The Times-Standard

Woolley hops aboard rail authority
By John Driscoll


EUREKA -- In a bid to add some clout to the railroad effort, Humboldt County supervisors elected one of their own to the North Coast Railroad Authority on Tuesday. John Woolley, 3rd District supervisor, will take the place of Simpson Timber Co.'s Dan Opalach, who resigned after a promotion found him struggling with his schedule.

"It brings our interest in the matter to a higher level," Woolley said. The Board of Supervisors has always supported the effort to get the Northwest Pacific Railroad from Napa to Humboldt counties up and running after storms washed out tracks in the Eel River Canyon in 1997 and 1998. "But when we step up to the plate it brings it more credence," he said.

Woolley has helped craft legislation on railroad issues, and believes his position with the California Coastal Commission and his ties to Sacramento could prove a boon to the effort. The seven-member authority has adopted a strategy that aims to get the line reopened in stages. The line north of the Eel River Canyon would be open late next year under that scenario, with the entire line up and running in 2006.

Many believe the railroad is key to the North Coast economy and to maximizing the use of the port of Humboldt Bay, and want to see the investment made to clean up environmental problems and start running trains. Others think the railroad is a money pit that will cause more environmental problems than it already has, and would rather see financing for decommissioning.

The authority is also seeking funding to draft an environmental report on reopening the line and has begun clean-up activities in the canyon area. Leo Sears, the other Humboldt County representative on the authority board, said he believes Woolley has a lot to add to the process. "I am absolutely astounded that he can find the time in his busy schedule to do this but I am totally pleased," Sears said.

The authority's next meeting with be at the Healdsburg City Hall next Wednesday at 10 a.m.