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SJ Valley: The new (high speed rail) dust bowl

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POSTED August 27, 2012 10:58 p.m.

High speed rail, we are told, will not pollute our air.

And if you believe that, you’d also believe folks in Bel Air, Malibu, Woodside, Marin County, Pacific Heights, and any other super wealthy enclave in California would be downright giddy to have high speed rail trains swishing through their neighborhoods at 220 mph.

Construction of the high speed rail line through the San Joaquin Valley has all the ingredients for a modern-day remake of Sherman’s March to the Sea. It will lay waste to farms, communities, wipe out resources, slice through Bakersfield High, create tons of air pollution and effectively change the way of life for hundreds of thousands of people and not in a positive way.

In environmental documents, the high speed rail folks concede they will make air quality worse in the SJ Valley between 2013 and 2022. That’s because construction will generate a lot of greenhouse gases and kick up lots of dust on a scale never seen before right in the heart of the worst federal air quality attainment region in the country.

No worries, the high speed folks say. The pollution they generate will be so great that they will give the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District money to cover the cost to eliminate air pollution at other sources in exchange for their dirty work.

Money - as small farmers and small businesses being clobbered by draconian air quality regulations in the SJ Valley will soon discover - solves everything. It is no problem apparently as long as taxpayers are footing the bill on both sides of the equation.

High speed rail construction could push the valley over the pollution caps that trigger state and federal sanctions. Those sanctions range from surcharges on the DMV vehicle renewals for valley residents from Stockton to Bakersfield to an automatic cut-off of federal highway funds. Then there is the question of what happens after construction is done.

Two words: Wind and dust.

It might interest you to know the Xpress West folks - the planned high speed rail in the Mojave Desert - have at least conceded winds and dust could create some problems. Of course, they’re only concerned about their multi-billion dollar rail system.

But the high speed rail that expects people, from Los Angeles to drive and hour or so to the edge of the high desert, park their cars and then hop aboard a bullet train to Vegas might pose problems for the Mojave environment.

High speed rail in Europe and Asia has never operated through topography and environmental conditions as there are in the Mojave and San Joaquin Valley.

They may go through farm regions but not one like the SJ Valley. The valley was once part of a great inland sea that left behind rich soil deposits with an abundance of sandy loam.

It is the same sandy loam that - with the aid of wind - causes fierce dust storms. A few years back one such dust storm created a massive chain reaction on Interstate 5 killing a number of people and injuring dozens.

No one among the high speed folks seems too concerned that a solid object zooming through the valley during a wind storm might actually make things worse.

And what about dust control issues for those unfortunate enough to have a house fairly close to the 220 mph trains zooming through valley farmland? Winds caused by 220 mph movements don’t just dissipate in a few feet.

There are also concerns expressed by Kern County. Among them is high speed rail-whipped wind causing pesticides applied to crops to drift to places they weren’t intended to go such as water sources.

Dust issues and air quality can bog down farmers and private sector developers for years trying to maneuver through the approval process gauntlet. That apparently isn’t an issue for high speed rail.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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