California farmers aren't on board with high-speed rail plan

Fresno BeeJanuary 12, 2011 

California's ambitious plan for high-speed trains is drawing sharp criticism from San Joaquin Valley farmers who fear the project would carve their property into useless pieces, disrupt their work and drive down land values.

Others accuse the California High-Speed Rail Authority — the agency tasked with building the 800-mile system over the next decade — of ignoring their concerns and steering the proposed rail line into the countryside as the path of least resistance.

"I have been able to deal with immigration officials, the United Farm Workers union and Congress," said Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League. "But these guys (at the rail authority) don't want to talk with us. Their attitude is, 'We are going to put this through and we don't really care about these farmers.' "

Not so, said Jeff Barker, the authority's deputy executive director.

"Agriculture is absolutely being listened to, and it will factor into the decisions we're making," Barker said. "You can't build a piece of infrastructure like this without affecting agricultural land, and we want to work with agriculture to mitigate those effects."

If the project is built as planned, about 170 miles of dedicated high-speed tracks would carry passengers between Merced and Bakersfield at speeds of up to 220 mph across some of the world's most fertile farmland.

That worries not only farmers whose land is likely in the path of the tracks, but also growers who have property on either side of the route.

"I'm a family farmer, and I want to stay a family farmer," said Brad Johns, a tomato farmer north of Hanford who fears the rail line would slice through his farmland "and right through the front door of my house."

"But I am acquiescing to reality," Johns said. "This (train) is coming ... and I just have to learn to live with a new neighbor."

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