Senator Mike McGuire has been pushing to convert the old Northern California Railroad Authority (NCRA) rail line into the “Great Redwood Trail”. His push for this proposed trail involved channeling several million taxpayer’s dollars to former Congressman Doug Bosco among others.
Just so happens the two key players assisting these efforts, McGuire’s aid Jason Liels and former NCRA Executive Director Mitch Stogner, also worked for Bosco during his time as a politician. Bosco conveniently is also an owner of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Chairman of the California Coastal Conservancy whose agency is now in charge of the Great Redwood Trail Authority (GRTA) formally NCRA.
Promises Made, None of Them Kept
McGuire has promised many, many times to provide transparency during the process of railbanking the NCRA rail line yet there has been zero response from his office to several of our inquiries. The NCRA also has repeatedly refused to provide or claims they don’t have relevant documents after requests for information under the Public Records Act.
Any railbanking proposal is meant to preserve the rail corridor for future rail reactivation. However, the continued claims out of the McGuire camp state reactivation is impossible. This claim argues against their own proposal. In other words, if the rail cannot be reactivated, as they say, there is no reason to railbank it.
Priority Number One, Bosco Gets Paid!
If the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) ultimately agrees with McGuire the rail easement goes away or is “abandoned”. Thus, no trail easement either. I am not sure if McGuire thought that one out. Or maybe he did. But he made sure getting Doug Bosco paid his millions was first priority.
A short section of the northernmost end of the “Great Redwood Trail” in Blue Lake, California was christened by Senator McGuire upon completion a few years ago. The cruel irony is that even with the $1 million plus spent, the Surface Transportation Board officially determined the NCRA did not actually have the authority to grant Blue Lake a license to build it where they did. Apparently, the NCRA didn’t own the land in question and knew that at the time. This will probably lead to litigation and possibly remove the northern terminus of the Great Redwood trail.
McGuire and Huffman Love the Port, or so they say
McGuire and Congressman Huffman both say they support the port of Humboldt, yet both are adamantly against a rail line to feed the port and distribute goods brought in. Using trucks for the same purpose is clearly not a viable alternative to trains. If either one of our representatives can provide an example of an industrial port that does not have a rail, I would be interested. Otherwise, it’s just more rhetoric with zero basis in reality.
On a more localized note, the Bay Trail South project which is meant to be a part of the Great Redwood Trail has problems of its own. The design that has been developed by Public Works Deputy Director Hank Seeman is inconsistent and in fact, in direct conflict with multiple policies, current contracts, public process, the SB10-29 Legislative Assessments, etc., and the 2020 Project Description itself.
All of them indicate that the Bay Rail corridor should be used for rail WITH trail meaning all trail construction should not interfere with rail activity. Hank Seeman has for some reason taken it upon himself to change the long-established and often repeated NCRA rail with trail policy and including rail removal and a trestle design that would prohibit existing and proposed uses of the rail.
Those uses include the very popular Timber Heritage Association (THA) speeder rides and rail bike concessions. He has refused to identify the authority he used to design such a contrary trail. Hank Seeman has acknowledged at the recent Great Redwood Trail Summit that because the trail design as it currently is cannot be legally built, the $16 mill plus funding is in jeopardy.
How did the design get developed against all of these public processes, agreements, and policies?
- 2018 initial study
- The 2020 project description
- 2012 county-wide process
- The 2021 Assessment report compiled by CalSTA
- The NCRA 2018 strategic plan
- The NCRA rail with trail policy
- The existing MOU with THA
- Federal Rail law prohibits a trail directly on top of an active rail
- The widely supported rail bike concession proposal
- Eureka, Harbor District, and Humboldt County
Unless Hank Seeman is forthcoming with the authority and process he used this may go into litigation, we may never know. To date, he refuses to address this fundamental question. Even if the Federal agency (STB) agrees to rail bank the old NCRA line which includes the Bay Rail, the rail is still subject to reactivation at any time a qualified rail operator successfully petitions for reactivation. That could happen in 50 years or 50 hours after or if railbanking is approved.
The Maybe Never Great Redwood Trail
So why not just have a design that would be legal to build now and would be able to coexist with rail activity? There are options that have been brought to Mr. Seeman’s attention such as a cantilevered trail on the trestle like in Santa Cruz. Living shoreline plantings and breakwater devices that have been utilized around the world could eliminate the need for turning the existing rail prism into a sea wall and removing tracks.
From where I am sitting it appears that there has been a concerted effort between Humboldt County Public Works staff, and members of the NCRA/GRTA organization that ushers millions of taxpayer dollars to people like Doug Bosco and others as well as millions to engineering firms under the guise of producing a very expensive trail.
There are folks in favor of this bay trail and those that are not. What we all should know and be able, to be honest about are the costs. For instance, from Madaket Plaza to Arcata is approximately 12 miles. The costs for those 12 miles all told are about $20,000,000. An estimated 200 people per day use the trail now. Let’s say for 200 days per year on average. If everyone was charged $10 per use it would take 1000 years to pay back the $20 mil.
Tearing up historic rail tracks that hold such tremendous promise
If this trail is somehow allowed to move forward as designed, it would require the termination of the existing MOU that allows the THA to provide very popular speeder rides to the public. It would also prevent any other proposed use of the rail such as recreational rail bike concessions, trollies, and other transportation uses between Eureka and Arcata as well as between Arcata and Samoa.
It will be the loss, possibly forever, of a destination-type experience of riding the rails along an extremely picturesque bay. The very real potential of extending excursions all the way around the bay topped off with a ride on the Madaket back to Madaket Plaza would all be lost for a short-sighted vision of a very expensive paved bike lane. In all reality, the rail and trail could easily coexist if it weren’t for a handful of people acting in concert to tear up historic rail tracks that hold such tremendous promise.