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Fight for Your Right-of-way




Here's a thought on the recent railbanking discussions ("We Have a Plan," June 28) and planning efforts:

Between Arcata and Eureka, it's likely that the Highway 101 corridor needs to rise considering future sea level rise. Caltrans, with great skill and foresight, is adept at planning 100-plus years ahead (just look at all the 101 bridge replacement going on with room, if push comes to shove, for three lanes each way). Considering Caltrans' need to upgrade, raise and/or expand our roadways, it might be good for the North Coast Railroad Authority and Caltrans -- and maybe the cities of Eureka and Arcata, and private landowners -- to increasingly huddle and negotiate some splitting and "lot line adjusting" of property lines.

A possible outcome is to relocate the NCRA corridor within Caltrans' right-of-way and locate a new, Caltrans-managed trail (built up) within the old NCRA corridor. This way the public gets its trail right along the bay (where it should be); the NCRA/Timber Heritage Association get a vastly improved future rail corridor between Eureka and Arcata; and Caltrans gets a higher/dryer/safer highway corridor, a trail that completes -- in full -- its transportation mandate, and an upgraded levee feature (via trail construction) to help protect sections of Highway 101 from high-tide storm surge. 

Yes, there are commerce-related private property issues, adjacent slough- and estuary-levee issues, bridge issues, and more. But the alternative is everyone (Caltrans, NCRA, trail users, the THA, cities, the county, landowners and businesses) going it alone or, at best, in pairs, amid sea level rise at greater cost. If we can't figure it out in the short term there's always that other, more evolutionary alternative: In 200 years, Caltrans can build, via eminent domain, a still higher highway near the Old Arcata Road corridor, with rail folk and trail folk left splashing around to the west. 

Chris Turner, Arcata


The $4 million figure for the trail is inaccurate. Much more work needs to be put in to fix the prism [the rail bed]. Further, an entirely new easement must be bought, as though the railroad was never there. Otherwise it is an unconstitutional taking of land, according to an unbroken string of federal court cases on the matter. In one court case, trail users cut down the trees for campfires and were sued by the government for the loss of trees. In each court case, the government had to pay fair market value, as though the railroad was never there, and interest.

Railbanking is a legal process of abandonment. The process is not automatic, even for landowners. It is a long process that allows people and shippers to have their say to prevent abandonment, as a check against corporate power. During this time, another company can submit a plan to take over the railroad operations. With various groups working to revive freight rail, the Surface Transportation Board is unlikely to approve the abandonment necessary to railbank the line, even if NCRA approved railbanking.

The NCRA is not the bad guy here, folks. The trail folks have yet to submit to the NCRA a single plan for trails between Bracut [Lumber Yard] and Eureka. The NCRA approved all the trail plans that were submitted to its board. That includes the Blue Lake-to-Arcata rails-to-trails, rails with trails within Arcata to Bracut, and rails with trails down in Healdsburg. The ball is in the hands of trail folks for the two NCRA-approved trail plans here in Humboldt.

The east side of the highway would make a better trail. It is more protected. It can connect directly to Bayside, Freshwater and the north edge of Eureka using old railroad right of ways.

Lawrence LaBranche, Eureka

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