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Friday, Apr 19 2013 05:55 PM

Consensus on high-speed rail evades local transportation group

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    By California High Speed Rail Authority

    An artist's conception of the bullet train.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The agency in charge of coordinating regional transportation in Kern County is struggling to find common ground on a project that was supposed to unite the state: California High-Speed Rail.

Disagreements over how to deal with the contentious project erupted Thursday as representatives of local municipalities narrowly defeated a measure that would have banned further deliberations on high-speed rail by a committee of the Kern Council of Governments.

"It was a very interesting and ... surprising" meeting, Kern COG executive director Ahron Hakimi said Friday.

The council's Transportation Planning & Policy Committee was scheduled to vote on a resolution that would have asked the rail authority to delay a decision on where high-speed train tracks would run between Wasco and Bakersfield. The idea was to buy time to work out a compromise acceptable to the cities of Bakersfield, Shafter and Wasco, all of which object to a proposed alignment unveiled this month.

Kern COG would only be advising the high-speed rail authority.

Although a motion was made and seconded to adopt the resolution, it was eventually withdrawn without a vote. In its place came a measure that would have forbidden any future committee resolutions regarding high-speed rail.

That measure failed by a vote of 6 to 7.

The group ultimately told staff to bring a new resolution to its May 16 meeting.

Hakimi said committee member Marshall "Chip" Holloway, Ridgecrest's vice mayor, sided with Wasco's representative on the committee, Councilwoman Cherylee Wegman, in opposing the original measure. He said Holloway was adamant that it would "divide the COG."

Leading the other side of the debate was Kern County Supervisor David Couch, who argued that it was in Wasco's best interest to support the measure, Hakimi said.

Couch, Holloway and Wegman could not be reached for comment Friday.

On April 9, Wasco City Manager Dan Allen wrote to Kern COG questioning the "purpose and need" behind Thursday's original resolution. His stated that Bakersfield, Shafter and Wasco have "different issues and concerns" with the project.

"If this is an attempt to portray a uniform front or position on the HSR alignment among the three cities, that is arguably not the case," Allen wrote.

Bakersfield staff have complained about the proposed train route through the city, while Shafter officials have criticized a plan to avoid the city center and instead run through farmland and industrial property.

Allen's letter emphasized that, unlike its neighbor Shafter, Wasco does not support an alternative alignment that would track more closely with the BNSF railroad.

Hakimi said his team will try for a resolution acceptable to the entire committee.

"I know I was surprised by the back and forth and the conversations (Thursday)," he said. "It will happen again next month, I suspect, too."

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