HUMBOLDT – The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) has emerged as a local team-builder, with its Humboldt Bay Subcommittee successfully persuading support for rail with trail development.
Consisting of NCRA boardmembers Clif Clendenen, John McCowen and Bill Kier, the subcommittee held a series of public meetings that included presentations on the condition of the bay rail line and the potential for rail restoration and trail development.
It was controversial at the outset, as the subcommittee was initially proposed as one that would consider railbanking the bay line and replacing the tracks between Arcata and Eureka with a multi-use trail. When the proposal was considered, political division was on full display as the factions in the rail/trail debate argued for and against it during an epic five-hour-long NCRA meeting.
The NCRA board decided to have the subcommittee focus on a rail with trail approach, in accordance with the agency’s policies. The group’s work has been productive and socially influential, giving the NCRA new credibility and rendering the previous “rail versus trail” debate as outdated.
As advanced by the subcommittee and those who attended its meetings, an argument in favor of a united front pushing for both rail and trail development has prevailed. Subcommittee members have convinced the opposing factions that if they stop fighting and combine their interests, opportunities for funding both rail and trail will be enhanced. The subcommittee’s work has also heightened the involvement of various transportation and municipal agencies.
A series of findings and recommendations in the subcommittee’s final report were unanimously approved by the NCRA’s board of directors at a Dec. 12 meeting held in Eureka. The report vouches for a “broad-based coalition” to advocate for rail restoration and trail development.
It also recommends considering exceptions to the NCRA’s rail with trail standards to accommodate trail installation on segments such as bridge crossings. The revival of rail operations would be focused exclusively on Humboldt Bay, with passenger train and local freight hauling considered.
During a public comment session, the subcommittee’s work was lauded. “It’s wonderful you’ve taken that effort that’s allowed us, as a community, to really think through all these things and come together and work on rails with trails around this bay,” said SunGnome Madrone, a natural resources specialist who helped establish the Hammond Trail. “I’m ecstatic about that change.”
Madrone suggested that a technical advisory committee be formed to further the work, which was well received by NCRA boardmembers.
Former Arcata Councilmember Dave Meserve has advocated for combined rail and trail development all along and noting the day’s high tide, he said multiple agencies have interests in redevelopment of the bayside infrastructure.
“Caltrans needs to have its feet held to the fire,” he continued, quoting the agency’s commitment to non-motorized transportation access.
Reflecting the new push for collaboration, Boardmember Hal Wagenet said, “If you’re working with a partner, you might not want to ‘hold their feet to the fire,’ as I’ve heard a couple of times, but invite them to warm their feet at the fire.”
NCRA Boardmember and Subcommittee Member John McCowen noted Caltrans’ extensive involvement in the subcommittee process. Referring to previous comments about sea level rise, he said funding could emerge in response to it and agencies like Caltrans will share the benefits of a bayside restoration project.
“Again, everyone working together, I think, is the key,” McCowen added. Later, he said the involvement of Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, groups that have opposed and litigated against the NCRA, would be welcomed due to environmental considerations.
The Humboldt County Association of Governments has also been involved and Arcata Councilmember Susan Ornelas, its newly-appointed chairman, told boardmembers that specific grant opportunities are being considered.
“I’m really excited to be working in this collaboration and I think this is the time and we can rise this tide,” she continued.