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                                Questions of James Quinn, March 10, 2002

 

1)      CAPITAL PROJECTS ASSESSMENT FOR CALIFORNIA TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION (CTC)      

a)      When did the CTC first request this Capital Projects Assessment (Assessment), which is due by the end of June 2002?

Answer:          CTC Resolution TA00-02 – copy attached.

b)      What reasons did the CTC give for requesting this Assessment?

Answer:          The CTC wanted to clearly understand the full scope and cost of rehabilitating the entire line.

c)      Was a description of the Assessment and the reasons for requesting it ever reduced to written form by the CTC and communicated to the NCRA?  Has the NCRA ever asked for such a written document?

Answer:          Yes – see CTC Resolution TA00-02.

                  d)   Is it true that the CTC has stated that no further funding, or at least no further grant funding, will be released to the NCRA until after the CTC

                   receives and reviews the Assessment? 

                  Answer:          Yes

e)      What does the NCRA understand to be the reason for this lengthy interim  ban on further funding?

Answer:          See CTC Resolution TA00-02 and answer to question b) above.

f)        Does the Board or the NCRA staff see anything ominous in the official gatekeeper for funding (the CTC) banning funding for more than six months (re an already slow moving repair project) and calling for an Assessment?

Answer:          No

g)      With Willdan aboard now, would it be possible for Willdan to complete an Assessment earlier than the end of June?  And wouldn’t this be advantageous for the NCRA and the pace of its repair project?

Answer:          Part 1 – No     Part 2 – Yes

 

2)      LIMITED INTERIM FREIGHT SERVICE ON THE SOUTH END (SCHELLVILLE TO WILLITS)

 

a)      What steps is the NCRA or its staff taking to bring the above kind of service into being as soon as possible?

Answer:    After many meetings by staff with potential interim operators, interim service is not available without a significant monthly subsidy.

b)      What plans and studies has the NCRA performed regarding such service?

Answer:    see answer to question 2 a) above.

c)      Does the NCRA have a target date for beginning such service?

Answer:    No – NCRA staff has prepared an RFP for a permanent operator for review and action by the NCRA Board at the 3/20/02 meeting.

d)      Did the NCRA issue an RFP for this service?  If so, when, who responded, and why was the matter not carried forward?  Also, what were the basic elements of the proposals received from would-be south end operators, and who were the operators?

Answer:    See answer to question 2 c) above.

e)      Has the NCRA formally requested authority from the CTC (or Caltrans) to use grant funds to pay for an interim operator’s south end maintenance costs?

Answer:    Discussions are on-going with various agencies on a wide range of topics.

f)        Has the NCRA discussed with Caltrans this whole matter, i.e., initiating a limited interim south end service?  What regulatory steps are needed, in Caltrans view, and how long would they take?

Answer:    Yes

                                                                                                                

3)      POSSIBILITY OF JOHN DARLING LAWSUIT(S)

              

a)      Reportedly, there is concern on the NCRA’s part that once it moves to initiate some form of service on the south end, John Darling will move to challenge in court any such operation by any operator other than himself (or an allied corporate entity)?  Is this report accurate?

Answer:    Not productive for NCRA to speculate on possible litigation.

b)       Please generally describe the issue and the NCRA’s concerns.

Answer:    See answer to 3 a) above.

c)      With little actual repair work going on now, why doesn’t the NCRA initiate legal action or negotiation to settle the Darling-as-Operator issue forthwith, so that it will not be a time-consuming impediment at a later date?

Answer:    See answer to 3 a) above.

                                                          

4)      REPROGRAMMING THE GRANT FUNDING (OR ANY OTHER FUNDING)

 

a)      Please describe the funding reprogramming that the NCRA is contemplating (or is already pursuing), that is, the purposes to which the money would be put and the dollar amounts to be sought.

Answer:    Strategy is currently being formulated.

b)      What concrete steps has the NCRA taken to bring about the reprogramming of grant (or other) funding?

Answer:    Meetings with staff are on-going.

 

c)      With an autumn 2006 estimated date for reopening the north end to 10 mph service (and a later date for upgrading to 25 mph), what estimated amount of the $60 million grant would be siphoned off for purposes other than those earlier listed in the “FAQ” section of the NCRA website?  (See answer to Question # 11 of  J.Quinn’s June 20, 2001 questions.)

Answer:    Do not understand your use of the word “siphoned”.  The assessment will provide information regarding the scope and cost of needed projects.  This in turn will provide us with the amount of funds will be needed.

d)      In other words, as regards “c” above, using the latest estimated repair project timetable and looking ahead to 2006 and beyond, how much of the $60 million grant would be reprogrammed?

Answer:    There is no “latest repair estimate” until the assessment is completed.

 

e)      Would the CTC  (and Caltrans) authorize the release of reprogrammed funding prior to the CTC’s receipt and review of the Assessment, which is not due to be turned in until the end of June 2002?

Answer:    No

f)        Has the NCRA staff requested the release of reprogrammed funding prior to the dates when the CTC receives and reviews the Assessment?

Answer:    No – also see CTC Resolution TA00-02 attached.

 

5)      WILLDAN AND ITS $15.5 MILLION CONTRACT

 

a)   In reaching the contract figure of $15.5 million, what assumptions were     made regarding the degree of environmental review that would be required on the north end?   Specifically, was it assumed that both an EIS and an EIR would be required?

                 Answer:     Part 1 – none              Part 2 - No

b)   If it turns out that one (or both) of these environmental studies is not required, would the amount that Willdan will earn be reduced from its present $15.5 million figure?

Answer:     The contract is not a guaranteed amount they re on a task order services contract only.  All work to be performed will be based upon “task orders” that are prepared and agreed to between NCRA (with agency input) and Willdan/HNTB as a result of an identified need (task) to be completed.

 

c)   What is Willdan’s view on the likelihood that neither an EIS nor an EIR will be required?  Is Willdan committed to striving for such an outcome which would greatly shorten what could be a lengthy environmental review process?

                 Answer:     This can not be determined until the assessment is completed.

d)      A while back, it was stated that Willdan would be given an “open ended” contract.  Is this in fact what happened?  If so, please describe the basic elements or provisions of this “open ended” contract. 

Answer:    No – see answer to question 5 b) above.

 


 

Questions Submitted by James Quinn in Conjunction with the December 19, 2001 NCRA Meeting in Healdsburg 

1.      Eel River Canyon 

     (a)  What communication, if any, has there been between NCRA and FEMA about the latter allowing winter  maintenance work in the Canyon? There has been none because NCRA has no funding available to provide for maintenance/preservation of assets.

      (b)  Have any NCRA requests been submitted to FEMA describing the merits of winter (or pre-winter) maintenance in the Canyon? Same as (a) above.

      (c)  Has NCRA approached the CTC, Caltrans or any other authority about this matter and the release of funding that would be needed? Yes, discussions continue with Caltrans and Legislative staff regarding ways to re-distribute the Traffic Congestion Relief funds to address NCRA’s Administrative and Maintenance needs.

 2.   Willdan 

(a)    My understanding is that Caltrans’ pre-award audit of Willdan was to have been

completed during the week of Dec. 10.  Has this indeed happened and is Willdan therefore cleared to do its work? Contract was signed January 5 and Task Orders are being prepared to address the Capital Project and Environmental Remediation Assessments.

      (b) Does the NCRA have task orders prepared that inform Willdan about what work NCRA wants Willdan to perform? See response to previous question. 

      (c)  Since the initial north end repair project will be to bring the line up to a 10 mph capability and this is the project that FEMA’s Environmental Assessment will address, will Willdan initially concentrate only on the engineering and scopes of work associated with this 10 mph goal?  If so, has Willdan set forth an estimated date for completing this initial phase of its work? The FEMA funds are specifically identified for re-opening to Class 1. Completion is anticipated by the fall of 2006. The Capital Project Assessment will further refine the schedule and NCRA is pursuing options that may help to expedite the project. 

      (d)  Has the NCRA requested a time certain  by which Willdan will have completed this Phase I of its work?  If not, what is NCRA’s best estimate as to when Willdan should complete its initial (10 mph) Phase I work? Completion of the environmental clearance, permitting, and preliminary engineering for the re-opening is expected by June 2004. Again, the schedule is subject to refinement and efforts are underway to expedite the completion.

 3.   FEMA’s Long Overdue EA 

      (a)  At its March 2001 meeting, the NCRA was informed that FEMA would almost certainly finish its EA of the north end in 30-60 days and that it was very likely that FEMA’s conclusion would be a “Finding of No Significant Impact.”   What has happened to cause this expectation to transition to one whereby the EA won’t be finished for many more months and the bureaucratic process of authorizing repairs in the Canyon may drag on through the summer of 2002, and that actual repair work would not begin until 2003? The Willdan Capital Project Assessment will provide the information FEMA needs to complete the EA. 

      (b)  Has FEMA provided an explanation for this major shift and, if so, what is it? NCRA needs to provide FEMA with a revised project description addressing all work that will be done concurrently with the re-opening. 

4.   Congressman Thompson’s Letter to FEMA 

      (a)  At the NCRA’s Eureka meeting, there was talk of FEMA responding to a request from  Thompson’s office regarding the EA.  What specifically was requested of FEMA by  Thompson  and was this at the urging of the NCRA Board? No letter was sent to FEMA.

      (b)  Were these two communications made in the form of letters?  If so, will the letters or their contents be made public? Letters do not exist. 

5.   California Transportation Commission 

      (a)  The CTC has asked to be informed by Willdan about every capital project on the north end so it can determine whether enough funding is available to the NCRA to have the work completed.  Does the CTC want this info at the end of Willdan’s formulation of the scopes of work needed to bring the north end to a 10 mph capability or does the CTC want this info after Willdan has finished its entire study of the north end (and whatever on the south end that may be included in Willdan’s study)? NCRA is required to provide the Assessment of all project needs prior to CTC releasing any funds to make improvements.

      (b)  If the CTC is not seeking a separate report for the 10 mph repair project, does this mean that the start of repair work on bringing the north end up to 10 mph must await the completion of Willdan’s entire study? Yes, the assessment must be completed first.

       (c)   Has the CTC given any indication what it would do if it finds there is not enough funding to complete all the capital projects on the NWP? The funds available to NCRA are capped at an amount considerably less that that estimated to complete all the landslide stabilization. The assessment will refine the scope, schedule, and estimated cost. Any additional funding will need to come from other sources. 

6.   Windsor to Willits 

    (a)  When will this repair work be completed and, upon completion, will the FRA/CPUC be called to make an inspection? Track work has been completed and signals are expected to be completed in February. There will be no FRA/CPUC inspection until there is an operator ready to provide freight service. 

        (b)    What is the status of crossing and signal repairs between Windsor and Willits?  Does the current repair project include bringing crossings & signals up to FRA standards? All crossing protection will be repaired to FRA Class 1 standards 

      (c)  Once the repair project is completed, what steps will be taken to protect the repairs from degrading? Effort is underway to re-direct State funds to address Asset Preservation. 

7.   Cloverdale to Healdsburg  --  Proposed Ownership Change

      (a)  Reportedly, there is a proposal to legislate a reconstitution of the NWPRA.  Also, that part of the proposal is to end the NCRA’s ownership of the Cloverdale-Healdsburg segment of the NWP.  What is the status of this proposal/legislation? The proposal is to form a Transit Authority in Sonoma and Marin that would essentially replace both NWPRA and SMART. No change to the property owned by NCRA is proposed. 

    (b)  What has been the posture of the NCRA reps at the NWPRA towards this proposal and have they made any recommendation to the NCRA Board?  Has the NCRA taken a position on the proposal? NCRA has reviewed draft language and has supported the concept.

     (c)   Has there been any written communication between the NCRA (or its reps) and  the NWPRA about this matter?  If so, what has been the thrust of this communication? Not to my knowledge.

    (d)  Is SMART seeking to locate a repair station at Cloverdale?  If so, is this seen as a factor in the NWPRA’s desire to change the ownership of the Cloverdale-Healdsburg segment?  What remuneration for giving up ownership would the NWP receive in exchange? Yes, a maintenance facility is under consideration for the Cloverdale area. Again, no change in NCRA’s ownership is under consideration.

 8.   Sale of Passenger Cars 

   (a)  At the Eureka meeting there was mention of selling five passenger cars.  If excursion passenger service is planned on a reopened NWP, why are cars being sold? NCRA does not have the resources to protect and maintain the passenger equipment. Future and the current passenger operator does not intend to use this equipment.

      (b)  Under the plan to switch FEMA’s $ 8.3 million to the south end, would any of this money be used to purchase passenger cars? There has been no discussion of such a purchase.

 9.   Petaluma to Windsor 

    (a)  It is my understanding that the crossing & signal repairs for this line segment still have not been done.  What is the estimated cost of these repairs and what would be the likely source of such funding? There is no current estimate, but it will be included in Willdan’s assessment. Funds available for upgrading will need to be utilized for this work.

    (b)  If the cost and funding source are not known,  is anything being done to ascertain them?  Is Willdan capable of supplying a scope of work and a cost estimate re these repairs?  See previous answer. 

10.   Schellville Yard 

   (a)  My understanding is that 1,000 ft. of track roadbed has been washed away by recent storms.  What plans, if any, are there to address the drainage problem so that the line, once repaired, won’t wash out again as it has a number of times in the past decade? This location will be evaluated as part of the Willdan assessment. 

11.    Interim Operation of the NWP by the NCRA 

   (a)  Does the NCRA have any plans to itself operate the NWP on a reduced schedule for an interim period (until the line, for example, becomes operational from Eureka south)? NCRA is seeking use of State TCR funds for maintenance until such time as freight revenues are sufficient to provide adequate maintenance. 

   (b)  Has the NCRA made any study of the economics of its operating the NWP from Willits south, for example, twice a week?  Has the break-even point of such an NCRA operation been ascertained? Yes, and the freight revenues projected do not support any service without a subsidy for maintenance and operations.  

12.   Rotating the Chairmanship of the NCRA Board 

   (a)  When does the term of the present chairman expire? The Board re-appointed David Ripple Chairman for another term ending January 2003. 

   (b) Which county is next in line for the chairmanship? Humboldt County, but there is no mandatory line of succession. The selection of the Chair is at the discretion of the Board. 

13.   Funding for Administrative Costs 

   (a) According to the CTC, funding for NCRA administrative costs will expire at the end of June 2002 when the $250,000 authorized for the six-month period starting Jan. 1, 2002 runs out.  What steps will be taken to obtain further admin funding re the NWP repair project?  Won’t an emergency amendment of the $60 million grant legislation be required? NCRA is working with Caltrans and Legislative staff to address this issue. 

14.   FEMA (Addendum)

    (a) According to some observers, FEMA has sought rather basic information about the Eel River Canyon for its EA and reportedly asked the NCRA a long time ago to provide it, but the information has not been provided.  What is NCRA’s awareness of such a request and situation, and is there a reasonable explanation why the information would not have been provided?  Currently are there NCRA plans to respond to FEMA regarding this?  The additional information required by FEMA will be provided as part of the Willdan Capital Project Assessment.                                                                                                                


 

Questions Submitted by James Quinn at Healdsburg, September 19, 2001

A) Schellville to Petaluma/Windsor

    1)  As regards grade crossing safety devices between Schellville and Windsor: 

a)      How many crossings are not in compliance with FRA or CPUC requirements?

    What is the nature of the violations? All the public signalled crossings were inspected on both the operating portion of the line and that portion between Penngrove and Windsor requesting partial relief.  Several defects where noted by the FRA and some were corrected.  Since the NWPY discontinued operations while these inspections were in progress, some defects were not corrected.  Instead, all crossings were deactivated and placed out of service.  A complete set of these inspections can be viewed upon request. 

              b)  What is the cost estimate for repairs and where will the money come from? Unknown at this time. They will be evaluated prior to resumption of service. 

              c)  What is the problem with the gates at the D Street Crossing in Petaluma? Operator believed that rusty rails were causing intermitent loss of shunt, causing gates to raise and lower. 

2)  Please describe the current operational status of the NWP.  What are the prospects for promptly resuming service? Service ceased September 14, 2001. We are discussing interim operation with a number of potential providers. 

     3)  As regards the bridge at Novato Creek that recently had fire damage: 

a)      What is the status of its repair and the current train speed limit over the bridge? It was repaired by NWPY and had a reduced speed (5 mph) after repair. 

              b)  Where did the stringers come from that were used in this repair job? Scotia 

     4)  The recent operator (Mr. Darling, et al.) was to have repaired the line between Penngrove and Windsor on his own nickel. If further repairs are still needed, would an RFP have to be issued? What would the project time frame be? The track work was completed. We will evaluate the signal repairs needed and determine how to get it accomplished. 

     5)  What is the current estimate for inaugurating service to Windsor? Until we can provide an operator there can be no estimate. 

B) Duplication of Effort: Initially Repairing Track Only to 10 MPH

     1)  This week or last, the repairing of the line between Windsor and Willits began. This project, however, is only authorized to repair the track to a 10 mph (Class 1) operating standard. At some later date, in a separate project (with all its attendant red tape, approvals, audits, administrative costs, etc.), the track will be repaired to a 25 mph (Class 2) standard because the NWP cannot operate profitably at 10 mph. This is not a question. 

     2)       What agency is requiring this mindless duplication of effort and expense? In other words, what agency stands in the way of performing the work more efficiently, that is, in one combined project that repairs the track to a 25 mph capability? The legislation that provided the funding for NCRA from Traffic Congestion Relief (TCR) funds specifically identified separate funding for these activities. 

C) Impasse re Readying Idled Eel River Canyon Line for Winter Rainstorms

     1)  As regards preparing the right‑of‑way in the Eel River Canyon for winter rainstorms, i.e., drainage work such as ditching, clearing culverts of debris, etc., what is stopping this crucial preventative maintenance from being performed: 

a)      Is it FEMA saying that nothing can be done along the northern half of the NWP until the long anticipated FEMA Environmental Assessment (EA) is completed? There are no funds for maintenance, only for repair activity. It is both State and Federal law that requires the environmental review process--the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The State and Federal Agencies are merely following the law.

b)      If it's FEMA, has the NCRA advised Congressman Mike Thompson about the matter and requested his assistance in nullifying what would be an outrageous federal restriction? We do not expect State and Federal environmental policy to be changed for this project. 

             c)  Is nothing being done because none of the state grant funding can be accessed

                 to pay for the work? There is $1 million in State funding from TCR that will   be used upon completion of the environmental review process. 

d)  If it's for lack of a funding source, has the NCRA advised Gov. Davis of its predicament and sought an emergency release of grant money? Any State money that would be provided would be for capital projects not maintenance, and still subject to the same environmental review process. 

Indeed, since the NWP's positive impact on the North Coast's economy was the reason most prominently stated by the Governor for repairing the line, he would likely be quite favorable to avoiding disastrous washouts in the Canyon. 

Also, what's the logic of an expensive railroad repair project if care is not taken to shield the most vulnerable not yet repaired portion of the line from further major damage? Again, there is money for capital projects, but nothing for maintenance. 

e)  Or lastly, is nothing being done because the Board has resigned itself to not being proactive about the matter and instead has accepted the idea of just "rolling the dice," as it were, about the Canyon that part of the NWP most susceptible to winter storm damage? NCRA and its supporters have been very proactive. The $60 million from TCR is the only money identified in that legislation for any agency in Caltrans District 1. 

f)     The big loser potentially in all of this is of course Humboldt County. Many observers believe that the unprepared, neglected Canyon right-of-way is a local disaster waiting to happen. This is a statement, not a question. 

D) FEMA and Environmental Review North of Willits

1)     What is FEMA's due date for finally completing its long‑awaited Environmental Assessment?  Unknown. They are waiting for a revised scope of work from NCRA that will be the subject of discussion on October 16 when we meet with the Consent Decree agencies to discuss the photographs from the Fish and Game flight through the canyon. 

      2)  Is the NCRA still confident, as it was led to be early this year, that FEMA's lengthy study of the NWP and the environment (its EA) will end with a "FONSI," i.e., a "finding of no significant impact," thus negating the need for the preparation of a federal Environmental Impact Statement? We are advised that FEMA still holds that position. 

      3)  Is there concern on the Board's part that FEMA is negative towards restoring the NWP to service north of Willits, believing that it knows better what's good for California? We will not speculate on the motives of FEMA. 

 More specifically and relating to the environment, is there concern that FEMA may be using environmental review as a weapon to delay needed transportation improvements or as an excuse for blocking the resumption of rail service through the Canyon? No, but FEMA seems very concerned with the possibility of a legal challenge to their EA.  

E) Ongoing Fees for Stranded Union Pacific Railcars

1)     Some 67 Union Pacific (UP) railcars are stranded on the line, mainly due to storm damage to the NWP right of way. UP car hire costs consist of fees that are assessed against the NCRA each day for each car. Not a question. 

2)     Assuming that the NCRA has researched the rules regarding stranded rail equipment, what is the Board's position on the applicability of these rules to its present predicament? Aside from a settlement, is it the Board's view that there is no remedy against the present situation? There were negotiations with UP that reduced the past payment to UP. However, as long as the equipment is trapped they are entitled to payment. NCRA used a Washington, DC lawfirm to assist in the reduction of fees.

3)     Has UP shown itself adverse to negotiating a fair settlement to end the ongoing car cost drain (which already represents several hundred thousand dollars)? Yes, they have provided a depreciated value that could be paid to cancell the car hire. To date NCRA has not identified a source of revenue to purchase the cars. 

F) Caltrans: Cooperative or As Difficult As Possible?

      1)  At NCRA meetings, when members of the public complain about Caltrans and its snail-paced approval process, invariably there is praise from the Board about Caltrans' admirable cooperation, as if the repair project has not been continually bogged down, even during the summer. When has there ever been any enthusiasm on the part of Caltrans for getting the NWP back in service? When the bids were received for Windsor to Willits they were some $200,000+ over the $600,000 available from TCR. It was Caltrans staff that found a way to utilize some other funds (they even found a way to waive the local matching requirement) so that the project could move forward. 

2)     When a storm damages a Caltrans highway, public funds quickly become available and it is repaired in the shortest possible time frame. When has Caltrans showed any of that same spirit towards the publicly funded repair of the NWP, a railroad deemed crucial to the future economic vitality of Humboldt County's North Coast? Highways are supported by dedicated revenue from motor vehicle fuel taxes. NCRA has no similar source of revenue. 

G) Room for NCRA Improvement In Keeping the Public Informed 

1)     The Board still appears reluctant to communicate to the public the progress or lack of progress as regards the repair and reopening of the NWP. Whether the news is good or bad, the Board would seem to have an obligation to keep the public regularly informed about a publicly funded repair project. That is what this response is intended to do. After every Board meeting an action summary is posted on the web page. Public relations is agendized for discussion on the October agenda. 

2)     A few months back, the Board showed unanimous support for its need to do a better job of keeping the public informed. In light of this, a few comments seem in order: 

a)      At the NCRA website, under the subheading "News," the only item shown is still the reopening of the NWP to Petaluma in February. 

b)      “FAQ” (short for "Frequently Asked Questions") is the heading for a section that sets forth questions from the public and the NCRA's answers. I would wager, though, that most website users (especially newcomers) have no idea  what "FAQ" stands for.  A much more informative and useful heading would be "Questions/Answers," "Ans. to Inquiries" or some such. Otherwise most website users might as well be barred from the questions and answers section. 

c)      The latest entry in the FAQ section consists of the questions asked by Mrs. Burkhardt at the July 18 Board meeting. The NCRA's answers were not posted for many weeks and seem quite minimal. 

d)      Why couldn't a brief report (one or two pages) describing repair project activity and developments be posted on the website at least every two weeks for the public's information? Presently there's no reasonable way to stay  informed. The Board will again discuss public relations at the October meeting.

 


 

[Response to questions raised by Jim Quinn at the NCRA Board Meeting on June 20, 2001]

  1. As regards the Petaluma crossings that need upgrades, what is NWPY doing to address this problem?

NWPY has a contract with Caltrans to address crossing improvements at various locations. NCRA understands that there have been delays associated with that project on account of changes requested by the City of Petaluma, but is not privy to the details. 

  1. What is the timetable for repairing the Windsor to Willits segment? Is this project now divided into two segments, i.e., Windsor to Ukiah and Ukiah to Willits? Because the new Project Manager is a former executive with Mr. Darling’s enterprises, won’t he have to withdraw from the selection process regarding any project bidding that includes one of Mr. Darling’s corporations as one of the bidding contractors?

The invitation for bids is expected to be released by the end of June, bids received in time for the August NCRA meeting, and completion by the end of the year. The project will be bid as a single project. Mr. Christy has no financial interest in any of Mr. Darling’s corporations and therefore has no conflict of interest. The contractor for this work will be the lowest responsible bidder. There is no subjective selection process. 

  1. What is the timetable for getting the line open to Eureka?

The schedule will be developed as part of the needs assessment that will be undertaken by the consultant that will be on board by mid-August. Completion is not likely any earlier than the end of 2002. 

  1. As regards the Eel River Canyon, where do things stand between FEMA, its Environmental Assessment, the State Historical Preservation Office and the timetable for the NCRA being allowed to go forward with rehabbing the line through the Canyon?

It should be noted that the “project” is the reopening from Willits north, not just the Canyon. The Supplemental Programmatic Agreement regarding Historical Preservation has been executed by all parties. The items from the consent decree that will be accomplished concurrently with the reopening project need to be identified and included in FEMA’s scope of work for the Environmental Assessment (EA). Then the applicable Federal Agencies will be able to assess the environmental impacts of the described scope of work. It is hoped that the scope of work can be identified by the end of June. We are attempting to schedule a meeting with the various State and Federal agencies involved. 

  1. Will the rehabilitation through the Eel River Canyon comprise one project or a series of projects?

The needs assessment will address this issue, but it appears that the reopening will be one project followed by one, or more, projects to upgrade and stabilize. There may also be a separate project to reopen the far north end prior to through the Canyon. 

  1. What work, if any, is going on in the Canyon? What will be done to prepare ditches and culverts for the coming winter’s rains?

There is no current work taking place north of Willits and there are no funds to address winter preparation. 

  1. What obstacles are there to opening the “Humboldt Short Line”, that is, the line between Scotia and Eureka/Arcata?

Yes, the completion of the FEMA EA is required before any reopening work north of Willits can proceed. NCRA must also comply with the requirements of CEQA. A project description will need to be developed by our consultant and a competitive bidding process completed before a contractor can be selected to do the work. 

  1. Why isn’t a Humboldt County representative included among those NWPRA meeting?

The NCRA Bylaws state: “…The Board of Directors shall appoint two of its members to represent the Authority on the Board of Directors of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Authority”. The Board has selected Directors Ripple and Hemphill. There are no specific requirements for this representation. 

  1. With so many public entities involved with the NWP, that is, the counties from Humboldt to Marin, the Bridge District, the various transit agencies, SMART, and the NCRA, how are governance issues progressing? Are the entities talking to each other? Do they have a common vision and goal? Is there agreement as to the types of services to be provided? Is there support for each other’s goals?

There has been considerable discussion of this issue at the Bridge District, the NWPRA, and NCRA. NWPRA has a committee of its Board Members established to address these issues and concerns. Each agency has its own perspective and there may not be a true common vision and goal, but there is a definite acknowledgement of the need for cooperation and support—both at the policy level and with the respective staff. 

  1. As regards the $60 million grant, what type of assurance does the Board have that the $36 million recently authorized by the CTC is reserved for rehabbing the NWP regardless of whether or not the pertinent rehabbing projects are underway by June 30, 2002.

The Traffic Congestion Relief Program (TCRP) provides the $60 million. It was established by AB 2928 (Torlakson) in 2000 and further modified by BB 1662 (Burton) also in 2000. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) adopted the guidelines for implementation of TCRP on September 20, 2000. These Guidelines contain the following deadline requirement: “…The statutes require that an applicant specified in article 5 of the act to prepare and submit to the Commission an application for each project specified no later than July 6, 2002.” NCRA has submitted and the CTC has approved applications for all but the $500,000 for Administrative Costs for FY 2001-02. That final application has been submitted and will be considered by CTC on July 11. With that action the entire $60 million will no longer be subject to the July 6, 2002 deadline. 

  1. By rough calculation, about $6 or $7 million of the $60 million grant remains unallocated to any particular purpose. What are the plans as to how this money will be used?

All of the $60 million is identified for specific purposes as follows: 

  • Administrative Costs 7/1/00 to 12/31/00                             $250,000
  • Administrative Costs 1/1/01 to 6/30/01                             $250,000
  • Administrative Costs 7/1/01 to 6/30/02                             $500,000
  • Reopening Willits South                                                     $600,000
  • Reopening Willits North                                                  $1,000,000
  • Upgrade to Class 2 and 3                                                  $5,000,000
  • Debt Reduction                                                            $10,000,000
  • Environmental Remediation                                                  $4,100,000
  • Q-Fund Loan Repayment                                                  $5,500,000
  • Local Matching (for ISTEA funds)                                      $1,800,000
  • Landslide Stabilization                                                $31,000,000

Total                                                            $60,000,000 

  1. Has Caltrans completed the audit of Rail-Ways, Inc.? If so, what did they find?

Caltrans has determined that Rail-Ways accounting procedures were not in compliance with applicable state and federal requirements for publicly funded transportation projects and have denied all amounts claimed by NCRA for work done by Rail-Ways under the Proposition 116 program. This amounts to approximately $75,000. 

Railways, Inc. Bankruptcy 

  1. Has there been any public explanation at an NCRA meeting as to how & why the bankruptcy came about? Also, and this should make the Rail-Ways bankruptcy all the more relevant to the Board, isn’t it quite possible that some or even most of the $6.1 million debt will find its way to NCRA’s doorstep? When did Board members and the Executive Director learn about Rail-Ways, Inc.’s bankruptcy condition? If the Board was unaware of Rail-Ways, Inc.’s situation, shouldn’t Mr. Darling have been more forthcoming about his company’s debtor status, especially since Rail-Ways’ debt problems did not occur overnight, for example, the $3.2 million owed to the IRS.

Since 1998 there have been a number of explanations at NCRA meetings concerning the delay in payment to Rail-Ways, Inc. due to a series of delays by FEMA in reimbursing NCRA for disaster relief work. NCRA meetings are scheduled for the purpose of conducting NCRA business. To the extent that Rail-Ways, Inc. activities coincide with those of NCRA, full public discussion is held. NCRA has received no claim from creditors of Rail-Ways. The Executive Director was advised of the bankruptcy on April 18, 2001 and shared that information with Board members that same day. It would be inappropriate to speculate on what Mr. Darling should or should not have done regarding his business decisions. 

  1. Given that the bankruptcy represents a big black eye for NCRA, what was the reasoning whereby Mr. Darling and his corporate entities were deemed suitable to continue to operate and repair the line?

NCRA has a contract with Northwestern Pacific Railway Company, LLC (NWPY) for operation of the rail line. NCRA has no current contracts with Rail-Ways, Inc. 

  1. At the present time, is the Board keeping closer watch on the business activity of Mr. Darling and his corporations by requiring financial updates on a regular basis? In other words, is the Board requiring more frequent financial updates? Does the Board know how many employees Mr. Darling has, their salaries, and to what corporate entities their salaries are being charged, and what services these employees accomplish for the NWP. Are expenditures reasonable and appropriate, given that the NWP only is providing limited service over a 43-mile stretch of track that is yielding small-time revenues? What is NWPY’s financial condition? Is it in the red itself?

If NWPY were to declare bankruptcy, NCRA’s contract provides that such a declaration would constitute a default under the contract and would be grounds for termination of the contract. However, that provision does not contractually apply to the bankruptcy of a separate entity under the law. As for the repair, the bankruptcy of Rail-Ways will disqualify it from participating in any construction contract bidding. 

The questions as posed by Mr. Quinn disregard recognition of a corporate entity and personalize the focus upon John Darling. NCRA’s contract is with NWPY, of which Mr. Darling is an officer and investor. NCRA has dealings with the entity and Mr. Darling’s interactions with NCRA are only in his capacity as a representative of the entity. If Mr. Darling is an investor or officer in other corporations that are unconnected with NCRA, there is no reason for NCRA to keep a “closer watch” on the business activities of any such entities. The requirement for “financial updates” is based solely upon the contract, or case-by-case situations. 

NCRA does not monitor the salary of NWPY employees. NWPY holds a common carrier responsibility to provide service on those portions of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks that are open. It is the responsibility of NWPY to maintain its expenses in accord with its revenues keeping in mind all relevant factors, including its common carrier duty to provide service, its available financial resources, and the necessity for maintaining an FRA compliant workforce and service. 

Max H. Bridges

Executive Director

North Coast Railroad Authority

   

 


[Response to questions raised by Hanna Burkhardt at the NCRA Board Meeting on July 18, 2001]

  • Has the work been completed to open the line between Penngrove and Windsor, and will the inspections start at the end of this month?

An inspection was made and defects were found.  A follow-up inspection began August 13.

  • Is the NWPY still under audit by Caltrans and the CTC? And if so, how much longer will the audit take? 

Yes, and the report is expected in the next few weeks.   

 

  • Will the NWPY be a bidder on the repair work that needs to be done between Windsor and Willits? And would the NWPY have to survive another Caltrans pre-award audit process to do that work?

NWPY was a sub-contractor to another firm that was not the low bidder. If NWPY were part of the firm to be awarded the contract a pre-award audit would be required.

  • Has the NCRA been able to attract several bidders interested in bidding on the work to be done between Windsor and Willits?

There were four bids submitted.  

  • How realistic is the timeframe for opening to Willits by December considering the Caltrans/CTC process that must be followed in this regard?

It is very realistic.

  • Concerning FEMA: I had been under the impression that the FEMA EA would lead to a “Finding of No Significant Impact” for the NCRA so the NCRA could proceed with the opening project. Is this correct?

It is for the "Federal" environmental process. NCRA will also have to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and produce additional information. Our consultant will be working on this ASAP.

  • Why is FEMA tying the scope of work for the re-opening project, the stabilization, and the upgrade work into one package when they appear to be separate matters? 

Because both CEQA and NEPA require consideration of all known activity and its potential impact on the environment.

  • Has the NCRA ever checked with the Surface Transportation Board to see what environmental requirements are necessary to re-open a railroad that has never been abandoned?

I do not believe so. NCRA must comply with the regulations that govern the funds that we are receiving from the state and federal sources.

  • Has the NCRA given any thought as to who would operate the railroad should the NWPY decide they do not have the necessary funds to continue this effort?

Staff has been directed to create a contingency plan to minimize the potential for disruption in service.

  • Does the NWPY provide NCRA with an accounting of the current monthly expenses and revenues for the freight service that is now being operated to Petaluma?

We have received some of this information.

  • Lastly, when will the Humboldt County Representatives on the NCRA get their turn again to represent the NCRA on the monthly meetings of the NWPRA?

There are no requirements dictating which of the NCRA Board Members serve on the NWPRA Board. It is at the discretion of the NCRA Board.

       Max H. Bridges

      Executive Director

      North Coast Railroad Authority

 


[Response to questions raised by Hanna Burkhardt at the NCRA Board Meeting on July 18, 2001]

  • Has the work been completed to open the line between Penngrove and Windsor, and will the inspections start at the end of this month?

An inspection was made and defects were found.  A follow-up inspection began August 13.

  • Is the NWPY still under audit by Caltrans and the CTC? And if so, how much longer will the audit take? 

Yes, and the report is expected in the next few weeks.   

 

  • Will the NWPY be a bidder on the repair work that needs to be done between Windsor and Willits? And would the NWPY have to survive another Caltrans pre-award audit process to do that work?

NWPY was a sub-contractor to another firm that was not the low bidder. If NWPY were part of the firm to be awarded the contract a pre-award audit would be required.

  • Has the NCRA been able to attract several bidders interested in bidding on the work to be done between Windsor and Willits?

There were four bids submitted.  

  • How realistic is the timeframe for opening to Willits by December considering the Caltrans/CTC process that must be followed in this regard?

It is very realistic.

  • Concerning FEMA: I had been under the impression that the FEMA EA would lead to a “Finding of No Significant Impact” for the NCRA so the NCRA could proceed with the opening project. Is this correct?

It is for the "Federal" environmental process. NCRA will also have to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and produce additional information. Our consultant will be working on this ASAP.

  • Why is FEMA tying the scope of work for the re-opening project, the stabilization, and the upgrade work into one package when they appear to be separate matters? 

Because both CEQA and NEPA require consideration of all known activity and its potential impact on the environment.

  • Has the NCRA ever checked with the Surface Transportation Board to see what environmental requirements are necessary to re-open a railroad that has never been abandoned?

I do not believe so. NCRA must comply with the regulations that govern the funds that we are receiving from the state and federal sources.

  • Has the NCRA given any thought as to who would operate the railroad should the NWPY decide they do not have the necessary funds to continue this effort?

Staff has been directed to create a contingency plan to minimize the potential for disruption in service.

  • Does the NWPY provide NCRA with an accounting of the current monthly expenses and revenues for the freight service that is now being operated to Petaluma?

We have received some of this information.

  • Lastly, when will the Humboldt County Representatives on the NCRA get their turn again to represent the NCRA on the monthly meetings of the NWPRA?

There are no requirements dictating which of the NCRA Board Members serve on the NWPRA Board. It is at the discretion of the NCRA Board.

       Max H. Bridges

      Executive Director

      North Coast Railroad Authority

 

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