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STB rejects North Coast Railroad Co.’s offer to take over rail line on Eel River

Sonia Waraich, FORT BRAGG ADVOCATE-NEWS

Federal regulators have decided to turn down a late application from a shadowy corporation seeking to take over the 175 miles of rail line stretching from Willits to Eureka, which may have submitted a fraudulent bank statement with its filing earlier this month.

“(North Coast Railroad Company’s) notice of intent will be rejected,” the Surface Transportation Board’s decision states. “NCRCo has not articulated a sufficient reason why its notice could not have been filed by the May 31 deadline, especially given that NCRCo has been an active participant in this proceeding and has noted, in previous filings, its intent to file an (offer of financial assistance).”

North Coast Railroad Company’s proposal to resume service along the rail line would have blocked the ability of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, formerly the North Coast Railroad Authority, to convert the line, which has been out of service for 20 years, into a trail. Part of the process of doing so included getting the OK from the STB to railbank the line, that is to preserve the rail line’s right of way by using it as a trail until conditions for rail service improve.

The North Coast Railroad submitted a poorly redacted filing with the federal STB almost two weeks ago that shows on any given day between March 31 and April 21, its balance with the Self-Help Credit Union fluctuated from less than $100 to a high of $3,269.96. That’s a lot less than $15.7 million beginning and ending balance at the top of the statement.

Read more at https://www.advocate-news.com/2022/06/10/north-coast-railroad-co-s-stb-filing-includes-potentially-fraudulent-bank-statement/

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North Coast rail dispute intensifies with competing bids from Skunk Train and coal export company

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A mysterious Wyoming-based firm believed to be pushing a controversial coal-by-rail export proposal along the Northern California coast has made a new filing with a powerful federal board to advance its bid to seize control over the defunct lines running between Willits and Eureka.

The June 1 filing indicated the so-named North Coast Railroad Company, which wants to ship Rocky Mountain coal out of the port at Humboldt Bay, had at least $15 million in the bank — enough to clear an initial federal hurdle in which a company must prove it can cover the cost of a line’s scrap steel and two years of maintenance.

But that company is not the only entity vying for control of abandoned track running through Mendocino and Humboldt counties — along a right of way state lawmakers hope will one day welcome a 320-mile multiuse trail stretching south to San Francisco Bay.

In an unrelated venture, Mendocino Railway, owners of the tourist excursion Skunk Train, are petitioning the federal rail board to restore 11 miles of track north of Willits to run loads of gravel. Mendocino Railway also filed with the board indicating it had the resources to take on that project.

Either bid could complicate the more broadly-supported venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a recreational route planned from Eureka in the north to Larkspur in Marin County on the south. A state agency has already begun planning the conversion of abandoned segments of the rail line in Mendocino and Humboldt counties for the trail.

The three competing ventures must now vie for the endorsement of the U.S. Transportation Board, a body that aims to preserve the nation’s rail corridors but has proven amenable to allowing recreational trails along disused rights of way.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-coast-rail-dispute-intensifies-with-competing-bids-from-skunk-train-a/

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Federal rail board wants to hear out mysterious coal train proposal, jeopardizing Great Redwood Trail project

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.

The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.

But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.

The trail project, championed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and many other elected officials, conservationists and economic development officials, made significant strides in March with the creation of a state agency to spearhead the effort.

The coal shipping proposal surfaced in August 2021, when a newly-formed, Wyoming-based entity called the North Coast Railroad Co. filed documents with the federal rail board suggesting it could raise the funds to restore abandoned rail segments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/federal-rail-board-wants-to-hear-out-mysterious-coal-train-proposal-jeopar/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Fishery groups plan to sue PG&E over Potter Valley plant and related Scott, Cape Horn dams

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of fishery groups has formally notified PG&E that it plans to file suit under the Endangered Species Act, alleging the continued injury to once abundant federally protected salmon and steelhead trout as a result of operations at the utility’s aging Potter Valley powerhouse.

The legal maneuver is part of an effort to expedite removal of Scott and Cape Horn dams, which pose a threat to vulnerable fish species in the Eel River and block access to hundreds of miles of prime habitat upstream.

The plaintiffs contend that last Thursday’s expiration of PG&E’s license for the project means the utility is no longer protected from liability and must be found in violation of the Endangered Species Act — a point the utility disputes.

A formal notice filed Friday by the coalition gives PG&E 60 days to remedy the situation or face litigation. It also echoes comments about project inadequacies made in a March 16 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in advance of the expiration of the utility’s license.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/fishery-groups-plan-to-sue-pge-over-potter-valley-plant-and-related-scott/

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Plan to acquire Mendocino County power plant unravels

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.

A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.

Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/

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Russian River flows at risk: New studies show potential path forward for Potter Valley project

Mother of All Groups (MOAG), SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project expires in April of 2022. For more information until then: http://pottervalleyproject.org/

A group of studies released last month paint a clearer picture of how Sonoma and Mendocino counties can meet future water needs while reducing environmental impacts in the face of a decision by PG&E to cease operation of an aging hydroelectric power project.

The Potter Valley Project (PVP) is located approximately 15 miles north of the City of Ukiah on the Eel River. The Project’s facilities include two dams, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant located in Potter Valley in the headwaters of the Russian River. The 100-year-old project produces little electricity by modern standards and is a net money loser, but Sonoma and Mendocino County water users have grown accustomed to the water diverted by the Project which flows from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed where it is stored in Lake Mendocino – ultimately flowing down the Russian River where it benefits agricultural interests and residents.

This arrangement was put in jeopardy when PG&E announced in 2019 that it would not seek to renew its federal license to operate the Project, which expires in April 2022. In recent weeks, PG&E also notified the public that the Project’s powerhouse had suffered a transformer failure, which eliminated its ability to generate electricity and reduced water diversions into the Russian River. Given PG&E’s goal to dispense with the Project, it is unlikely the powerhouse will be repaired or that the Project will ever function as it once did.

In response to PG&E’s decision to divest from the Project, a diverse group of stakeholders called the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to develop a plan to take over and modify the Project in a way that reflects regional needs and priorities in both basins. Among these priorities are fisheries recovery in the Eel River – one of the few major rivers left in California that has the potential to support abundant, self-sustaining wild populations of salmon and steelhead – and water supply reliability for Russian River water users. The Partnership’s proposed plan included the removal of Scott Dam, restoration of the drained Lake Pillsbury footprint and modifications or the replacement of Cape Horn Dam to maintain a diversion.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/russian-river-flows-at-risk-new-studies-show-potential-path-forward-for-po/

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Memo shows involvement of Utah agency and 2 tribes in North Coast coal export proposal

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Utah state official and the leaders of two federally recognized tribal nations in March discussed shipping Rocky Mountain coal by rail along the Northern California coast and exporting it out of Humboldt Bay, according to a newly revealed document that sheds additional light on parties involved in the controversial proposal.

The internal memo from a Utah port agency, first published last week by the Salt Lake Tribune, indicates coal industry players in Montana and Utah were at least initially involved in the proposal.

Amid widespread public outrage over the prospect of coal trains chugging through Northern California cities and towns and alongside rivers that are key water sources for the region, both the Utah agency and the Humboldt Bay-based Wiyot Tribe have since distanced themselves from the proposal.

And local opposition to the project appears increasingly difficult for coal advocates to surmount. This week, officials with the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, which regulates port facilities in the bay, said that body’s elected board was likely to pass its own resolution opposing coal shipments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/memo-shows-involvement-of-utah-agency-and-2-tribes-in-north-coast-coal-expo/?

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Upper Russian River flow decisions being delayed

Rollie Atkinson, SOCONEWS

The long-term picture for reliable water flows in the Russian River, above Healdsburg to Mendocino County, will remain uncertain for at least two more years, if not longer. The hold up stems from ongoing studies and multi-agency negotiations over the future of the Scott Dam on the Eel River and the century-old Potter Valley Project (PVP) that diverts Eel River water into the Russian River and Lake Mendocino.

On Sept. 2, the five-member Two-Basin Partnership asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a one-year abeyance to continue evaluations of a proposed takeover of the PVP from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) which has announced it will not renew its FERC permit after 2022. The Two-Basin Partnership is seeking removal of the Scott Dam but continued Eel River diversions into the East Fork of the Russian River. The proposal would add 288 river miles of access to salmon and steelhead while assuring an annual diversion of 62,500 acre/feet of water.

The partnership is citing a shortage of funds to operate the PVP and said last week “we have made substantial efforts but have not yet secured public and philanthropic funds for that work.” In May, PG&E declined to fund the project and by statute the utility is barred from seeking a new license.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/upper-russian-river-flow-decisions-being-delayed/article_a91725c4-1bbf-11ec-8e56-e7467a39b2f4.html?

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Limbo for Mendocino County water transfer clouds outlook for key Russian River source

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s sprawling, manmade delivery system for drinking and irrigation water has for decades relied on a share of the flow in the Eel River, miles to the north in Lake County.

In years past, up to 22 million gallons have been siphoned from the Eel through a system of pumps, pipes and reservoirs and sent south into the East Fork of the Russian River through a mile-and-a-half tunnel blasted into a mountain more than a century ago.

But the future of that cog in the Russian River machine, long seen as critical for farmers, ranchers and rural residents reliant on the river in Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County, is now in limbo.

The water transfer also has generated hydroelectricity as it passed through a small powerhouse in rural Potter Valley and on into Lake Mendocino near Ukiah.

Efforts by federal fisheries regulators to bolster declining salmon and steelhead runs in the Eel River have slashed those diversions in half since 2007. And the drought cut those diversions by another fifth this year, as water regulators seek to maintain supplies in Lake Pillsbury, formed by a dam across the Eel River.

They may be eliminated permanently in the future as a result of PG&E’s decision not to renew its license for the 113-year-old Potter Valley powerhouse when it expires next year, leaving the state of all water transfers from the Eel River uncertain.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/limbo-for-mendocino-county-water-transfer-clouds-outlook-for-key-russian-ri/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Eel River to some, Wiya’t to the tribe that fishes it

Arthur Dawson, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Eel River runs through Lake, Mendocino, and Trinity counties before reaching the Pacific Ocean in southern Humboldt County. Its name was given by Josiah Gregg in 1850 as he was exploring and looking for land to settle. Coming upon a group of Indigenous Wiyot fishermen, he traded a frying pan for some Pacific lampreys, which he mistook for eels.

Those Wiyot fishermen had probably been up most of the night — a good time for catching lamprey. Some of the best fishing spots were in the breaking waves at the river’s mouth. Waving redwood-splinter torches over the water, they attracted the lamprey with the flames. With quick reflexes and a carved stick, they snatched them from the water. And because lampreys are so slippery, the Wiyot twirl them over their heads before setting them on dry ground — otherwise they can slide off back into the river.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/eel-river-to-some-wiyat-to-the-tribe-that-fishes-it/