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Trail and Loss of Farmland

Re “Bike Trail Opposition,” letters, July 22.

Letter writer Larry Dutra intimated that farmers in the Santa Clara Valley are crying “not in my back yard” and told us to “deal with it” when it comes to the proposed 32-mile Santa Paula Branch Line Trail. Some details were not stated.

The public land he refers to is only a 100-foot right of way. It goes through the very heart of the highly productive cropland in the Santa Clara Valley. In most cases, it actually splits contiguous parcels owned by the same farmer. This land has been in continuous farming for 100 years or so.

As a farmer, I have no objection to use of the 100 feet for freight or passenger rail service. I have no objection to rail and trail usage within the incorporated city areas. But I do totally oppose the introduction of a new use of the right of way in the unincorporated areas, zoned and permitted for agricultural operations, for hiking and biking trails.

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Hundreds of thousands of bikers and hikers per year along this trail impose grave risks to farmers concerning trespass, vandalism, trash and overall liability. For example, if the trail goes through, our insurance underwriters have told us that our rates will double.

If the new recreational use of the right of way is adopted and any of the hikers or bikers complain to the Ventura County agriculture commissioner about pesticide spraying, a 100-foot or more buffer will result on both sides of the right of way. This would result in a loss of privately owned farmland of more than 24 acres per trail mile.

This means that for about 29 miles of trail through the agricultural area, more than 700 acres could no longer be farmed. At a value of about $22,000 per acre, the owners will have lost nearly $15.5 million of productive acreage.

More than 700 acres of prime farmland lost at a value in excess of $15 million is a very tough thing for farmers to deal with. Perhaps Mr. Dutra or other potential users would like to buy 700 acres of unusable farmland.

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ROBERT C. PINKERTON, Santa Paula


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