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.

“There are several discrepancies here that make me unable to verify that this is in fact a valid statement from our credit union,” a representative from the Self-Help Credit Union wrote in an email to the Times-Standard.

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While the credibility of this coal train proposal has been in question since it first reared its sooty head, the effort nevertheless jeopardizes the prospects for the Great Redwood Trail, a state-led initiative to railbank the 320-mile rail line between the Bay Area and Humboldt County for conversion to a “world-class, multi-use rail-to-trail project” along the state-owned right-of-way. 

Cut to today, when attorneys for the Great Redwood Trail Agency, the state agency in charge of managing that right-of-way, effectively called “bullshit” on this coal choo-choo scheme in a filing that points to some dubious details in NCRCo’s overture and asks the Surface Transportation Board to reject it.

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The state and federal government set ambitious goals for developing renewable energy— like Humboldt County’s offshore wind project — but how quickly that development materializes locally is a matter of debate.
Earlier this week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published a proposed sale notice for five commercial wind energy leases off the coast of California — three off the coast of Morro Bay in Southern California and two off the coast of Humboldt Bay. The combined area up for lease is 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, 1.6 to 1.8 GW of which could come from the North Coast once the Humboldt wind energy area was fully built out.
Norway-based Aker Offshore Wind is interested in developing offshore wind projects in both regions and has been working with both the local community and Morro Bay for four years. Jonah Margulis, senior vice president of Aker Offshore Wind, said there are different challenges in both areas.
“In the north, it’s mainly a transmission challenge,” Margulis said. “In the central, it’s mainly a port challenge.”
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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.

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Sen. Mike McGuire’s “Stop the Toxic Train” town hall meeting last night began on a triumphant note. The interests backing the titular train had declined to file their paperwork with the federal Surface Transportation Board by the May 31 deadline, McGuire announced, and he was ready to pronounce it kaput. “We have beat back big coal and the toxic train,” McGuire said. “This is amazing news. This is late-breaking from the federal government tonight.”
But McGuire spoke too soon.
In fact, earlier in the day the North Coast Railroad Company LLC — the shell company representing the obscure interests who hope to snatch the defunct rail line from the public — had, in fact, filed its Surface Transportation Board paperwork. They were a day late, but they hope the STB will overlook that.
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