Trinity County’s decision to nix an east-west rail line feasibility study was a loss for businesses and a win for environmentalists, groups on both sides claimed.
“A train would have been an ecological disaster,” Tom Wheeler, program and legal coordinator for the Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center, said Friday.
The Trinity County Board of Supervisors declined to second a motion by Supervisor Bill Burton to use $276,000 of its Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant funds for the study at a reportedly packed Thursday meeting, according to Board Chairman John Fenley. The Land Bridge Alliance Organization had agreed to match 20 percent, or $69,000, of the total $345,000 needed to fund the study, according to the board’s special meeting agenda.
Eureka City Councilwoman Marian Brady said the decision means Humboldt and Trinity counties cannot capitalize on a train service that may have connected to a port in Humboldt Bay. She said the line could have led to the development of a port for overseas markets and competitive advantages to larger ports.
Wheeler said EPIC’s concerns stemmed from plans suggesting the rail line would run across or near rivers including the Trinity, Mad and Van Duzen rivers.
“As one of the most important stops in the Pacific Flyway and a critical aquatic ecosystem home to engendered fish, such as coho salmon and eulachon, Humboldt Bay is a unique ecological treasure,” it states. “The development necessary to make Humboldt Bay a major West Coast port is extreme and would spoil the bay’s natural beauty and ecological integrity.”
Wheeler added that noise from a train, once built, would create loud reverberating sounds harmful to northern spotted owl. On its boost to the economy, Wheeler said he doubted the train’s ability to spur economic activity and said any economic boost from a port would be lost on Trinity County.
The feasibility study, he said, would have likely led to the train’s construction.
“The government doesn’t like to just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to say ‘it’s infeasible,” he said.