Comment: Anti-rail NIMBY Novato explains its lawsuit against NCRA
- Published Monday, October 8, 2007, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
City of Novato explains reasons for lawsuit over freight train
By Daniel E. Keen
Within the past two weeks, the city of Novato sued the North Coast
Railroad Authority (NCRA). Not surprisingly, this lawsuit has
generated some controversy, particularly among those who believe
that rail is a superior alternative to trucks.
Why did the city of Novato sue the NCRA?
For well over a year now, the NCRA has been moving toward the
resumption of freight service along a rail line traversing the North
Coast. Since 1998 these tracks have been shut down because of their
dangerous condition, and only minor freight traffic has occurred.
For decades, freight traffic on these tracks was unreliable and
unprofitable. Since then, most cities have experienced significant
growth, with many new homes, offices and businesses located close
to the tracks.
The resumption of rail traffic is likely to create environmental
impacts not previously experienced in the community.
Homes near the tracks may hear train horns and feel vibrations at all
hours, and streets may be blocked by trains, disrupting emergency
response and causing greater traffic congestion. NCRA's proposed
operator has stated it will not make improvements to reduce horn
noise levels as trains pass through residential areas and will not
purchase engines that emit the lowest pollutant levels.
The city's primary dispute with NCRA concerns these potential
environmental impacts. NCRA has already begun a "repair" program
to upgrade the railroad tracks. This work will permit faster train
speeds, and more trains, along the tracks. As many as 16 trains
per day could be accommodated, some as many as 60 cars long.
NCRA believes that because this work is "repair" work, it is exempt
from environmental review and thus has not conducted analysis prior
to starting these projects. The city of Novato disagrees. We believe
this work is part of a much larger project to eventually bring very
large volumes of freight traffic down the line. The city is asking
the court to stop any further work, until NCRA conducts a full
environmental analysis of its entire plans from Humboldt County to
The environmental review process represents perhaps the only
opportunity the city of Novato and its residents will have to comment
on and possibly mitigate the impacts of NCRA's plans. Once approved,
the NCRA will be regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Numerous communities have found that railroads can create severe
impacts and that convincing railroads to be responsive to concerns is
very difficult. A full environmental review would ensure that such
impacts are minimized and would provide some recourse if NCRA failed
to comply with mitigation requirements in the future.
This lawsuit is not about the SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit)
project and does not include SMART. While we recognize that a
commuter train could create similar environmental impacts, unlike
the NCRA, SMART has agreed to prepare a supplemental EIR to review
NCRA has created a lot of excitement along the North Coast,
suggesting that this project will create new jobs with a new rock
quarry in Trinity County and the development of a container terminal
in Humboldt County.
When asking for its $60 million allocation, NCRA has represented to
state agencies that it has complied with all environmental laws. In
contrast, we believe there are numerous situations where NCRA has
violated laws concerning environmental review, public meetings and
public contract issuance. NCRA argues that it is simply making
"repairs," yet the public record of NCRA's statements reflects a
far different picture.
Novato simply is asking the court to require NCRA to live by the
same rules all public agencies must follow and to be honest with
the communities it will impact in the future.
Daniel E. Keen is city manager for Novato.
[BATN: See also:
Anti-SMART NIMBY Novato sues over NCRA track repairs
NIMBY Novato sues NCRA to derail planned freight trains
Novato sues to derail NCRA plan to resume freight train service
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
Editorial: SMART quiet zones to appease train-phobic NIMBYs
North Coast Railroad Authority dreaming vs everybody else
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
Coment: Rail foe Arnold has more questions about SMART
Novato freight train noise fears spur talk of "quiet zones"
Freight trains may return to Sonoma Co. SMART line