As the High Speed Rail Authority (“Authority”) prepares to begin construction this week of the first segment of the High Speed Rail Project (the “Project”), the State Public Works Board is concurrently scrambling to consider resolutions of necessity to acquire property for the first segment within Fresno and Madera counties. Because of the recent litigation hurdles the Project has faced, the Authority is now racing against the clock to secure the necessary parcels and to spend $3 billion in federal and stimulus funds for construction of the first segment before September 30, 2017.
Today is the groundbreaking for the Project’s first segment, and the Authority has only secured 96 parcels and still needs 525 parcels for completion of the first segment of the Project. The Authority has fallen behind schedule because of unsuccessful negotiations with landowners, which has resulted in a few lengthy eminent domain actions against landowners within the route of the first segment. Eminent domain, also known as condemnation, is required when a public agency is unable to reach an agreement with the landowner to acquire their property. The Public Works Board, which oversees public land acquisition, considers the public agency’s resolution of necessity to determine if there is a public need to utilize eminent domain. The public agency can then go on to sue to acquire the property and it is left to the judge to determine whether the agency’s need is warranted. If so, the judge will assess the fair market value of the property and the “just compensation” due to the owner.
The Authority is under immense pressure to meet its deadlines, especially as construction of the first segment is being met with great enthusiasm. Only time will tell if the Authority will be able to acquire all of the parcels necessary for completion of the first segment of the Project. For more information about eminent domain or high-speed rail development, please contact Michael N. Mills (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Juliet H. Cho (email@example.com).