A mysterious Wyoming-based company suspected of promoting a controversial proposal to export coal by rail along California’s northern coast has filed a new case with a powerful federal council to advance its bid to take control of the old lines connecting Willits and Eureka. .
The June 1 filing said the so-called North Coast Railroad Company, which wants to ship Rocky Mountain coal out of the port of Humboldt Bay, had at least $15 million in the bank — enough to clear a first federal hurdle in which a company must prove that it can cover the cost of scrapping a line and two years of maintenance.
But that company isn’t the only entity vying for control of the abandoned trail running through Mendocino and Humboldt counties — along a right-of-way state lawmakers hope to one day host a multi-use trail 320 miles stretching south to San Francisco Bay.
Independently, Mendocino Railway, owner of the Skunk Train sightseeing excursion, is asking the Federal Railroad Commission to restore 11 miles of track north of Willits to run gravel loads. Mendocino Railway also filed with the board stating that it had the resources to undertake this project.
Either bid could complicate the most widely supported venture: the Great Redwood Trail project, a planned recreational route from Eureka in the north to Larkspur in Marin County in the south. A state agency has already begun planning to convert abandoned segments of the railroad in Mendocino and Humboldt counties for the trail.
The three competing companies must now compete for approval from the US Transportation Board, an organization that aims to preserve the country’s rail corridors but has shown willingness to allow recreational trails along disused rights-of-way.
The two business ventures filed after the Federal Council last month rejected attempts by Rep. Jared Huffman, State Senator Mike McGuire and local lawmakers along the railroad to convince the council to block the entire takeover bid by the coal company and to reserve the railway line for the trail project.
Huffman, D-San Rafael, noted that the coal company’s filing came two days after a federal deadline.
“Their late application should disqualify them for further consideration. If not, the community opposition coalition and its lack of transparency certainly will,” Huffman said Thursday.
Great Redwood Trail advocates would ask the board to disqualify the company’s bid because it was late, McGuire said in an interview Friday.
Town councils and county boards of supervisors along the north coast passed resolutions opposing any coal shipments and supporting the Great Redwood Trail.
The North Coast Railroad Company’s filing did not shed more light on its plans to take control of the line. But early federal council filings and ties to a Utah government agency and the coal-rich Crow tribe in eastern Montana indicated the company hopes to ship coal from Montana’s Powder River Basin. and Wyoming to export it from Humboldt Bay.
Still, the company’s reported bank balance falls well short of the more than $2 billion officials estimate is needed to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties.
At this point, the company is only required to prove that it has financial resources equivalent to the price of scrap steel along the line and maintenance costs using a federal formula of $4,000 per mile of railroad per year, according to his record.
In its filing, an attorney representing the company said the North Coast Railroad Company intended to take over approximately 176 miles of rail line between Willits and Eureka. The total initial financial burden the company must bear therefore amounts to $8.8 million, according to the filing.
The company attached a bank statement from a North Carolina branch of the federal credit union Self-Help showing an account balance of $15.7 million.
Little is known about who is behind the coal shipping proposal, other than that it was pushed into the Eureka area by a consultant named Justin Wight.
Neither Wight nor Chicago-based company attorney Robert Wimbish has spoken publicly about the North Coast Railroad Company’s intentions. Wimbish did not respond to a voicemail on Wednesday
Wyoming is known for its lax business filing requirements and is often used to register hidden ownership companies. Documents obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah indicated that there was at least some initial interest from Utah state officials and Crow Tribe leaders, including the Montana reservation. is home to significant Powder River Basin coal deposits. In those filings, a Utah official said Wight was seeking a $1 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation.