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Denham to grill high speed rail board
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Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock will lead a Congressional subcommittee hearing on Tuesday on the accountability of funds provided to the state's high speed rail project.  Denham, who leads the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials will be inviting half a dozen witnesses to the hearing.

Dan Richard, CEO of California High Speed Rail Authority, is set to testify in front of the committee. Denham will be questioning Richard on the progress of the rail project and the estimated costs that Denham claims have surpassed the original proposed amount.

Denham, who has been a sharp critic of the project said the railroad project has “spun drastically out of control,” citing the lack of private investment and the “project's inflating price tag.”

Denham hopes that the hearing will bring some accountability to the rail authority and help answer some questions on the current funding status.

“The rail authority can no longer ignore the facts that the project is lacking oversight and a disciplined plan to attract the private sector investment it needs,” said Denham.

Mike Dozier, lead executive for the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, is critical of those who undermine the importance of the project.

“I’m irritated when I hear people say it's the train to nowhere,” said Dozier. “It’s insulting and ignorant.”

Last month, the High Speed Rail Authority reached a settlement with a group of Central Valley farmers who were looking to sue the project on the basis of environmental destruction.

The settlement included a $5 million fund to preserve farmland through Madera and Fresno counties and $1 million towards paying legal fees of those suing.  For supporters of the $68 billion project, the deal was seen as a large step forward in finally clearing ground for summer construction to begin.

“This settlement clears the way for the authority to move forward with construction of the first high-speed rail system in the nation,” said Richard in a press release issued last month. “And shows we can build high-speed rail while preserving precious resources.”

Along with Richard, those invited to the hearing include Kole Upton, an almond farmer and vice president of the watchdog Preserve Our Heritage, which has been critical of the rail project; Doug Verboon, chairman of the Kings County Board of Supervisors; Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau; Louis Thompson, chairman of the Peer Review Group for the California High-Speed Rail Project; and Al Smith, president and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Auditorium AM120 at the Madera Community College Center, 30277 Avenue 12, Madera.

Although the hearing is open to members of the public, only witnesses will be allowed to testify.