The complexity of getting federal, state and local regulatory approvals for the massive $68-billion project has already pushed back the start of construction to July from late last year. Even with that additional time, however, the state is facing a risk of not having the property to start major construction work near Fresno as now planned.

It hopes to begin making purchase offers for land in the next several weeks. But that’s only the first step in a convoluted legal process that will give farmers, businesses and homeowners leverage to delay the project by weeks, if not months, and drive up sales prices, legal experts say.

One major stumbling block could be valuing agricultural land in a region where prices have been soaring, raising property owners’ expectations far above what the state expects to pay.

“The reality is that they are not going to start in July,” said Anthony Leones, a Bay Area attorney who has represented government agencies as well as property owners in eminent domain cases.