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Kings County wins $10M in reimbursements for HSR

Kings County wins $10M in reimbursements for HSR

California State Rail Authority agrees to give $10 million to Kings County for staff time, relocation of Fire Station No. 4, general plan updates for high speed rail

By John Lindt
Sierra 2 the Sea News Service

KINGS COUNTY – High speed rail as it was envisioned in California is all but gone since Governor Gavin Newsom said so early in his governorship. Now Central Valley governments are looking for their pound of flesh as payment for their troubles to prepare for it.

Last week Kings County – the most stubborn opponent of the controversial high speed train project – decided to throw in the towel after a decade long battle. No track for the bullet train in Kings County has been laid but most of the 65 mile right-of-way has been bought and a number of bridges are near completion as of summer 2019. We may never know if the county’s strategy was to delay till political support waned but one could argue that after 10 years of protracted litigation, they may have won that battle. The scope of the project has now been pared down and its future remains questionable.

Kings City has agreed to settle lawsuits with the California High Speed Rail Authority over a series of legal actions brought by the county over the past decade. The supervisors approved a settlement agreement Aug. 13 in a 5 to 0 vote.

The settlement includes Kings County lawsuits against the certification of the Fresno to Bakersfield Section Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, the interpretation and constitutionality of AB 1889, and several CPUC applications filed by the Authority over the design of vehicle overpasses in the county.

County to get $10 million

In the agreement the state rail Authority has agreed to give “ten million dollars to the County for reimbursement of staff time, the relocation of Fire Station No. 4, and for general plan updates.” Also “one million dollars to the City of Corcoran in mitigation funds for aesthetic improvements.” In turn the county agrees to dismiss the County’s suits and administrative challenges.

The two sides have been talking since last summer and in February Kings Supervisor Doug Verboon said they were close to an agreement. ”It’s in the hands of the lawyers “ he told the Sierra 2 the Sea News Service. In June the Los Angeles Times also reported that a cease fire was near. Both sides had spent millions to do battle, delaying the project significantly. Still construction has edged forward.

That battle spread to the California Public Utilities Commission in 2018 in a dispute over the safety of the overpass design in Kings County. The overpasses allow the rail to run at grade underneath as vehicle traffic crosses overhead at a number of key Kings County intersections. After several PUC hearings, by February 2019 the matter was taken off the PUC calendar due to “pending settlement” according to PUC transcripts.

Last month county Public Works Director Kevin McAlister said the overpasses under construction now did not meet the design changes the county had been seeking – making them wider than HSR had planned for example. California High Speed Rail Authority has insisted the designs were safe and no different than others built in neighboring counties. Some 36 grade separations are being built in the Central Valley segment in Fresno Kings and Tulare counties.

Last month the High-Speed Rail Authority highlighted construction of several of the overpasses in Kings County including Kent Ave, south of Hanford putting an exclamation point on the fact that the design would not be changed.

Still to be sorted out are plans for the construction of a Tulare County/Hanford station near the intersection of highways 43 and 198. The agreement says the two sides continue to work on some other issues.

Kings officials are concerned what happens if Amtrak were to be relocated to the planned station stop leaving the Downtown Hanford station surplus. The east of Hanford rail stop site was chosen by CHSRA when Hanford city officials made it clear they did not want the bullet train to run through town.

Relocating the high speed rail tracks away from the current route in turn angered farmers over the land taking process, prompting Kings County, in support of the farmers, to do all they could to stop the project including multiple lawsuits and a policy of non-cooperation. Lawsuits were launched once state financing was assured after Proposition 1A was approved by the state’s voters in 2008. Kings lost several lawsuits over that vote. Federal funding was approved a year later. Now President Trump wants to revoke what is left of those federal funds and the state has vowed to fight that in court.

It is now considered likely that the Central Valley HSR segment will be completed connecting Bakersfield with Merced and connecting a speedier version of Amtrak to the Bay Area but not one that travels 220 mph.

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