CA HSR Litigation: One Down, Two to Go

The California High Speed Rail Authority settled its CEQA lawsuit with the City of Chowchilla, the first of three that need to be dealt with in the Merced to Fresno section in the Central Valley where construction of the project will initially begin

2 minute read

February 1, 2013, 9:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Tim Sheehan explains some of the details and significance of the legal settlement with the City of Chowchilla in settling this California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit.  It is a key location in the train routing as it marks the divergence from the Central Valley 'backbone' of the San Francisco to Los Angeles project to the westward route through the controversial Pacheco Pass to the South Bay city of Gilroy, just south of San Jose. Many had argued this was the wrong route to the Bay Area, preferring the Altamont Pass to the East Bay to the north.

The city is on the north end of the Merced - Fresno section (the 800-mile project is divided into ten sections), the first section where track will be laid.  It is located just south of Merced. Though not marked on the HSRA (JPG) map - it is called the Chowchilla Wye as the main branch goes west to Gilroy, and the other line continues north to Sacramento (forming a 'Y').  

Chowchilla's lawsuit argued that the environmental impact report for the Merced-Fresno rail section failed to address "the impacts of splitting the city of Chowchilla in half" by routing the high-speed tracks along Highway 99.  In the settlement documents, the rail authority recognizes Chowchilla's fears about two specific routes...

As many as 14 alternatives had been under consideration for the Chowchilla connection on the Merced-Fresno section of the route. Now, only six remain in contention, rail officials said last week.

However, the city can sue again if they don't like the alignment the High Speed Rail Authority ultimately picks - in which case they forfeit the settlement which includes "$300,000 of Chowchilla's legal fees associated with the lawsuit once the planning for the route around the area is done."

The two remaining lawsuits in this section are:
  • By the Madera and Merced county farm bureaus, Madera County and property owners in Madera and Merced.
  • By companies that own property along the rail route in Fresno and Madera counties.

All three plaintiffs had been dealt a significant legal setback when their injunction to stop work was denied as Sheehan noted in his Nov. 17 article in the Huffington Post.

In addition, the Authority is being sued by property owners in Kings County in the section to the south, Fresno - Bakersfield, that will be the next to be constructed. Unlike the above lawsuits based on the California Environmental Quality Act, "they allege that the entire project violates the terms of Proposition 1A, the high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 in The Fresno Bee

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