CHSRA Releases Agriculture White Papers

Sep 11th, 2012 | Posted by

At today’s board meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority, an Agricultural Working Group brought together by the CHSRA released a series of white papers examining agricultural impacts in the Central Valley.

Central Valley farm

Overall, the papers found that high speed rail will not negatively impact agriculture in the Central Valley, including farms near the tracks. The papers are detailed and each is worth reading. A short summary of the key findings form each:

Bee Pollination: Bees will not be affected by the brief 2 mph wind that passing trains will cause. Stronger winds that naturally affect the Valley are more of an issue.

Induced Wind Impacts: Because winds induced by passing trains would not exceed 2 mph, there would be minimal impacts on blossoms, flowering trees, dust creation, or pesticide use.

Dairy: Much more uncertain here. Dairy cows exposed to jet noise didn’t show any behavioral or productivity responses, but US testing on HSR impacts on dairy cows hasn’t been done in any great detail. Sudden, novel effects can have an impact, but cows also get used to it over time.

Movement of Agricultural Equipment: This one is more general, noting the operating requirements for crossings of the tracks and that road modifications will be done to state and county standards.

Irrigation: No irrigation water will be subject to extended outages, and irrigation can cross the right-of-way as needed. The cost of moving privately owned irrigation will be picked up by the Authority.

Pesticides: No new pesticide regulations will be needed since there’s no significant wind that will be generated by the trains.

Overall, the white papers show that a high speed train won’t have the disruptive impact that many farmers claim it will have. It’s not the same as putting a jet engine on wheels in the middle of farms and its operations will have minimal at best impacts on agriculture. The laying of tracks will be physically disruptive, but that cannot be helped, and the impacts of that can be easily mitigated, just as the impacts of Interstate 5, irrigation canals, and surface streets has been mitigated.

The Authority plans to use these white papers as the basis of more detailed outreach to farmers in the Valley, and that’s a good move. Let’s hope farmers take the opportunity to learn the details and facts about the HSR system and its impacts. It’s clear that there will indeed be impacts, how can there not be, but they won’t be the dire or ruinous impacts that some have claimed.

  1. joe
    Sep 11th, 2012 at 22:28
    #1

    Critics say CAHSRA does not do outreach!!

    Here we’ll read criticisms that CAHSRA wastes money producing these ridiculous white papers for outreach!!

    And be sure to see the obligatory “CAHSR is 3 times too expensive and 10 times worse _______.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Read criticisms by who? Me? I think the part about the bees is stupid but put the blame firmly with the NIMBYs, who are clearly getting too much in farm subsidies if they have time to engage in frivolities like this.

    As for the rest, I really don’t care. Even the bees part is just amusing. The cost of these studies is not even a second-order cost item. Worrying about cost differences measured in an integer factor and not in percent also means caring about bigger things than random white papers. I’m going to go on a limb here and guess that the cost of all CAHSR studies, together, is comparable to the cost of half a kilometer of viaduct.

    Joey Reply:

    Environmental work is a tiny fraction of overall costs. As Alon says, studies such as these studies will no measurable impact on costs of any sort.

  2. Stephen Smith
    Sep 11th, 2012 at 23:59
    #2

    Speaking of agriculture!

    There was an interesting exchange that took place when Denis Douté, the late president of SNCF America, was asked by a Central Valley farmer during a public hearing which route through the Central Valley he thought was best – the more direct I-5, which ran through desert, or Highway 99, high runs through some very valuable farm land with hundred-year-old orchards and other perennial plantings. (I believe the west-of-99 route runs through just commodity crop fields, which need to be replanted every year anyway and are less valuable/costly than the fields along 99, but obviously more valuable/costly than the desert that surrounds I-5.)

    Douté was immediately told to shut up and not answer the question by the CHSRA guy. No explanation given for why he wasn’t allowed to answer the question.

    So no, joe – there was no real outreach. CHSRA made up their minds that they wanted to plow right through the most valuable farmland in the Central Valley, and they silenced Douté – like, literally told him not to speak! – when a farmer asked him for his opinion. Of course after Denis Douté passed away and that LA Times article was published we learned that Douté thought the 99 route was a bad idea.

    Of course there are many ridiculous NIMBY complaints from Central Valley farmers, but a good engineer takes existing population patterns into account when planning routes. This means minimizing the amount of developed and cultivated land that will have to be acquired. And when it comes to that measure, CHSRA can’t massage the data: the I-5 route will involve much more disruption to Central Valley farmers than is necessary.

    Now, you may think that these disruptions are necessary to offer HSR service to the bustling metropolises of Bakersfield and Fresno, but don’t try to pretend that farmers won’t be affected.

    This exchange is indeed enshrined somewhere on YouTube – I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and multiple people (including Elizabeth Alexis) have mentioned it to me – but I can’t find it right now. I’ll post it when I do.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Found it!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHZ0mO7XtX4

    The part I’m talking about is at 10:30. Also, I misremembered – the farmer only asked about I-5, not Highway 99. But my point still stands.

    joe Reply:

    Uh..
    1. Thank you for an example of CAHSRA outreach.
    Farmers will be affected and everyone knows it.

    There was an interesting exchange that took place when Denis Douté, the late president of SNCF America, was asked by a Central Valley farmer during a public hearing which route through the Central Valley he thought was best – the more direct I-5, which ran through desert, or Highway 99,

    Douté was immediately told to shut up and not answer the question by the CHSRA guy. No explanation given for why he wasn’t allowed to answer the question.

    2. Thank you for telling me the CAHSRA didn’t allow a guest to speak for the project. It’s not his meeting or his project. I would have hoped the executive had enough common sense to wait to answer a question directed to him outside the CAHSRA form. He has no capacity to speak at that meeting with ad hoc Q&A.

    By chance we have a voluntary review tomorrow. Some staff attending are under instructions to not answer questions since they are not part of the team but I do want them in attendance to see the review. The review team knows they are sitting in.

    I would have to tell my staff to shut up if they think it’s a good idea to provide a personal opinion at the audit.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Thank you for an example of CAHSRA outreach.

    Yeah, some outreach. Invite an expert to talk and then silence him when someone asks him about the subject at hand.

    Thank you for telling me the CAHSRA didn’t allow a guest to speak for the project

    He wasn’t asked to speak “for” the project, he was asked to speak about the project. And the question was specifically suggested by someone who appears to be a California lawmaker or CHSRA board member (I can’t tell).

    As for you telling your staff to shut up, not sure what that has to do with anything…Denis Douté wasn’t CHSRA staff.

    joe Reply:

    Yeah, some outreach. Invite an expert to talk and then silence him when someone asks him about the subject at hand.

    People know the system is being built – the complaint noone knows or told me is debunked. Thanks.

    SCNF executives do not speak for the CAHSRA. He cannot answer q

    Nathanael Reply:

    There is no particular reason to allow a guest, who cannot speak for the host, to answer what is a deliberate “sandbag” question. As you discovered upon review, the “farmer’ was not asking for the guest’s expertise, he was attempting to sandbag — asking only about I-5 and not about 99….

    Nathanael Reply:

    (Hosts, on the other hand, do have an obligation to respond even to sandbagging questions.)

    joe Reply:

    Hosts represent the CAHSRA and therefore the correct response is to repeat the current HSR policy.

    I know some might think this standard response is horrible but I bet not one of the critics speaks for their employer or opines about their employer’s products to corporate customers or the consumers at corporate events that do shareholder or customer outreach.

    Out reach is not candid, dynamic, off the cuff brainstorming.

    When I read comments that person R spoke to project person D about Caltrain or Project Y and got the skinny on what’s really happening I am quite skeptical about what was said and heard and the question and or answer and intention was not missed understood.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Of course ..the real reason is the crop subsidies these “Real Americans” get from the taxpayers to “feed” people..most of the Valley Repub farmers think this is more than fine ..to support their “Socialist lifestyle”

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    …by the way, I said “offer HSR service” to the Central Valley, but what I meant was “offer gold-plated HSR service to wherever downtown was in 1920 without any slow segments.” All of the alignments would have given Central Valley residents access to shiny new trains with weird noses that go fast.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The best part about this blog is finding people who toss out statements about things like education or farming within California that have no idea of the central drivers of those decisions.

    Morris (and Elizabeth Alexis’s) wanton disregard of Prop 98 when talking about high speed rail’s impact on schools is one thing, but your strange perversion of water rights is right up there.

    The I-5 route perpetuates the blind assumption that divorcing the route from population centers in the San Joaquin Valley because the land is so cheap out that way and oh yeah, it is a desert.

    Next time you get Stewart Resnick on the phone (I know, he doesn’t talk to reporters) he can tell you all about how your desert is fabulous land for growing pistachios and how his farms allow him to speculate on water supplies for the LA basin.

    Yet your Cincinnatus-like depiction of farms living along the 99 leaves out the fact that nearly all of them are ready to sell at the drop of a hat to home developers. The only reason that they aren’t so eager to sell land to the Authority is that unlike a home builder (who needs water rights for his houses), the Authority doesn’t need the water and in eminent domain cases, will get it for cheaper than a home-builder.

    Eric M Reply:

    “Yet your Cincinnatus-like depiction of farms living along the 99 leaves out the fact that nearly all of them are ready to sell at the drop of a hat to home developers. The only reason that they aren’t so eager to sell land to the Authority is that unlike a home builder (who needs water rights for his houses), the Authority doesn’t need the water and in eminent domain cases, will get it for cheaper than a home-builder.”

    That can’t be stated enough!!

    Nathanael Reply:

    “This means minimizing the amount of developed and cultivated land that will have to be acquired. ”

    No, it doesn’t. It means maximizing the number of people near your stations. :eyeroll:

    Joey Reply:

    Both. You want stations to be close to people and interstations to be away from everything.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    In a rational world there would be a holistic approach to it all and half the UP ROW which has an arrow straight ROW through much of valley would be used. Grade separations and renewal of their tracks would be the bonus for UP. And halving their property taxes. But UP, among other things isn’t interested in halving their property taxes because they are set in Prop 13 stone.

  3. William
    Sep 12th, 2012 at 00:29
    #3

    Might be related: I red in the news that Taiwan HSR had to deal with killing birds in its first few months of opening…

    Peter Reply:

    Birds already get killed by trains. A lot more birds are actually killed by building windows, by orders of magnitude.

    Peter Reply:

    *Birds have always been killed by trains.

    Damn you, lack of preview function!

  4. Roger Christensen
    Sep 12th, 2012 at 05:52
    #4

    In recent years the 6-lane+ Hiway 41 plowed through Kings County farmland. Was there any similar farmer outrage?

    Nathanael Reply:

    There you go, Mr. Stephen Smith.

    peninsula Reply:

    Lets see.. Highway 41 built in 1930’s.. Any halfwit might guess significantly less development of any kind was there in the 30’s, and no internet… so if there was outrage – exactly how were you thinking you would have heard about it? If a tree falls in the forest and high speed rail foamers are not there to hear it – clearly it did not make a sound.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    The Highway 41 expressway is more like 1990s replacing the older 41 route a quarter mile away. It plows through farmland between Elm and Cherry Avenues in Fresno County. The old 41 was Elm Avenue.

  5. TomW
    Sep 12th, 2012 at 07:43
    #5

    In my experience, when a train travels at 125 mph past some cows grazing beside the tracks, the cows do… nothing. They will be fine.

    Andy M Reply:

    Cows in the Central Valley are different though.

    VBobier Reply:

    Cows are Cows, as long as they can’t wander onto said tracks the Cows will be fine and the milk will still gush forth in plenitude as usual…

    VBobier Reply:

    That should be “plentitude” not “plenitude”…

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Yep, our cows are WAY different…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up880afV_qs
    JimBo

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Different cows
    Depressing cows

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Wow, can’t wait to show different cows to the fam. Maybe that’s what they’ll be doin waiting for the next train.

    Thanks,
    JimBo

  6. trentbridge
    Sep 12th, 2012 at 09:42
    #6

    Who says CAHSR isn’t a sexy project? They’re already talking about the “birds and bees”.

    Today’s news about another Amtrak project – expanding the Downeaster on time and on budget:

    Expanding the Downeaster northward to Freeport, home to L.L. Bean’s flagship store and outlet shopping, and Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College, required improvements to more than 30 miles of rail, rehabilitation of 36 crossings and construction of two station platforms. Remaining track work will be completed in weeks.

    Most of the track upgrades were funded through $38.3 million in federal stimulus dollars.

    ‘‘We are proud to deliver this expanded service on schedule and on budget,’’ said Martin Eisenstein, chairman of the Northern New England Rail Authority’s board, who praised the partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration, Pan Am Railways, Amtrak and the Maine Department of Transportation.

  7. John Nachtigall
    Sep 12th, 2012 at 17:08
    #7

    Excellent article in the WSJ today about problems with the HSR line in China.

    I left the google link so you can get past the paywall

    Especially interesting because it was written by a Chineese college professor and makes the case that the US should not be following this path

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=china%20solyndra&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDEQqQIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10000872396390443686004577634220147568022.html%3Fmod%3Dgooglenews_wsj&ei=MCNRULrqHeOUiAKEpIGgDQ&usg=AFQjCNFXBPYjpzCkp2QID4Oxl6K4pkRyMA&sig2=fan8V1LY48z1eA2fq8khUQ

    joe Reply:

    So now Conservatives are outsourcing their conservative think tank paper mills to China.

    I guess if that’s what it takes for Murdoch to salvage some profit out of what he overpaid for that NYC newspaper.

    VBobier Reply:

    Could FAUX News be next?

    joe Reply:

    No. TV Media just make shit up on the fly.

    Wall Street Journal is considering a brand change to WSJ, like KFC replaced Kentucky Fried Chicken. I kid you not.

    “A few hours later, CNBC’s David Faber asked Murdoch if he regretted the Dow Jones deal.

    “No, that’s going to be the center of this whole thing,” Murdoch responded. “I think the Wall Street Journal, which we may call the WSJ, will be a really great, global brand.””
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/rupert-murdoch-wall-street-journal-news-corp_n_1635680.html

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    1. The WSJ is the only paper in the country that is actually making money…people are willing to pay for online ($207 a year for a subscription and 530,000+ subscribers). they dont need your pity, they have success

    2. The guy who wrote this was not a WSJ employee…it was an op-ed

    3. Argue the facts, he presents a compelling case

    joe Reply:

    1. Not true, not the only paper making money.
    Bonus: News Corp was caught lying about paid circulation in Europe to inflate ad rates. Those free newspapers in the hotels I stay were counted as paid sales.
    Double bonus – Murdoch paid 5 Billion for the WSJ. What’s it worth now?

    2. The rename to WSJ is direct Murdoch quote. See above.

    3. Murdoch is splitting off his money losing and boat anchor assets like the WSJ – it’s quite compelling. WSJ is stuck in the old print media assets and gets to subsidize the -70 M a year the NY Post earns. I smell victory. Maybe a page 3 girl.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    1. yes there are a couple of local rags eaking out some profit. I will revise my statement…the WSJ is the only major paper in the country making money

    2. Fine…Murdoch is changing the name…so what. I was talking about the article, which was not written by a WSJ employee, i.e. you can’t say Murdoch wrote it.

    3. same argument. The spinoff does not inavlidate what the article says.

    you are just throwing mud in the water and attacking the source (and not actually doing that well because the source is not the WSJ, they just printed it). speak to why he (the author) is actually wrong

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Developing countries and developed countries are not in the same boat. Because construction costs do not vary with GDP per capita (check the per-km cost of Beijing-Shanghai), the richer the country is the better it can afford to build this infrastructure.

    There’s a 25-year-old paper that argues something similar regarding cost escalations and ridership shortfalls for developing-country subways (link). (This paper was then used by Flyvbjerg to argue, wrongly, that the same is also true in developed countries.)

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