High-Speed Rail|Lawsuit Settled

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – California’s High-Speed Rail Authority settled an environmental lawsuit from Southern California developer that challenged the Fresno-Bakersfield segment of the bullet-train route.
     Coffee-Brimhall LLC owns land in east central Bakersfield that it plans to develop into Bakersfield Commons, which will include retail space, offices, homes and parks.
     The developer sued the rail authority in June 2014, claiming the environmental certification of the planned 114 miles of new tracks, tunnels, bridges and stations from Fresno to Bakersfield violated the California Environmental Quality Act.
     The segment “would destroy prime farmland and historic resources, would cause severe noise vibration impacts on residences and businesses adjacent to the tracks, would increase traffic that it is intended to reduce, and would conflict with local land use plans,” Coffee-Brimhall said in its Superior Court lawsuit.
     The proposed alignment would run directly through Bakersfield Commons, which Coffee-Brimhall said would significantly damage its development plans.
     “The Authority’s environmental impact report for the segment fails to disclose and mitigate adequately the significant impacts that the project will have on Bakersfield Commons,” according to the now-dismissed complaint.
     In the settlement announced Tuesday, the rail authority agreed to analyze and “consider in good faith” routes that do not traverse the developer’s property in a future environmental document that will include the already approved route.
     Until that happens, the authority “will not approve the Bakersfield Hybrid Alignment or any other alignment the permanent footprint of which traverses or comes within one-half mile” of the Bakersfield Commons property, or approve any contracts for its final design and construction, according to the settlement.
     For its part, Coffee-Brimhall will not challenge the project until a final route has been selected. The firm acknowledged that the final choice of the route through Bakersfield may require the approval of several federal agencies, over which the rail authority has no control.
     This is the second of seven lawsuits challenging the project’s Fresno-to-Bakersfield environmental review that the rail authority has settled.
     In December, Bakersfield agreed to drop its lawsuit after the rail authority agreed to consider alternative routes through the city, and a new station location.
     The second settlement “is important in demonstrating the Authority’s commitment to continue working with stakeholders to resolve issues and move California’s high-speed rail program forward,” said Jeff Morales, CEO of the rail authority.
     Five other CEQA lawsuits filed in 2014 in Superior Court are pending against the rail authority over the Fresno-Bakersfield route. Those plaintiffs include Dignity Health, which operates a hospital in Bakersfield; the First Free Will Baptist Church in Bakersfield; Kern County; the city of Shafter; and Kings County, the Kings County Farm Bureau and Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability.

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