Proposed North Coast Hiking Trail (& SMART to own NCRA)?
The North Coast Hiking Trail
State Sen. Mike McGuire is proposing to reorganize
management of the North Coast’s railroad system aimed at enabling people to walk
— not ride — along a trail from San Francisco Bay
to Humboldt Bay, including the spectacular Eel
River Canyon in Mendocino and Humboldt counties.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg, to create a
“world-class experience in our own backyard.”
Caryl Hart, a former Sonoma County parks director, joined McGuire in hailing the
proposed trail as an opportunity to traverse the coastal redwoods from
Cloverdale to Arcata.
“It’s a dream,” she said likening the trail along the tracks to the
Pacific Crest Trail through the Sierra Nevada and
giving the local area an economic boost in the process. “I really think it has
the potential to be a bedrock of the economy of the North Coast.”
SMART to takeover North Coast
Railroad Authority (NCRA) ?
Freight train operations between Napa and Windsor will
continue and possibly expand into Mendocino County but are
unlikely to ever run farther north than Willits because of the
formidable cost of restoring the rail line through the canyon, which runs for
about 50 miles north of Dos Rios, where the Main and Middle forks of the Eel
River converge. The canyon is a wild, remote place with few public access
points, rich in wildlife, with an officially designated wild and scenic river
flowing by a slide-damaged railroad and collapsed tunnels. The southern leg of
the trail would run along the North Bay commuter rail line that began passenger
service last year and intends to ultimately run from Larkspur to Cloverdale. The
trail’s northern segment, running from Willits to Arcata, would be developed and
managed by a new public entity called the Great Redwood Trail Agency to be
established in the next two years.
McGuire’s plan, contained in a bill he intends to amend by Friday, would abolish
the debt-ridden public agency that has overseen
North Coast freight rail service since 1989, transferring its
northern assets to the proposed
trail agency and southern
assets to an as-yet undetermined manager, possibly
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, the commuter
rail operator. “All options are on the table,” McGuire said, adding that
SMART could be the “successor agency” to manage
the rail line.
SB 1029, sets an April 1, 2019, deadline for the transfer of railroad assets
to the new managing agencies. The northern segment will initially be ceded to
Caltrans, which will conduct an environmental
assessment of the rail line prior to turning it over to the trail agency by Jan.
Also to be determined is funding for the two management agencies; that will be
part of state budget discussions running through May, McGuire said.
Farhad Mansourian, SMART
general manager, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on McGuire’s bill.
The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), which
has managed the entire 316-mile rail line from Napa
to Arcata for the past 29 years, is not standing in
the way of McGuire’s plan.
The agency’s board of directors unanimously gave McGuire’s measure,
SB 1029, a qualified endorsement at its meeting Wednesday in Ukiah on a
motion offered by rookie board member Hart. “The bottom line is I think this
organization sees the handwriting on the wall,” said Hart, who resigned as
Sonoma County’s parks director last year and was attending her first
NCRA board meeting. Mitch Stogner, the
NCRA’s executive director, said the reorganization
— which would eliminate his job — would likely bring
state financial support for the first time to North Coast freight
service, which was restored by the NCRA in 2011 and
currently runs from Napa to Windsor. “Maybe the state is finally ready to make a
commitment to this rail corridor, and that’s good,” he said. “Whatever you call
the governing body is not that important.”
NCRA, formed by state lawmakers in 1989, loses about $250,000 a year and has amassed a debt of about $5
million. It receives no state funding.
The agency has two full-time employees — Stogner and his assistant — and four
contract employees, and has been harshly criticized by a state transportation
board for failing to develop a detailed account of
its finances or plans for future operations.
James Ghielmetti, a California Transportation Commission member, said in January
the NCRA’s strategic plan “in its current from
doesn’t make any sense at all.”
McGuire said last month he shared the commission’s concerns, adding that
NCRA must present a viable longterm financial plan
before the Legislature would consider funding for the agency.
Stogner, who has run the NCRA since 2003, has
consistently pointed to a pair of vetoes by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
that denied funding for the agency responsible for managing a 316-mile rail
The agency’s future, he has said, depends on securing a
state subsidy of $500,000 to $1 million a year.
Hart said her motion to back McGuire’s bill hinged on its consistency with the
NCRA’s strategic plan
( thot they had no "plans for future operations" ?)
calling for extending freight rail
service in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and developing it in Humboldt County,
while setting aside the stretch in between, including the Eel River Canyon,
for a future trail.
The cost of restoring the rail line through the canyon
is estimated to cost as much as $1 billion and is
vigorously opposed by environmentalists.
Doug Bosco, a co-owner of
Northwestern Pacific, NWP, the rail line’s
only freight carrier under a longterm contract with
NCRA, said he assumes the operation will continue
under the new management structure. “We’d have to reach some sort of agreement,”
he said, adding that the state “would have to account for
Northwestern Pacific’s lease.” Bosco is a former North
Coast congressman and an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The
NWP, a private company, hauls lumber products,
grain and livestock feed, rock, cement and other commodities on
two to three nighttime trips between
Napa and Windsor,
partly on tracks it shares with SMART. The company
would pick up added business if its trains could reach
Cloverdale, where it would serve local businesses as well as lumber
companies farther north that would haul products by truck to
Cloverdale, Bosco said. [a
ploy to further justify expense of SMART to Cloverdale? So SMART
sales-taxpayers are to fund the NCRA $250,000 annual loses? ( and $5 million
debt?) How can it not be more COST EFFECTIVE to drive these trucks all the way
thru Windsor to Napa? (Unless NCRA is virtually giving away its service) ]
Read North Coast Railroad Director Bernie Meyers’ Brilliant FAQ
on NCRA Matters, 2013
Lost Coast Output source [Ed. note — Bernie Meyers — a lawyer,
antitrust prosecutor, former Novato City Council member, and occasional Lost
Coast Outpost Op-Ed columnist — is stepping down from the board of directors of
the North Coast Railroad Authority, where he has served as one of Marin County’s
appointees for the last six years.
As a parting gift to the
public, Meyers has penned this incredible FAQ that lays out the authority and
its 1,000 troubles in great gaudy detail. This will forever more be the URL to
which you send your friends when they ask: “NCRA? What’s that? What’s the
controversy? Mr. Meyers: We thank you for your service.]
Questions & Answers About the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA)
It is an Executive Director and a Legal Counsel who direct
activities in connection with a freight rail right-of-way.
They mainly oversee a lease with a freight line operator, “NWP”.
NWP is headed by a former NCRA Executive Director and a General Counsel who was
a member of the California Legislature and the US House of Representatives.
there others at the NCRA?
Yes. There is an Executive Assistant and an on-call engineer. Of
late, there is also a part-time real estate assistant.
the term of the lease?
With potential extensions, about a century.
much money does the Lease require NWP pay to the NCRA?
Nothing, until NWP has a year in which it makes $5 million in net
might that happen?
It depends, but it is very possible to not occur this century.
once the $5 million threshold has been achieved, will NWP be required to pay
lots of money to NCRA?
No. Any money NWP pays is placed in a fund, and there is a cap on
the fund. Once the cap is reached, no further fees need be paid, except that if
the fund balance falls below the cap, fees to bring the fund back up to the cap
are to be paid. Also, NWP has to OK all the fund’s expenditures. And when the
lease expires, all of the money then in the fund is given to NWP.
Ask who negotiated the Lease.
negotiated the Lease?
For the NCRA, the Executive Director and the Legal Counsel. For
NWP, the former Executive Director and the General Counsel.
there a connection between NCRA’s Executive Director and the NWP?
No, except that the NCRA Executive Director was the
Chief-of-Staff for the NWP General Counsel while the General Counsel was in the
Legislature and in Congress.
the lease terms compare with similar leases between state railroad entities and
Not favorably. Generally, others are for terms of between 5 and
20 years, with possible renewals if conditions are met. For example, a 2007 Ohio
lease provides for 5-year renewals if various conditions are met, including a
review of shipper satisfaction, safety, car loadings, track maintenance and
financials. Then there are best practice provisions, energy efficiency
provisions, and conflict-of-interest provisions.
NCRA staff publically compare the NCRA-NWP lease terms with the terms of similar
leases from other state owned rail lines and explain why it chose the
there be other reasons why the lease has these terms?
Yes. The line was not functioning for five years before the lease
was negotiated. The northern part of the line runs through a very active
geological area and is very expensive to maintain. Some of the line’s old
customers were no longer in business and the others had switched to other means
of shipment. Timber production had fallen from its heyday and was unlikely to
reach its prior levels. There were public funds available for repairs, but were
only sufficient to repair part of the line. The major potential source of
freight revenue was from aggregate in the Eel River Canyon (Island Mountain)
where the repairs would far exceed available public funds.
was the only operator willing to give operations a try?
there a request for rail operators sent out for public bidding?
the only responder?
No. There were five responders. Three were apparently viable
contenders. Two of the others promised to pay NCRA a portion of their revenues
and a monthly stipend. But NWP was deemed the winner. The lease negotiations
then commenced and ended three months later.
make some payments to NCRA besides those required by the lease?
Yes. In a side agreement to the lease, NWP agreed to pay
$20,000/month until such time as it would have to pay trackage fees under the
lease, and NWP would get credit for these side agreement payments when it later
was to make trackage payments. But NWP changed the agreement to end the monthly
payments earlier. Later it turned the side agreement payments it had previously
made into a receivable owed to it by NCRA. So over the last six years, NWP has
paid about $30,000 in trackage fees to NCRA and is not paying anything now.
the lease was signed in September 2006 did NWP think that there was enough
public funds to rehabilitate the line to Willits?
No. Prior cost estimates were known to no longer be applicable.
The funding was thought sufficient to get the line repaired to Windsor and
perhaps a bit further.
NCRA have a mandate requiring it to get the line up and running over its entire
right-of-way, no matter what?
No. The NCRA is based on the California Government Code (Section
93000 et seq). It was to prepare a plan for the acquisition and operation of the
railroad line at no expense to the state. In evaluating the plan NCRA is not
required to forgo common sense. It is not required to expend public funds to no
avail. It should determine whether its operations are fiscally prudent.
about the right-of-way.
It is about 310 miles long, running from near Lombard (near
Napa), west to Novato, in Marin County, and then northward through Sonoma
County, Mendocino County, a small bit of Trinity County and then up around
Humboldt Bay (Samoa) in Humboldt County. It started operations a century ago
when SP and Santa Fe ran timber and passengers along the line. In 1929, SP took
it over. Over time, the amount of freight diminished and some of the operations
were sold to an entity that soon went bankrupt. In 1989 the California
Legislature formed the NCRA, which then bought part of the line. The southern
end of the line (from Healdsburg south) is owned by what is now known as SMART
and NCRA has a freight (and excursion) easement over SMART’s line, while SMART
has a passenger easement over a portion of NCRA’s line. The line was SP’s most
expensive line to maintain. It suffered devastating flooding in 1964. SP rebuilt
it. Again in the 90’s it suffered flooding and eventually, in 1998, the feds
shut the line down (EO-21) until repairs could be affected.
line recently repaired?
Partially. It was rehabilitated from Lombard to Windsor, just
north of Santa Rosa, about 62 miles. The work started in 2007 and was completed
in 2010 (per NCRA) or 2011 (per NWP).
much was paid for the rehab?
NCRA says it cost $68 million taxpayer dollars. Another $3
million was spent by NWP but most of that has been reimbursed with taxpayer
NWP money spent to cover work done after a public bidding process?
No. NWP was given a no-bid contract.
NWP work completed in accordance with the initial contract price and timeframe?
No. The final cost was about 3 times the initial amount and
instead of three months it took over a year.
Board audit the billing?
No. It is a sorry story. Don’t get me started.
that the last no-bid contract awarded to NWP?
No. NWP has been awarded a no-bid contract for the cleanup of
toxics at the Ukiah Depot.
NWP have experience in cleaning up toxics?
No. It has hired a contractor to do so. NWP adds 7% to the
contractor’s bills for itself.
directs NCRA’s Executive Director and Legal Counsel?
Under California law, the NCRA has a nine member Board of
Directors. Two each are appointed for two-year terms by the Boards of
Supervisors of each of the four counties, and one is chosen from among the
cities along the right-of-way.
oversees the Board?
the Board give periodic reports to anyone?
Not really. It does have an outside auditor review its books from
time-to-time. Its most recent audit covers the fiscal year ending on June 30,
This is 2013!
about reports to the California Transportation Commission, or the Cal
Legislature, or Caltrans, or the feds, or any of the Boards of Supervisors?
For the most part, no. Generally there are no reporting
requirements. Because the NCRA misspent some taxpayer funds over a decade ago,
Caltrans listed the NCRA as a High Risk Agency. This meant that if NCRA spent
taxpayer grant funds administered by Caltrans, before Caltrans reimbursed NCRA,
Caltrans required that the contract be bid out and that NCRA pay the contractor
bills. If NCRA did not have sufficient funds to pay the contractor, NCRA had to
borrow funds and then pay off the loan when Caltrans reimbursed NCRA. NCRA had
over a decade to remove itself from the High Risk designation, but it chose not
to. This cost NCRA over half-a-million extra taxpayer dollars – so far. So there
have been reports of a sort to Caltrans.
There were other reports to the CTC on those occasions when NCRA
sought to obtain state funds to do the rehabilitation work and as the funds were
The Marin County Board of Supervisors twice invited NCRA to
appear (2010, 2013). The first time, the NCRA Chairman said NCRA would do so,
but then it did not. The second time it declined to appear. While there might
have been NCRA reports to other Boards, none are known. The Marin
representatives have periodically made individual agendized public reports to
the Marin Board. Other representatives may have acted similarly, but none are
NCRA also reports yearly to the California Comptroller. But the
numbers shown in the Comptroller’s reports are clearly erroneous. The erroneous
numbers were repeatedly brought to the Executive Director’s attention.
Apparently, NCRA has not taken any action to correct the numbers.
Looking at its finances, it appears to be near bankruptcy. The
current budget can only be balanced by assuming that significant obligations
will not be paid. Prior years’ budgets showed expenses well in excess of
revenues. It has a long list of creditors with claims well in excess of NCRA’s
will NCRA repay its creditors and continue to exist?
NCRA has assets. Perhaps it most easily liquidated asset is the
10 or so acres it owns in Ukiah (the Ukiah Depot property). The property needs
to be cleansed of toxics, but after that, 3 to 4 acres are to be sold to the
California Courts for a new courthouse. The remaining acreage can then be sold
to one or more developers. The millions of dollars expected from these sales
should pay off most, if not all, of the creditors.
NCRA also owns property in the Eel River Canyon. The value of
these properties is unknown, but substantial enough that NWP insisted that NCRA
not grant any security interest in them or sell them without NWP’s OK.
there a list of creditors, showing who is owed what and the order of repayment,
and is it regularly updated?
No. No list and no updates.
staff members creditors?
Yes. Legal Counsel is owed several hundred thousand dollars. The
on-call engineer is also owed a substantial amount.
audits the amounts due staff members?
No one has audited Counsel’s billings.
covers a large area – four California Counties. Does it hold public meetings?
Yes. It generally meets monthly, on the second Wednesday of the
month, rotating through each of the four counties. It has a small office in
does NCRA keep the public informed about its activities?
On Friday it posts in its Ukiah office the agenda for the
succeeding Wednesday. Generally it also has a packet of material available there
which covers the agenda items.
line stretches 150 miles north and 150 miles south of Ukiah. How does the public
get the information about the upcoming meetings?
The agenda is posted on the NCRA website. Sometimes it is posted
on Friday. Often it is not posted until later, including Monday and even
Tuesday. Likewise, the packet is generally posted on Monday or even Tuesday.
Copies of the agenda and packet are also mailed to interested parties, on the
preceding Friday or the next day or so.
meetings broadcast in real time?
of the proceedings available on the website soon after the meetings are
concluded, including final versions of the action items and all of the public’s
No. Minutes are approved at a succeeding meeting, but they are
action item minutes, not verbatim minutes. There is a recording made of each
regular Board meeting and often posted on the website, but the quality lacks
something. Public submissions at meetings are not put on the website.
independent study is there of the line’s future prospects for hauling freight
and carrying excursion and commute passengers?
In 2002 a study was done for the Humboldt Bay Harbor District.
did it conclude?
That the line would be very expensive to maintain, and under all
but exceptional circumstances the line would not be able to make money for the
25 years of the study.
there been a more recent study?
No. In about 2010 NWP supposedly did a market analysis of at
least a part of the line, and used it to support a joint (with NCRA) loan
application to the feds. But NWP did not allow the NCRA Board to see the
requests for grants does NCRA include any independent market analyses showing
what benefits would inure from the grant funds?
No. The most recent application (TIGER V) only used NWP’s
estimate of new freight it would haul.
Board members be replaced at the next election?
No. As noted above, Board members are appointed for two-year
terms, and they may seek reappointment for additional terms. They are not
elected by a vote of the people.
Directors free to voice their opinions about actions taken by NCRA?
Not according to the NCRA. In December 2012 the Board adopted a
“Code of Ethics” which requires all Directors to uphold all Board decisions once
the Board has voted. If followed, this would inhibit, if not prohibit, full,
fair reports to the appointing Boards of Supervisors and others.
that a violation of each Director’s rights under the First Amendment?
NCRA be changed?
Yes. It could go to the California Legislature and explain what
it has accomplished in its existence, what its problems are, how it got to where
it is, what its potential for success is, and what the Legislature might do to
authorize NCRA to operate differently. Then the public could weigh in as well.
There would be a full and frank discussion about what is needed to revamp NCRA
and the governing statute would be changed to encompass the conclusions.
ha, ha, ha. No, really. How might the NCRA be changed?
A member of the Legislature could ask for the Joint Legislative
Committee to review NCRA’s operations, audit its finances, and then give a
recommendation as to how NCRA could be changed so as to provide benefit to the
State. Then the public could weigh in as well. There would be a full and frank
discussion about what is needed to revamp NCRA and the governing statute would
be changed to encompass the conclusions.
An alternative would be for NCRA to declare bankruptcy as soon as
possible. That way it would still have some assets to cover its legitimate debts
and put an end to its ongoing financial debacle. It would probably also prompt
the Legislature to proceed as noted above.
NCRA ROUTE MAP
against SMART , 2016
Environmentalists case against NCRA