The League of Women Voters Humboldt County (LWV) held a forum yesterday to discuss Rails and Trails at the Eureka High Lecture Hall. Byrd Lochtie did the moderating for the LWV, and a seven man panel of political and community leaders gave their views on the topics. Each person was allowed 5 minutes to state their position and then questions were gathered from the crowd to be asked to each panel member. The panelists then had 5 minutes to close.
Pat Higgins (PH) Fifth District Harbor Commissioner- Pat said he is a proponent of the Rail, but he questioned the viability of the railroad and pointed out forecasts for the rail to lose 2.5 million dollars a year and referenced Humboldt Bay Recreation & Conservation District. Pat felt we could not be competitive with other Ports, and stated we should be innovators. He said a tourist rail to Eureka from Arcata would be nice, but thought that the trail would help ease the gas problem, create jobs and bring in eco-tourists and would like to see the trail go to Fortuna and beyond...
Chris Rall (CR) of Green Wheels- He asked if the rail was realistic. He said the rail would create no jobs for the area. Chris pointed out the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA) stated in Marin County that they might have rail by the year 2011. He then pointed out the rail line is on one of the most unstable lands on the planet. Chris said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say it would take 850 million in today’s dollars to repair the rail, and yet it would only cost 10 million dollars to have a trail from Arcata to Eureka. He felt we needed to get beyond rail dreams.
John Woolley (JW) North Coast Railroad Authority - NCRA board member- Said that the state bought the public owned corridor, and the NCRA was created to bring it back to use. That is their directive. He mentioned 2.9 million has been spent for clean up and was vague about another 7.9 for something else. John said they broke up the north and south into the “Eel” section and the “Russian” section. The suit in Novato is slowing progress he said. John said the NCRA is committed to trails and rails and has been working with Arcata, but the primary focus was to bring rail back.
Marcus Brown (MB) timberheritage Association- Marcus says there needs to be a solution that works for everyone. He would like to see a tourist train running from Arcata to Eureka and thinks there is broad support for Rail with Trails. He feels there will be problems of the rail easement around the Bracut Marsh area as well as Wildlife issues. Thinks that the east side of the highway is the most viable for the trail.
Spencer Clifton (SC) of the Humboldt County Association of Governments - Says he is a proponent of all modes of transportation. Feels a challenge for trails will be wetlands, and geometric limitations for rail. Made reference of Billboard problem and funding issues.
Brian Morrissey (BM) (marinacenter) of Security National- Said America was built on rail! Many union living wage jobs would be created with Port built now. He said rail lines are rare with few being built. Feels that designing a truly green port will be viable. He projects 8% growth and pointed out that 18 ports would be at capacity by 2012.
Mike Buettner (MB) of Trails Trust -Advocates the use of trails all over the county. Not about rail.
1. Does the NCRA own the line and easement? (JW) “It is mixed use. Can we railbank? Maybe. It’s a mixed bag of stuff.” (CR) “Right away is public domain. Some people are considering 2 years of non-use as reverting the lands back to original owners.” (PH) “We may get to use the situation of the Annie and Mary rail lines as a model of legality. The NCRA is not run like a business. (SC) “This conjures more questions. There needs to be full title searches. Some easements are different. What are the limits parcel by parcel?”
2. Please explain railbanking? (MBu) “Don’t really know.” (BM) “Rail corridor set aside for use as trail.” (SC) “That is associated with rail that has been abandoned.” (JW) “You need a manager on hand for a trail.” (PH) “Not viable here. It has been done back east to save rail easements.” (MBu) “Part of the equation to restore rail use.” (CR) “It is the best way to save the right away.”
3. How many hundreds of millions will the rail cost? (SC) “I don’t have access to the resources needed to answer. We allocate 8 to 10 million in transportation resources.” (MB) “The best way to preserve the line is tourist train. We want the tourist section. We have been told the Cadillac project number. Can’t tell the dollar amount.” (CR) “FEMA said 520 million in 98’. (BM) “Hundreds of millions. No one knows. (JW) "100 million to purchase. To pull out now would not be good considering all the money we put in. 20 years needed for railbanking. We are concentrating on the south end of the line. That is where our success has been” (PH) “Here is the 640 million dollar FEMA report if anyone wants to read it. 125 places with rotational slumps in the Eel river canyon. There is no least cost fix. There are maintenance issues not addressed. It will be pay as you go. A Train would be great! But it is not viable. I say it will be 1 Billion real dollars.”
4. What about CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act and insurance issues? (JW) CEQA Projects description of impacts, then the public gets input to mitigate the problem. The Hammond trail can be used to measure.” (SC) “Need project internally described.” (PH) “You need to look at the cumulative affects. Rail is only done in sections. It needs to be looked at by its entirety.” (MBu) “Maintenance need to be figured in and also safety.” (CR) “We will see lawsuits.” (MB) “The low hanging fruit here is Arcata to Hammond. Everything in the corridor is wetlands.” Marcus then quoted Clifton, “Enough problems to kill 9 camels!”
5. Has failure of the rail contributed to the Marina Project holdup? (BM) “No. The city is driving that bus.” (MB) “I want a train station there at the Marina.”
6. What is feasible to haul? (CR) “Gravel and containers.” (PH) “Autos and containers are the growing trend. Not a good scenario for here. Shipping is on the decline. We should not pursue.” (MB) “Timber used to be. Flakeboard and Lost Coast beer is sent by rail at Red Bluff. We are losing business opportunities.” (JW) “We are partners with Humboldt Bay. We could do gravel with a barge center.” (MBu) “The Port of Oakland is not at capacity. The Coos Bay Port project was stopped and they only had 130 miles of rail to fix. It is not the right time for rail.” (SC) “Other ports are moving volume. We are not competitive. At one time we were moving 2 miles of train out of Humboldt.” (BM) “The rail is doing good! Hot on the Market! Investors going toward ports. Humboldt Bay is closest to Asia. Rail may not be coming soon, but maybe later.”
7. Samoa Roundhouse to Arcata? (PH) “Rail at the roundhouse could be a good attraction with a museum.” (MB) “Lots of historic stuff from Samoa we could put back at museum.” (JW) “It does serve as a tourist attraction. The NCRA sees it as good business model.” (MBu) “This fits well with the trails trust.”
8. What about jobs? (MB) “Health care and Tourism is where jobs are formed. These produce low wages. Summer jobs for kids are created.” (PH) “Diversity is stability. Take a hard look at the rail finances and cut your losses. There are other viable things for the public.” (CR) “Look at what is cost effective.” (SC) “Resource economy not working. We need to recognize what is sustainable.” (BM) “Jobs in Humboldt County are important! Humboldt needs good jobs with a railroad. We need both!” (JW) “Our quality of life is not a job producer. The rail needs a business model. The Richardson Grove project is not a business model. We need a model.”
9. Should the rail be subsidized? (CR) “Can the two be subsidized? I don’t know.” (JW) “Can we come up with feasible numbers about where we are? We accept criticism but have no numbers.” (SC) “We are an equal opportunity subsidizer.” (BM) “We are talking 19th century technology as compared to 21 century. Rail can be better and self sufficient.” (MB) “Rail history shows that it can pay for itself. It was in a decline, but now is coming back. Cheapest way to move product. We have the only government that does not subsidize a rail.” (PH) “Timber harvest issues have caused instability to the Eel that initiated the original movement.”
Buettner- “Bikes and walkers together interactively is good. We want multi use trails. Check out TrailTrust.org.
Morrissey- “Rail and trails need to be partners. It is a quality of life issue. Port Rupert model needs to be considered. Imports and Exports need to go through us.”
Clifton- “Our community assets are our rail and trail with multi use and sharing of the right away. Inclusionary instead of exclusionary.”
Brown- “The polarizing, shock jock discussion of this subject I don’t like. Trail and cultural amenities are good for our quality of life. We need to be win-win. Keep pushing until we are past the groan zone and come up with creative ideas.”
Woolley- “There are over 300 miles of corridor to mandate. Criticism will be absorbed in the process. What business model should we use; public or a private partnership? The processes of the NCRA are transparent. We shall see what happens after the lawsuit. We are committed to trails also. We are doing a matrix and going through the process.”
Ralls- “The NCRA has a mandate. Railbanking fits that mandate. Is rail cheaper to haul? There is no funding source for rail. Advocates of the rail feel trail people are destroying the rail that is already destroyed. It does not exist! Get the right away in use now. Get real.”
Higgins- “Canada does not care about subsidizing trains that go through area in the Rockies at 80 miles an hour. This is about the ultimate homogenizing of our area. We need grants to fix and stimulate the bay and our economy and expand the use! The Pulp and Fishing industry and future potential light industry show needs of continued dredging. The rail right of way has not been used in 10 years.”
My Comments-If some of the content seems out of place, I agree. It seemed the panel would move on different topics and meander all over. I was confused by some of the answers as compared to the topics, but this is what came out of my notes. I seem to have more questions than answers. Clearly there was huge divide. Some expert for the rail that seems to have some of the NCRA board convinced that rail is viable needs to come inform us general public of facts and figures. Or just let the trail people “borrow” the right away for a few years so we can use the line for something “tangible.” Am I missing something?