The Kings County Board of Supervisors and the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced recently that they have signed three major agreements that will clear the way for progress on California’s high-speed rail in Kings County.
“Now is the time for Kings County to come together with the authority to settle disputes and to signal a new phase of cooperation,” said Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon. “With our agreements in place, the high-speed rail project can move forward, and we can continue to protect the interests of the people of Kings County.”
The authority and the board have reached a settlement that will result in the dismissal of the final pending California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit the county filed against the authority for the Fresno to Bakersfield Project Section environmental impact report/environmental impact statement.
The final environmental impact report/statement for the Fresno to Bakersfield section of the high-speed rail project was adopted in 2014 and identified the high-speed rail route from southern Fresno County through Kings and Tulare counties and into Kern County.
Both parties also signed cooperative agreements related to coordinating ongoing construction efforts in Kings County, and the maintenance of several grade-separation projects crossing Kings County roadways.
“Today’s agreements represent a new day for the high-speed rail project and demonstrate the willingness of both sides to put past issues aside and work together towards constructive solutions to move the high-speed rail project forward,” said Brian Kelly, CEO of the rail authority. “We will continue to work closely with Kings County now and into the future to bring clean, electrified high-speed rail to the Valley and the state.”
When everything first began, Verboon said the county just wanted to get a seat at the table with the rail authority to discuss how the high-speed rail would affect citizens. He said the county wanted to protect the citizens’ rights while coordinating with the authority.
Verboon said the authority refused to meet, which spurred the county to file the lawsuit.
Kings County has had the most ardent opposition to the high-speed rail and several other lawsuits were filed against the authority.
However, over time, other parties began settling their lawsuits and property disagreements with the rail authority. Verboon said every time a settlement was reached, the county’s fight got weaker.
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Eventually, the county decided to do what they thought was best at this point and work towards a friendly agreement.
In 2017, Verboon decided to meet with Dan Richard, then-chairman of the authority’s board, vice chair Tom Richards, and Kelly to see if both parties could work together. The next year, he said county counsel took over in the meetings and eventually Kelly asked for a list of wants from the county.
Verboon said he got together with the Kings County Farm Bureau and other stakeholders to come up with a list.
After another four to five months and several meetings, Verboon said the settlement was finally reached. The settlement included payment of $10 million by the rail authority to Kings County for staff time, general plan updates and the relocation of Fire Station No. 4.
While they didn’t get everything they wanted, Verboon said progress was made, including changing the size of overpasses to be big enough to accommodate tractors and other agriculture-related equipment and machinery.
Verboon said the lawsuit was never about trying to get money, it was about working together with the rail authority. He said he still feels terrible about the citizens and farmers that have been affected by the project.
“I don’t consider it a win, but we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
The work being done in Kings County is located within Construction Package 2/3, the 65-mile construction area that stretches from East American Avenue in Fresno County to one mile north of the Tulare/Kern County line.
High-speed rail construction is happening on over 119 miles in the Central Valley.