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Lawyers will review rail plan

(The following article by Jim Skeen was posted on the Los Angeles Daily News website on July 8.)

PALMDALE, Calif. -- Continuing the push for an Antelope Valley alignment for a proposed $25 billion high-speed-rail system, Palmdale officials plan to hire a noted law firm to review an environmental impact report on the project.

At its meeting Wednesday, the City Council will consider an agreement to hire the firm of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith, at a rate of $250 an hour, to review the environmental report on route alternatives for the high-speed rail.

Chris Bisgaard, who served as lead trial counsel in the Stringfellow acid pits cases, will be the lead counsel for the city.

"The reason why we're retaining them is their ability to analyze and provide comment to reinforce the Antelope Valley alignment," Mayor Jim Ledford said.

He said the environmental report will be the foundation for selection of the alignment. Bisgaard has represented public entities in environmental litigation, including the Housing Authority, the airports department and the Community Redevelopment Agency for the city of Los Angeles. Bisgaard was lead counsel for the operators of the Stringfellow acid pits, a high-profile Superfund case of the 1980s and 1990s.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is considering two possible alignments between Bakersfield and Sylmar for the rail system -- by Interstate 5 through the western Santa Clarita Valley or through the Antelope Valley and eastern Santa Clarita.

Environmental studies examining those two routes are expected to be released within a few weeks. Palmdale officials have lined up consultants to help bolster their claims that an Antelope Valley route would serve a growing population, wouldn't require tunneling or wouldn't raise as many environmental concerns as a route over the Grapevine. Palmdale officials have long said the tunneling work required for the Interstate 5 alignment is much riskier than state officials believe.

"The city will have a wide range of consultants and city staff reviewing the high-speed rail EIR, including engineers with significant international high-speed-rail experience; cost estimators; environmental, traffic and air-quality experts; and others versed in a project of this magnitude," City Attorney Matt Ditzhazy said in a report to the City Council. "The city attorney determined that there was a need for legal counsel with significant experience in analyzing and-or challenging environmental impact reports of this type."

The proposed Antelope Valley alignment would follow Highway 58 from Bakersfield to Mojave, then would run south along the Union Pacific railroad tracks through Lancaster, Palmdale and Soledad Canyon.

At the southern end of the Antelope Valley, the route follows Soledad Canyon Road instead of the Antelope Valley Freeway. State officials determined that the Soledad Canyon route probably would cost less than building a new rail line back and forth across the Antelope Valley Freeway.

In November 2004, California voters will be asked to approve a $9 billion bond measure to build the rail segments linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. The federal government is expected to put up billions more.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

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