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California High Speed Rail still needs to acquire land in Central Valley

January 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The California High Speed Rail Authority expects to break ground this July for the project's first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley. But a little more than five months out, not a single parcel of land has been acquired.

"We don't need everything in place by July," said Jeff Morales, CEO of the rail authority.

Morales says that'll start happening over the next few weeks and the state will have enough, not all the acres necessary to get the project shovel-ready.

"We can't start until we have all of our environmental approvals in place and then there are several governmental checks that we have to go through before we can start acquiring the property," said Morales.

The project, though, is at risk for yet another delay already having pushed groundbreaking from last fall to this summer. The concern about delays, of course, is they're expensive. Delays cost more and could leave the state without enough money to finish the first segment.

If the state doesn't meet certain timelines, the federal government could pull more than $3 billion in funding and farm land values are booming in the Central Valley, averaging $28,000 an acre while the rail authority's budget forecasted $8,000 an acre.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) has been a big critic of the $68-billion bullet train.

"The real problem is going to be to the actual process for acquiring land, and unless there's some serious changes under way for how the state can take land from individuals, then I think we've already got a problem," said Harkey.

And that's what got Central Valley farmers concerned. Some don't want to sell and will require the state to exercise the last resort of eminent domain.

"My dad started my farm coming out of WWII. I live on my farm. My son lives on the farm. It's not only our heritage, but it's also our future," said Kole Uptown, a Central Valley farmer.

Morales insists a lot of negotiations with farmers have taken place, and with the execution of deals ready to go, a July groundbreaking is still on track.

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