Construction of the Merced to Fresno Section of the California High Speed Train Ready to Move Forward After CEQA Suits Settled

On April 18, 2013, Judge Timothy Frawley of the Sacramento Superior Court approved a stipulated judgment resulting in the dismissal of the remaining petition challenging the initial Merced to Fresno section of California’s proposed high-speed train system (HST). The petitioners—Merced County Farm Bureau, Madera County Farm Bureau, Chowchilla Water District, Preserve Our Heritage, and individual agricultural landowners—and the California High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) entered into a settlement agreement, which provides for additional mitigation for agricultural land impacts from the construction of the Merced to Fresno section of the HST in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit. James Moose, Sabrina Teller, and Chris Stiles of Remy Moose Manley, LLP supported the California Attorney General’s Office in representing the HSRA in a set of consolidated lawsuits challenging the EIR prepared for the Merced to Fresno section.

On May 3, 2012, the HSRA certified the Final EIR/EIS for the Merced to Fresno section of the proposed HST. The Merced to Fresno section of the planned 800-mile system is roughly 65 miles long through the northern San Joaquin Valley, with portions along and adjacent to the existing UPRR and BNSF tracks. The project approvals drew three CEQA lawsuits in June 2012. The City of Chowchilla and a group of Valley landowners dismissed their two suits earlier this year. In November 2012, Judge Frawley denied the Farm Bureau petitioners’ motion for preliminary injunction to halt HSRA activities in furtherance of the construction of the Merced to Fresno section. A hearing on the merits of the petition was to be held on April 19, 2013.

In the settlement, the HSRA agreed to   a number of commitments focused on agricultural land mitigation, communications with agricultural landowners during the right of way process, and mitigation for impacts to Chowchilla Water District’s facilities.. Per the terms of the stipulated judgment, the court retains jurisdiction over the parties to enforce the agreement.

With this recent settlement there are currently no legal impediments for the HSRA to move forward with the construction of the Merced to Fresno section of the HST, which is expected to start in the summer of 2013. [Jeannie Lee]