(UPDATE 6/28: The second paragraph in this original post inaccurately implies that members of the Timber Heritage Association “agreed” on the final Bay Trail Plan.
By “we” I was referring to the Bay Trail Advocates alone. By the time the plan was finalized, Don Banducci, a long-time member of THA, had joined Bay Trail Advocates as well.
I apologize for any misunderstanding. A updated, more complete version of this column appears in this week’s Journal and on the website here.)
We have a plan -- please help Tuesday
(This is a preview of a column by Journal Publisher Judy Hodgson that will be updated after the supervisors meet and run in the next edition of the Journal.)
I've been busier than usual these past four months on a project not related to the Journal.
In March I joined Dennis Rael (co-owner of Los Bagels) and Rees Hughes (a retired HSU administrator) to form the Bay Trail Advocates. We began meeting regularly with three other people: the president of the Timber Heritage Association and two other Timber Heritage board members. Our meetings were informal and unofficial. We had one purpose: to see if we could find enough common ground to put a plan on paper with goals we could all support -- a plan based in reality. In other words, at every step we asked, "Can we find money to do this?"
Our motto became: "We love trails and trains -- and we have a plan."
The Bay Trail Plan includes three things we support: Timber Heritage Association's proposed Redwood Heritage Museum, a tourist train between Samoa and Arcata, and a multi-modal, paved bicycle and pedestrian trail around northern Humboldt Bay.
The trail would start in Eureka behind Target, run north along the waterfront through Arcata and end at Timber Heritage's leased property behind the Samoa Cookhouse, where historic train and logging equipment is currently stored. The trail could be built within the North Coast Railroad Authority's right-of-way, possibly beside the rail line, which has not been used or maintained in 15 years.
The key to museum/tourist train/trail plan is the 1983 federal law that allows unused rail corridors like ours to be "railbanked" -- saved for future passenger and freight train use forever. But in the interim, the property can be used for a trail or a tourist train.
If you travel much outside Humboldt County, you will see hundreds of communities across the nation that have used this law for rails-to-trails and rails-with-trails projects. A good source of information is the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy, www.railstotrails.org. You will also see there are now more than 30 examples of the return of freight service.
In 2007, the Humboldt County Association of Governments commissioned a study on how to create a Humboldt Bay Trail between Arcata and Eureka, a "highest priority" link in the California Coastal Trail. That study has been sitting on the shelf for five years. Option Four is a blueprint on how to create this trail relatively soon for a price we can afford: $4 million.
In addition to meeting regularly with some Timber Heritage folks, we started seeking advice from the staff of the cities of Eureka and Arcata, Humboldt County, the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG), Caltrans, the Harbor District, the Coastal Commission -- and other potential stakeholders. We began reaching out to community groups that could be affected by this plan. Finally, we began lobbying our elected officials in Eureka and Arcata, and our Humboldt County supervisors, one-on-one.
We are asking Humboldt County supervisors to cast an important vote on Tuesday, June 26, at 9:30 a.m. We are requesting that they send a letter to the North Coast Railroad Authority asking the NCRA board to form a committee of stakeholders to study railbanking and bring back recommendations in four months -- in November.
This is not an issue of freight vs. trails. Trails are an interim use for railbanked lines. To use the right-of-way for a trail until the railroad's private operator, Northwest Pacific Railroad (NWP) has a viable business plan and capital would not be in conflict. When freight service returns, trains have priority. The right-of-way can be shared and the trail relocated alongside.
The upside for those working today on the return of freight service is that the rail corridor would be preserved and maintained, and the line would be kept whole and unfragmented. If we don't do something to protect these railroad easements, they could revert to private property owners, according to several attorneys who have looked at this issue.
This is an important fork in the road for the Bay Trail Plan. We need to show our supervisors that the community supports a serious look at railbanking and what it could mean.
If you can, please be there Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., Board of Supervisors chambers in the County Courthouse.
For more information and to register support for the Bay Trail Plan, visit: www.baytrailplan.org