Editor's note: Bernard Meyers, a former Novato City Council member, is a member of the North Coast Railroad Authority board of directors, appointed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors. The views expressed in this opinion story are solely his own.
By Bernard Meyers
The North Coast Railroad Authority is an independent state entity in charge of the 310-mile freight rail line between American Canyon and Humboldt Bay, including the tracks that run through Novato.
NCRA’s board members are appointed by local Boards of Supervisors and do not answer to any authority. Virtually all of its funds come from taxpayers, including $60-plus million it recently spent rehabilitating the southern 61 miles of line to Windsor.
NCRA does not have a comprehensive strategic plan with measurable goals and objectives. Its management is badly in need of an outside review before it follows in Vallejo’s footsteps and declares bankruptcy:
- Due to NCRA’s past actions, Caltrans considers NCRA as a High Risk Agency and does not let NCRA touch public funds under Caltrans’ jurisdiction without proof that the funds are properly spent. This has continued for the past decade and caused NCRA to incur more than $500,000 in extra expenses.
- NCRA has had substantial budget deficits for years. Its financial situation is precarious at best, yet its private freight operator, Northwest Pacific (NWP) uses the line without paying a trackage fee.
- NCRA gave NWP a "no bid" $1 million contract to do repair work outside Caltrans’ purview that was to take five months. It ended up costing more than $2.5 million and was finished a year late.
- NCRA's lease with NWP can last a century, without meaningful oversight, conceivably without trackage payments, while taxpayers underwrite much of the risk.
- There is no indication that the NCRA/NWP relationship is, or will be, fiscally prudent.
A prompt, comprehensive, outside evaluation/audit is required for the good of the taxpayers and to properly revive freight rail in Northern California. Otherwise a viable freight rail service envisioned when taxpayers purchased the line out of bankruptcy might never be.
Attached is a letter dated Jan. 15, 2013 from the Marin County Board of Supervisors to the NCRA, which has attached Meyers' memo of Nov. 14, 2012 to the NCRA Board. The next NCRA board meeting is Feb.13 at the Healdsburg City Hall.