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From the Publisher

June 30, 2005


Ports, rails, trails


Our cover story last week was titled, "Port of call: Shipping on Humboldt Bay -- can we build it, will they come?"

The headline, of course, was a spoof of the 1989 baseball movie, Field of Dreams, where farmer Kevin Costner builds a ballfield in his Iowa corn patch out back to honor his old, long dead heroes. At the end of the movie, all these guys come out of the tall cornstalks and play ball. Good, sappy movie. Not very believable.

Neither is the prospect of the port of Humboldt Bay becoming a major player in containerized shipping on the Pacific Rim, providing hundreds of good-paying blue collar jobs. Besides, has anyone really studied the impacts of a brightly lit, noisy, 24-hour freight transfer facility which would vastly increase (a) truck traffic through Eureka and/or (b) tie up traffic through railroad crossings and throughout Old Town Eureka with slow-moving freight traffic?

Also, not very credible are the folks who keep lobbying for more public funds to rebuild the railroad through the Eel River Canyon. It's not going to happen and the main reason is there are no customers for freight shipping. They have all found alternatives these past seven years the railroad has been closed -- and it was notoriously unreliable when it was open. (If you missed that Journal cover story --"Going nowhere," May 29, 2003 -- it's on-line.)

For another opinion on the railroad prospects, please read Dan Walters' Sacramento Bee column on Monday (, "An example of why the state Legislature is a dysfunctional mess." Walters rips Senate Bill 792 (Sen. Wes Chesbro), which would redirect $5.5 million in state funds, originally set aside to repay a federal loan, toward operational expenses for the North Coast Rail Authority.

Walters recounts the history of the NCRA and how it became a public entity in 1989, at a time when many other private short lines across the country were being abandoned.

"Tens of millions of dollars have vanished down this rathole [the NCRA], although in 1998, as he was ending his governorship, Pete Wilson vetoed one $2 million appropriation that supposedly would be spent to clean up the NCRA's hopelessly tangled accounting system.

"'(Wilson's) staff told my staff that the railroad was ill-conceived, bankrupt and not worth throwing good money after bad,' the legislator who had gotten the $2 million approved, Sen. Mike Thompson, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat."

I am reminding readers of the slim chances of success of those pinning their economic hopes on rail and port development because this type of intransigence can impact other important public projects.

I hope as you read this week's cover story, "(T)rail: which way 'round the bay," you may come to the same conclusion I did:

Let's get going on using the railroad right-of-way for a multiple-use, non-motorized paved trail. The Hammond Trail in McKinleyville is nothing short of a wild success. Any day of the week you will see joggers and dogs, bicyclists, families with tricycles and strollers in a parade of humanity getting healthy exercise along the spectacular coastline. If we had a safe, non-highway trail, Eurekans could take their kids and a backpack, and bike to the Saturday farmers market on the Arcata Plaza. Arcatans could travel in safety to Old Town Eureka for lunch and to visit the Boardwalk. How about some entrepreneurial type starting up a rickshaw service between the two cities?

As you read the story you will also learn that rail-to-trail conversion will not preclude a tourist train on the bay. One consultant inadvertently recommended an Arcata-to-Samoa run at a fraction of the cost of Eureka-to-Samoa.



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