After hearing from east-west rail advocates last Tuesday, the Humboldt County board of supervisors voted unanimously to have staff draft a resolution supporting an east-west railroad feasibility study.
Eureka city manager David Tyson gave a presentation to the board at the request of the Eureka city council, which voiced support for the study in December. Tyson said an east-west line could run 125 miles toward Gerber, where there is a direct connection to the national rail system.
"It’s half the length and has less tunnels and bridges than the existing route," Tyson said.
The county hasn’t had a rail link to Humboldt Bay since 1999. Conditions of the existing north-south line through Eel River Canyon have worsened since landslides wiped out large stretches more than a decade ago. Estimates, dating from 2008, pegged the cost of restoring the 316-mile line range from $150 million to more than $600 million.
Currently, there aren’t any plans in place to revamp the north-south line, Tyson said. He said Humboldt Bay is under-utilized and has the potential to spur economic development. "It’s one of only 11 deep water harbors in California," Tyson said. "Our port is capable of handling five million metric tons (of product) a year."
He said a feasibility study could identify interested landowners, estimate environmental impacts, take care of some of the preliminary engineering, set timelines for the project and much more. He said the east-west rail advocates are looking to bring together as many supporting agencies as possible before moving forward with the study concept.
Third district supervisor Mark Lovelace was alone in expressing concern, asking who would pay for the study and for the route, and who would utilize the route.
Eureka attorney Bill Bertain, an east-west rail advocate, said the funding component for the study is in the works. "I think it could be done with public money, but in the meantime we’re looking at private funding," Bertain said.
After hearing public comment from eight people, the board voted unanimously to direct county staff to bring back a resolution supporting the feasibility study. The motion didn’t include any promises of funding for the study or rail line.
Earlier in the meeting, the board voiced unanimous support for two consent agenda items related to the Eureka/Arcata airport and a revenue guarantee to bring a new airline to the county.
The supervisors accepted a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program, which is aimed at funding an initial revenue guarantee for an eastbound air route. They also approved giving a $250,000 grant from the Headwaters Fund board - created by the county to utilize $22 million in state and federal funds given to offset the sale of the Headwaters Forest Reserve - to the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission to put toward an airline revenue guarantee. The commission has taken the lead on finding funds to recruit a new airline to the area.
Megan Hansen can be reached at 441-0511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.