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MIJ: Nadananda: Why Novato’s freight suit needs support
Thursday 6 Dec 2007, 06:52
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

Keep in mind, Novato was also sued for violations of the brown act.

Staff Report
Article Launched: 12/06/2007 12:07:04 AM PST

Nadananda

IN OCTOBER, Novato sued the North Coast Railroad Authority for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, the Brown Act and other laws governing the actions of local government agencies.

The city is rightly concerned about how restarting freight operations through Novato would impact its residents. The suit claims the NCRA is circumventing the Environmental Quality Act by defining its freight operations as only those operating south of Willits in order to limit disclosure of the full environmental impacts associated with restarting freight to Eureka. In addition, the city claims the NCRA violated open meeting laws in making decisions behind closed doors. It has asked the court to halt further improvements on the track until these laws had been followed.

Last week, several Northern California environmental organizations filed an amicus brief in Marin Superior court. These are: Friends of the Eel River, Environmental Protection Information Center, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Marin Conservation League and the Water Preservation Network. We fully support Novato’s attempts to force the the North Coast Railroad Authority to follow the law and agree with the Novato city manager’s statement:
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“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.”

Restarting freight service will impact the Wild and Scenic Eel River. NCRA’s chosen freight operator (NWP Co.) has stated its intention to haul ore quarried from the largest open pit mining operation in the state proposed at Island Mountain in Trinity County along the river. NCRA owns 15 percent of the quarry.

In addition, the NCRA signed a memo of understanding with the Humboldt Bay Harbor District last year, pledging to restart freight service all the way to Eureka.

The environmental impacts of operations north of Willits are significant and the law requires their disclosure before the rail project can proceed. The northern reaches of the proposed freight project include environmentally sensitive habitat, extremely fragile geologic areas, and a designated wild and scenic river. The entire route hosts a variety of threatened and endangered California and federally listed species. The route crosses through wetlands, including those in the Pacific Flyway. Construction, repairs and freight operation through all of these areas will inevitably cause environmental impacts, the extents of which are yet unknown.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that under the California Environmental Quality Act, project definitions must include “the whole of the project.” Yet, in its recent notice of preparation for the environmental review underway, the NCRA project description specifically excludes the track serving Eureka and Island Mountain. Novato argues this is illegal and is a clear attempt to deceive the public. We agree and so did the Marin County Board of Supervisors, which decided to file its own amicus in support of Novato.

The only way to assess these impacts and ensure minimal damage is through comprehensive environmental reviews, and an inclusive, responsive, and transparent public process. Clearly, the NCRA, a public agency, is attempting to avoid this important oversight.

For many years, in our advocacy efforts, the environmental organizations signing onto this lawsuit have relied heavily on the California Environmental Quality Act and analyses that evaluate the environmental appropriateness and completeness of various projects. Without full and complete public disclosure of a proposed project’s impacts, the public is left with no way to gather information to analyze proposals and participate in the public process.

Novato has taken the lead in asking the court to uphold the many laws the NCRA has violated. They should not stand alone. We now join them in making the same request. We are asking the court to restrain the the North Coast Railroad Authority and make it comply with California law before proceeding.

Nadananda is president of the Friends of the Eel River (www.eelriver.org). She lives in Garberville and goes by one name.

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