Feb. 28—The monarch butterfly and the mountain lion are complicating the already complex Bakersfield-to-Palmdale portion of California's high speed rail project.
The High Speed Rail Authority was recently forced to revise environmental impact documents after both creatures became candidates for endangered species lists. The revisions must take place to satisfy the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which require mitigation efforts for significant environmental impacts.
The HSRA initially published its draft environmental impact statement in February 2020, but subsequently learned the Southern California and Central Coast mountain lion had been advanced to be a candidate for the California Environmental Species Act and the monarch butterfly could be considered an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act but "that listing is precluded by other priorities."
That meant HSRA had to go back and revise portions of its environmental statement. Unfortunately for mountain lions and monarch butterflies, the HSRA found that the high speed rail could significantly impact their populations.
However, neither the mountain lion nor the monarch butterfly have been observed in the area along the rail line and HSRA says it will put mitigation measures in place to limit the impacts on the two populations during and after construction of the railway.
"The environmental process is set up so that you've got to make everybody aware in the notification process of what the potential impacts are. But just because there's a potential impact doesn't mean you can't build it. It just means you have to mitigate it," said Rob Ball, deputy director of Kern Council of Governments. "It's just part of the environmental process. It's kind of a routine process. There's a thousand impacts that the high speed rail is going to have."
Kyle Simerly, a public information officer for HSRA, wrote in an email that the revisions would not add significant cost to the $15.7 billion project, nor would they alter the timeline. He added that HSRA hoped to begin construction as soon as possible, depending on when funds become available.
Without a funding commitment in place, prospects for the project's completion remain up in the air. Last year, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, introduced a $32 billion bill in Congress that would dedicate a significant chunk of federal funding to the project. However, the bill did not pass and Costa recently reintroduced the bill in hopes that a new Congress will yield different results.
In the meantime, the public has the opportunity to comment on the updated environmental impact statement. The full report can be found at hsr.ca.gov. It can also be requested by calling 866-300-3044 or emailing Bakersfield_Palmdale@hsr.ca.gov.
Comments may also be submitted to the above email address or by visiting the comment form on HSR's website.
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.