Novato sues to derail NCRA plan to resume freight train service
- Published Saturday, September 29, 2007, by the Marin Independent Journal
Novato sues railroad over freight service
By Brad Breithaupt
Novato officials sued the North Coast Railroad Authority on Friday,
seeking to derail plans for freight service through town.
The lawsuit filed in Marin Superior Court says the railroad authority
failed to comply with environmental rules and bypassed state open-
meeting laws. It seeks to halt plans to launch a new freight service
until a comprehensive environmental review is completed.
Novato and NCRA have been at odds since the rail agency disclosed
that its plan to bring freight back to the old Northwestern Pacific
Railroad tracks could involve as many as 32 trains pulling up to
60 cars each, traveling up to 40 mph through Novato every week.
Novato City Manager Dan Keen said the city is asking the court to
invalidate NCRA's contracts with companies involved in upgrading
tracks to accommodate the trains.
"I think we have serious concerns about the whole resumption of
freight," Keen said.
He said NCRA's plans have been "understated" and fail to give
adequate attention to safety, traffic, noise and other problems
a busy freight train line could bring to Novato.
Keen added the city sees no benefit that NCRA's freight plan offers
The Ukiah-based NCRA has proposed starting service from Willits,
initially hauling garbage down through Sonoma County and Novato
to Highway 37, where the trains would turn east and head for Napa
County. It has talked about starting service next year.
NCRA executive director Mitch Stogner said Novato's lawsuit comes
as no surprise.
He said he couldn't comment on specifics in the complaint because
he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
But, Stogner added, Novato's lawyers have spent hours in NCRA's Ukiah
offices, poring over "no fewer than 10 file drawers" of documents.
He said the cost in taxpayer dollars to have "high-priced lawyers"
traveling to Ukiah and spending time combing through NCRA paperwork
The lawsuit says that NCRA violated state environmental rules by
chopping its rail improvement plan into small components without
evaluating its cumulative impact in a comprehensive way.
Further, the suit says, the plan was crafted amid secrecy, violating
state open meeting rules.
NCRA "has made a mockery of the Ralph M. Brown Act," the lawsuit
asserted, referring to the state's open meeting law.
Last month, NCRA questioned whether its two Marin members, Marin
Supervisor Judy Arnold and Novato Councilman Jim Leland, were legally
appointed to its board. Both Arnold and Leland have been critics of
NCRA's plans to resume freight service through Novato.
[BATN: See also:
Column: Long-dead NCRA's freight plans complicate SMART EIR
SMART to update EIR; re-vote planned for November 2008
Comment: SMART or not -- freight trains coming to Novato
Comment: SMART foes work to whip up freight train fears
Opponents using NCRA freight projections to delay, kill SMART
Freight tail of moribund NCRA seeks to wag SMART dog
February '08 SMART re-vote unlikely due to freight study request