Bill is historic first step in creating the Great Redwood Trail master plan, addresses NCRA debt & liability concerns
Sacramento, CA – Senator Mike McGuire’s landmark legislation that seeks to turn the crumbling 300 mile North Coast railroad line into the Great Redwood Trail passed the State Assembly today on a vote of 62 to 3. The bill will be voted on by the State Senate tomorrow and will then head to Governor Brown for his signature. The Trail, which would extend from San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay, runs through some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth.
“There is overwhelming support for this trail system on the North Coast and we are getting closer to making it a reality,” Senator Mike McGuire said. “We’ve always known that undoing 30 years of debt and troubling decisions by NCRA wouldn’t be easy, but nothing that’s worth doing ever is. The approval by the State Assembly today is a massive step toward creating the Great Redwood Trail.”
Senator McGuire offered amendments to the bill last week that addressed his serious concerns about the complex contracts and significant debt of NCRA as well as their liability issues. These amendments cut NCRA’s authority and powers, taking away their mandate to work on freight rail and requiring them instead to focus on transferring the Right-of-Way for trails and closing the functionally bankrupt agency down. The bill is officially titled “The NCRA Closure and Transition to Trails Act.”
The State Transportation Agency, along with the Natural Resources Agency, will complete a debt study of NCRA and develop a road map to shutting them down. They will review governance plans for the Great Redwood Trail and identify what agency would be the most successful at managing the trail long term. The bill launches the all-important master planning process for the trail itself examining railbanking issues, easements, trail alignment and terrain suitability – all items needed to create the trail. Senator McGuire is thrilled to now have the Natural Resources Agency as part of the study, since they specialize in trails and park issues, and could be part of the eventual ownership of the trail.
“From the San Francisco Bay, through the incredible beauty of wine country, alongside the glistening banks of the Russian and Eel Rivers, into the stunning old growth Redwood forests, and up to and around panoramic Humboldt Bay – this is truly an incredible piece of earth. SB 1029 sets the stage to turn this 300 mile crumbling train track into a world renowned trail system that will benefit locals and visitors alike and be a boon to our local economies,” Senator Mike McGuire said.
The bill, presented on the Assembly Floor today by North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, also gives the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit the ability and funding to negotiate for the take over of the complex, long-term freight contract that NCRA sold to Northwestern Pacific Company over a decade ago. This could give SMART a boost in completing their mandate for passenger rail in Sonoma County and a significant head start in planning their section of the trail – which runs from Willits to Marin. The Transportation Agency Secretary and the director of the Department of Finance would have to approve any takeover plan.
SB 1029, became one of the top priorities for environmental organizations around the state, making the Green California “Hot List” of critical bills this year. This list is compiled by leading environmental organization like the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited and dozens more.
The bill will now be heard on the Senate Floor before midnight Friday, and if approved sent to the Governor.