Nearly a year ago, a company newly registered in Wyoming set off alarms and political outrage in Northern California with a filing at a federal rail agency.The proposal immediately ran into a wall of fierce opposition ‒ with federal, state and local lawmakers from San Francisco Bay to Eureka all dead set against it.
The federal agency that entertained the idea, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which oversees rail rights of way including the 176 miles of defunct tracks between Willits and Eureka, put the brakes on the project in a procedural ruling earlier this month.
But as the tide goes out on the audacious and costly coal export scheme ‒ a political anathema in climate-concerned Northern California ‒ questions remain about exactly who was behind the North Coast Railroad Co. and whether it ever had the wherewithal to succeed.
But on the heels of the company’s most recent filing in June, Huffman and Thompson, who together represent the North Bay and North Coast in the House, and Padilla, California’s junior senator, accused Wight of submitting a falsified bank statement to the Surface Transportation Board.

“The (document) is not a valid statement from Self-Help Credit Union,” bank spokesperson Jenny Shields wrote in a June 21 email to The Press Democrat.
Justin Wight’s other business ventures also raise questions.
Wight’s bank statement showed financial transactions with two other limited liability companies. One is TerraNova Strategies, and the other is Twin Hawkes Development Corporation. Email addresses and phone numbers for the companies posted online also tie them to Wight.
Wight signed a November 2020 report with the Wyoming Secretary of State for TerraNova. Public information about that company’s work is difficult to come by. Its website states the firm operates in business development, government relations and commercial finance. The company also offered to help clients apply for federal COVID-19 small business loans during the onset of the pandemic.
The website lists offices as far afield as Belgium and New Zealand. No one responded to a Press Democrat request for comment submitted via an online form.

In 2016, the California Department of Real Estate filed a “Desist and Refrain” order against Wight and TerraNova Strategies for operating without a real estate license. Wight and his firm “solicited and negotiated a loan transaction” using a California property as collateral, according to Rick Lopes, a spokesperson for the agency. The type and size of the loan, and the type of property, were not immediately available, Lopes said.

Wight did not respond to a question about the desist and refrain order or about the nature and experience of Twin Hawkes and TerraNova.

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Moonstone Beach County Park was ranked as sixth in a list of beaches that received the worst summer dry season grades in California by environmental nonprofit Heal The Bay’s 2021-22 Beach Report Card. The beach receives pollution from the nearby Little River flowing into the ocean. A study of nearby Clam Beach, which made the list as one of California’s more polluted beaches from 2013 through 2021, found that the pollution can be attributed to fecal matter from birds, cows and dogs.
“The most important thing people around here can do (to reduce pollution) is people who manage cattle can fence them out of the creeks and put a water source for the cattle off the stream channel so that they’re not polluting the creeks with their feces,” Jennifer Kalt, director of local environmental group Humboldt Baykeeper, said.
For dogs, Kalt noted that while it might seem counterproductive to put their poop in plastic bags and throw them away, doing so is more environmentally friendly than allowing it to wash into storm drains and creeks, polluting the water.
Avoiding swimming in beaches and creeks within 72 hours of a rainstorm is important, especially for children, since all the waste and feces left on the ground runs into drains, which washes out into the water systems, according to Kalt. Going into the water during this time can make beach-goers sick.
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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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