Editor's note: The following article was written by Christine Souza, an assistant editor for Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper for California agriculture that is available here.
Now that a judge has denied a request to halt work on the massive California high-speed rail project, the state agency responsible for construction may approach Central Valley landowners to seek permission to survey land as a first step in the acquisition process.
Madera County Farm Bureau Executive Director Anja Raudabaugh said she has heard from about 35 farm landowners in the county who have received right-of-entry request letters from the California High Speed Rail Authority. The letters are being sent to landowners in the path of the initial construction segment—known as Construction Package 1, from south of Madera to Fresno—where the agency intends to break ground first.
"The letters are asking specifically to do archeological, cultural and biological surveys. The authority wants to investigate whether the properties pose a risk for sensitive habitat, species or other cultural or archeological issues that may stop or slow down construction," Raudabaugh said. "The entry letter asks the property owner to sign the letter that the authority has prepared, allowing access onto the property to do these surveys."
Typically, following surveys, the state would attempt to negotiate a voluntary sale with landowners whose land is needed for right of way. If the parties cannot agree, the state would then proceed with condemnation, during which a court would decide the question of just compensation, including for relocation expenses and other losses.
For efficiency's sake, observers said, eminent domain and temporary entry permit proceedings for high-speed rail would likely be consolidated into one or more actions. As currently planned, issues relating to road crossings, severed parcels and disruptions to irrigation and drainage systems would be addressed as part of the authority's acquisition process.
The authority got the green light to move forward with its pre-construction plans after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley denied a request for a preliminary injunction sought by petitioners that included county Farm Bureaus in Madera and Merced counties. The injunction request was a preliminary motion in a California Environmental Quality Act case against the authority, brought on the grounds that the agency's environmental review is "deficient" and "harmful" to farmers and ranchers. The county Farm Bureaus are joined in the suit against the California High Speed Rail Authority by the county of Madera, Preserve Our Heritage, Fagundes Brothers and the Chowchilla Water District.