Ag groups challenge Calif. rail plan

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Plans to cut across prime agriculture land with a high-speed train connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco have angered local producers, groups and communities for nearly a year, and now these agriculture supporters will have their chance to be heard as three environmental lawsuits challenging the plan will get their day in court.

This latest development comes on the heels of Governor Jerry Brown’s announcement to drop efforts to limit legal challenges to the controversial rail project, according to the Fresno Bee. One of the lawsuits also scored a minor victory after the presiding judge was disqualified from the case on grounds that he allegedly could not remain impartial.

"We want our case to have its day in court.“ Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, told Fresno Bee reporters. "We're not opponents of high-speed rail, but we are really disappointed with the process."

The Madera County Farm Bureau is joined by the Merced County Farm Bureau, Madera County, the Chowchilla Water District, Preserve Our Heritage and the Fagundes farming family in Madera and Merced counties in its suit against the rail authority. The Farm Bureau’s case is one of three similar lawsuits filed to derail the proposal. The two other lawsuits were filed by the city of Chowchilla, Calif., and owners of properties in the path of the proposed plans in Madera and Fresno counties.

Each suit claims that the rail authority approved the route before fully addressing concerns raised in a nearly 33,000-page report on the environmental impact for the Merced-Fresno section of the line. Each suit has also requested an injunction to prevent the project from being built.

"It is very appropriate that everyone should have access to these [legal] protections, that agriculture can use them just like fairy shrimp or vernal pools or wetlands," Raudabaugh said. "We'd like to see our rights respected just like any other limited resource."

The rail plan was announced last year, and would cut commuter travel time from Los Angeles to San Francisco by more than half. However, local dairy producers immediately raised their concerns, including lost land, unrecoverable income, increases to feed and travel costs due to longer, alternative routes and possible herd health issues linked directly to the train itself. Read more here.

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