Times-Standard  Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Railroad suitor still in the game
By John Driscoll


A Chicago-area rail man said he is still looking to buy the North Coast Railroad, and believes he can open at least part of the line within a year. Ted Niemeyer of Niemeyer and Associates said Monday that his team is working on financing issues and the details of the business that will support the line. Niemeyer has not provided the North Coast Railroad Authority with a proposal and huge hurdles lie in Niemeyer's way. Selling the line would likely take an act of the California Legislature and almost all agree that various environmental issues threaten to hold up the reopening of the line for well over a year.

His team is in a wait-and-see mode right now, Niemeyer said. "God is testing our patience," he said. Niemeyer said he wants to operate the entire 365-mile line from Napa County to Samoa, but probably purchase only the North Coast Railroad, which runs from Healdsburg north.

When asked about the environmental constraints of reopening the line, Niemeyer insisted that "there are circumstances where all that can be expedited. Compliance doesn't mean you have to do years and years of studies." Niemeyer has been in touch with the players up and down the line, said Darby Kernan, spokeswoman for Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata. "There have been others who have promised to get the rail up and running within a year, but we've yet to see that done," Kernan said. Still, Kernan said she supports any proposal that aims to do just that. "But that's not stopping us from moving forward with the rail now," Kernan said.

Rail authority director Leo Sears said even environmental specialists hired by the authority see no short cut to reopening the line. "We would love to be able to expedite things, believe me we would," Sears said. The Federal Emergency Management Authority has the northern section of the line under embargo pending the repair of landslide damage to the tracks in the Eel River Canyon. Concerns about sediment and pollution getting into the Eel River are among the issues an environmental review of the line will include.