By NATHAN RUSHTON, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Apr 22 2008, 11:37 PM · Updated: Apr 23 2008, 12:15 AM
Category: Local News
Panelists in the “Rails and Trails: A Balanced Forum on the Development of Humboldt Bay” held by the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County Tuesday night discuss the viability of trails or railroads in the county.
It’s a few short miles of railroad tracks between Eureka and Arcata owned by the North Coast Railroad Authority.
But, as the NCRA struggles to secure funding to restore trains along its rusting rails, the unused right-of-way is being eyed by trail advocates and has become one of the focal points of political debate over the county’s economic and lifestyle future.
The League of Women Voters of Humboldt County held a forum Tuesday evening from 6 to 8, in hopes of presenting the public with unbiased information regarding the feasibility of trails and railroads in the county and to facilitate a dialogue on the issues.
It was a forum that all the panelists in the “Rails and Trails: A Balanced Forum on the Development of Humboldt Bay” agreed was educational and helpful, but in then end, there was no budging any of the sides.
The panel of speakers included Patrick Higgins, a Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner, Chris Rall, of GreenWheels, Third District Supervisor John Woolley, Marcus Brown, president of the Timber Heritage Association, Spencer Clifton, executive director of the Humboldt County Association of Governments, Brian Morrissey, of Security National, and Mike Beuttner, of the Trails Trust of Humboldt.
Woolley, also the county’s representative to the NCRA’s board of directors, reiterated the NCRA’s commitment to support trails and even rails with trails, but stressed the public agency’s primary mandate enacted by the Legislature.
That’s to restore the 300-mile railroad corridor, now defunct for a decade, back to working order and to keep the momentum of the $100 million already invested in the process already underway.
“To give up now, would be imprudent,” Woolley said.
But Rall, who advocated for a trail along the Eureka-Arcata corridor he said is viable now, questioned whether the NCRA’s mandate was still valid.
Rall said it might be time to return to the Legislature to craft more realistic goals for the railroad agency.
The cost to restore the NCRA’s railroad through the geologically unstable Eel River canyon, which all the panelists agreed would be in the hundreds of millions — is a major hurdle that some said they believe will never be overcome.
Editors Note: More complete coverage of this two-hour event will be published in an upcoming newspaper.