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City of Wasco speaks of challenges High Speed Rail is posing to their community

Posted at 4:59 PM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-14 18:04:25-04

WASCO, Calif. — The city of Wasco is speaking out about challenges they feel the California High-Speed Rail project is posing to their community. 23ABC’s Austin Westfall reported on what city officials said, as well as how the rail authority is responded.

The California High-Speed Rail project has created 600 jobs for Kern County, but there is a list of problems that Wasco city officials have with the project, and it doesn't end with the city. A local waste management company said the project has complicated business for the past few years.

“Our growth is hinged on high-speed rail and what they’re gonna do and what their effect is going to be on our business,” said Jeff Martin, manager of American Refuse.

American Refuse is a waste company in Wasco. Martin said the California High-Speed Rail Authority will eventually be built close to his business.

Unlike the massive construction seen down the road from American Refuse, the section of rail close to his Martin's business has not been built yet. It has been in the planning stages for four years, which has been expensive for his company.

“We’ve had to hire our own team of attorneys and engineers to make sure that we can continue to do business and work around what their plans are and how we can adjust in the future,” continued Martin.

According to Martin, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has gone back and forth on where exactly the track will run. At times, the authority planned on displacing Martin’s entire business, other times, displacing some of it. The current plan, he said, will displace none of it, and he’s hopeful it will stay that way.

Martin is not alone in his concern over the high-speed rail. The city of Wasco released an extensive statement this week citing a number of challenges. Perhaps one of the largest having to do with a local labor housing complex that had to be abandoned due to noise concerns from the rail. The complex must now be demolished because of asbestos concerns. According to Wasco city officials that will cost about $5 to $6 million.

Alex Garcia, a city of Wasco Council member said: “We, as a small city, simply can’t afford that cost.”

And while the rail authority provided $10 million in funding to create a new housing development for Wasco, the city also wants them to pay for the demolition of the old complex as well. The authority rejected that idea.

“Part of our agreement was to give that funding to the city of Wasco for the planning, for the relocation, and then the construction," said Toni Tinoco of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "It did not involve the actual demolition and disposition of the old housing development.”

Officials with the rail authority said to their knowledge, the responsibility fell on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Agriculture to pay for the demolition.

Another problem arising from the abandoned former housing complex is on J Street. Homeless people are reportedly staying in the units, causing problems.

Martin said items are regularly stolen from his business, with him and his crew often have to go to the abandoned units for retrieval.

“You go to start up a truck and there’s no batteries in it. That really puts a damper on things at 4 in the morning,” said Martin.

Councilmember Garcia said he hopes the city and the rail authority can soon come to terms with how to move forward with the rail while having as small of an impact on the community as possible.

“We tried to work with them so that we could make the best out of the inevitable but it just seems like they want to railroad us,” said Garcia.

The city of Wasco also takes issue that when the high-speed rail comes, it might discontinue the Amtrak service running through the city. The rail authority said there have been talks with Amtrak, but that decision would ultimately be Amtrak’s.

Amtrak did not choose to comment for this story.

To see the entire statement from the city of Wasco, visit their website.

The rail authority said the target to have the high-speed trains up and running through the Central Valley is 2029. The Central Valley portion is the first portion of the rail being built, and it will run from Bakersfield to Merced. There will not be a stop in Wasco.

The High-Speed Rail Authority sent 23ABC this statement:

  • To date, approximately 600 construction jobs have gone to Kern County residents out of the more than 4,500 construction jobs created on the high-speed rail project.
  • Significant construction in Kern County and the City of Wasco has resulted in economic investments where dozens of workers and staff members eat at local restaurants and purchase items at community businesses. CRB’s headquarters is also centrally located in the City of Wasco.
  • Since 2017, CRB has made several contributions to the City of Wasco:
    • Providing monthly updates to community-based organizations, businesses and community members at the Wasco Community Breakfast;
    • Providing accurate and timely information to community members and property owners close to ongoing high-speed rail construction in a variety of ways including face-to-face, phone calls, emails and more;
    • Donating no-cost labor and equipment including generators, cones, and fencing for community events like Wasco Downtown Business Association’s Día De Los Muertos and Orange Heart Foundation’s, Firework Presentation, and Music Festival;
    • Making monetary contributions to Wasco Sheriff’s Activity League ($1,500), Orange Heart Foundation ($1,000), Wasco Little League ($150), Toys for Tigers ($200 in toys), and City of Wasco Code Enforcement’s Bike Safety Rodeo ($200 in 2018 and $1,000 in 2019)
    • Making significant contributions to Wasco Parks and Recreation for a new retaining wall for the Wasco Little League Baseball Field totaling $7,000 as well as donating an estimated $40,000 work of equipment time and labor for Phase 1 of the Annin Park Renovation.
    • Donating more than $67,000 to the Community Action Partnership of Kern to help communities impacted by COVID-19, providing thousands of meals to Kern County residents.