Wendy Alexander/Madera Tribune file photo
Dan Riley, president of Steel Structures, Inc., and Riley’s Brewing Company, center front, is joined in 2016 by part of his staff who could have lost their jobs due to the construction of the high-speed rail project.
About four years ago, authorities told Daniel Riley that tracks for the California High-Speed Rail Authority would essentially cut off access to his family’s northeast Madera steel company and brewery.
A bridge for the state’s rail project would have made it impossible to haul out the oversized steel structures built by his business at 28777 Ave. 15 1/2.
“My entire conflict was the bridge in front of my place,” said Riley, president of Steel Structures Inc. and Riley’s Brewing Co. “The size of the loads and tanks I put out wouldn’t go over the hump (and) wouldn’t be able to get under the bridge. So we have to go (build a big frontage road) down to the flat or the entrance of the bridge.”
The cost for those changes, which will enable his 30 employees to remain so, will be greatly aided by a $3.3 million settlement (minus lawyer fees) that Riley accepted in June after a year-long civil lawsuit that followed his loss in an eminent domain dispute in December 2015.
“I don’t ever want to see anyone go through the pain I did,” Riley told the Tribune a month after the settlement agreement. “No one’s taken them on like I did … It was a calculated gamble (and) it could have went wrong. There were times I was pacing the floor at 2 a.m. thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ My wife was even saying, ‘Are you crazy?’ ... All I can say is I kept faith and just pushed forward.”
Riley’s businesses have always been family owned. Steel Structures started in 1952 as E.T. Riley and Sons, later moving from Oregon to Fresno in 1976, and on to Madera in 2006, around the same time Riley started to explore beer crafting. Both enterprises share the same 9 acre site encroached upon by the high-speed rail project.
“I’m third generation,” he said. “My sons are at the shop welding ... You know they’re 14 and 16 now. They’re going to take over someday. So that’s what it’s all about.”
The state initially offered $222,000 to compensate, he said, then reduced it to $113,000. Later “they offered me a million to walk. Of course I said no.”
“We were ready to go to trial to prove they were doing it wrong, and some of the things we considered criminal for what they did. And they finally said OK, we give up.”
Due to the settlement, he promised to no longer go into full detail on his case against the rail authority, but he does have advice for those who may be in a similar situation as he faced those years ago.
“My advice to most people is don’t go at it alone, just don’t. It’s the state of California ...You cannot win that,” he said. “So engage early and engage often. I would find my local EDC (Economic Development Commission) representatives.”
He also suggested getting in touch with Madera County supervisors during the public comment portion of their regular meetings, which are held a few Tuesday mornings each month at the county government center.
“Show up, go to the podium and say, ‘Hey, I’m having problems with the high-speed rail.’ You’ll have (supervisors) Brett Frazier … (and) Dave Rogers ... go, ‘We’re on it. We know what to do’.”
Riley is more than happy to lend a listening ear as well to those struggling with the state.
“It’s all on my website,” he said. “I’m happy to take it. I’ve had emails, phone calls. I’ve had people come by. And at the very least I can point them in the right direction.”
For information, visit www.steelstructuresinc.com (Steel Structures), www.rileysbrewing.com (Riley’s Brewing) or www.madera-county.com/index.php/boardmain (Board of Supervisors).