The California High-Speed Rail Authority will provide $4 million for an agriculture preservation fund to resolve claims that part of its $86 billion bullet train project could violate state environment law.
The accord resolves a lawsuit challenging the agency’s approval of environmental impact reports for a section of the planned railway that will cut though farmland in two counties of central California. The authority will also pay about $1 million in attorneys fees to county farm bureaus and other groups that sued, according to documents filed in state court in Sacramento.
Farmland will be protected in the state’s Central Valley and local farm groups will have a say in agricultural mitigation, according to the settlement. A state judge approved the agreement yesterday, ahead of a court hearing that had been set for today on the merits of the lawsuit.
“This settlement clears the way for the Authority to move forward with construction of the first high-speed rail system in the nation and shows we can build high-speed rail while preserving precious resources,” Dan Richard, chairman of the authority’s board, said in a statement.
Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, the lead plaintiff in the case, said the settlement provides significant protection for landowners.
“We’re satisfied,” she said by phone.
California is working to lay tracks for trains running as fast as 220 miles (354 kilometers) an hour, after Congress cut off 2012 funds for such projects. Construction on the system, to link San Francisco with Los Angeles, is to begin with a 130-mile stretch of rail in the Central Valley.
The initial route will run from Merced, about 120 miles south of Sacramento to the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles.
Three other lawsuits challenging the project have been settled, the agency said in a statement. Others are still pending, Raudabaugh said.
The case is County of Madera v. California High-Speed Rail Authority, 34-2012-80001165, Sacramento County Superior Court.