One by one, community leaders, business owners and farmers stepped up to the mic to express their support and opposition to high speed rail. "Every route being considered directly impacts our dairies, orchards, homes and farm grounds," said one farmer from Madera County.
The High Speed Rail Authority board heard public comments Wednesday before it approves the Environmental Impact Report on the train's section from Merced to Fresno. The report recommends a "Hybrid" alternative route that would lessen the impact to existing property. "It's a devastating route to agriculture in our area," said Kole Upton.
Upton's farm in Merced County would be affected by the $68 billion dollar project and is not buying the report. "It goes through diagonally through farmland and it cuts up the water system like canals, deep-well pumps and our ability to service our farms," said Upton.
But not everyone sees it that way. If the hybrid route is chosen, T.J. Cox's business in West Central Fresno will be wiped out as a portion of Highway 99 is moved west to make room for the rail tracks on Golden State Boulevard. Cox says the rail's economic benefit to the Valley far outweighs the negative impact to his business. "Sure there's going to be a personal affect but as long as we're compensated fairly for whatever affects us, we can take that money and redeploy it and invest it in some other place," said Cox.
"It's very frustrating to many people here in the Valley because they don't know what's going to happen. They don't know what it's going to mean. They don't know how many losses that they would suffer," said Dan Richard, chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority.
Rail officials say once the report is certified, they will be able to talk about compensation to those businesses impacted by the bullet train. The board is expected to vote on a decision Thursday.