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Frank Oliveira
Frank Oliveira (Courtesy photo)

This is an open letter about the California High-Speed Rail Authority's project through Kings County. Please share it with anyone that you think would be interested.

The purpose of this letter is to encourage you to attend and participate in the high-speed rail meeting at Kit Carson Elementary School tonight from 5 to 7 p.m. and in Sacramento at the Sacramento City Council Chambers on June 2 from 9 a.m to 2 p.m.

Most of you are aware that the authority intends to lay a track for their train that will enter Kings County from the north across the Kings River a little east of 9th Avenue. The track travels southeast, crosses 8th Avenue north of Dover Avenue and travels southeast across Excelsior Avenue until it lines up with the high voltage power line on the east side of the 7 1/2 Avenue alignment. The track will run south along the east side of the power lines. The track starts following the power line somewhere between Excelsior and Flint avenues. The track follows this course south until it crosses Grangeville Boulevard and stops at the north side of the east-to-west freight rail line that runs south of Grangeville and north of East Lacey Boulevard. The authority is proposing to build a train station at that location.

The train would then travel south along the high voltage lines and would align itself with Highway 43, somewhere south of Houston Avenue.

This path will tear up permanent crops of walnuts, cherries and almonds. It will tear up other crops like cotton, corn, wheat and hay. Farm management will be more difficult because water delivery systems from wells and canals will be severed by the track. Just reaching the severed parcels on the other side of the track may take several miles of driving. When the train is fully up and running, I have been at meetings that reported that up to 12 trains an hour will pass through our area. The authority staff have seriously told us that they would devise a way of coordinating their movements with our agricultural spraying to prevent chemical drift. These operational effects are forever and some of the solutions are laughable.

More land will be lost to the building of easements and overpasses. The losses are far greater than the 100-foot-wide path that the authority advertises as their impact. There is new discussion about the authority building a large maintenance site south of Hanford-Armona Road. That will take more land.

Dairies will be destroyed or crippled because of the loss of their wells, waste water lagoons, buildings, pens and waste water distribution fields. Most dairies have farmland associated with the operation and they would also have the same problems noted in the preceding paragraph.

The subdivision on the north side of East Lacey Boulevard between 7th Avenue and Highway 43 will be affected with houses on its west side being eliminated. It is unknown how many homes would be removed but all of the houses that remain will permanently be adjacent to the track.

Baker Commodities will be destroyed. Baker processes all of the dead large animal carcasses for Kings, Kern and Tulare counties. More than 400 dairies will not have an economic place to move their dead animals to. Baker processes around 200 cows and 500 calves a day. Seven hundred animals times 5 days a week equals 3,500 times 52 weeks equals 182,000 animals are safely disposed of there every year. Where will all the dead animals go? If they redirect around Baker, more dairies will be directly impacted.

Some east-to-west roads will be blocked, and travel routes will be longer for emergency services, school buses and everyone else. The county stands to lose its fire training facility and helicopter pad and all or part of the landfill and waste facility. The county will lose property tax revenues because the affected properties and businesses will be devalued. County services will be complicated because of the impact.

County roads will be damaged during the construction phase of the track because most county roads are not designed for the weight of the construction vehicles that will be using them to deliver millions of tons of dirt to build the track bed. The county will experience thousands of dollars of cost to revise their 2035 general plan and to comply with AB 32 again after the high-speed rail impact is felt.

I know that I am not the only one that has been following this project. I have been involved since June of 2010. I have been to 10 statewide high-speed rail board meetings, the high-speed rail finance meeting, the Assembly Agriculture hearing and several local meetings. Most of the meetings, I just listened to try to understand what was going on. Several meetings I actively participated in the discussion. I have also met directly with high-speed rail staff and contractor staff. The problem is that there has not been very many other people from our area there expressing their concerns and objections.

The high-speed rail project has existed as a project since the mid-1990s. The project was started to create a train that would link people in the high-density urban bay areas with those similar areas in the southlands. Some time before Proposition 1A passed, the authority abandoned traveling along Interstate 5 because they felt the train would not have enough ridership from the Central Valley if the train was on the Westside.

Prop 1A passed in November 2008, promising to link the north to the south along I-5 or Highway 99. Remember that the I-5 plan was abandoned before Prop 1A was passed. It appears that the Highway 99 plan south of Fresno was abandoned in 2009. I have asked the authority and its various contractors about why the Highway 99 plan was abandoned. They initially told me that they could not continued along Highway 99 because the existing rail line did not want them there. Then it was that Highway 99 does not travel in a straight enough line for the high-speed train to follow. Then it was that the Highway 99 route would destroy more farmland and sensitive environmental habitat than if it travels through Kings County. Finally, the story has changed to the cities of Fowler, Selma and Kingsburg did not want the rail near them, so it was diverted to us.

It appears that the Highway 99 route may not have been properly studied and the decision to destroy your homes, livelihoods, communities and county services was a political one. We have been deemed to be expendable.

It appears to me that in the authority's rush they have not done their due diligence in developing their EIR/EIS for the route through Kings County. The Kings County Farm Bureau (KCFB) has led the effort to stop the train from going through the east side of Kings County. On May 5, Diana Peck from the KCFB attempted to convince the high-speed rail board to reconsider their plan to go through prime farmland in Kings County. She has been before their board before. The board more or less publicly disrespected Ms. Peck and told her that there was no real public concerns about their project in Kings County. What they did to Ms. Peck, they will do to you.

You do not have to believe me, go to www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov, find the video for the May 5 meeting on the page. Click the link, click the blue link on the next page and click the window on the upper left hand side of the webpage. After the video loads, fast forward to about 2 hours, 50 minutes into the video and watch the high-speed rail technical staff and contractors explain Agenda item #8 to the high-speed rail board.

What you will see is their presentation to the high-speed rail board and the public comments that followed. Watch the video at least until the Visalia assistant city manager is done speaking. What you will see is that the high-speed rail staff reported that they are ready to take your land and that they have the support of almost everyone down here to do it. They have minimized the negative impacts to the area and they have communicated with all of us. You will hear their board chairman disrespect Ms. Peck. You will hear them tell Ms. Peck that they have not been contacted by Kings County and you will hear the Visalia assistant city manager confirm the HSR board's position at your expense.

The high-speed rail staff and contractors have told me that I should not be concerned about their project and its impacts on our properties and those of my neighbors. They have told me numerous times that they will pay us for what they take or destroy and that they will take the track where they feel that they need to go. They are nice, polite people in most cases. They have prevented us from going to what should have been a public meeting. They have not been forthcoming with specific details about how they will be mitigating their damages. They have publicly misrepresented facts about this area. Note, according to the Internal Revenue Service, you will pay capital gains taxes on the money paid you from the land that they take.

Before they tear up Kings County, they should properly study the impact on Kings County and compare the study to properly completed studies of Highway 99 and I-5.

Last night at the Fresno meeting, the high-speed rail staff still could not tell me how many permanent jobs would remain in Kings County after the construction was done. Do you really believe that the number of jobs that this project claims it will bring is correct, if they cannot answer that simple question by now?

On the authority's website (www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov), you will also see something called Key Facts. Review these Key Facts and ask yourself: "How does this apply to us here?"

You need to come to the next two meetings and ask the high-speed rail staff specific direct questions about what concerns you. Do not accept general answers - demand that they answer your questions to your satisfaction.

If you support this project traveling through Kings County, tell them so. If you do not support their plan to tear up Kings County, simply demand that they prove that they properly studied the other routes and compared the data properly against the Kings County route. It is that simple.

Regardless of your position, demand that the authority coordinate with the Kings County Board of Supervisors and department heads to minimize their footprint if that is possible. The authority seems to be avoiding working with the county in the manner that Kings County has requested.

The Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) recently released a report which recommends that the high-speed rail board be disbanded due to mismanagement and that the project be brought under Caltrans control. The LAO also recommends that the project be started in an urban area. The full text of the LAO's report can be reviewed at www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2011/trns/high_speed_rail/high_speed_rail_051011.pdf.

I spoke with our congressman, Jim Costa, on Tuesday night and again today. He advised me that he would prefer that the high-speed rail alignment from Fresno to Bakersfield follow Highway 99 instead of going through Kings County. He said that he was going to discuss the matter with the high-speed rail CEO today and ask for a cost analysis of the plans that have been studied.

He also told me that he was available to mitigate things for us. He did not seem to understand that things that require EPA-type permits usually do not get approved quickly. Since the congressman has been working on redirecting the high-speed rail alignment to Highway 99 since last fall and the authority has not been entertaining a route change out of Kings County since last summer, he probably needs to double his efforts and we should support his involvement to make the change occur.

Congressman Costa told me that he is fighting on our behalf in regard to the Highway 99 rail alignment issue. We clearly need the congressman to produce on this matter.

Please pass this information along to your friends and family members. It is your time to seize your future and your children's future.

Frank Oliveira is a general partner of MEL's Farms, a Kings County farming operation.

 

 

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