Meyers, a longtime critic of NCRA and its arrangement with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, presented North Coast board members with a strongly worded 4,400-word position statement outlining his thoughts about the past, present and future direction at the rail agency.After looking for a railroad operator, NCRA cut a deal with Northwestern Pacific in 2006. North Coast Railroad Authority agreed to a 25-year lease with Northwestern Pacific (NWP) that allows NWP to renew for up to 100 years. Meyers has called attention to the terms of the lease for years, especially the section covering payments to the rail agency: “NWP shall make annual lease payments in the amount of 20 percent of its net income, commencing the first year after NWP has generated positive net income in excess of $5 million.” Meyers says the lease arrangement lacks any meaningful oversight.Meyers has continually called attention to the lease, which he says is lopsided in favor of Northwestern Pacific. He also points a questioning finger at the relationship between Northwestern Pacific and NCRA Executive Director Mitch Stogner. Meyers isn’t the only one who questions the relationship between the railroad authority and NWP. To start with, John Williams, the CEO of Northwestern Pacific, is a former executive director of NCRA. Doug Bosco, former congressman representing the North Coast, joined Williams as an investor and NWP legal counsel. Stogner worked for Bosco as an aide when Bosco was in Congress. No wrongdoing has been documented. But critics of the lease between NCRA and Northwestern Pacific still question whether the deal should have merited oversight.Then there’s the AP story: Critics cite a 2001 piece that recounts how Gray Davis was in the governor’s office when the state funneled $60 million to reopen the Northwestern Pacific line. Shortly after the state decided to pour money into the effort, shippers, who stood the most to gain, contributed more than $60,000 to Davis’ campaign fund. Perhaps not wrongdoing—but critics say it’s an example of how influence works.Northwestern Pacific says it wants to run from Samoa, near Arcata in the north part of the state, down through Marin and Novato and on to Schellville, where the line connects with the national freight rail system. The rail line serves mostly ranchers now, but critics say the real money is at Island Mountain in Trinity County. Between 1914 and 1930 substantial amounts of copper, silver and gold were mined there, and the area still has untold tons of valuable aggregate. Trains could haul that aggregate to market. Northwestern Pacific says it has no immediate intentions of extending its tracks north to tap Island Mountain riches, but critics just don’t believe the pronouncement. The environmental groups worry because the rail agency and NWP completed an EIR that investigated only the southern section of rail line and rehabilitating track and running trains to the north, to Island Mountain, would do severe environmental damage.
The questions-and-answer statement Meyers presented to the NCRA board and to Marin supervisors includes many other issues. Needless to say, other board members and officials at the railroad authority and NPW have views divergent from those of Meyers. Here’s a sampling of Meyers’ Q&A:
How do the lease terms compare with similar leases between state railroad entities and private operators?
Not favorably. Generally, others are for terms of between five and 20 years, with possible renewals if conditions are met. For example, a 2007 Ohio lease provides for 5-year renewals if various conditions are met, including a review of shipper satisfaction, safety, car loadings, track maintenance and financials. Then there are best practice provisions, energy efficiency provisions, and conflict-of-interest provisions.