Court says North Coast Railroad “reaped substantial public benefits”

A California state judge has ruled the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) received tens of millions of dollars in public funding by agreeing to follow California environmental law, so can’t claim after the fact to be immune from review.

Marin County superior court judge Faye D’Opal quoted an appellate court’s ruling, Torch Energy Services, that emphasizes the need for courts "to protect parties from opponents’ unfair strategies," to "preclude litigants from playing ‘fast and loose’ with the courts, and prohibit ‘parties from deliberately changing positions according to exigencies of the moment.’"

The groups challenging the railroad’s environmental compliance applauded the court’s ruling, which suggests the court will carefully scrutinize the NCRA’s performance under the California Environmental Quality Act. The NCRA filed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in June 2011, which Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) challenged as inadequate.

"The NCRA has dragged this lawsuit through federal court, state court and to the court of appeal, and tried again with its current tactic, and has lost every time, all to avoid delivering on its promise to California taxpayers to show them what the environmental impacts of reopening this derelict railroad would be," said Patty Clary, spokesperson for CATs. "It’s tough seeing a state agency act with such disregard for state law."

"This ruling shows the courts won’t allow the NCRA to talk out of both sides of their mouth, claiming they’ll comply with the law and do real environmental review but if they don’t, so what: nobody can do anything about it," said Scott Greacen, director of Friends of the Eel River. "They took the money, and now they need to face the music. The NCRA made a deal with the citizens of California to protect the environment by looking at the impacts of their whole railroad project, including the Eel River Canyon and Eel River salmon."

The NCRA has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny their responsibility to identify and address the potential environmental impacts of rebuilding the failed rail line from Humboldt Bay to the San Francisco Bay. This underscores CATs’ and FOER’s long-stated concerns that the public railroad agency intends to ignore the environmental effects of rebuilding the failed rail line, despite the potential for serious harms, including impacts to waterways from toxic pollutants and to the three species of salmonids in the Eel River protected under the Endangered Species Act.