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Lawsuit delays return of Sonoma County freight service


Freight trains won’t return to Sonoma County next week after three environmental groups threatened legal action Wednesday to block service on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.

A worker with Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company hammers spikes as he does rail maintenance on the freight tracks in Novato. (PD File/2010)

The Humboldt County groups said train traffic violates environmental laws and threatens the wild and scenic Eel River.

The North Coast Railroad Authority, the public agency responsible for freight service, has no plans to operate trains along the Eel, but the environmental groups said the agency must consider effects on the river, which could see rail traffic to Eureka in the future.

“NCRA’s unwillingness to acknowledge the harm to communities and the environment that reopening the rail line will cause violates the public’s trust,” said Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t have to shell out more money to support this railroad until they know the facts.”

Friends of the Eel River and the Environmental Protection Information Center also sent letters threatening to sue.

If the authority eventually reopens the railroad north of Willits, “it would be extremely damaging to the Eel River,” said Scott Greacen, director of Friends of the Eel.

The authority on Wednesday postponed final approval of the freight service after its attorney said he needs time to evaluate the legal threats.

“We believe it’s the prudent thing to do,” said attorney Chris Neary.

Freight trains were scheduled to return as soon as next week to a 62-mile stretch of the rail line between Napa County and Windsor.

In May, federal rail regulators lifted an embargo on train traffic over the segment, closed since 2001 because of storm damage.

On Wednesday, the authority was to approve a joint operating agreement with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which has plans for commuter service on the route. It also was expected to approve a final settlement with Novato, which sued over the freight project in 2007.

The authority was expected to certify an environmental report on freight service next week, the last step before trains can roll. But those actions are now on hold until at least June 20 when the authority meets again.

The environmental groups said the authority failed to clean up toxic sites and ignored other damaging effects of freight traffic. They said they will sue if the authority begins rail service without addressing their claims.

19 Responses to “Lawsuit delays return of Sonoma County freight service”

  1. NOTUTOO says:

    @Steve Klausner…I can’t remember the last time I disagreed with you, but now is one of those times. Although there may be kernals of truth in what you say, in the end restoring freight from Windsor to the national line and hopefully from Eureka through the Eel River is a legitimate and worth endevour. And quoting the AVA? Really? That story portrays capitalism as a crime and is full of innuendos.

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  2. Jon Bixler says:

    Dear Mr. Klausner… I read the article you posted… did you?

    Your article focuses on an estimated $643,000,000 in tax dollars needed to restore the railway through the Eel River Valley, purportedly to create a means for unscrupulous businessmen to ship gravel mined from stream beds using decidedly environmentally unfriendly methods.

    Sounds wretched, doesn’t it? I certainly wouldn’t support it.

    But the NCRA isn’t suggesting they run the train through the Eel River Valley. Here’s an excerpt from an NRCA press release dated May 5th, 2011.

    “NCRA has invested over $60 mil. since 2007 to repair 56 crossing signals, replace 50,000 cross-ties and 23,000 tons of ballast, shore-up levees in Schellville, repair 43 rail bridges, and 3 movable bridges that traverse the Napa and Petaluma rivers between Windsor and the train connection with the Union Pacific (Brazos Junction/Lombard) located south of Napa.”

    All that work was done on the line between Windsor and Napa… exactly where they said they were focusing, not in the Eel River Valley.

    Your previous post stated that this line would always operate at a loss. I think you’re confusing freight line with high speed rail. Freight trains are among the most economical means of transportation in existence. A single freight train can move over 270 trucks saving fuel and wear and tear on the roadway, not to mention easing congestion on our bay area roads. Freight trains can move a ton of freight over 450 miles on a single gallon of diesel.

    Help me out here… what exactly is your objection?

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  3. James Miller says:

    I am so sick and tired of lawsuits. They talk about wasting tax payer dollars on the railroad? How about the wasted cost of all these court cases? These enviro-wakos must be told to stick it. Just another thing that makes me want to leave California.

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  4. Steve Klausner says:

    Doug Bosco & His Phantom Railroad

    The NCRA is a den of corruption, populated by North Coast Democratic Party loyalists who have secured gainful employment by way of a phantom rail line, as well as a case of crony capitalism whereby politically connected big business interests are enriching themselves by suckling from the public teat.


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  5. Jim says:

    I’m so thankful for environmental groups that threaten lawsuits every time anyone tries to do anything. In Petaluma a corrupt counsel member is using the “environment” to stop the construction of a shopping center, after her side lost the counsel vote. Whether it is an environmental group or the ACLU, the legal system is constantly abused any time the progressives agenda isn’t followed.

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  6. John Galt says:

    I agree with Dave Madigan. How dare they impede economic recovery in Sonoma and Marin Counties because of what they think will happen when at some future point they might run trains further north?

    What gives them the right to hold us hostage? If they have an issue with trains near the Eel River, take that up when they are about the start running trains along the Eel River….

    These people’s priorities are out of whack. They must feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for their existence as human beings….. I can’t think what else would drive such irrational action that prioritizes people’s well-being so far below perceived environmental concerns….

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  7. Jon Bixler says:

    The “Friends of the Eel River” have ulterior motives in that they want to use the tracks between Willits and Humboldt Bay for a 145 mile biking and hiking trail. Here’s a link to a story describing their plans:


    It is precisely these types of underhanded and self-serving tactics that bring a bad name to others trying to do legitimate good for the environment.

    The pathetic thing is that if you’ve ever driven highway 162 to Dos Rios and looked at the section of tracks in question, you’d see how obviously unsuited they are for freight train traffic. About a third of the tracks are buried under avalanches and rubble. At one point near highway 101, you can see an entire enclosed freight car that rolled off the tracks and down a ravine. I recall having read an article not too long ago that discussed the practicality abandoning this section of railway because of the expense associated with maintaining it.

    There’s definitely a place and a time for environmentalism. I have no issues with legitimate environmental causes. This is just plain nonsense.

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  8. Frank says:

    Trailer bills are to be included in the State budget Plan, all of these trailer bills that are from the left/environmental groups will destroy 100s of millions in revenue for California
    case in point SB 670 (wiggens)if included to the budget bill will extend this morattorium for another five years. destroying small towns and revenue the state needs. yet Senator Diane Feinstein seems to to have her own ideas. she is asking for appropriation of 3 million dollars for a dredging project for the combie reservoir, when others do this for free, no tax payers support

    http://www.sierracounty.ws/county_docs/planning/FG eir response letter.pdf

    environmental groups can not prove there points with factual data. this is why the spike trees, blow up buildings and burn down development


    no more public money for these environmental terrorist
    It is well known that many special interest groups (e.g. environmental organizations, Sportsman Clubs) introduced many non-native species of fish, amphibians and birds to California and its water ways without knowing the full impact to native species. (Bad science and Data) and the California Department of Fish and Game were all too happy to help with the introduction of non-natives. Non-native species Brook Trout, Lake Trout, Atlantic Salmon, Kokanee Salmon, Striped Bass, Brown Trout, and some amphibians to name a few. This practice (fish stocking) started in the mid-1800s and still continues to this very day. It also is well known many of these non-natives species are predacious and feed on California natives. Salmon eggs, is a large part of their diet during salmon/steelhead runs. Frog eggs as well

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  9. Steve Klausner says:

    This rail line will always operate at a loss with taxpayers making up the difference. Think its been expensive to manage the line with no trains running, just wait till you see the bill for hauling timber and gravel. Every day this train is off the tracks there is a little spare change in our pockets.

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  10. Frank says:

    If the authority eventually reopens the railroad north of Willits, “it would be extremely damaging to the Eel River,” said Scott Greacen, director of Friends of the Eel.

    How Scott, please tell me how and please included factual data not your percived ideas

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  11. truth in law says:

    If you google Scott Greacen and Patty Clary it is easy to see what true “enviromentalists” they are. I think eco terrorist is a more appropriate title. I hope there is a full investigation into their groups. It sounds like they are holding up progress waiting for a paycheck.

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  12. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Here we have the red collective hard at work again.

    In my opinion,This is nothing more than economic terrorisim. This is the enemy within that was crated by the communists during the cold war. The goal was to shut down the industrial capacity of the United States. It’s worked too well.

    We need to grow a pair and stop this. One avenue that has been discussed is a requirement to post a bond for the court costs and fees upfront before any action or delay is created.

    Another discussion is an environmental exeption for existing infastructure.

    Whatever it is, we need it soon.

    This has happened time and again in the North Coast. Look at the logging industry. The EPA now stated that it may have been incorrect in assuming the spotted owl was impacted by logging, but it is too late. A complete north coast industry is gone. Look what replaced it, Filthy drug addicts that are a drain on all aspects of our society.

    If this group was interested in the environment why not go to china and file lawsuits there?

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  13. Mike says:

    Where are all of these environmentists filing suits and protesting the SMART train? A smelly diesel locomotive rumbling down the tracks sounds like something they could really get their teeth into.

    What about the toxic sites and other damaging sites next to SMART? Is all forgiven with SMART? Is this a double standard or what?

    Same tracks, same toxic sites and same invironmental damage.

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  14. Dave Madigan says:

    If I am not mistaken, the resumption of rail service at this time is for well south of the area that the “eco-whackos” are talking about.

    I hope the railroad will counter sue the eco-whackos for restraint of trade and harrassment.

    We need to stop being so afraid of anyone who rubberstamps their behind with the word environmentalist.

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  15. Cherie Maria says:

    So much for the return of my childhood nostalgia the sounds of the trains would echo through the neighborhood at night and every once in a while we’d have to wait at the gates while one passed by I’d stretch as far as I could to get a good view of the train cars from the back seat window.

    Then one day the tracks went silent and Santa Rosa grew up into a freeway city and instead of train cars it was trucks doing all the heavy hauling.

    The idea of locomotive horns coming back to the neighborhood was something I was actually looking forward to hearing again.

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  16. NOTUTOO says:

    It doesn’t matter what it is does it? Renewing freight service or kids doing a car wash. I don’t even want to call them environmentalists and they’re not conservationists…These people are Eco-Zealots. They have a hidden agenda which I’m sure is the ultimate transformation of the Eel River track to a pedestrian thoroughfare. These Eco-Zealots have had years to file this complaint but wait until the 11 hour. I hope they do sue, lose and are required to pay all legal fees. This is a prime example of the myriad of wacky causes that plague our society. On one hand they call out for an end to global warming and on the other sue when something is done.

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  17. hansutro says:

    Typical example of why this country is finished.
    Based on present day standards, the Golden Gate Bridge, would not have been built.
    Highway 101 would have been a one lane road.
    It’s over folks, there is no getting around that all these wackos and their attorneys get rich while haulting projects that need doing. The train was there way before all the greenies.
    Besides, why can’t they use their own argument, look at all the carbon it will save by getting belching trucks off the road……but no….
    I am glad I am leaving California, too many wackos.

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  18. Chris says:

    Leftists need to get a life.

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  19. Kirstin says:

    This is an example of an environmental group going too far. A return of freight service is important to our area and has been delayed far too long as it is. I hope the group in question, Friends of the Eel River, will reconsider. Any “toxic sites” that might actually be attributable to freight trains could be cleaned up even as service resumes. And An EIR study (at the cost of $3 million to the rail company, I believe) has been done. Let’s move along and get the freight cars rolling. The sooner everyone gets used to them running again, the better. We all (or anyway, most of us) want a clean environment, but that doesn’t mean an environment in which human beings and their reasonable activities are blocked at every turn and treated as enemies of the earth.

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