Farmers and residents living along Henry Miller Road voiced frustration and anger this week with the state’s high-speed rail project, which plans to cut through and bisect private property along the road.
The California High Speed Rail Authority held an invitation-only meeting with about 70 affected property owners and family members Tuesday at the Los Banos Community Center.
The main goal was to orient the property owners on the permit-to-enter process for the rail authority can conduct non-invasive environmental studies, and if needed, a geotechnical study that would involve drilling.
Defiant property owners bombarded the rail authority staff with questions regarding the railway’s affects on homes, wells, farming, business, access roads and the lack of specified ways will be mitigated.
Many weren’t satisfied with the rail authority staff’s answers, which was unless there is a major legal or environmental hurdle, the route will remain as planned.
According to plans, the railway portion that connects San Jose to Merced and the Interstate 99 corridor travels through the northern part of the Los Banos area.
Heading east from Santa Nella, the railway travels slightly south to Henry Miller Road, where it crosses and runs along the south end.
In order to build the route through the area, the rail authority needs to purchase all or part of properties that lie directly along the route. That includes farms, homes and wildlife refuges on private property.
Without clear indications about how the rail authority will mitigate their concerns, many residents and farmers said Tuesday they will defy the rail authority’s request for permits to enter.
“Any of you people know of the three tomato canneries that would be (near the railway’s path),” one property owner asked, pointing to Chris Rufer, the owner of Morning Star Company. “You split him right in half. I hope that doesn’t happen.”
Rufer, who started off the meeting sounding hopelessness at the rail authority’s ability to listen to property owners’ concerns, said he doesn’t have confidence in the project moving forward.
Other property owners brought up concerns about the railway encroaching upon wells, property purchase prices, proximity to an elementary school, and impact on vernal pools.
The first part of the rail authority’s presentation Tuesday involved giving an overview on the whole $64 billion project.
Regional program director for the San Jose to Merced line, Gary Kennerley, and other officials told property owners that while other parts of the line have different options, the Henry Miller Road segment is the only option in current plans.
They also said the goal was to help mitigate issues caused by the high-speed rail as much as the railway plans will allow.
“We would like to reduce the impact on you as much as possible,” said Janet Kan, a member of the engineering team of the high speed rail project.