by Hank Sims
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is poised tomorrow to deliver yet another slap to the cadre of railroad dreamers who have been hoping against hope, year after year, to restore freight service along the 10-years-dead Northwestern Pacific Railroad line and so develop the similarly stagnant Humboldt Bay into some kind of entrepot in Pacific Rim international trade.
On the agenda for tomorrow's Board of Supervisors' meeting is an item that would appoint new Eureka City Councilmember Linda Atkins to the seat on the North Coast Railroad Authority currently held by über-railfan Charles Ollivier. Ollivier, a former longshoreman, represented the McKinleyville area on the board of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District until 2007, when he was handily defeated by fish biologist Pat Higgins in what amounted to a referendum on the wispy harbor-railroad scheme.
The staff report for tomorrow's item notes that three candidates submitted their application for Ollivier's seat -- Atkins, Arcata City Councilmember Michael Winkler and former state Assemblymember senator , Arcata City Manager and NCRA Executive Director Dan Hauser. The latter, it must be noted, was instrumental in arranging the public bailout of the rickety rail line back in 1990, when he was still a member of the legislature. The report notes that Olllivier "expressed interest" in being reappointed to the seat, but apparently did not bother to fill out an official application.
The selection of Atkins, a retired Caltrans engineer, over railfan candidates Ollivier and Hauser further signals a quick shift change in official attitude to the shoot-the-moon rail/port scheme, about which plenty has been written on this site and in the pages of the Journal. Until very recently, port-rail development was an official economic development of any number of local public agencies; that is no longer the case, although many elected officials, including State Senator Wes Chesbro, continue to pine for the dream.
Atkins notes in her application that she "see[s] rail as an opportunity to enrich our economy as well as draw more visitors to the area." She writes that she has studied first-hand the impact of freight movement on the highway system, and apparently considers it an undesirable thing. But she balances these statements with unequivocal support for multiple use of the dormant line, including pedestrian and bicycle trails. That position never received much play in the Ollivier years, and some in the railcentric NCRA sphere of influence still consider it non-negotiable.