High speed rail CEO hears concerns of valley farmers

FRESNO, Calif.

The Central Valley is home to the country's most fertile farmland. Much of it sits in rural areas where few people live. But a map showed how the path of the high speed rail's Madera to Corcoran run cuts through prime ag land.

At a Madera County Farm Bureau event high speed rail CEO Roelof Van Ark heard the concerns of local farmers like Tom Rogers.

Rogers is farm bureau president. He said, "I just think it's the disruption of the farms. There are gonna be some farmers, some ranches that will split and that's very difficult. Farming is difficult enough now, if you want to cut the ranch in half it just makes life much more difficult."

Van Ark responded to criticism from farmers and landowners who say project leaders have done a poor job of communicating. He explained, "Our little agency's very tiny. We've had budget and funding problems to get staff in the agency but we have to do a better job in particular with the ag community."

Van Ark said he expected to meet soon with valley ag leaders.

Congressman Jeff Denham believes transportation funds would be better spent on highway 99 instead of the high speed rail project. Denham said, "Lack of a plan I think we need to de-fund it completely until they're able to put it into place."

But Van Ark said high speed rail was needed to help transport the state's growing population. "I think we should see the combined needs. That means what happens when you build the high-speed rail system, the demands on the 99 or the I-5 for that matter or other corridors will reduce as well."

Many tout high speed rail for the jobs it would bring to the valley.

A transportation session earlier this week in Fresno drew dozens of demonstrators on opposing sides of the high speed rail issue. That was not the case though today in Madera.

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