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Marin Co. judge halts NCRA track repairs; anti-train Novato happy

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    Published Friday, January 25, 2008, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat Future North Coast rail repairs on hold February trial will decide extent of environmental
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2008
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      Published Friday, January 25, 2008, by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

      Future North Coast rail repairs on hold
      February trial will decide extent of environmental review necessary

      By Nathan Halverson
      The Press Democrat

      A Marin County judge Thursday approved repairs currently under way
      to a 62-mile stretch of railroad tracks from Napa to Windsor, but
      halted future work until the resolution of a legal battle over plans
      to restore freight service in the North Bay.

      A trial set to begin next month will determine the scope of
      environmental studies that must be completed before the North Coast
      Railroad Authority can begin operating freight trains on the rail
      line.

      The decision delays the resumption of freight service until the end
      of summer, at the earliest, said Mitch Stogner, executive director
      of the North Coast Railroad Authority.

      But the project could be postponed four to five years, depending on
      the outcome of the Feb. 26 trial, Stogner said.

      Superior Court Judge James Ritchie must determine whether the
      NCRA is required to complete an environmental impact study for the
      entire 300-mile rail line, which runs from Napa to Eureka. The rail
      authority plans to study the environmental impact along a 142-mile
      stretch from Napa to Willits.

      The NCRA already has started compiling a report for the smaller
      stretch and expects it will be complete in June. It plans to
      eventually extend service as far north as Eureka, but has no timeline
      for doing so.

      If the judge rules the report must analyze environmental impact all
      the way to Eureka, the project could be delayed for years, Stogner
      said.

      "If we were required to do an EIR for the entire line, including the
      Eel River Canyon, we will be on the shelf for the next four to five
      years at least," Stogner said.

      In Thursday's ruling, Ritchie indicated he thought the whole section
      of the railroad must be included in the environmental impact report.

      "The 'whole' project -- whether broken up geographically, by phases
      of construction and operation, or otherwise -- must be considered in
      CEQA analysis," Ritchie wrote in his ruling.

      The California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, requires new projects
      to study the impact on air quality, noise pollution and other parts
      of the environment.

      The city of Novato sued to stop railroad repairs and service until
      a full-length environmental study is completed.

      "We are pleased with the ruling," said Novato City Manager Daniel
      Keen. "There are not going to be any trains running on those tracks
      anytime soon."

      The city is legally entitled to a study evaluating the impact of
      increased railroad traffic that could occur when service returns to
      Humboldt County, Keen said.

      Freight supporters believe rail service will lower shipping costs
      and take trucks off Highway 101, reducing traffic and air pollution.

      In the meantime, the NCRA will continue with about $15 million in
      repairs to signal crossings, bridges and levies, Stogner said.

      Thursday's ruling placed an injunction on the NCRA from starting work
      on the final two repair jobs, which would replace damaged railroad
      ties and update electrical circuits on three bridges. The injunction
      likely will delay railroad service two months -- not resuming until
      September -- if the NCRA wins its case and is not required to
      complete an environmental impact study on the full length of the rail
      line, Stogner said.

      "We can demonstrate the process we followed was appropriate," he said.
      "Our goal and our schedule is still to have that 62-mile section
      repaired and operational this summer."

      Freight service was halted in 2001 after federal railway regulators
      ruled the route was unsafe and required costly repairs.


      You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 707-521-5494 or
      nathan.halverson@...


      [BATN: See also:

      NIMBY Novato vs. NCRA train battle: judge issues stop-work order
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37097 ]
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