Some Central Valley Farmers Welcome High Speed Rail
Tim Sheehan has a good article in the Fresno Bee on farmer attitudes toward high speed rail in Madera County. And while he includes the requisite quotes from farmers convinced that high speed rail will destroy their way of life, he also included this:
Juan Ureña, who owns 32 acres along the BNSF tracks at Road 27, east of Madera, said he’ll lose about 2 acres of land to the high-speed train line.
But far from despairing, he’s looking forward to the project, even though a map he pointed to shows the tracks passing not far from the house he built six years ago.
Instead, he’s excited about a planned Road 27 overpass over both the high-speed line and the BNSF tracks. “Once they put in that overpass, the freight trains won’t have to honk their horns,” he said. “That’s noisy, and it drives the dogs nuts.”
Unlike other landowners who vow to force the rail agency to go to court for their land, “I’m going to work with them,” Ureña said, “but I want to make sure I’m fairly compensated.”
Those are reasonable concerns on Ureña’s part. He and all other farmers, whether they support HSR or not, deserve to be fairly compensated. But it is good to see the supporters getting their space in the news reports. Many of them exist in the Central Valley, from the cities to the farms. And while the anti-HSR forces claim to represent everyone in the Valley, the truth is that they don’t. Opinions are much more diverse than the opponents will concede.
Other farmers have raised concerns that they are in limbo:
Antoni Ares, whose 3-acre parcel sits just west of where the rail line will skirt the western edge of Madera, not far from the existing BNSF Railway freight tracks, was getting frustrated trying to find his property listing as he sorted through a maze of maps laid out on tables.
He said he’s also been annoyed by a lack of communication from the rail agency.
“They called once last year to see if they could check the property and check the soil, but they never called back,” Ares said. “Same thing this year, they called once and never called back. I don’t know what to do.”
He’s bothered by the uncertainty of whether the agency will need any of his property for the right of way. “I would like to keep my property, but my wife is worried about how close it will be — right next to my window, maybe?”
That’s a reasonable point to make. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for immediate answers to be given. The specific route for the project in Madera County has only recently been finalized, so there wasn’t any certainty that his land would be needed. Nor was there certainty, at least not until July, that the state legislature would release the funds needed to begin construction. Until a route was finalized and funding approved, property acquisition was only in the realm of the theoretical. Which sucks for farmers like Ares, but it’s hard to see how any other outcome was possible, at least until recently.
The California High Speed Rail Authority’s outreach meetings are an effort to address those concerns and deepen those contacts, now that a route and funding are in place. Still, opponents will charge that it isn’t enough, just as they always do. And they’re looking for more opportunities to go to court to fight the project, with the next round of lawsuits likely to stem from disputes over eminent domain purchase prices.
It is good to see that the farmers who do support high speed rail are being publicly acknowledged. The concerns that some farmers have raised about the project are dramatically overstated, as this analysis showed. Perhaps as the property acquisition process and final design proceeds, more people will see that truth. Or so we can hope.