The Eureka City Council on Friday approved a resolution to allow the city to apply for a $295,000 Caltrans grant that would go toward a rail feasibility study. The council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Linda Atkins dissenting, to go forward with the grant application. Atkins said the matter, which was approved in a special meeting announced Thursday, should have been given more public notice.
“I’m against having this Good Friday session to sort of slip this in under the radar,” Atkins said.
Other council members praised the grant application, saying they expect it to help the city.
“It’s a real chance to develop our economy, or at least see if there’s a tool to build our economy,” Councilman Lance Madsen said, addressing the council by telephone.
Atkins expressed concerns about using public funds — which include the proposed $295,000 Caltrans funding — for the feasibility study, and asked the council to take more time to discuss the grant application in a regularly scheduled council meeting.
The Caltrans grant requires certain matching funds, including $17,500 in city of Eureka staff time and $35,000 from the nonprofit Land Bridge Alliance.
The council approved a resolution last year supporting a study evaluating whether an east-to-west rail route connecting Humboldt Bay to the national rail network is feasible. The east-to-west line would span about 125 miles, ultimately connecting the Humboldt Bay Area to a Union Pacific line just south of Red Bluff.
Public speakers at Friday’s meeting were divided.
“Bringing outside money from grants like this can bring a lot of options,” said Pete Oringer, a board member of the Timber Heritage Association and the Land Bridge Alliance.
Humboldt Baykeeper Executive Director Jessica Hall said her organization and other environmental groups were concerned about the impacts of possible industrial development on the bay and the risks of investing in a feasibility study or rail.
“We believe these risks should be borne by the people making a profit,” she said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Newman said harbor development and transportation — “not just trucks coming into and out of Humboldt County” — go hand-in-hand.
“I heard the director of Humboldt Baykeeper say they don’t want development around the bay,” Newman said. “I think that speaks to how some of the opposition feels about business. We want thriving businesses that pay fair wages — not just minimum wage.” The Eureka City Council declined to adopt an ordinance earlier this month that would have raised minimum wage in the city to $12 per hour. The council instead voted 4-1, with Atkins dissenting, to put the ordinance in the hands of the voters in 2014.
Humboldt Land Title Company Vice President Debbie Provolt said transportation is a major constraint on local business. An east-west railroad, she said, would ease homelessness and empty storefronts in Eureka.
“It would remove the competitive disadvantage of where we live,” Provolt said.
McKinleyville resident Sid Berg praised the council for “taking the lead” on the alternative railroad.
“We’re on the silk road here,” he said. “There’s been trade here since the days of Marco Polo.”