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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The federal government has officially announced its intention to sell offshore wind leases off the coast of California for the first time, and the proposed leases include stipulations that prioritize workforce and supply chain development.

On Thursday, the Department of Interior announced it will publish its proposed sale notice for five leases — three leases in the Morro Bay wind energy area and two leases in the Humboldt Bay wind energy area, totaling 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy if fully developed — with the Federal Register on Tuesday. The proposed leases include, among other things, requirements to work with the surrounding tribes and communities to mitigate any adverse impacts as well as incentives to invest in workforce training and enter into community benefit agreements.

“That’s the direction we’ve wanted to go towards for a long time,” Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, told The Times-Standard. “We’ll learn more as we go, but the community benefit agreement is going to be useful to us as locals to make this project be meaningful and help deliver benefits to Humboldt County.”

“There’s also an opportunity to use community benefits agreements to get commitments for environmental protection at the outset of a project,” Wheeler said. “That means we don’t need to wait and fight projects further down the development process about what sort of mitigation measures they might include.”

“These lease sales are the first step towards the real work of assessing environmental impacts and how to avoid or mitigate them,” Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, said in a statement. “Once developers enter into lease agreements, those site assessments will begin and we’ll have a much better understanding of how best to protect wildlife and their habitats as these projects move forward.”

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Three feet of sea-level rise would have significant impacts to communities surrounding Humboldt Bay, but that’s exactly what’s expected to happen in the coming decades.
That’s why the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury’s second report “The Sea Also Rises,” issued Thursday, states that Humboldt County, the cities of Arcata and Eureka, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, and state legislators need to start collaborating on planning for sea-level rise.
“A regional voice speaks louder than multiple local voices,” the report states.
Some of those efforts are at the beginning stages. Humboldt County’s Planning and Building Department, for instance, is expected to conclude the Humboldt Bay Sea Level Rise Regional Planning Feasibility Study in September 2022 and that will likely recommend taking a collaborative approach to the issue.
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The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.
The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.
But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.

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