Op-Ed by Bruce Silvey, Humboldt Trails Council - Eureka Times Standard
As outlined by The Times-Standard article “Lawmakers Oppose Coal Plan” on (Times-Standard, Sept. 8), and the Lost Coast Outpost article “Aiming to Ship Coal Out of Humboldt Bay, Shadowy Corporation Makes Bid to Take Over NCRA Line” on Sept. 2, there appears to be a serious move to derail the Great Redwood Trail and replace it with toxic coal trains to run down the fragile Eel River Canyon to a terminal at Humboldt Bay. The goal is to ship millions of tons of this climate change-inducing product to Asia where it can be burned for energy before all the coal-fired plants are finally shut down.

To capture these eleventh-hour profits, a new railroad associated with the coal companies in Utah, Montana, and Wyoming plan to rebuild the dilapidated NCRA line for substantially less than the $2.4 billion NCRA estimates it will cost. Since private railroads can preempt state laws, they would not need to meet any of California’s environmental laws as they rebuild collapsed tunnels and washed out track along the unstable Eel River Canyon, or around Humboldt Bay.  According to the documents filed by their law firm with the Surface Transportation Board, they  have $1.2 billion in funding behind them, and they expect to have “high-volume shipments”.

Why Humboldt Bay, which would require major dredging and retrofitting to accommodate a bulk transfer terminal to load coal on huge ships? These same coal shipments have been blocked by six ports on the west coast between Coos Bay, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington. Their last appeal was against the Washington State Department of Ecology permit denial for an export dock on the grounds that it would cause “irreparable and unavoidable”  harm to the environment. The appeal of this denial was just dismissed by the US Supreme Court in June of this year.

A June 28 news release by the Washington Environmental Council announcing this Supreme Court Decision states “Multiple courts at the state and federal levels have now held that Washington State was within its rights to protect citizens from elevated levels of air and water pollution that would have come with transporting coal through its communities.” It further credited this accomplishment to “an unprecedented coalition of tribal nations, health, environmental, faith and community groups from across the Pacific Northwest and High Plains.”

The loss of the Great Redwood Trail would be a lost opportunity for the entire North Coast, including economic, environmental and health improvements. Coal on the other hand does “unavoidable and irreparable” harm to our environment, health and way of life. Imagine for a moment 100-car coal trains rumbling down the middle of First Street in Old Town Eureka multiple times a day, or conveyer belts dropping loose coal into bulk transport ships with carcinogenic coal dust in the air and on the water.

There is already a coalition of organizations pulling together that include environmental, transportation, trail and community groups. If you belong to an organization that can join in, please see that they do. The City of Oakland, California, passed an ordinance to prohibit the storage and handling of coal to block a coal terminal on their shore.

You can help advocate with the county, cities, and Harbor District to direct their legal staff to research ordinances or regulations that can block toxic coal before there is even a specific proposal, AND before they grab the Eel River Canyon out from under the NCRA. Visit links at https://humtrails.org to see other actions you can take to help stop this toxic coal rush.
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State Sen. Mike McGuire introduced new legislation to block a proposal to restore the defunct North Coast railroad in an attempt to export coal overseas from Montana, Utah and Wyoming through the Port of Humboldt Bay.
McGuire called the proposal “one of the largest environmental threats the North Coast has seen in decades.”

McGuire said, "This critical bill will ban any state funding from being invested to improve the rail line for coal shipments north of Willits and it bans any state funding to build out a potential coal storage terminal at the Port of Humboldt. No way, no how are we going to let this happen.”

SB 307 would “prohibit spending state monies for any new bulk coal terminal project, as defined, within the County of Humboldt,” according to the text of the bill. “California should do everything it can to put a stop to anything that supports the use of coal, and tampering with the plans for this trail, which will go through some beautiful North Coast country, is not welcomed,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa).“California should do everything it can to put a stop to anything that supports the use of coal, and tampering with the plans for this trail, which will go through some beautiful North Coast country, is not welcomed,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa).
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After discussing a plan by a newly formed Wyoming corporation to transport coal through the Eel River Canyon on long-abandoned and crumbling railroad infrastructure, the Ukiah City Council Wednesday approved moving forward with the last phase of a public trail still being built on the short section of tracks inside the city limits.

“We’re the first official segment of the Great Redwood Trail, which we’re kind of proud of,” Deputy City Manager Shannon Riley told the City Council during its Sept. 15 meeting, referring to State Sen. Mike McGuire’s plan to turn the railroad tracks into a multi-use trail that stretches from the San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay.

However, Riley said, “suddenly a corporation was formed in Wyoming under the name ‘the North Coast Railroad Company’ with an application that says they have over a billion dollars in funding and they’re going to revitalize the tracks and use them (likely) to transport coal that is mined in the Midwest and shipped somehow to the Bay Area, then put on trains and transported to Humboldt Bay, where it would be put on large barges and shipped to Asia. This was a surprise to many people, and there are so many unanswered questions. There is no public information about who the principals of this LLC are, and there is no proof of their financial backing.”

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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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