Sea Level Rise and the Ongoing Railroad Saga

Railroad crossing completely washed out at Rocky Gulch alongside hwy 101. Photo: Scott Greacen.
Railroad crossing completely washed out at Rocky Gulch alongside hwy 101. Photo: Scott Greacen.

The EcoNews Report Report: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

On the January 4 EcoNews Report (broadcast on KHSU, 90.5 FM), Friends of the Eel River (FOER) Conservation Director Scott Greacen met with Executive Director Stephanie Tidwell to discuss the decade-long battle between Friends of the Eel River and the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), including some of the impacts of the defunct rail line on Humboldt Bay and the region.

Greacen describes the situation as being, “a microcosm, a window into the fi ght between state and federal law and the struggle in the Trump era to secure environmental protections at the state and local level in the face of a federal government that’s actively hostile to environmental protection.”

Looking over an all-but-washed-away railroad line at a location called Rocky Gulch on the safety corridor stretching alongside Humboldt Bay between Arcata and Eureka, Tidwell and Greacen observed the king tide and noted that the water was only about three feet from the pavement of the road. “In important respects, the old rail line here functions as kind of the the dike that protects the 101 corridor from storm surges. But, here’s a place where the infrastructure’s really just failed,” Greacen said.

The breadth of the king tide’s waters, just out of reach of the highway, brings to the table implications for the future. “With this being our highest king tide ever, due to climate change and rising ocean levels, we’re not far off from beginning to see some pretty significant inundation of inhabited areas,” Tidwell said.

The failure of the NCRA to address the purpose and shortcomings of the lines of tracks adds to the frustrating and complicated conversation of what to do about the rising waters. “There’s no real money to pay for rebuilding the line, dealing with the millions of heavily creosote-soaked ties that support the line, or places like this where the line is failing and actually creating problems,” Greacen said. “This is part of why we’ve been challenging the NCRA to basically come up with a reason to exist.”

“The California Transportation Commission has demanded that the NCRA actually produce a workable business plan and explain how it’s going to continue to operate in a way that’s truly sustainable,” Greacen said. Over the last few years, the NCRA has essentially existed only by selling off their assets. These sales don’t benefi t the public, but rather the private company that holds the lease on the rail line.

“It’s an important piece of the puzzle: who benefits? It’s been clear from the start that this has never been about transportation for humans, this is about industrial freight line with, frankly, minimal prospects,” Tidwell said. “So, who does benefit from this plan that they’ve continued to try and force upon us?”

To keep up to date with Friends of the Eel River’s ongoing push against the existence of the NCRA, visit their website at www.eelriver.org.

Click here to listen to this episode of the EcoNews Report.

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