Dozens of rail tankers filled with millions of gallons of liquefied petroleum gas have been moved from the tracks where they were parked south of Sonoma to refineries, to the relief of some who considered the hazardous materials a threat to public safety.
But there are no signs that a legal dispute over the storage and possible future shipments of flammable gas to the same Schellville location is simmering down.
The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Authority, which owns the rail line, and Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which is the exclusive freight operator on the track, remain very much at odds over the transport and storage of hazardous materials.
Lawyers for both sides submitted a flurry of legal briefs in recent days with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which is being asked to decide whether SMART has authority to regulate the transport and storage of hazardous materials along the rail line running from the city of American Canyon in Napa County to Schellville.
The potentially precedent-setting ruling over common carrier obligations could determine whether Northwestern Pacific can bring in more of the gas tankers, as the company said it intends to do in spring 2017, according to legal filings.
SMART officials first went public on Sept. 23 with concerns that 80 tankers filled with 2.6 million gallons of gas stored in Schellville posed a potentially catastrophic risk to public safety. The site is about 13 miles east from where SMART plans to operate passenger service, currently set for late spring next year.
SMART later used its dispatch authority to prevent a dozen more rail cars filled with an estimated 396,000 gallons of liquefied petroleum gas from being transported to the site, resulting in those cars being stranded in American Canyon.
All of the filled cars in American Canyon and in Schellville were sent off to refineries that are using the gas in winter fuel blends, according to Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Railroad Authority, the public agency that oversees freight service on the line.
Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, declined several requests this week to discuss the dispute. A spokeswoman for the rail agency called it a “legal matter.”
SMART, which was given a deadline of Monday to provide more information to the Surface Transportation Board, requested a delay until Jan. 9 and also asked the board to order Northwestern Pacific to provide more information related to marketing of the railroad’s freight service and storage records for tankers filled with LPG along the rail line.
The three-member board Friday instead instructed the parties to participate Thursday in a conference call to discuss SMART’s demands and to set a new timetable for the proceedings. The board noted that the record still does not contain all of the factual information necessary for it to decide the issues.
Doug Bosco, co-owner of Northwestern Pacific, said Friday the railroad will continue to refuse SMART’s demands to review contracts with Tesoro and Valero affiliates, on the grounds that SMART is not entitled to that information.
“We don’t disclose their business anymore than they disclose ours,” said Bosco, who is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
The city of American Canyon and Napa County also have entered the legal fray, over concerns that the movement and storage of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions pose a public safety threat.