Kings Co. blocking high-speed rail soil work
- Published on 08/27/2013 - 12:49 pm
- Written by John Lindt
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors is being asked to approve a permit for California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) engineering contractors to do soil borings — geotechnical sampling — along county rights-of-way, mostly roads.
The work is already under way in Fresno County along the expected path of the proposed bullet train, part of the first 29-mile segment that appears closest to breaking ground.
A Tulare County staff report says that in Kern County, an application to do the same has been made from the Tulare/Kern county line south to near Bakersfield on what would be the third leg of the Central Valley 120 mile segment.
Kings County is a different story.
The memo continues that Kings County has refused to cooperate with such testing, saying the project does not comply with the county’s general plan.
Larry Spikes, Kings County's top administrator, confirmed the stance. Public Works Director Kevin McAlister says a letter was sent Aug. 16 to the CHSRA denying the request, referencing non-compliance of the project to the county’s general plan, citing safety, circulation and the county’s dairy element, he says.
CHSRA spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley acknowledges receipt of the letter and says “we are working with Kings County to see what our next step might be.”
But McAlister says since the county is not going to change its general plan, “I don’t know how we can proceed."
The applications are for so-called encroachment permits and are routinely approved. But the bullet train has strong opposition in Kings County, which has actually filed suit to stop the project.
Kings County sued CHSRA over any potential use of Prop 1A funds to construct the project and appears to have won an opening round with a Sacramento Superior Court judge’s ruling August 16. The practical outcome of that ruling has yet to be explained by the court pending another hearing.
The court ruling mandates that all environmental approvals have to be in place to expend the state bond funds that voters approved.
Doing the soil boring is part of the environmental review.
With the Fresno-to-Madera work underway, the CHSRA plans to do further geotechnical study on the next segment — from American Avenue south to the Tulare/Kern county line. The segment is more than 68 miles, mostly in Kings County. It includes a small sliver of Tulare County in its southwest corner near Allensworth.
While the Kings County portion of the soil sampling won’t be going forward for now, Tulare’s portion will. Tulare County Administrator Jean Rousseau said an agenda item before the Tulare County Board of Supervisors today will be “more informational” and expects no opposition.
The work is being done by engineering firms and a well digger only on public rights-of-way, so no private land owners will be affected.
Confirming the delay in the geotechnical investigations, a URS report dated Aug. 14 says the consultant is attempting to make some changes to get a permit from Kings County, but the delay has jeopardized the engineering firm's schedule — already delayed from other problems.
Back in Tulare County a second agreement would allow the CHSRA contractors to review plans and access county road documents to “minimize the disruption of the county road system and provide reimbursement to the County for their staff time.”
The Tulare County work would begin in late September.
A URS staff report cited earlier expects a Record of Decision in the Fresno-to-Kern section to be delayed until at least July 2014.
The Tulare County staff memo says the CHSRA deadline for all engineering documents is Spring 2014. "It is anticipated that, pending several project challenges, the first of three phases may begin construction in Summer or Fall 2014."
This appears to put back what has been the latest construction schedule estimate of early 2014 for the Fresno-Madera segment, with the CHSRA bogged down on several fronts. Until recently, CHSRA pronouncements had talked about ground breaking this summer.
If Kings County has its way, bogged the CHSRA will stay.
Another delay mentioned in the Aug. 14 URS report revolves around the CHSRA board making a decision on a preferred rail alignment either west or east of Hanford. A decision has been pending for months, but won’t be an agenda item at its next meeting Sept. 10, says Lisa Marie Alley.