Dan Riley, far right, announces the financial settlement to his employees. The settlement was reached with the High-Speed Rail Authority in San Jose on Friday, allowing Riley to keep his business in its present location. Source: Donald Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
After a yearlong legal dispute with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the owner of a Madera steel company and brewery has reached a settlement that will allow him to keep his business in place.
“I was able to sign the settlement,” said Dan Riley, president of Steel Structures Inc. and Riley’s Brewing Co. in a statement to his employees on Monday. “It comes down to this — they can not take our property anymore… we’re solid, your jobs are safe. We’re good forever.”
Riley had been informed in 2013 that the tracks for the new high-speed rail line would run through a strip of the property. The tracks would be put on a bridge to block access to the site by creating a slope, making it impossible to move the oversized loads onto the road.
The settlement, which was reached with the California High-Speed Rail Authority in San Jose on Friday, was for $3.3 million. This will allow for Steel Structures to build a new driveway that ties into the county street on a flat surface before the slope of the bridge begins. Riley, a licensed contractor, will oversee the project.
“At this time, we cannot discuss any further details of the agreement until it is finalized,” said High-Speed Rail Authority Public Information Officer Toni Tinoco.
Steel Structures, which began in Oregon as E.T. Riley and Sons in 1952, has been in the Riley family for three generations. In 1976, as Riley’s Tanks, the business moved to Fresno, before setting up operations at its current address in Madera in 2006. Located at 28777 Avenue 15 /12, the company specializes in building silos, atmospheric tanks and steel pressure vessels. Riley’s Brewing, a growing brewery, is also located on the 9.6 acre site.
“I have a loyalty to this company,” said Ralph Hernandez, a welder and crane operator for Steel Structures. “It’s almost like family.”
Hernandez, 32, has been with the company for nearly ten years. He relies on his job to provide for not only himself, but also his son, Elijah, 13.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Hernandez said, “because it’s just me making sure that he’s taken care of.”
Steel Structures had lost the initial lawsuit regarding eminent domain in 2015, prompting Riley toward a civil trial last June. An initial appraisal led to a settlement offer of $113,000 by the High-Speed Rail Authority.
Another assessment, conducted by a team of equipment and real estate appraisers, civil engineers, and accountants, set the value of Riley’s company at $5.6 million. According to Riley, Steel Structures generates more than $364,000 in tax revenue alone.
According to Riley, his case included legal and deposition trips to San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as San Jose. It also saw involvement from Madera City and County officials. Among those who contributed to the effort were Madera County District 1 Supervisor Brett Frazier, and Madera City Councilman Will Oliver.
“The important thing for us locally to realize is that we have to be advocating for our businesses, farms and residences,” Frazier said “Hopefully this becomes a model in Madera County.”
The settlement, Riley said, ended technically in a tie, as the money wasn’t worth the value of the company, and approximately one-third of it will go to paying the legal fees. Riley, however, has stated that he considers it a win, as he is able to keep his business in place and his staff employed. The case has also become a potential rallying point for other property owners in the path of the rail.
“We found out during the last settlement case that it was a precedent,” Riley said. “The high-speed rail has 1,100 more properties to acquire from Madera.” According to Riley, he has already received 22 messages from homeowners, business owners and farmers on how to handle the incoming rail. His advice on the matter has been to “engage soon and often.”
Construction on the road tie-in is expected to begin later this year.