By Jason KUROSU
The Crescenta Valley Sierra Club hosted a presentation from Save Angeles Forest for Everyone – S.A.V.E. – a group which is rallying opposition to the state’s 800-mile high speed rail project, specifically a part of which could involve tunneling through portions of the Angeles National Forest.
Dave DePinto of S.A.F.E. and the Shadow Hills Property Owners Association led the presentation at the La Crescenta Library Tuesday night, highlighting the organization’s concerns that ranged from the political to the environmental. De Pinto drew comparisons between the high speed rail project and the 710 tunnel project, calling the bullet train the 710 tunnel’s “big cousin.”
“When we voted on this in 2008, all we thought about was sitting on a train with a cup of latte, reading a book or watching a movie. We didn’t think about what it would cost, that it would go from $9 billion when it was voted on to $68 billion and growing. We didn’t think that it wouldn’t reach its 220 mph speeds. We didn’t think that it would be more than $32 per ticket from Palmdale to Burbank,” said De Pinto.
De Pinto said that S.A.F.E., the volunteer group that was formed by residents and neighbors, came together when residents received notifications of a new proposed east corridor of the rail project that would include three separate routes cutting through the Angeles National Forest. Notifications of the newly proposed east corridor and the reception of permit-to-enter letters (which would allow the High Speed Rail Authority to conduct environmental studies on private property) were known to elected officials prior to their arrival at residences along the east corridor, according to De Pinto, who said “we were blindsided by all of this.”
Tuesday’s presentation covered a variety of environmental effects that S.A.F.E. volunteers believe high speed rail officials have not considered, including detrimental effects to the water supply, harm to trees from the necessary re-routing of water during construction, and dangerous effects for wildlife and their habitats, some of the wildlife including endangered and threatened species. In addition, S.A.F.E. estimated that construction would require 1,375,000 truck trips just to transport debris to and from the construction sites.
De Pinto said that the current goal of S.A.F.E. is to have their area removed from consideration in the EIR, which is expected to be released sometime this year.
“If we do our job, we may be able to get ourselves taken out and not be included in the EIR as an alternative, if we prove the infeasibility and the environmental damages, make them aware of things they don’t know. Perhaps they’ll say, ‘It’s more trouble than it’s worth. We’ll move somewhere else.’”
New maps are due to come out in the coming weeks, so S.A.F.E. still holds hope that perhaps their concerns have been heard by transportation officials and will be reflected thus in the new maps.
However, another concern is that the federal funding for the project, totaling $3.3 billion, will be forfeited if not spent by Sept. 30, 2017. Construction of the first segment of the train must be built by then and S.A.F.E. worries that this timeline will only speed up construction efforts.
“On the one hand, we have a little bit of confidence and belief that, when they do their homework, they’ll see there’s stuff they didn’t know about. But we’re also concerned that there’s a gun to their head for their funding and their timelines will cause them to make errors of omission,” said De Pinto.
Ultimately, the Crescenta Valley’s proximity to the Angeles National Forest and the similarity of local opposition to the 710 tunnel project led S.A.F.E. to speak with La Crescenta on this issue. De Pinto urged anyone in the community to join the cause.
“If there are things that you all know about from a trail standpoint, a wildlife standpoint, water standpoint, your expertise can help fill the gap. We’re really asking for help.”
High Speed Rail Authority officials and members of S.A.F.E. will be making presentations at the next Crescenta Valley Town Council meeting, to be held next Thursday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at the La Crescenta Library, 2809 Foothill Blvd.