A filing with an obscure federal body suggests moves are underway to revive the old Northwestern Pacific Rail Road to deliver coal to conceptual port facilities in Arcata.
Though few details have emerged, state Senator Mike McGuire is vowing to crush the proposal, whatever it takes. He said a little known entity has filed for permission to restore the railroad, including tracks through the Eel River Canyon abandoned after washouts in the 1997 floods.
"We're literally dealing with an anonymous llc, out of Utah," he said.
It's apparently the latest flashpoint as industry seeks a west coast terminal to ship coal to eager buyers in Asia. Proposals in Seattle, Portland, Oakland and elsewhere have run into stiff opposition.
McGuire said, if approved, the operation could easily switch to shipping oil and that either would present an unacceptable risk to the Eel and Russian Rivers, and those dependent on them for drinking water. McGuire said representatives from the organization have been secretly lobbying officials and business leaders in Humboldt County, and that century-old federal laws give rail operators essentially a free hand.
"Doesn't need to comply with California Environmental Quality act, they won't have to advance a NEPA study--which is the federal environmental review, they won't need to advance an Environmental Impact Report. There is very little that railroad companies have to comply with to be able to start building and then operate."
McGuire said those behind the group claim more than a billion dollars in assets to help rebuild the railroad, but repairs would cost more than twice that. He predicts the outfit's business plan won't pass muster with regulators, which would stymie the effort. The proposal would also sink efforts to convert much of the abandoned route into a recreational trail.
McGuire said, he's taking no chances.
"We're going to be advancing legislation in the coming days that will prohibit any state funding to be able to be invested in a project like coal or oil." He also promised a challenge in federal court.