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MIJ: Judge delays ruling on Novato railroad lawsuit
Tuesday 8 Jan 2008, 10:51
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

Joe Wolfcale
Article Launched: 01/08/2008 04:15:21 PM PSTA Marin Superior Court judge delayed a final decision Tuesday on the city of Novato’s lawsuit against the North Coast Rail Authority pending further consideration.“I want to take a look as to all of the other arguments,” Judge James Ritchie said at the conclusion of a court hearing. “As you all know, we haven’t adopted anything yet, so I’ll try and do it as fast as I can. There’s a lot of paper in this case as you can imagine.”Ritchie issued a preliminary ruling Monday in which he concluded that the Ukiah-based rail agency violated California Environmental Quality Act guidelines by moving forward with its plan to revive rail service including freight trains through Novato.

Ritchie said Tuesday he wanted to consider all arguments before making a final decision.

Attorneys for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co., the state departments of transportation and fish and game and some of the construction companies involved in the plan attended the hearing Tuesday, as well as an attorney for Friends of the Eel River.

The city sued in September, asking the court to halt construction until all environmental impacts are analyzed.

Rail officials said a $2.4 million environmental impact report is being prepared and should
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be available for review in May.

Rail attorney Christopher Neary of Willits said he was pleased with the judge’s decision to review the documentation.

“That’s the best we can hope for,” Neary said. “The fact that he’s agreed to take a second look, after rejecting our arguments in his tentative ruling, is good news for us. I think he’s showing he’s not taking this lightly.”

The city’s attorney, Jeff Walter of Walter & Pistole in Sonoma, said Novato officials are not taking anything for granted.

“We’re guardedly optimistic at this point and hope the judge issues the relief we believe is appropriate to the circumstances,” Walter said.

The city and the rail authority have butted heads since the agency outlined plans to restore freight service with as many as 32 trains, each pulling up to 60 cars, coming through Novato every week at up to 40 mph.

Trains would run from Windsor in Sonoma County to Novato and then east, en route to Lombard in Napa County.

Construction work on aspects of the 62-mile segment from Windsor, through Novato and then east to Lombard has begun. The work involves rebuilding signal crossings, bridges and damaged track.

In documents filed by the rail authority to secure about $50 million in state and federal funding, the rail authority said the Windsor-to-Napa project involves more than 62,000 tons of rock ballast, 50,000 new railroad ties and rebuilding 54 signal crossings, 42 wooden, concrete and metal bridges and stretches of damaged rail bed.

On Sept. 28, the city filed suit, saying the freight trains through Novato could bring traffic problems, safety hazards and noise and that the rail agency needed to complete an environmental analysis.

Judge Ritchie apologized to attorney Walter for issuing a $199 sanction for a procedural error; the city submitted a 30-page “reply memorandum” that Ritchie had said increased the court’s burden of analysis. But attorneys agreed previously that Walter could file additional documents.

Contact Joe Wolfcale via e-mail at jwolfcale@marinij.com

SR Press Democrat has an article also.

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