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CLOSE TO HOME: Toxic cleanup must come before freight | PressDemocrat.com | The Press Democrat | Santa Rosa, CA
Wednesday 6 May 2009, 06:32
Filed under: Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino, NCRA, Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Railroad, Sonoma

CLOSE TO HOME: Toxic cleanup must come before freight | PressDemocrat.com | The Press Democrat | Santa Rosa, CA.

By PATTY CLARY

Published: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 4:28 p.m.

A recent Close to Home column (“Are freight trains in Sonoma County’s future?” April 30) which attacked a deputy attorney general who has threatened legal action if the North Coast Railroad Authority doesn’t deal with the toxic mess littering its rail lines and yards, was way off track.

Actually, the attorney general’s worst offense has been to allow the North Coast Rail Authority to ignore a court-sanctioned decree made 10 years ago to stop the discharge of toxic waste — including waste left by Southern Pacific that California took on when it bought the rail corridor in 1991 with funds allocated by voter initiative.

Even at this late date, the attorney general isn’t requiring that the NCRA stop all discharge of pollutants from the rail corridor, just that plans agreed upon by the NCRA all those years ago will finally be made and approved before operations can begin.

Eighty-plus years of neglect and disregard for the drinking water, wildlife and economy of our region have left their toxic mark on five counties and dozens of watersheds through which the railroad runs.

The situation is so grave that three state agencies joined together in 1997 to sue the NCRA to stop the discharge of chemicals spilled, burned, sprayed, dumped and buried throughout the rail corridor.

Despite the passage of years, many areas of the North Coast remain severely depressed because of the proximity to toxic sites owned — and neglected — by the NCRA. Now the rail authority, itself an agency of the state, wants to resume operations without restoring these blighted sites as it agreed.

What’s more, to avoid living up to the terms of the decree, the NCRA has pleaded poverty as its limiting factor, an argument that convinced reluctant state regulators to hold off prosecution and even try to obtain money for the railroad.

Yet in a recent legal action brought by Novato, railroad authorities told the court they had never claimed that a shortage of funds has been the obstacle to dealing with the toxic chemicals despite written evidence they had made such claims for years.

Then, to add insult to injury, the NCRA settled the Novato lawsuit so that the original decree was trumped by the new agreement and did so without consulting the state agencies or the attorney general’s office.

Under terms of the original decree, the NCRA must write plans for dealing with spills, waste storage, storm water and a dozen other critical concerns. That’s only the first step. And it’s the only step needed to start operation of the freight line.

In 10 years, the NCRA has not even begun to write those plans. For the NCRA or its supporters to cry foul at this point is typical of its history of obfuscation of the real problems associated with the rail line. Sentimental visions of the charms of railroads and unsubstantiated claims of being “green” or good for the economy have, for too long, served as smoke screens to cover the deeply toxic aspects of its operations, past and present.

The last year this railroad made money was 1974 — at the end of the old growth redwood economy — and its future profitability is doubtful. Where then will the money come from to deal with the toxic burden the state took on when it formed the NCRA and bought the line?

That’s the real question at the heart of the railroad dispute. Hiding our heads in the sand and blaming the messenger isn’t going to help deal with this bitter pill. Some clarity, even just the laying of plans, would be a start.

Patty Clary is the programs and policy director for Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, based in Eureka. Clary grew up listening to the train horn from across a field in Santa Rosa and sometimes was late to school at St. Rose when the train blocked West 9th Street.

The problem I have, is she makes it like NCRA doesn’t want to do clean up, it does want to do clean up. Every person there wants to do so. The reality, is several things, a) part of the property is SMART’s. b) the money has to come from somewhere, it must come from revenue such as running trains, property leases, or the California budget. The last option keeps getting vetoed by our governor.

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12 Comments

Cap, please re-read the first sentence of your response. Does that make sense to you?

Comment by Anonymous

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Comment by exrepublican

Somehow, I think the environment would be a lot better off the “eco-nazis” spent all the energy they spend bitching on cleaning things up themselves. The world is full of pollution and a lot of it is just going to have to resolve itself. NCRA isn’t “polluting” anything. They just inherited a lot of oily dirt and they have already cleaned up all the active pollution sources there when they came along, as far as all indications. Eliminating every drip and splash of ancient oil in a railroad yard that is still going to be used as a railroad yard isn’t going to amount to a hill beans in the grand scheme of things. It’s just another excuse to stop anything and everything from changing or progressing, at the expense of everyone else. It’s getting pretty tiring, actually.

Comment by Bob Cleek

Spending half a billion dollars building a railroad to nowhere is not progress my friend

Comment by Anon

I agree with Patty.

Record profits were made by Union Pacific which could have been used for clean up for the Balloon Tract(k)in Eureka prior to the parcel being sold to Security national.

Comment by Carol

Huh? This isn’t about the balloon track per say, it is about the AG preventing trains from running, until there is a plan in place to deal with the agreed cleanup. This more than just the balloon track. Personally, UP should help with cleanup. But how? Why isn’t her group suing UP to help with the cleanup along the entire line? Where does this money come from do to the cleanup? Why is the solution to stop trains from running? Businesses, such as ranches are depending on this railroad to lower transportation costs, so they can survive better. Why do we insist on stopping trains?

Comment by capdiamont

So we should spend hundreds of millions on a railroad to help out a few ranchers lower their overhead?

Comment by Anon

No, this isn’t just ranchers. I’ve said in the past various businesses, that would be helped by the railroad.

But lets consider ranchers/farmers, the railroad would directly help the feed stores. They would be able to help the farmers, not just ranchers. The farmers produce products, eggs, milk, or meat. Along the way to helping the consumers, you keep people employed. By keeping people employed, they can spend their money on other things, food, rent, other items, services, taxes, etc. So in reality, it is a large group of people that is helped.

On the other hand if no helped out, the extra costs of transportation of feed, comes out of somewhere. Pay raises, extra people employed, pushing farms to the brink. If farms decide it is cost costly to stay in business, they my want to sell the property to development. How environmental is that?

Comment by capdiamont

cap, if your gonna get through to them you gotta use their tactics.

Think of all the children that will be saved from death after collisions with semi trucks when we have a train.

If the AG wants a complete clean-up, we’ll need to open up the Eel River Canyon to allow access for clean-up equipment to get there by train. Kind of another catch 22.

Comment by unanonymous

Sorry, I’ve never seen your list of various businesses before. So far, we’ve got Ranchers & feed stores, and made a major stretch to include all consumers. Still not worth a half billion dollars.

Comment by Anon

“Still not worth a half billion dollars.” This effort, so far still isn’t a half billion dollars. What’s the point of posting a list of companies, over, and over, when you misconstrue things?

Comment by capdiamont

Probably closer to a bilion to get the line to the Bay Area.

Comment by Anon




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