Guest Editorial to the Eureka Times Standard
by Donna Roper, Cindy Plank and Sharolyn Hutton, representing LWV of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties
Dear Surface Transportation Board Members:

This is a joint letter from the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County, League of Women Voters of Mendocino County, and the League of Women Voters of Sonoma County in opposition to the transportation of coal through northern California and the bay area by train.

It has been widely reported and corroborated that the North Coast Rail Company LLC is intending to use the northern California railroad to transport coal mined in the Rocky Mountains and intends to transport this coal across the state of California to Marin County, and then haul it north through Sonoma, Mendocino, Trinity, and Humboldt counties to the port of Humboldt.

The League of Women Voters wishes to express our strong opposition to the request of North Coast Railroad Co., LLC (NCRCo) to oppose the North Coast Railroad Authority’s (NCRA) request for abandonment of certain sections of the long unused portions of the rail line from Willits to Humboldt County. Sections of the rail line have been rendered inoperable for safety reasons.

Given that the primary reason that the North Coast Railroad Co., LLC opposes this abandonment exemption is to allow the transport of coal to the Port of Humboldt Bay for transport to Asian markets, and that the burning of coal is a major contributor to global warming, it is unconscionable that we ship our coal to other countries to contribute to global warming.

Further, the railroad crosses environmentally sensitive areas, specifically two rivers that supply drinking water to thousands. The land along parts of the area is unstable and subject to landslides. A far better use of this abandoned rail bed is the further development of the Great Redwood Trail.

We urgently request that the STB deny the North Coast Railroad Co., LLC request to oppose North Coast Railroad Authority’s abandonment exemption.


An out-of-nowhere proposal from a shadowy company to take over a defunct railway through Northern California’s coastal mountains has raised suspicions that Western coal companies are engineering a backdoor pathway for exporting coal to Asia.
California has been seeking permission from federal rail regulators to decommission much of the 320-mile rail network, connecting the San Francisco Bay with the port at Humboldt Bay, and repurpose it as the Great Redwood Trail.

That plan is now in jeopardy after lawyers for the mystery company filed papers on Aug. 16 with the federal Surface Transportation Board, objecting to California’s plans to transform the North Coast Railroad to a trail. State Sen. Mike McGuire, a champion for the trail project, now alleges Western coal operators, including Utah producers, are behind the move.

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North Coast lawmakers have vowed to block a secretive plan to restore an abandoned stretch of defunct North Coast railroad to export coal overseas from Montana, Utah and Wyoming through the Port of Humboldt Bay.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) called the proposed plan “one of the largest environmental threats” the North Coast has seen in decades.

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said there are several ways to halt the proposed project. “One of them is NCRA itself because the NCRA is faced with losing its right of way to a coal train,” he said. “I believe it would have the option of withdrawing the abandonment request and keeping (the rail line) in public ownership to at least have more time to work on a strategy.”

Huffman also urged community members to express opposition to the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District. Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, district executive director Larry Oetker said the possibility of a coal train is “not something that we are interested in.”

“We are focused on developing Humboldt Bay for an offshore wind terminal and that’s really all we’re working on,” he said. “… The port is not looking to bring coal into the harbor. 

We have been exclusively focused on are finding things to ship out of the bay that the community thinks is a good fit for our region. We are looking to be a clean, green port.”

When asked if the harbor district has participated in conversations with NCRCo. Oetker said, “No, I have not met with anybody looking to bring coal to the port.”

McGuire vowed to bring new legislation forward “to stop Big Coal in its tracks.”

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North Coast lawmakers and environmental groups are bracing for a battle to block a secretive plan to restore an abandoned stretch of North Coast railroad for high-volume coal shipments from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to Humboldt Bay for overseas export.

A plan state Sen. Mike McGuire is calling the “toxic coal train” would allow transport of coal shipped through Utah and Nevada, west through Sacramento and Vallejo and through the North Bay along the SMART train tracks and beyond to the port at Eureka.

“We’re going to have to do our work and kill this thing,” Congressman Jared Huffman said Friday.

Lawmakers say the proposal, first reported by the Lost Coast Outpost, not only would run tens of millions of tons of coal along unstable ground past critical waterways, but would also extend reliance on coal as a global energy source, and contribute to greenhouse gas production at a time when fossil fuels should be abandoned.

“The train tracks are literally just feet away from the drinking water source for nearly one million Californians — the Russian and Eel River,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg.

The plan also could mean lengthy waits at critical thoroughfares, as car after car of coal went past on track that cleaves Sonoma County cities. Coal trains in the Powder River Basin can be more than 100 rail cars long.

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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. 
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said he met with some of the interested parties. About six months ago, he had dinner with a group of people who said they were interested in restoring the rail line. The group included Utah State Senator David Hinkins.
“They had some Native Americans they were partnering up with,” Bohn said. “I know that they met with the Wiyots quite a bit. They were talking about just opening the rail line. … They thought it’s usable. They had some freight ideas that they could get out of here.”
Asked if they identified what type of freight they intended to ship, Bohn said, “They held it pretty close to the chest, I thought. Rightly so.”
Told that McGuire and Huffman had identified the interested parties as coal companies, Bohn said, “They did talk about clean coal cars, you know, completely covered, completely domed and everything.”
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