Media Release 07/20/11:
Environmental Groups Challenge Railroad’s Failure to Review Impacts

Contact: Patty Clary, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics 707-445-5100


CATs' Complaint (2.8 mb pdf file)

Media Release 06/08/11: Coalition Warns of Legal Action if Freight Rail Agency Approves Environmental Report on Reopening Tracks

Press Democrat story

July 20, 2011. Two North Coast citizens’ groups filed separate legal actions in Marin County Superior Court today seeking to set aside the North Coast Rail Authority’s (NCRA’s) recent environmental impact report (EIR) for its failure to address the impacts of rebuilding and operating the rail line from Arcata to Lombard.

“The public was locked out of decision making for a project that impacts neighborhoods and the health of local communities, our water and the environment,” said Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs).

In its lawsuit, CATs claims that NCRA failed to address the true impact of reopening the long defunct “Russian River Division” in its recent environmental impact report when it ignored the decrepit condition of the line and the impacts of extensive toxic pollution now present and toxins that will be added during reconstruction on water and the greater environment.

CATs’ complaint identifies numerous significant issues the NCRA ignored in its report and calls for a new analysis.

“The law requires that the report, and thus the public, be fully informed, that hazards be identified and safer options devised. That’s what we’re asking for,” Clary said. “How else can important decisions affecting our environment and tax dollars be made democratically?”

“We are gravely concerned the NCRA, a public agency, and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWP Co.), the private company that has leased the entire railroad for the next century, are doing their best to avoid real environmental review of the gravel train they want the public to pay for,” said Scott Greacen, North Coast Director of Friends of the Eel River, which also filed suit Wednesday.

Though the agency and the company now deny it in their EIR, Friends of the Eel River say the facts show they still plan to rebuild the railroad through the Eel River Canyon and dig an open pit mine on the banks of the Wild and Scenic Eel River.

“They are seeking desperately to avoid giving the public a hard look at the impacts of not just rebuilding a railroad through some of the most unstable ground on the continent, but of building a gravel train to make Island Mountain and Humboldt County the gravel suppliers to the West Coast,” Greacen said.

Key Points about the NCRA and NWP Co.

After three state agencies – the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Department of Toxic Substances Control and Department of Fish and Game -- sued the rail agency in 1998 over toxic pollution and needed cleanup of the entire rail line, the NCRA signed a Consent Decree in 1999 promising to take specific measures to protect water quality and clean up toxic pollutants. More than a decade later, the NCRA has yet to fulfill those promises. Many of the most toxic industrial pollutants ever manufactured still pollute the entire rail right-of-way.

The Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order in 1998 that effectively closed the railroad due to extreme lack of maintenance of the line and resultant safety violations. The order was lifted May 4, 2011 for the recently repaired line from Windsor south to Lombard.

Compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a condition of the NCRA’s funding from the California Transportation Commission. When the City of Novato challenged the NCRA’s failure in an earlier instance to look at the whole railroad as a single project, the NCRA asserted it need not comply with California environmental law at all. The judge disagreed, and the lawsuit was later settled with another consent decree.

The proposed Island Mountain mine, located in an extremely remote corner of Trinity County, would be a 350 acre open pit mine immediately adjacent to the Wild and Scenic Eel River. The Island Mountain mine was the centerpiece of the business plan presented by the NWP Co. when it was awarded an exclusive operator lease by the NCRA, and when state funding appeals to the California Transportation Commission. Island Mountain contains a large volume of very hard construction-grade rock.

Under a lease agreement that was negotiated in secret and kept from public view, and which one member of the NCRA Board of Directors has criticized as “unfair” and “one-sided,” the NWP Co. has options to assume effective control of the entire rail line from Humboldt Bay to Lombard for up to 99 years. The public has promised, through the NCRA, to raise money to pay to rebuild and repair the line. The company would make lease payments to the agency if and when it made five million dollars a year in net profits.


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