Scott Greacen: Attacks On EPIC Were Out Of Line – October 25, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

The most disturbing thing about Robert Eckart’s outrageous attacks on me and EPIC, the group I proudly represent, is the Arcata Eye’s decision to print, and publish to the web, more than 3,600 words of smears and innuendo that a reasonably well-informed journalist would know are not supported by facts.

EPIC has a 33-year history of working to protect public trust resources, like forests, water, and threatened species. As an organization, EPIC has a record of success in a series of tough fights that have helped make history. Today, we are still a small group that does big work, in reforming industrial forestry, on projects and plans for public lands, and protecting biodiversity and clean water. We have to raise money to do everything we do. The idea that EPIC is somehow “in it for the money” is just absurd. It would be laughable if it were not so poisonous.

While I cannot allow Mr. Eckart’s malicious untruths to stand unanswered, it is not possible for me to prove that I’m not, and that EPIC isn’t, all the horrible things Mr. Eckart suggests we are. That’s why it’s so important to note that Mr. Eckart supplies no evidence for his claims. In fact, Mr. Eckart knows perfectly well that EPIC doesn’t have a pile of money: he has looked at the public records. When Mr. Eckart writes “(I)f EPIC has not become anything more than a club of predatory lawyers, why then do they show so little money on their books?” he shows his willingness to march his slanderous thesis right past the facts. In fact, though EPIC has a well-earned reputation for our willingness to take on tough, important cases, most of what EPIC does is not filing lawsuits – it’s writing comments, organizing with citizens and other groups, participating in coalitions and collaborative efforts and all the other work that goes into advocacy today.

It would take pages of print to tear down each of Mr. Eckart’s false claims. Part of the reason that the press does not cover these issues well is that they are complicated and tedious, full of acronyms and agencies. The North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA) is a state agency which owns the rail lines that run from the Samoa peninsula, around Humboldt Bay, up the Eel River and over to Willits and points south. The NCRA is run by a board of directors composed of representatives from the four counties – Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin – that the rail line passes through. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWP), owned by Mr. John Williams, is a private company that has been designated as the rail ‘operator’ for the south end of the NCRA line (from Willits south) and holds an option to become the operator on the north end.

EPIC has been on the record with concerns about the impacts of the failed railroad line through the wild and scenic Eel River Canyon for a decade. Over the past several years, EPIC has worked closely with Friends of the Eel River, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and Humboldt Baykeeper to watchdog the railroad. We have all long been concerned by the serious impacts the railroad has had on the wild and scenic Eel River, the failure of the NCRA to comply with a 1999 consent decree that requires cleanup of at least dozens of toxic hot spots along the rail line, and the potential for future impacts from rail reconstruction that fails to take into account those serious impacts. We have recently become concerned as well that, even though a restoration of freight rail operations around Humboldt Bay is clearly economically infeasible for the foreseeable future, the NCRA and NWP are blocking any serious consideration of rails-to-trails proposals for the publically owned rail right of way around Humboldt Bay.

We have been outspoken in asking the NCRA to conduct a full environmental review for its entire line; the NCRA has so far refused, and is now preparing to release an EIR (environmental impact report) for just the south end of its line. The NWP, meanwhile, has taken the position that it can and will ignore state and federal environmental laws.

If I can find the time, I will try in a future column to explain how the letter to which Mr. Eckart objects so strongly, and the NCRA’s response to it, showed that the NCRA has failed to protect public safety and to exercise basic oversight over recent actions on its rail line.

In this column, however, I want to set the record straight about what happened to Mr. Eckart’s request for an MOU – a memorandum of understanding – from the NCRA. Mr. Eckart’s hysterical account of persecution itself reveals that the Chair of the Fort Seward Fire Safe Council was pursuing an agenda far beyond the safety of that tiny Eel River Canyon hamlet. But it’s what Mr. Eckart leaves out of the story that shows both that our concerns were well founded and that Mr. Eckart is being deliberately deceptive when he suggests that nasty environmentalists shut down his noble little fire-prevention effort.

To begin with, there’s this excerpt from the NCRA’s August minutes.

Peggy Satterly [sic] expressed concern about the possibility of weed abatement in the Fort Seward area as proposed by Fort Seward Fire Safe Council (FSFSC). She said that she worries about increased trespassing and fire hazard if the weed abatement is carried out. She also said that she believes that the request to remove weeds may possibly lead to future speeder runs in the area which would create additional fire hazards and trespassing issues.

According to a 2004 story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Ms. Satterlee is the co-owner, with her two brothers, of the 28,000 acre Fort Seward Ranch. I understand her presentation left a powerful impression on members of the NCRA board.

So we were not alone in seeing a connection between Mr. Eckart’s track-clearing proposal and the speeder runs his buddies at the Timber Heritage Association have been conducting. Nor were we alone in seeing the potential for poor management of fire risks by an unproven group that appears to be pursuing a mission that does not reflect the usual focus of Fire Safe Councils across California – i.e., protecting homes and communities from fire risks.

In fact, the scheme being promoted to the NCRA board by the Chair of the Ft. Seward Fire Safe Council not only did not reflect the community’s priorities for fire protection work, it was strongly opposed by the land owner who would have been most affected by the action. Some Fire Safe Council. It is worth noting that Mr. Eckart, in his final column, has at last ceased to proclaim himself Chair of the Ft. Seward Fire Safe Council. Sounds like the state Fire Safe Council folks were concerned by the damage he has been doing to their brand.

On a related note, Mr. Eckart still claims support for his plans from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But he neglects to mention the August 9 letter from Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge manager Eric Nelson to the NCRA board correcting Mr. Eckart’s various misrepresentations and disavowing any support for Mr. Eckart’s “invasive plant removal” plans.

Mr. Nelson’s letter also makes it clear that the NCRA rail line around Humboldt Bay and THA’s speeder operations were centerpieces of Mr. Eckart’s plans from the summer months of 2010, when the Ft. Seward Fire Safe Council was apparently being formed. (As of mid-September, the group was still not formally registered with the California Fire Safe Council.)

Mr. Eckart’s proposal was not entirely without supporters. The Timber Heritage Association’s Mike Pechner was in San Rafael to offer his support. And, according to the NCRA’s minutes, NWP’s Mr. Williams “said that he would prefer the Board not take action that signals opposition to this effort because NCRA depends on volunteers.” Demonstrating a healthy skepticism, the Board voted 6-3 to turn down the proposed MOU. So that was that for Mr. Eckart’s proposal – turned down by the NCRA board because his neighbor, a local rancher, opposed it.

Scott Greacen is the Executive Director of EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center, which has a new office at 145 South G Street in Arcata and is on the web at

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