UPDATE, 2:56 p.m.:
Sen. McGuire’s office sends us the following statement:
“It’s still very early in the legislative process. We are currently working with a significant number of stakeholders, including interested residents, from every corner of the north coast on a long term solution to the beleaguered 300 mile long rail right-of-way,” McGuire said.
“Our overall goal is to create a world class trail system for the entire length of the line, which would be a destination for locals and outdoor enthusiasts from across the planet. The trail would be a significant economic driver for our region and traverse through some of America’s most scenic landscapes, connecting folks with ancient redwoods, state parks and local trails.
“We are also developing language for a potential freight study, and we want to ensure the continuation of freight and excursion trains where they are currently running.”
State Senator Mike McGuire’s office is drafting legislation that would completely dissolve the North Coast Railroad Authority, the state agency that has run the mostly moribund railroad line between Humboldt County and the Bay Area for nearly 30 years.
In its place, McGuire’s draft legislation would create a new state body — the “Great Redwood Trail Agency” — to manage railroad assets between here and Willits. The agency would be charged with railbanking the line and eventually building a multiuse trail on the right-of-way.
McGuire’s draft legislation comes at a time when the North Coast Railroad Authority is facing intense scrutiny from state oversight agencies. In December of last year, the California Transportation Commission called on the state legislature to form a special commission to hash out the future of the authority, whose operating budget comes almost entirely from the sale and lease of publicly owned real estate assets. No trains have run north of Sonoma County for the last 20 years.
In addition, the authority has gone rogue in the last year. Despite being an agency of the state, it has asked the United States Supreme Court to overturn a state Supreme Court decision that held it to state environmental law. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear the petition.
Different drafts of the McGuire bill that would abolish the NCRA are currently circulating among interested parties and policy-makers. They are intended to fill out and amend McGuire’s Senate Bill 1029, which at the moment simply calls for adding access for trails along the 300-mile length of the railroad.
But draft amendments to this legislation, two versions of which were obtained by the Outpost over the weekend, are much more dramatic.
In each of them, McGuire calls for the complete dissolution of the North Coast Railroad before April 1, 2019. At that time, the railroad north of Willits would be temporarily transferred to Caltrans for two years, during which time the “Great Redwood Trail Agency” would be formed.
It appears that McGuire envisions a seven-person board of directors to run this agency, with two members appointed by the governor, one by the state Senate, one by the Assembly, one each from the counties of Humboldt and Mendocino, and a seventh member appointed by an agency yet to be determined.
The two drafts that the Outpost has seen differ only in what to do with the southern half of the line, where some trains are currently operating. In one version, those assets are handed to the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board of directors, which runs commuter trains along much of the same track. In the other, they’re given over to some as-yet-undetermined agency.
In both drafts, the Great Redwood Trail Agency would be given the option of choosing to maintain rail infrastructure on the far northern end of the line, perhaps to lease to excursion operators or short-line freight operations. But it would not be part of the agency’s core mission.
McGuire’s chief of staff, Jason Liles, could not immediately be reached for comment, but an email to certain stakeholders in the project indicated that the office is serious about moving the conversation toward dissolution.
“The [sic] are still in draft form and need a lot more detail - but they create the structure for the next steps that we will be pursuing in the coming weeks,” Liles wrote.
Hank Seemann, Humboldt County’s deputy director of public works and the point person for the county’s various trail projects, told the Outpost this morning that he hadn’t yet had time to review McGuire’s draft legislation. When it was outlined for him, he said that it was too early to know how it might affect the county’s current top trail priority — the completion of the Humboldt Bay Trail between Eureka and Arcata.
Further down the road, though, the changes McGuire proposes could be expanding the regional trail system, Seemann said. It would likely make it much easier to take the trails down to King Salmon, College of the Redwoods — even down to Fortuna and beyond.
“Thinking about the future, it certainly could be a game-changer for expanding the Humboldt Bay Trail.” he said.
- State Transportation Commission Raises Eyebrow at North Coast Railroad Authority Finances, Asks Perennially Beleaguered Agency to Prepare ‘Shutdown Plan’
- Government Railroad Agency Says It’s Still Looking to Bring Trains Back to Humboldt County, Even as its Finances and Fortunes Spiral Downward
- North Coast Railroad Authority, a State Agency, Will Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Rule That It is Not Bound By State Environmental Law
- RAILROAD NEWS: Citing ‘Uncertain Future,’ California Transportation Commission Calls for Special Committee to Hash Out What to Do With the North Coast Railroad Authority
- Under Pressure From State Regulators, North Coast Railroad Authority Signals That It’s Willing to Railbank its Tracks Through the Eel River Canyon – For a Price