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Aiming to ship coal out of Humboldt Bay, shadowy corporation makes bid to take over NCRA line

Ryan Burns, LOST COAST OUTPOST

Unidentified coal companies appear to be behind a new backdoor effort to acquire the North Coast Railroad Authority’s right-of-way between Eureka and Willits and rehabilitate the defunct railroad, all so they can export coal to Asian markets via the Port of Humboldt Bay.

State Senator Mike McGuire calls this development “one of the largest environmental threats to hit the North Coast in decades.”

On Aug. 16, a mysterious, newly formed corporation called North Coast Railroad Company, LLC, filed a pleading with the Surface Transportation Board. Ostensibly a proposal to submit an “Offer of Financial Assistance” to rebuild the line, the filing makes a number of surprising claims.

For one, the 14-page filing, submitted by a pair of Chicago attorneys, says NCRCo. is “capitalized to the tune of $1.2 billion” and has “thoroughly-developed plans” to acquire and rehabilitate the dilapidated rail line between Humboldt Bay and Willits. Once complete, the company says, this newly reconstructed railroad will move “high-volume shipments” between the San Francisco Bay Area and Humboldt Bay.

The document does not disclose what these “high-volume shipments” might contain. Nor does it identify anyone involved with the corporation.

The pleading prompted an incredulous response from the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA), the state agency that spent 30 years trying to resuscitate that same stretch of railroad but is now, under McGuire’s leadership, working to develop the Great Redwood Trail, a multi-use pathway extending 320 miles along the agency’s right-of-way.

Read more at https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2021/sep/2/aiming-ship-coal-out-humboldt-bay-shadowy-corporat/?

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California Supreme Court issues ruling in closely watched North Coast rail case 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that publicly owned railroads are not exempt from the state’s bedrock environmental law, a decision hailed by environmental watchdogs on the North Coast and opponents of California’s high-speed rail project.
Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, called the court ruling “vindication.”
The Arcata-based group sued the North Coast Railroad Authority in a bid to force the state-chartered agency to study the environmental impacts of running freight along a 316-mile rail line that traverses Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties and runs through the Eel River canyon.
Greacen said as a result of the Supreme Court decision, NCRA won’t be able to rebuild the line through the canyon “without taking a hard look at the environmental impacts, which has been the goal all along.”
More broadly, the court ruling could have major implications for the state’s high-speed rail project. Several court cases are pending in state courts seeking to hold the California High-Speed Rail Authority accountable for construction and operation of the service.
Read more at: California Supreme Court issues ruling in closely watched North Coast rail case | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Transportation, WaterTags , Leave a comment on Court to review North Coast Railroad exemption from environmental review

Court to review North Coast Railroad exemption from environmental review

Patty Clary, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics

Scott Greacen, Friends of the Eel River

The state’s highest court on Wednesday agreed to review an appeal of a lower court’s decision that would exempt publicly owned railroads from having to comply with California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

An appellate court had found that the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act pre-empted all state laws managing or governing railroads, including CEQA. But the case—brought by Friends of the Eel River (FOER) and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs)—concerns California’s state-owned railroad, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), which meant California would be forbidden to control the railroad it had bought and paid for with public funds.

A different court of appeals reached the opposite conclusion in a case involving California’s High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). That court found that where the state is acting as an owner, not a regulator, federal preemption does not shield the state-owned rail line from having to comply with CEQA as a condition of its state funding.

The North Coast Rail Authority cases present substantially identical facts. The plaintiff environmental groups had argued that the split between the courts of appeals should move the Supreme Court to take the case, as it has now done.

CATs and FOER had challenged the NCRA’s 2011 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on its plan to reopen a southern portion of the failed rail line. Once sued, NCRA claimed it was not legally bound to conduct the study – after spending millions of taxpayer dollars on the EIR, and tens of millions more provided by the state on the condition the project complied with CEQA.

 “Like any other actor in the marketplace, California has the right to analyze the cost and effect of its plans before deciding to undertake projects and it chooses to do this through the CEQA process,” said Patty Clary, Executive Director of CATs. “Federal law does not interfere with this right nor with California citizens’ right, as provided by state law, to challenge the adequacy of this environmental review. We look forward to arguing these fundamental issues before California’s Supreme Court.”

Scott Greacen, Executive Director of FOER, welcomed the news. “Fundamentally, our system of justice depends on citizens being able to hold our government accountable. It cannot be correct that we will allow state agencies to renege on their promises, and to fly blind with the public’s money and the public’s property, without regard to the potential risks to public trust treasures like the wild and scenic Eel River and its threatened salmon and steelhead.”

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics is represented by East Bay attorney Sharon Duggan, Helen Kang of the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic of the Golden Gate University School of Law, William Verick of the Klamath Environmental Law Center, and Deborah Sivas of the Environmental Law Clinic, Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School. Friends of the Eel River are represented by Amy Bricker, Edward T. Schexnayder, and Ellison Folk of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger.

CATs and FOER are based in the Humboldt Bay area. The membership of each organization is from throughout northwestern California.