Dear Friends

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Comments on NCRA's DEIR

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Summary of Comments on NCRAs dEIR for the Russian River Division of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad

Supplied by Kevin Bundy of FOERs San Francisco-based legal team, Shute, Mihaly and Wineberger

Friends of the Eel River will be filing extensive legal comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) issued by the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). The DEIR examines the repair and rehabilitation of the southern portion of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line and the resumption of freight operations between Willits and Lombard, in Napa County. Our comments will detail the many ways in which the DEIR fails to meet the legal requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The DEIRs most glaring flaw is its total failure to address foreseeable future impacts to the Eel River. The DEIR completely ignores evidence that repairing the southern portion of the line is just the first step toward reopening the entire railroad, including the portion that runs through the fragile Eel River Canyon. NCRA has adopted a strategic plan that considers resumption of operations on the Russian River Division to be just one phase of the overall effort to extend service through the Canyon and on to Arcata. NCRA also continues to conduct detailed studies on the Eel River portion of the line, and continues to budget funds for these studies. The DEIR also ignores an economic analysis of the line conducted several years ago, which confirmed that there is not enough demand for freight rail south of Willits to sustain operations without expanding into the Eel River Canyon. Reopening of the Eel River Division is not just a foreseeable consequence of this project. It is, in fact, the ultimate goal of this project. CEQA requires that the environmental impacts of these kinds of decisions be analyzed in detail.

The DEIRs analysis of environmental impacts along the southern part of the line is also flawed. For example, the DEIR postulates a wildly inflated estimate of the demand for rail service in the area. The DEIR then uses that estimate to predict that a huge number of diesel trucks will be removed from Highway 101 because freight shipments will be diverted to rail. This distorts the DEIRs analysis of air quality and traffic impacts. Evidence ignored by the DEIR shows that far fewer products will be moved by rail, and far fewer trucks will be removed from the highway, than the DEIR predicts.
The DEIR also all fails to provide any specific, effective mitigation for the impacts of repairing the line and restarting operations on fish and wildlife in the Russian River watershed. Bridge, culvert, and embankment work all along the line could affect protected salmon and steelhead in the Russian River and its many tributaries. Yet the DEIR fails to address these potentially severe biological impacts.

Friends of the Eel River is greatly concerned that NCRA has once again attempted to carve its larger projectreopening the entire line from Lombard to Arcatainto smaller pieces in order to downplay the total environmental impact. CEQA does not permit this. Accordingly, Friends of the Eel River will demand that NCRA revise the DEIR to correct these and other problems, and recirculate the document for additional public review.