High-speed train set to derail dairy farm

High-speed train set to derail dairy farmAn effort is under way in California to build a high-speed train to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, cutting a six-hour-plus car ride down to two hours and 40 minutes.

The problem is the proposed track cuts through the prime agriculture land, taking land out of production and displacing many homes and farms.

Dennis Areias, a dairy farmer from Los Banos, Calif., is very concerned. If it goes ahead as planned, Areias faces a devastating blow to his family's operation. The planned route would take out one dairy that he rents for $3,000 per month, plus a house that he would no longer be able to rent. The route divides his dry lot operation in half where the farm raises its heifers and bull calves. It also eliminates his hay storage and takes out half of his current feed storage area for the home dairy. The main dairy will also be cut off from the main road, making it landlocked unless a frontage road is built.

Cutting the dairy off from all main roads is a problem for milk truck delivery and emergency personnel, but it also means that instead of traveling one-half mile to his crop ground, Areias will now have to travel seven miles round-trip. Currently, at harvest time, Areias has no cost to haul his feed in from the fields because the distance is less than one mile. The added distance will increase Areias" feed cost by 40 cents per mile on 5,000 tons of feed, a cost of $14,000 each year.

The increased travel distance to the fields will also require the use of a trail vehicle when equipment is moved, another added expense.

Stray voltage is also a concern to Areias. The high-speed rail train is electric and Areias worries that his herd will suffer.

"I wonder how much vibration and noise will a train going by at 220 miles per hour make and how will my cows react," he wonders.

Areias says he has attended several informational meetings to ask questions. "The only response I get to my questions is ‘put it in the suggestion box." It gets my attention when I attend an informational meeting and there are no answers for landowners" questions," he says.

There is confusion as to how much compensation affected farmers will receive. "I was told at one meeting that the dairy I rent out would be rebuilt for me. Then, later in the same meeting, I was told they would relocate me," he says.

Areias isn't alone in his concerns. Lakeside Dairy in Hanford, Calif., is looking at three of its locations being cut in half. A key animal-rendering facility in the valley would also be lost in Kings County.

A report from the Los Banos Enterprise, Areias" local newspaper, recently quoted a representative for the high-speed rail project that said while they understand land owners" concerns, it does not mean the rail authority will change the route.

California voters approved the project in 2008 when they passed a $9.95 billion bond to begin construction. But, news reports have indicated that analysts believe the budget to build the high-speed train to be off by tens of billions of dollars. The construction budget is projected to be $45 billion, but the actual price could rise above $200 billion.

Rail authorities are supposed to release a draft Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement on its proposed route in July.

The high-speed train is set to break ground in 2012. The first leg of the train will be built between Fresno and Bakersfield. Eventually, the 800-mile track will connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. Proponents of the train believe that it will create thousands of jobs and will stimulate the economy.

Click here to watch Dennis Areias discuss the damage the proprosed California high-speed train will do to his dairy farm.

Read a letter from the California High-Speed Rail Authority.