Judge rejects North Coast Rail Authority’s efforts to avoid legal review of its Environmental Impact Report in Superior Court in Marin County.

On Friday, August 10, 2012, Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D’Opal rejected the latest effort by the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA) to delay and avoid legal review of their defective Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for restoration of freight rail service.

Friends of the Eel River (FOER) and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) is pleased that NCRA’s latest legal gambits have again been turned back by the courts. NCRA had claimed that trial in Marin County would be prejudicial against NCRA, and that NCRA was not “situated” in Marin County.

FOER’s Bay Area Director David Keller stated, “We hope that the Board of Directors of NCRA, a publicly-owned and operated agency, will cease its efforts to delay justice, and allow the CEQA cases to be heard promptly and fairly in Marin County Superior Court. We will not allow their maneuvers to prevent judicial review of the defective EIR. We want the railroad to operate legally, clean up their toxic wastes, avoid future damages to the Eel River, and be responsible to the environmental standards set by law and expected by the citizens and taxpayers of California.”

In rejecting NCRA’s motion to transfer the case out of Marin County’s courts, Judge D’Opal stated clearly that NCRA’s Board of Directors includes Marin County members; that NCRA conducts meetings and provides service in Marin County; and that the exercise of NCRA’s powers affect Marin County and its residents. Thus the trial of these cases is properly located in Marin County and should proceed.

In cases filed in summer of 2011, FOER and CATs challenged the accuracy, completeness and legality of NCRA’s EIR. NCRA’s EIR minimized and ignored the environmental impacts of their plans to rebuild the largely defunct NW Pacific rail line through the Eel River Canyon by analyzing the impacts of only a smaller portion of their overall project.

Since then, NCRA has repeatedly maneuvered to delay or avoid legal scrutiny of their decisions, thus delaying justice and avoiding accountability. NCRA has the normal legal requirements to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a state-created and taxpayer-funded public agency proposing projects with potentially significant environmental effects. Further, NCRA specifically promised the California Transportation Commission that it would comply with CEQA when it accepted a grant of more than $3M of taxpayer money to conduct the environmental review.

Amazingly, however, NCRA now claims that it has no obligation to comply with CEQA. After dragging this astonishing claim into federal court for many months of expensive delay, the federal court rejected NCRA’s argument without a hearing, sending the case back to state court.

Judge D’Opal has clearly rejected NCRA’s groundless attempts to again delay the case. Now, however, continuing their baseless efforts to stall and obstruct justice yet again, NCRA is planning to appeal the judge’s decision in the California Court of Appeal.