Earlier this afternoon, the North Coast Railroad voted 8-1 to rescind its earlier certification of an environmental impact report governing operations on the southern end of its line. (Want background? See yesterday’s LostCoastOutpost.com post.) LoCO Op-Ed contributor Bernie Meyers, who represents Marin County on the NCRA Board of Directors, was the sole vote in opposition.
The NCRA board has been very clear that this legal maneuver essentially amounts to an assertion that it, an agency of the state of California, is not bound by California environmental law. It is also quite clear up-front about the fact that this decertification is a legal stratagem that hopes to make a lawsuit brought by Friends of the Eel and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics simply disappear: You say our EIR is inadequate? Well, we no longer have an EIR, so it can’t be inadequate.
It seemed that no one quite expected something that happened early on in the hearing on the item: A representative from the California Transportation Commission showed up with an official letter saying: Hey, if you’re going to flush away this environmental impact report, then we’re going to want back that $3 million we gave you to make that environmental impact report. Much later in the meeting this was brought up and essentially dismissed as a misunderstanding. We still have the EIR, several directors said. People can still look at it and stuff. There’s a lot of good information in there.
But their vote said: We just no longer accept that it is a legally binding document. Whether Caltrans or the courts smile upon this fact or not is something we will all soon discover together.
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David Keller Of Friends Of The Eel River Comments on the NCRA: “NCRA, a state agency created and funded with taxpayer dollars to run a railroad on publicly owned rail, committed themselves to doing a full environmental review of their rail start up and operations in exchange for $31 million in public funds. $3.1 million of this was designated for a legally complete and accurate Environmental Impact Report as required by California's premier environmental law. The agency refused to include any review of their Eel River Division within their EIR, even though they include rail service up to Humboldt Bay in their business plans. At the same time, they have refused public efforts to access unused rail right-of-way for trails around Humboldt Bay. Californians For Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) and Friends of the Eel River (FOER) (and earlier, the city of Novato) challenged NCRA's document as inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, and insufficient to meet the standards of environmental protection that Californians have demanded. The PD story is woefully incomplete. Now, in their 7th attempt to avoid court review of their work, NCRA and their operator, NWPCo., are lifting a chapter from Alice in Wonderland, claiming they never had to spend the $3.1 million in the first place, and that the EIR produced was never required of them. Or, as Roseanne Rosannadanna would have said, ‘Oh, never mind.’ Tell that to the taxpayers who have already funded this public agency. Tell that to property owners, commercial and recreational fishermen, tribes, shippers, and future taxpayers who are on the hook for cleanup of prior messes from rail operations. Tell that to the Wild and Scenic Eel River's threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead which still have to swim through the toxic debris dropped into the river from previous rail operations. The elected representatives who constitute the Board of Directors of NCRA seem to have taken NWPCo's hubris to new heights. We hope they turn down NWPCo's demands, and let the courts review the quality and sufficiency of their work, as is required in California law.”