Mendocino County Railroad Society Newsletter

November 2002

NCRA: Changes, new developments

There was an unexpected surprise at the Willits NCRA meeting in October. The Board of Directors of the North Coast Railroad Authority announced the appointment of Doug Christy as Executive Director, replacing Max Bridges who is going to retire next spring. The Board appreciated Bridges' advanced notice and felt that now was the appropriate time to make the change as the NCRA begins the environmental process leading to projects that will reopen and upgrade the approximate 300 miles from Humboldt County to Lombard in Napa County. The Board also praised Bridges' hard work since he accepted the position as executive director in 1999.  Chairman Ripple commented, "Max has been an asset to the Authority, enjoyable to work with and will be missed." During his years as director, Bridges’ experience of the bureaucratic process was very valuable dealing with state and federal agencies in endless meetings ironing out the path for the railroad's future. During the next few months until his retirement, Bridges will aid Christy in the changeover.

Christy has held the position of Assistant Executive Director/Project Manager for the Authority since May 2001. He brought to that position significant railroad experience which will be helpful in his new position. Christy said ‘I welcome the challenge and look forward to helping complete the mission to reestablish rail service to the entire line'. "

There were also changes on the board. In June, Bruce Burton, the Mayor of Willits, took over Jake McKenzie's seat representing a city; and in September, John Woolley, a Supervisor in Humboldt County, replaced Dan Opalach. We welcome Bruce Burton and John Woolley and thank Dan Opalach for his conscientious work during his tenure on the Board.

Other developments: At the NCRA meeting in Eureka in August, it was made clear that the railroad authority doesn't have the power to sell the North Coast's railroad without an act of the state Legislature. All North Coast representatives, on the state and federal level, want the railroad to remain in public ownership.

Soon after this the California Office of Emergency Services (OES) notified the NCRA that FEMA is willing to release the $8.3 million that had been earmarked for rehabilitation work north of Willits. The interesting news was that FEMA was offering the full amount, without the 10% discount it had previously demanded, even if (Continued on page 10) From Page 1: this money was used somewhere else on the line. Before the funds can be released, the NCRA must provide information to FEMA for a Damage Survey Report, outlining the purpose and need for the restoration and rehabilitation of the rail service. Then a preliminary environmental assessment will be prepared determining the scope, the cost and the schedule for the project.

The NCRA also must create a Memorandum of Understanding between all the agencies involved in the process. Since it involves federal money, the Federal Highway Administration has been chosen as the lead agency. Once all these steps have been taken, Wildane Company can proceed with the environmental work and will be reimbursed by FEMA as each activity has been completed.

Originally, these tasks were to be funded from the $60 million of Traffic Congestion Relief (TCR), but now the TCR funds will be used for future work because there is the possibility that the FEMA funds could suddenly disappear as FEMA officials already warned in January. One can expect that all the preliminary work will be done by the end of the year and then the rehabilitation process can begin.

One of the most frustrating aspects is that the bureaucratic and environmental control of the rehabilitation process does not allow for any preventive maintenance now. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) made it clear that they would not release any money for this purpose although supervisors from Humboldt and Mendocino County, as well as the League of Women Voters and many others have urged the CTC to do so.

However, even if there were money available from other sources, no work could be done because of the environmental and bureaucratic restrictions, and also because the NCRA has no freight operator at this time. Small emergencies that could arise with the beginning of the rainy season can be funded from a $50,000 contingency fund the NCRA Board set aside at the October meeting.