The Times-Standard, Tuesday, March 26, 2002
purchase eyed less warily
By John Driscoll
Coast railroad officials are still dubious about an Illinois group's pitch to
buy the Northwestern Pacific Railroad after hearing from the group's lead man
presentation by Ted Niemeyer of the Chicago-area Niemeyer and Associates left
everyone at the Healdsburg meeting wondering when and how that enormous task
might occur, the North Coast Railroad Authority said in a press release.
authority does appear to have softened its stance of two weeks ago. In a letter
to Niemeyer on March 15, the authority clearly stated that its desire was to
keep the rail in public ownership.
that regard, we are not in a position to consider proposals to purchase any
portion of that corridor," that letter reads.
final paragraph in the latest press release on Saturday said, "The official
position of the NCRA is that any forthcoming proposals will be treated with one
overriding concern -- what best serves the future prosperity of our area."
railroad has been inoperable for more than four years, cut in half by landslides
during winter storms that ravaged the unstable Eel River Canyon.
chairman Dave Ripple said it seems uncertain just what Niemeyer is proposing for
what section of the rail line.
can't quite get a fix on exactly what Niemeyer does want," Ripple said.
"The only thing that seems certain is that Niemeyer feels very strongly
that he can raise large sums of money to take over all or some portion of the
North Coast rail corridor."
discussion occurred over whether an item to consider a response to Niemeyer
should even be on the agenda since a letter had already been sent to him
outlining the authority's position. In the end, public interest in Niemeyer's
presentation prevailed and Niemeyer spoke for about an hour.
the railroad won't be easy. Several different entities own portions of the rail,
which is subject to numerous right of way and operating agreements. Newly
drafted legislation would, if passed, form the Sonoma-Marin Rail District, which
would acquire some of the existing ownerships. It will also probably take an act
of the state Legislature to sell the railroad. Lastly, buying the Northwestern
Pacific will be really expensive, possibly costing hundreds of millions of
is not phased, and said he has a team of more than a dozen hashing out the
details. He said he didn't have time to prepare for the meeting and showed up
don't know all the answers," Niemeyer said by phone on Monday. "We
wouldn't be out there if we did know a lot of the answers."
said that some of the more tangible problems, like fixing tracks, tunnels and
bridges are also the easier ones. The non-physical problems, like ownerships and
politics, are more problematic, he said. At the same time, Niemeyer said his
associates can deal with those problems.
working on our plans and we know we can do it," Niemeyer said. "God
wanted me out there for a reason."
expects to submit a proposal to operate the line, which may include the purchase
of all or part of the North Coast Railroad Authority.
director Leo Sears said he believes so strongly that the railroad is vital to
this area's prosperity that he doesn't care whether it ends up in public or
private hands -- only that it runs in the region's best interest.
belief in the importance of the railroad to the future prosperity of this area
has brought me to the point where I eat, sleep and breathe its return,"