Proposed California High Speed Rail Route Cuts Through Farms to Protect Birds

The California High Speed Rail Authority is considering a new route for its cross-state system that will literally split farms in two, to avoid a bird sanctuary.

Mike Monteiro, owner of the Lakeside Dairy in Hanford, which is just about three miles down the road from the sanctuary, said he learned of the plan only through a concerned neighbor who warned that draft rail routes would split his land apart.

“It’s amazing to me that they’ve moved this rail across this farmland without any input from me or any of my neighbors on the impact that it’s going to have on my dairy,” said Monteiro, who owns 7,000 cattle on his thousand-acre farm. He’s certain that his business will be dramatically affected.

“The fact that I have three dairy operations that are going to be half on one side and half on the other (of the tracks), the transfer here on a daily basis is just going to be absolutely miserable for us,” he said.

Earlier projected maps showed two different alignments going through the Tulare Lake Bed, a wetlands-like region that attracts 200 species of birds, including waterfowl, gulls and shorebirds. Parts of the 1,300-acre region, maintained by the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District (KDWCD), Corcoran Irrigation District and Central Valley Flood Protection Board provide a habitat for the birds and are recommended for protection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

When the conservation district heard about the proposed route, it informed the rail authority that such a move would significantly affect the area used by thousands of birds.

“If you’re interrupting that site, you’re impacting that particular species at stake,” said Sopac Mulholland, executive director of Sequoia Riverlands Trust, a conservation group that works in the region.

But farmers say they weren’t offered an opportunity to suggest a new rail route if their homes were affected.

“You’re saying that the species that are protected in that preserve are more important than us? And our property line can’t be sidestepped for us, but can for certain species that are deemed worthy but we're not?” said Anne Gaspar, another Hanford resident whose property is in the path of the railway.

The rail authority says they have a thorough environmental review process in which they must follow strict state and federal requirements.

“Over the last two years the authority has worked with communities in the Central Valley to gather feedback on the alternatives for the route, potential station locations and track design options,” Rachel Wall, the rail authority's press secretary, said in a written statement.

The rail authority will release the draft Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed route at the end of July. “This document will identify the potential impacts of each alternatives as well as proposed measures to mitigate those impacts,” Wall said.

Once the report is out, the Kings County residents, which include those in Hanford, will be given a 45-day public comment period. The several thousand-page report will outline the project level details and hopefully will bring answers to the concerned residents.

Gaspar’s husband, Steve, says he and other farmers are upset that the rail authority didn’t reached out to the community sooner, especially if revisions are made to the route.

“We need to be informed because this is going to displace, not even our homes, but our business, how we make a living, everything. And it would be very good if they come out talk to us answer the questions, and we would explain our situation here,” Gaspar said.

It is estimated that it will cost $45 billion to connect San Francisco to San Diego by high-speed rail. State and federal taxpayers will be footing most of the bill. Advocates of the high-speed rail argue that it will create thousands of jobs and will make California businesses more successful, thereby stimulating the economy.