BY JULIET WILLIAMS The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO -- A judge denied a request Friday from Central Valley farmers who sought to halt work on California's ambitious high-speed rail project.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley denied a request for a preliminary injunction.
Groups representing Central Valley farmers claim that the California High-Speed Rail Authority should have to halt all planning and engineering work on the $68 billion project because the state violated environmental laws.
The judge ruled that "the authority acted reasonably and in good faith" in considering the project's impact.
The rail authority's chairman, Dan Richard, applauded the decision.
"Both the voters and the Legislature have spoken on high-speed rail," he said in a statement. "The Judge's decision ensures that we can continue to move forward with our preparatory work to build the first segment of high-speed rail in the Central Valley, with a plan to break ground next summer."
The initial section will be a 65-mile segment running from Merced to Fresno, in the heart of California's agricultural industry.
In making his ruling Friday, the judge acknowledged that California laws require an understanding of a project's harm to the environment. Yet he said he did not feel there was sufficient reason to grant farmers a preliminary injunction.
The rail authority argued in court that the potential harm to the state for halting the massive transportation project was far greater than the objections of Central Valley farmers and landowners.
The authority said the state could risk up to $3.2 billion if construction of the bullet train did not meet federal deadlines. A delay could cost as much as $8 million to $10 million in additional construction costs.