Letters to EcoNews: Let’s not leave off acting until the wolves are at the door

Of course coal is unacceptable and it is pleasing to watch the Supervisors, Huffman, McGuire and Wood beat the drum against opening up the rail line to transport it through Humboldt Bay.

My take, though, is that coal is a stalking horse for another initiative to “revitalize’ a Humboldt Bay Port and rail extension to the rest of the US.  The resistance to coal will be overwhelming to the developers of the rail and they will graciously switch to another reason for the line: container landings which will bring toys from Asia for “all the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain” (as in The Little Blue Engine That Could).  This is the prize.  

The consumer and export economy of the US, as well as the productive economy of Asia, will be behind this, given how the major west coast ports have proven under-developed, unreliable and inept.  Auto manufacturers as well as computer/IT hardware producers are unable to meet consumer demand owing to a shortage of parts normally imported from Asia.  Domestic manufacturing will take decades to meet their needs, if it could even move in that direction.

One, somewhat reluctantly, has to recognize that the enormous global capital available to open up Humboldt Bay and the inland railroad link views repairing the Eel River canyon and port upgrades as small change, given that the annual value of this trade in the Pacific would be $6,008,830,193,000 export and $5,529,166,924,000 import, PLUS tariffs collected by the federal government.  Goldman Sachs once offered to develop our port.  They knew what was coming.  Humboldt wisely rejected their offer and, seemingly, forgot what prompted it.  With container shipping snarled on the west coast, it is apparent that opening up new places for ships to dock is an essential service for the US economy.

Costco, Walmart and other large entities are acquiring container ships with self-loading/unloading cranes which can off-load on any port blacktop, regardless of the port’s industrial crane capacity.  They are smaller ships and will fit in anywhere.  It’s almost an answer to Ken Miller’s push for off-shore barging of goods (short-sea shipping) from a few years ago to make widening of 101 at Richardson Grove unnecessary.

Merely saying “No” to development will likely not succeed for long.

Aerial view of Humboldt Bay, the Port facilities. Source: Robert Campbell – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

What can we do about this?

First off, we need to establish firm environmental guidelines for port development.  

And equally important, we need to adopt a thorough Eel River Canyon Restoration Plan to repair the legacy problems of the previous railroad.  This should be spelled out in detail for every slope failure and creek crossing.  Rex Bohn says NCRA has the problem locations already mapped.

Next step is to put a price tag on each restoration site.  This work should be done whether for a Redwoods Trail or as initial steps for repairing the rail line.  It becomes the baseline cost that a rebuilt rail line will need to meet.  Having that in place (studies, costs, etc.) before Railroad proponents come out with their numbers of the cost to make the line operational is key to negotiating.  Otherwise, THEY will have the advantage and frame the debate in front of decision makers, using low-ball figures for an inadequate restoration.  We’ll be playing defense.

NCRA dropped the ball (if they ever had a grip) in not coming up with a precise plan for restoring the Eel line and ecosystem restoration plan.  They stopped after getting rough cost estimates, threw up their hands, and tossed it over to the trail advocates – taking the easy way out.  And many applauded them for doing so.

Now is the time to ask our representatives, McGuire and Wood, to find funding to document the full cost for restoration of the land along the rail line and establish environmental guidelines for port development.  Let’s not leave off acting until the wolves are at the door and surrounding us.  The Board of Supervisors and the Harbor Commissioners need to have firm figures for restoring Public Trust Resources in hand before any development can be considered.  Otherwise, Humboldt, once again, will be railroaded into accepting a bad deal.

-Michael Evenson, Lost Coast Ranch