets are off, because the Authority is considering an alternative route that swings west of Hanford. That route would miss the plant completely. The Hanford West alignment has its own problems, including a possible route through the property of First Baptist Church Hanford.
A route recommendation is expected sometime this summer, when the Authority says it will release a final draft of the Bakersfield-to-Fresno environmental impact report.
Baker is against both alignments because they would impact dairy customers and the local economy, Luckey said.
“We want as little of the local economy and businesses impacted as possible,” Luckey said. “We have a lot of friends and associates. We’re supportive of their opposition.”
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