"The settlement actually increases the amount of mitigation the authority is going to be required to provide to property owners and towards agricultural impacts," said Anja Raudabaugh, Madera County Farm Bureau executive director. "It also provides for appropriate severance damages towards properties affected by the alignment of the high-speed train."
Merced County Farm Bureau President Jean Okuye said the agreement "will not only reflect the section from Merced County south to Fresno but for all future routes in Merced County under consideration." Specifically, this would include the proposed "Wye Section" and a future section from Merced to Sacramento.
For the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section of the $68 billion high-speed rail project, authority engineers recommended earlier this month a route that travels along the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railway and bypasses the city of Hanford to the west, around Corcoran, Wasco and Shafter. The other main alternative bypasses Hanford to the east, although there are at least a dozen other alignment alternatives and variations. Final environmental documents for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section are expected to be released soon.
That section of the project also prompted a legal challenge, filed by plaintiffs in Kings County and due to be heard May 31 in Sacramento County Superior Court. The suit challenges the project's funding plan and consistency with Proposition 1-A, the statewide high-speed rail initiative approved in 2008.
"The immediate settlement applies in Merced and Madera counties only," California Farm Bureau Federation environmental policy analyst Justin Fredrickson said. "However, it seems that the way the settlement addresses some of the issues of agricultural mitigation, agricultural impacts, severed parcels, landowner participation and the land acquisition process, for example, could suggest a partial roadmap for better addressing impacts to agricultural lands elsewhere in the state."
Information about land acquisition and eminent domain processes may be found on the CFBF website at www.cfbf.com/issues/landuse/eminentdomain/.