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Farmers air complaints over propose alignment

HIGHWAY 7:

March 21, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Some Holtville-area farmers who do not like the proposed alignment of Highway 7 between Highway 98 to Interstate 8 made their complaints known Tuesday to the county Board of Supervisors.

Under the current proposal — and with the draft environmental impact report on the project due shortly — the highway would go straight up Orchard Road. The farmers urged the board to move the highway so it lines up with Highway 115 and then goes south from its junction with the interstate.

But the district director for the state Department of Highways, Gary Gallegos, said $100 million has been earmarked for the proposed Orchard alignment and that any change now would threaten what he called "use or lose" money. He said it likely would take four years to complete another environmental study.

The farmers disagreed and did not like the term "use or lose."

"That's like putting a gun to our heads," said long-time Holtville resident and farmer Clem Muller, adding he prefers the more direct southerly route along 115.

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Highway 115 does not continue south of the freeway.

Muller said since no concrete has been poured it is not too late to change the alignment. He also said Caltrans plans to have Highway 7 north of I-8 curve westerly over to 115 will make it difficult to farm in that area due to the curvature of the road. Further, he said the alignment along Orchard will cause water delivery problems from the South Alamo Canal.

Farmer John Chimits said putting the highway along Orchard will affect many more homes than going south of 115.

"I think it's better to do it right than to create a monstrosity that will be there forever," he said.

Farmer Ben Abatti Sr. said the Orchard alignment will cut through some of his farmland near the interstate, forcing him to drive farm implements on the highway or drive long distances to get to the ground cut up by the highway. He, too, preferred the 115 alignment.

"It would do the least amount of damage to farmland and I think we need to protect farmland," he said.

Though the item was on the board's agenda only as an update, Gallegos and others continued to support the Orchard alignment.

Farmer John Pierre Menvielle said if the 115 alignment were chosen that road would cut through an 80-acre parcel of his land, making it difficult to farm.

"There's good and bad on all the routes," he said.

In the end, Gallegos said such projects are never easy and that someone will always be unhappy. Further, he said the Orchard alignment was supported by a previous Board of Supervisors.

He said five alternatives were studied and released to the public for comment with no preferred alternative, and Orchard was chosen due to the cost and it having the least impact on farmland.

He said Caltrans is in the process of buying land along Orchard and that the design of the roadway is 80 percent complete. He said to date, $3.5 million has been spent.

"Once we acquire that right-of-way, the next step is construction," Gallegos said.

Construction is due to begin late next year, he said.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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