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GOP Lawmakers Seek Audit Of Land Used For High-Speed Rail

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Two Republican lawmakers from the Central Valley want the state auditor to review the California High-Speed Rail Authority's moves to buy up land for the $68 billion project.

Assemblymen Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, submitted a request Tuesday to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee seeking an investigation into the appraisal process, assessment of land values and the role of private contractors as the rail authority seeks to acquire or seize 356 parcels for the first leg in the Central Valley.

The lawmakers say they want to ensure the rail authority has policies that allow landowners to appeal the property values assessed to their land and "what safeguards are in place to ensure fair and reasonable offers."

"Our valley's farmland and citizen-owned private property can't be replaced, so we have to make sure we get it right the first time because there is no going back," Bigelow said in a news release.

The authority has begun making offers to dozens of landowners in the Central Valley as it seeks to start work on the first 30-mile leg of the project, likely this fall. Officials expect to sign a contract this month with a joint venture hired to design and build the line from Madera to Fresno, the first step toward starting construction.

Chief executive Jeff Morales has previously said high-speed rail officials are following the same procedure used by the state Department of Transportation to acquire land, including allowing landowners to obtain alternate appraisals at the state's expense before filing an appeal.

"The process is intended to make sure that the property owner is treated fairly and strike the right balance between treating the property owner fairly and making sure that the public taxpayer is not overpaying for property," Morales told The Associated Press in July.

The authority has also hired a private firm to help homeowners and businesses relocate.

The audit committee is dominated by Democratic lawmakers, most of whom support the high-speed rail project. Even if the audit is approved, it would likely take many months to complete, pushing the results past the start of construction.

High-speed rail officials are also awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court over spending from the 2008 ballot measure in which voters approved $10 billion in borrowing for the project.

Bigelow previously supported the project as a Madera County supervisor, but has since turned against it.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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