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Sonoma County supervisors join opposition to rail transport of coal through region

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has joined other local governments stretching from Marin to Humboldt counties in opposing the rail transport of coal through the region for export via Humboldt Bay.

The board on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution opposing the use of existing North Bay lines and defunct segments to the north for coal transport, as proposed under a still-mysterious third-party filing in August with a federal rail agency.

The resolution also endorsed the North Coast Railroad Authority’s effort to transform the abandoned tracks it oversees in Mendocino and Humboldt counties into a recreational trail envisioned to one day span 320 miles from San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay.

Standing in the way, for now, is the proposal made public in August via the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency that oversees freight rail shipping. The filings revealed a newly formed entity calling itself the North Coast Rail Company plans to transport high-volume coal shipments from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to Humboldt Bay for overseas export.

The proposal prompted fierce and immediate backlash from local, state and U.S. lawmakers who said it it would entail running tens of millions of tons of coal through cities and remote canyons beset by unstable ground and traversed by critical waterways. It would also extend reliance on coal as a global energy source and contribute to greenhouse gas production at a time when fossil fuels should be phased out, critical lawmakers said.

Multiple North Bay governing bodies have adopted resolutions opposing the proposal in recent months including the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, the Mendocino Board of Supervisors, Ukiah City Council, Santa Rosa City Council and the Transportation Authority of Marin.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, a champion of the planned Great Redwood Trail who is spearheading opposition to the coal transport proposal in Sacramento, has introduced Senate Bill 307, which would block any state funding from being used to rebuild the rail line or build an export terminal for coal in Humboldt Bay.

The Board of Supervisors passed its resolution Tuesday on the consent calendar, without need for discussion or separate public comment.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

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