Monday, January 03, 2011

Rural Californians worry about impact of high-speed rail on farm land

The stimulus package plan to bring high-speed railroads to the U.S. is generally considered to have the most impact on the urban areas they would connect. Some rural Californians say the state's high-speed rail project will have a negative impact on valuable farm land. The area just south of Madera, Calif., "is not much to look at: miles of farmland, a collection of dingy fast food outlets and a gold rush ghost called Borden, where all that remains is a tiny cemetery devoted to long dead Chinese workers," Jesse McKinley of The New York Times reports. "But sometime soon, this flat-on-flat expanse — about 150 miles southeast of San Francisco — may well be home to a first-in-the-nation destination as the initial northern terminus of California’s ambitious high-speed rail network."

The project has generated predictable political opposition from Republicans in the state, but "in the Central Valley, where huge, decades-old government irrigation projects have helped turned California into an agricultural powerhouse, farmers have grumbled about the rail project gobbling up valuable farm land," McKinley writes. Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau, explained, "We’re of the belief that the productive farmland is an environmental and societal benefit, and we ought to be doing whatever we can to keep that land productive. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever."

"It’s not about today; it’s about the future," Roelof van Ark, the chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told McKinley. "I hope that Mr. Cardoza and others will see the light." Federal and state authorities have committed $5.5 billion to the first leg of the project, which will connect Bakersfield with the unincorporated area south of Madera. Critics have described the initial route as "the train to nowhere." Ronald W. Haggard,  the city manager of Corcoran, which is south of Madera, worries the big money concerns will dwarf his small town worries. "When they talk about ‘the train to nowhere,’ we’re not nowhere," Hoggard told McKinley. "We’re Mayberry." (Read more)

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