July’s Letters To The Editor – July 24, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Railbanking ready

June 26, 2012

Board of Directors

North Coast Railroad Authority

110 South Main Street, Suite C

Willits, CA 95490

RE:  Humboldt Bay Railbanking Committee

Dear NCRA Board of Directors:

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors supports the use of railroads to provide freight and passenger transportation, and recognizes the potential economic benefits of rail and port development for our county and the region.

We understand that NCRA and Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWP Co.) continue to be focused on extending rail service along the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) line from Windsor (Sonoma County) to Cloverdale and Willits (Mendocino County). North of Willits, damage on the Eel River Canyon segment has isolated the northern portion of the NWP line. Re-establishment of service through the Eel River Canyon into Humboldt County continues to be a long-range goal for the transportation system and regional economic development on the north coast. NCRA has indicated that it would consider restoration of service through the Eel River Canyon when three conditions are met: a business plan is developed by NWP Co. identifying freight volume sufficient to justify the costs of repairs and maintenance; funds have been identified; and an Environmental Impact Report has been prepared and certified by the NCRA Board of Directors. Achievement of these conditions does not appear likely in the foreseeable future due to market conditions and the unknown but substantial cost of repairs in the Eel River Canyon.

The northern portion of the NWP line has seen little or no maintenance since railroad operations were discontinued nearly 15 years ago. The current physical condition of the rail infrastructure around Humboldt Bay is a concern due to the level of deterioration, which threatens the integrity of the rail corridor and poses risks to adjacent public and private property including Highway 101. Without maintenance or upgrades in the near term, there is the potential that the railroad corridor around the bay could be irreparably damaged.

In light of these challenges and concerns, we believe there is a need to move forward in addressing the condition and use of the rail corridor in Humboldt County. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors requests that NCRA initiate formation of a Humboldt Bay Railbanking Committee to evaluate the concept of railbanking the NWP line from Eureka to Arcata and Samoa, as a potential means to achieve rail and trail improvements around northern Humboldt Bay. We recognize that freight and passenger operations are the highest and best use of a railroad corridor under federal law, and evaluation of railbanking is fully consistent with efforts to rehabilitate the NWP corridor for freight operations and with efforts to explore new railroad alignments.

A group of citizens has recently prepared a conceptual plan called the “Bay [T]rail Plan” (June 15, 2012) for rail and trail improvements between Eureka, Arcata and Samoa. The plan calls for railbanking the corridor around northern Humboldt Bay and developing projects for trail use as well as operation of a tourist train until freight service is restored. While not committing to these or other specific projects, we believe the concept of railbanking deserves further consideration to determine whether it would provide a useful mechanism for preserving, upgrading, and utilizing the rail line for public benefit until freight service is again financially viable.

We understand that railbanking was established by federal law for the primary purpose of preserving railroad corridors when freight operations become uneconomical, and also to allow for temporary use of the corridors as trails until freight operations are restored. Under the federal railbanking law, a railroad owner can temporarily transfer responsibility of the line to another entity for trail development and management while retaining the right to convert the corridor back for railroad use when it becomes financially viable. Importantly, railbanking provides a legal mechanism to keep a railroad right-of-way whole and unfragmented by preventing extinguishment of easement interests.

The Surface Transportation Board affirmed in recent rule-making (May 2, 2012) that the interim use of a railroad right-of-way for a trail is subject to future reactivation of the railroad line. Railbanking and interim trail use around northern Humboldt Bay could provide benefits for future railroad freight operations (both for the existing NWP line and a potential new east-west alignment) by preserving the right-of-way, providing short-term funding for infrastructure upgrades, and reducing costs and liability associated with continued physical deterioration and nonuse. This concept could also provide significant transportation, recreation and economic benefits to our community, and could potentially assist progress on the US 101 Eureka-Arcata corridor improvement project which is a high regional priority.

The issue of railbanking raises many questions. We believe a committee led by NCRA and supported by local agencies, organizations, and business interests is the best venue for further evaluation of the details, and for discussion whether railbanking makes sense for the corridor around northern Humboldt Bay. We suggest that the Humboldt Bay Railbanking Committee include representatives from the following organizations and interests:

NWP Co.

Humboldt County Association of Governments

Humboldt County

City of Eureka

City of Arcata

Wiyot Tribe

Caltrans, District 1

Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District

Humboldt Bay dock owner/operators

Timber Heritage Association

Humboldt Trails Council

Bay [T]rail Advocates

East-West Railroad Coalition

Local equestrian user group

Owners of property subject to railroad right-of-way easements around northern Humboldt Bay

We request that this committee report back to the NCRA board at its November 2012 meeting with the committee’s findings.

We appreciate your consideration of this request.

Sincerely

Virginia Bass, Chair

Humboldt County Board of Supervisors

cc:

Humboldt County Association of Governments, 611 I Street, Suite B, Eureka, CA, 95501

City of Eureka, 531 K Street, Eureka, CA, 95501

City of Arcata, 736 F Street, Arcata, CA, 95521

Wiyot Tribe, 1000 Wiyot Drive, Loleta, CA, 95551

Caltrans, District 1, P.O. Box 3700, Eureka, CA, 95502-3700

Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District, 601 Startare Drive, CA, Eureka, CA, 95501

 

East-west rail feasibility

Suddenly, it was as if you could hear a pin drop in Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting. That’s because Lisa Hoover explained how her scientist husband, Greg Jennings, died riding a bike along a busy Humdoldt County highway, because we lack safe non-motorized trails. The more than half full chambers remained respectfully quiet for a few minutes. Saving lives, promoting exercise for good health, enabling safe and free transit between cities, reducing our carbon footprint and fostering jobs with economic renewal and entrepreneurial activity were among the expected benefits mentioned for the proposed Bay Trail

Over three hours were devoted to listening to speakers and discussion of the grand compromise proposal which would enable the Timber Heritage Association to have an excursion rail between Arcata and Samoa/Fairhaven. At the same time, the Supes would appoint a committee to do a feasibility study of railbanking and interim conversion of the NCRA corridor from Eureka to Arcata into a non-motorized trail for bicyclists, equestrians, hikers and other users.

The BoS meeting was the culmination of over 200 meetings with interested parties by a citizens group comprised of Dennis Rael, Rees Hughes, Judy Hodgson and Don Banducci. After such extensive consultations, the Bay Trail proposal seemed like a genuine compromise. In fact, the Humboldt County Public Works Dept. formally presented the proposal to the Supes. Although fewer in numbers, rail diehards also attended, but predictably opposed the Bay Trail. In fact, railbanking regulations are expressly for the purpose of ensuring preeminence of rail use on old, unused rail corridors. Railbanking has enabled hundreds of interim trails nationwide. In several dozen cases, railbanked corridors have actually been returned to active rail use.

Unfortunately, rail diehards appear to believe this must be a zero sum game, either all win or all lose. Indeed, rail enthusiasts are promoting the idea of doing feasibility study on the East-West Rail concept that might go from Alton/Carlotta to Red Bluff. The good news is that an East-West corridor could be planned to accommodate a non-motorized trail from the start and assuming it does, ERTA supports the concept. However, many believe it would take decades to complete an East-West Railway, as the Willits 101 bypass has been discussed since the 1950s and only now is construction afoot. Thus, claims that a new East-West railroad could be functioning within five years sounds like wishful thinking. It would be great if it could happen.

Supes Ryan Sundburg and Virginia Bass both expressed concern that the initial Bay Trail F.S. proposal wording could cause people to think that the Supervisors might not still be receptive to the East-West Rail Feasibility Study proposal, expected to be presented soon. Sup. Sundberg said he had originally thought the East-West Rail idea was “environmentally impossible”, but has not made up his mind, since David Hull and David Tyson insist otherwise. Thus, staff was asked to offer modified wording to make it clear that the East-West Rail idea will be considered and also that the Bay Trail must not negatively impact private property owner’s rights, yet consider the interests of equestrians. The ERTA also fully supports equestrian-compatible trails.

Responding to concerns that interim trails would doom any chance for rails to return, Friends of the Eel River’s Scott Greacen informed that the US Surface Transportation Board had just issued guidelines May 30, 2012 that railbanked corridors/trails are subject to being “cut off at any time” for resumption of rail service. To the claim that easements could be lost due to interim trail use, I informed that I had personally spent weeks at the Humboldt Assessor’s office and did not see any private property parcels over which the NCRA trunk line passes from the Mendocino border to Samoa. Easements over private land exist on the Alton-Carlotta spur and perhaps also on the Annie and Mary Trail from Arcata to Blue Lake. In any case, US courts have consistently upheld the validity of railbanking’s protection of public rights of way for nearly 30 years now.

Sup. Lovelace asked for clarity on plans for the trunk line corridor and affirmed that “the NCRA is the right body to answer that,” however he also expressed concern the rail is currently at risk for “defacto abandonment. Lovelace demanded that NWP Co., the Leasee of the NCRA, “immediately take action to shore up the levy” as it “jeopardizes public infrastructure.” Almost no maintenance has been done North of Willits on the NCRA corridor in nearly 15 years.

It was gratifying to hear BoS Chair Bass say she was involved with trails for a long time and considers both trails and rails to be good. Sup. Clendenen feels the East-West Rail and the Bay Trail are not “mutually exclusive, but might happen in very different time or space.” He also noted that HCAOG numbers “show an order of magnitude difference” to retrofit existing rails with trails, as opposed to conversion of rails to trails. Clendenen then summed it up: “We should be open to anything that comes along.” Please support local trails. The next NCRA Board meeting is in Eureka Wednesday July 11 10:30 am in the BoS chambers. It should be interesting.

Chris Weston

Founder, Eel River Trails Association

Phillipsville

 

Is Karen Brooks crazy?

Once again I applaud Kevin Hoover for giving his readers a look at the diversity of opinions floating around in the media (Karen Brook’s “Social Engineering” June 20).

I may not feel any better after having read this article, but at least I know there really are “crazy people” out there.

Rocky Drill

Sunny Brae

Note: “Yes, Agenda 21” is a looney conspiracy theory. But having had long experience with genuinely crazy people, we’re loath to brand Brooks with that epithet. After experiencing her on several professional levels, more accurate terms for her behavior might include reckless, trendy, sensationalist, conspiracist, prideful, petulant and unprepared. Maybe that adds up to craziness for some, but she’s far from alone among political hopefuls in exhibiting those traits. And compared to some of the folks we’ve had to deal with over the last 16 years, babbling Brooks falls short of the true lunatic standard. – Ed.

 

Stop enforcing pot laws

Dear City Council Folk…

Stop enforcing APD (going for the money is clear) operations, let the Feds do all marijuana enforcement….Write Gov. Brown, ask him to intervene…. coordinate with the rest of CA city governments (COGs), and counties… CA is the 19th largest economy in the world…Pot is #1 agricultural crop in CA (billions) … and the only reason Arcata and rural CA, has not slipped into deep recession, like the rest of the county.

If you feel we have followed state guidelines.. stand up and do something…. instead of spending money to eliminate panhandling, camping, free speech…

Mendocino, Del Norte is unhappy, LA is unhappy, SF is unhappy, please coordinate resistance to the Federal abuse of promised reform.

President Obama would like to be re elected… This is your best shot, next 4 months.

Know what the business world in Arcata would look like without legal grows? What do you think Arcata citizens want? Are you representing us? Is there anyone that thinks this level of “The War on Drugs” is reasonable?

Please stand up and fight. I would like to never see another raid by APD on conforming (CA/Arcata codes) grows.

Thanks

Marc Delany

Arcata

 

Two approvals

I want to congratulate Estelle Fennel, our new second district supe.

The questions I brought up during her campagne were difficult for me to present, but important for our community to mull over.

I played the role of a carpetbagging muckraker, a thankless job, but that’s politics.

So, it may surprise you to know that I am pleased she has won. Her organizational skills, her knowledge of our watershed communities and her personal contacts countywide bode well for our second district.

I wish her the best and hope she will quickly approve the General Plan.

Sincerely,

Anna Hamilton

Whitethorn

 

 A forest demolished

Forest torn asunder blah, blah, blah. A bunch of months ago I wrote in to the Eye about the devastating hack job done to a portion of the Sunny Brae forest under the guise of road restoration. To quote the little girl from Poltergeist, “they’re back.”

The beautiful nuances of the main trail are almost all gone. As soon as the weed whacker and chainsaw boys are done, the heavy equipment will follow to complete the job. I don’t know what the true purpose is: Maintenance access, perhaps logging? It doesn’t matter because very soon the rest of the lovely trails that used to be the Sunny Brae hike will be gone.

That fern at one trail junction I’ve been coddling since the early ’90s watching it grow beautiful and lush? Gone. Soon to follow; the rest of the main trail’s on target to be denuded and leveled by a desire for… what? Removal of sediment dams created years ago by poor logging road construction? I’ve done trail work. A crew with shovels can work miracles. Heavy equipment tears shit up.

One unblemished section that connects to Fickle Hill is still there, but most definitely on the upcoming work order. The stunning section leading to the waterfall has been flagged for demolition, I mean restoration. I wonder if it will survive through July.

I suppose that all I am doing here is mourning the loss of what had been a very special part of my life. I’ve been hiking these trails with dogs, horses and people for over 20 years. It’s gone. No explanations offered, just gone. And I am very sad.

I see that Caltrans won the Richardson Grove realignment battle. In a few years, when the Richardson realignment is finished and you good Humboldt folk are traveling south, you may see some changes on the 101. You might even remember how pretty that section of highway used to be. Maybe you’ll be sad.

Brian Gean Ingram

Sunny Brae

 

LDS, CEQA & CA 37361

Dear City Council Folk, Mr. Mayor, City Manager Randy Mendosa, Ms. Diamond, City Attorney

Although I am out of town at the moment I would like a response via email.

I was notified by several citizens that further work on the LDS site “removed the foundation.”

Have there been any modifications to the “ministerial” decision by the community development director to allow only the statutory maximum demolition of the LDS meeting house per se, as requested by the applicant by revised permit? This discovered “loophole” was allowed specifically in order to avoid CEQA, as typically required for a demolition permit in Arcata (see LUC, CEQA), “without grading or filling above all triggers.” CEQA was found to “not apply” in Arcata if CA37361 was alleged or not by any applicant with “church owned” property, by the community development director, appealed by City Council on request. I’m still not sure the state legislature agrees, but that was your collective decision and vote, as I recall, within publicly set limits.

Were those limits somehow exceed?

Has there been any correspondence from any entity or agency outside Arcata concerning he project, or any communication from Arcata to any outside agency or entity since the City Council appeal decision regarding the LDS demolition?

If so, I would appreciate a copy of the correspondence from both parties, along with a confirmation from Arcata that the foundation was filled and graded in place as the community development director inform the public at, and in conjunction with the City Council appeal of his ministerial decision to allow demolition of the LDS meeting house. Thank you, an informal email response is sufficient.

I took a photo of the graded foundation in place, attached, when I last personally inspected the site. Current reports conflict with the stated project of record. Please update the record for “Friend of the LDS Meetinghouse”any and all modifications since.

In my professional experience, allowing the foundation to remain, or removing it without proper testing and abatement will, come the rains, result in widespread contamination off site by lead in excess of action levels, into our watershed, or contaminating neighboring properties, if this has not already occurred.

Although not in the demolition permit, I assume all soils have been tested on site prior to start of construction and post construction in accord with “best practices”, to in part protect the decision makers from potential criminal (Lead (pb) contamination/poisoning is a criminal offense, not a civil violation generally) prosecution under federal lead based paint hazard law.

I will have third party testing of any runoff, should there be any, or complaints from neighbors. Does the City have any plans to prevent runoff or contamination off site? Has the soil been tested? What were the results? A copy is appreciated of any testing results carried out by or reported to Arcata by the applicant, contractor or state officials.

Thank you for you attention to this ongoing, serious matter of CEQA process and Arcata project management decisions.

Sincerely,

Marc Delany

Arcata

PS: Has there been any further work on the other three church owned sites that the community development director also approved work under the local “CA 37361” CEQA exemption alleged by our community development director? One, at least involved “Lead based paint,” abated by non certified personnel, at the community development directors sole discretion and direction. I hope that will not continue, downtown… Thanks. Marc

Note: The original plan was to leave the LDS Meeting House foundation in place. 

According to Bruce McIntosh, Kernen Construction project manager, “After we removed the building, the owners decided that leaving the foundations created a hazard for falling, etc. With the approval of the City, we removed the concrete to bare earth and graded the area to drain. No earthen material was removed or imported for this work.” 

Community Development Director Larry Oetker said that after being contacted by Kernen, the City building official and Public Works director inspected the LDS site, checked the building permit which authorized demolition, and found nothing prohibiting removal of the foundation. – Ed.

 

Brenda bids goodbye 

Dear Membership –

As some of you may already know, in May I gave my resignation notice to the Board of Directors and began transitioning out of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce and the California Welcome Center as its Executive Director. I chose this direction out of my respect and admiration for this organization and its membership. This would also ensure a smooth transition from Director-to-Director and I felt it was important that I gave your Board a generous timeline to find a new Executive Director as I began my personal job search away from the Chamber. Plus, I felt honored to be apart of one more 4th of July Jubilee on the Plaza – I think the best one ever! Well, I am excited to say that the end of that transition is here and a new Executive Director has been chosen and will soon be onboard in the next few weeks. Your Board of Directors has done a splendid job during this changeover.

I am very proud of the accomplishments I have achieved here at the Chamber, especially working with the California Welcome Center. What an amazing opportunity Humboldt County has been gifted and located right here in Arcata. International visitors stop in here from as far away as New Zealand, France, Germany, Japan, British Columbia… and every state in our nation to dine here, shop, stay overnight, swim, kayak, bike, visit our college campuses, walk our beaches, attended our festivals, eat oysters from our Bay, take in our diversity and yes, see the Redwoods. Tourism is a clean, green business and celebrates our community and who we are.

Working at the Welcome Center has given me the opportunity to share with hundreds of visitors why I love California from one end of the state to the other (and everything in-between). My work here has reiterated my deep appreciation for this glorious state. I mean, our backyard is home to Yosemite, the Channel Islands, Mt. Shasta, Joshua Tree, Smith River, Death Valley . . . and even Disneyland! During this upcoming year I will be completing my certification program in Ecotourism Planning and Management with an emphasis on transformational travel and recreation. I’m excited about the possibilities of identifying and marketing communities through the principles of ecology-based tourism.

It has been my pleasure working with each of you the last five years. Some of us have become good friends along the way and others I am still looking forward to meeting. I thank each of you for getting your business involved with this community by joining the Arcata Chamber and the CWC and I encourage you to stay involved and take on a leadership role with your Chamber – that’s where change really occurs. My two proudest accomplishments here have been the networking of businesses to the California Travel and Tourism Commission and increasing this membership by more than 35 percent.

In closing, I would like to use a quote from one of my favorite books written by Douglas Adams as a message left by dolphins departing the Earth just before it was being demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass – “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

Most sincerely,

Brenda Bishop, Executive Director

Arcata Chamber of Commerce

California Welcome Center

 

Sweet & sticky streets

To the City of Arcata, Public Works,

Thank you ever so much for laying the sweet, sticky, new tarmac on our A-Town streets.

As a motorcycle rider I am loving it, no longer having to steer around so many of those crappy potholes.

Sincerely,

Phylis Geller

Arcata

Fair pay for IHSS workers

Back in 1999, IHSS workers, who do in-home care for the elderly or impaired on Medicaid, were being paid minimum wage.  At the same time, the Humboldt Board of Supervisors were each being paid $46,563 a year.

Today, IHSS workers are still being paid minimum wage ($8 an hour) BUT the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors – who last week voted against raising the IHSS worker’s minimum wage – have since raised their own salaries more than $35,000, and now earn a whopping $81,584 a year.

The ONLY requirement for a Supervisor’s job is to attend one weekly Board meeting. Absolutely nothing else is legally required of them. Even if they did put in a full 40 hours a week, they would earn almost $40 an hour.  And they get health benefits and pensions! IHSS workers get no such benefits, and work for $8 an hour.

No one else working for the county is being paid anywhere close to this low of a wage.  In fact, the other entry-level county jobs that require no special training or education are paid between 45 percent and 75 percent more per hour.   For example, custodians get $11.49, stock clerks $12.01, airport grounds keepers $14.59 and roads maintenance workers $14.96. Even an animal shelter attendant gets $12.44 – over 50 percent more for taking care of a stray pet than for taking care of a human.

None of these people is being overpaid; that’s not the point. But IHSS workers ARE being grossly UNDERPAID – and the irony is that they save us taxpayers money by keeping Medicaid recipients out of nursing homes, which would cost the government much, much more.

Call the Board of Supervisors right now at (707) 476-2396 and let them know their actions are shameful.

Richard W. Salzman

Arcata

Clearcut conditions

In 1972 I was a fresh college graduate and bought with my siblings a 200 acre ranch, Five Waters, an inholding within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

It is located on the New River in the Klamath-Trinity River system. In the following years, clearcut logging was the norm, but was scaled back drastically after the 1994 National Forest Management Act.

Probably the greatest impact in the last 40 years has been the three major wildfires in the very nearby area, essentially surrounding our small piece of land.

The first in 1999 was the Big Bar Complex fire, which burned over 150,000 acres to our East and North. It ended with the fall rains in November. A lightning-sparked fire that for the most  part was a “good burn,” consuming excess undergrowth.

Has this increased forest productivity? Affected river flows?

The Bar Complex fire consumed 150,000 plus acres in 2006. It was supposedly started by overheated breaks on our cross mountain road, State Route 299.

Dry conditions and wind allowed it to thwart best control efforts. It burned many acres of unburned forest to our East.

2008 saw the area once again engulfed with wildfire as the Iron & Alps Complex fires, again lightening started, but funding and policy changes altered the way the USFS responded and the fire got a bigger head start than if it had been dealt with at the very early stages.

Many of the locals have become frustrated and have made better efforts to protect ourselves. Although there were  parts of it that were 100 percent controlled it was not until the fall rains that the fire was officially declared out. This fire burned across our property lines on the South and West.

It would be very informative to compare previous clearcut logging areas and acreage with wildland fire damage.

Thank you,

Roger P. Eckart

Trinity County, California

 

Annie & Mary thanks

Blue Lake’s annual Annie & Mary Day Festival proved once again to be a fun time for young and old alike. The music was great, food delicious, parade fun and quirky, vendors aplenty, and camaraderie abounding.

Special thanks to the Humboldt Folklife Society for a full day of great music.

This event would not have been possible if not for the sponsorship from KHUM, Calgon, Blue Lake Garbage, Bill Kier, and Mad River Brewery.

Donations for our successful raffle were provided by Blackberry Bramble Barbecue, Mark Whitman, Blue Lake Casino, Mad River Brewery, Redwood Curtain Brewery, Stardoughs, Chimayo Spa, Ingrid’s Garden soaps, Chicken Boots, North Bay Clay Works, Bigfoot Collections, Dell Arte, Jitter Bean Coffee, Blue Chair Press, Blue Lake Laudromat, A New You, Calgon and Times Printing.

Also, special kudos to Chamber Board members Bill Kier, Lana Manzanita, Jo Patterson, Tera Spohr, Jeremy Dolan and Al Clark for their hard work.

Marvin Samuels, president

Blue Lake Chamber of Commerce


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