Friday, January 27, 2023

Mendocino Railway Completes Acquisition of Former Millsite from Georgia Pacific


The following is a press release issued by Mendocino Railway:

The 136-year-old Mendocino Railway completed the acquisition from Georgia Pacific (GP) of its former millsite in Fort Bragg on November 19, 2021. While once employing 2,000 workers, the GP millsite has been shuttered for two decades. The successful reuse of the millsite would be a huge economic catalyst for the City of Fort Bragg and the North Coast.

This acquisition reunifies the railroad and millsite. Mike Hart, CEO of Sierra Railroad Company (Mendocino Railway’s parent company) stated, “The railroad and millsite successfully worked together for over a century. Unfortunately, they both fell on hard times after the railroad was sold off. The millsite closed in 2002 and the railroad went bankrupt in 2003.”

“For the past two decades, we’ve been trying to put the pieces back together,” added Hart. Mendocino Railway purchased the assets of the California Western Railroad out of bankruptcy in 2004 with the approval of the United States Surface Transportation Board.

“While the railroad suffered from neglect, we’ve spent years fixing it up and we now have record ridership. We’re now completing a federal loan that will enable us to address the last big obstacle: the reopening of Tunnel #1.

While Mendocino Railway was improving the railroad, it has also been in negotiations with GP to purchase the millsite. Hart said, “One of the first calls we made after getting the railroad was to GP to begin negotiations to purchase the millsite to restore the business as a single entity. While we were close to a deal for some time, I think GP wanted to first complete its environmental remediation of the site.”

While GP worked through their remediation, they provided the City with 85 acres of the millsite in 2009. In 2019 GP sold 15 acres to the Harvest Market, a local grocery store. GP then sold the 77-acre northern portion to Mendocino Railway in June 2019. Since Mendocino Railway had been working within the City’s planning process, Mendocino Railway was within months able to present the City with detailed plans for the reuse of the property, to very positive reviews.

One of the key features of the millsite is a 70,000 square foot historic “Dryshed” building. The city almost allowed this building to be demolished in 2018 but Mendocino Railway and local advocates helped save it. Mendocino is now rehabilitating the Dryshed and placing it back into service. Mendocino Railway will relocate its locomotive work to the Dryshed while rebuilding its historic Roundhouse. Once the locomotives can move back into the Roundhouse, Mendocino Railway will then begin work to repurpose the building, potentially as a community theater and marketplace.

The City’s Planning Process for reusing the millsite has had its setbacks. In 2019 the City let go of the Community Development Director who had led the process for 15+ years. In 2020 the Harvest Market canceled their development following concerns. In 2021 the city abandoned its own planning process and directed Mendocino Railway to submit its own master plan for review.

Despite these setbacks, Mendocino Railway pressed on. Mendocino first acquired Harvest Market’s 15-acre site. Mendocino is considering building a station at this site with a visitors’ center. Mendocino then worked with GP to acquire the balance of the millsite so it could complete a single master plan for the property as requested by the City, recently acquiring that property.

Mendocino Railway has taken on responsibility for completing the remediation of the millsite. Robert Pinoli, CEO of Mendocino Railway, stated, “Mendocino Railway has worked with the DTSC since 2004 when we acquired the railroad, and we look forward to continuing to work with the DTSC to ensure that remediation of the millsite is appropriately completed. We also look forward to working with the City of Fort Bragg, local partners, and our community at large to do our best to ensure that development of the former millsite meets our community’s needs. We also plan to work with the California Coastal Commission to ensure that the property’s final plans reflect the best interest of all parties.”

Hart concluded, “We believe that we are the only local organization that is both willing and able to take on this project. We hope that we succeed and are an asset to Fort Bragg and the North Coast.”



  1. Just what Fort Bragg needs, an amusement park right here in town! I’m shocked that anyone thinks this is a good idea. I predict major increases in vehicle traffic, tarnished coastal views, and more. Where will the water come from for the construction and operation of this park? How will this increase quality of life for local people?

  2. Heaven forbid money from tourists flows into the community. It might even take some people off the welfare rolls and unemployment. How awful.

  3. Have any of you actually looked at mendo railway’s proposed development plans for the site? Where will the water come from? How will negative traffic effects be mitigated? How long for construction? What is the value of open space? Exactly how many jobs will this proposal create? Will people be hired locally, or from out of the area?

  4. Looking through the gloss of P.R.

    There is no argument that we love the Skunk Train and its history. The Skunk Train along with other California Excursion tourist trains around the state have become noteworthy historical tourist attractions.

    How many years since we have seen the ole 45 locomotive that is widely used in their advertising? We are still waiting to see the Mendocino Railway walk it’s talk. (Read more about this below.)

    Interestingly, Mendocino coastal residents found something unsolicited in their mailboxes and post office boxes this past week –” The Little Stinker”.

    The four color 8-page 11×17 newsprint newsletter entitled “The Little Stinker” (yep that is the name of it!) put out by the Mendocino Railway/Skunk Train/Sierra Energy outfit presents some ambitious development that runs roughshod over the City of Ft. Bragg’s “Mill Site Specific Plan.” The Mill Site Plan was informed by hours of public scoping sessions and expert input with keeping in mind the General Plan Update processes and Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendments, etc. (see

    The “Little Stinker” makes a whole host of claims one of which states, “Taking ownership of a large portion of the historic coastal Mill Site, the Skunk Train will work with experts to develop a world class-destination, breathing new life into this unique stretch of coastline.”

    Who is the “stinker” that says taking ownership will trump public input and all the General Plan zoning, and policies and guidelines set forth by Ft. Bragg City Council and which in turn must be certified by the Coastal Commission?

    This tourist train with its ticket office/gift shop/depot located at the Foot of East Laurel Street is much loved and one of the several attractions in Ft. Bragg’s historic downtown. However who is in charge of Fort Bragg’s future is the question.

    The Skunk Train public relations press releases keep shifting including with some unrealized plans over the years, and more so, ever so recently, to fit what appears to be the whim of private development.

    This time, as indicated in the “Little Stinker,” it is about the increasing the railroad’s footprint along the former Georgia Pacific Mill site with expanding enterprises as in hotels, condos and a sundry of what not transport ideas. All that and more are part of the scheme of things. Is this all really about investors and developers’ ocean side dream property? A Cypress Station at Cypress Street on Highway 1 with a restaurant?

    Why now is this enterprise claiming rights as a federally operating railroad? Hmmn? By the way who has been paying into the Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits for the Skunk Train R.R. employees? Many more questions need to be asked here.
    Meanwhile precarious geological complications have not once but twice have put this tourist excursion train out of action.
    The Skunk Train’s Round House in Ft. Bragg has been in disrepair for years. The former Mill Site dry sheds still stand waiting for their promise of rebuild and repair. The area public wants daylighting of creeks and the toxic cleanup on the closed areas of the Mills Site and HOUSING and so on.

    Are the tracks and bridges along the railroad’s switch backs and canyons still stable on the way to Willits? Who keeps it all in repair along the rugged terrain?

    The Skunk Train tunnel west end collapsed in 2015 and the east end collapsed in 2013. In 1998 Rail-Ways Inc. private freight operator for NCRA Line north of Willits closed because of slides.
    In 1989 a series of devastating storms flooded the Eel River to record heights effectively destroying the line between Willits and Eureka forcing its closure. Further storms and subsidence closed the section from Willits south to Petaluma.
    In February 2001, after repairs, the NWP resumed operations south of Petaluma. However, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) declared the track unfit for traffic in October 2001 and operations ceased. Not sure what is in the mix now after all that.
    A skunk does not change its stripes and the Skunk Train – a tourist train it is!

    According to the Federal Railroad Administration, “Tourist, scenic, historic, or excursion operations are railroad operations that carry passengers, often using antiquated equipment, with the conveyance of the passengers to a particular destination not being the principal purpose.”
    By the way- The Skunk Train is one of many numerous and noteworthy attractions that bring vistors to this beautiful coast: attractions

  5. Gotta love the long winded tirades of posturing transplants who are unaware of history that real locals actually grew up with.

    Little Stinker isn’t something new. The trains were “stinkers” because they were diesel locomotives rather than boilers, and the little ones “Little Stinker” for instance, were passenger transports. As to WoooOOOooo tourist trains- the line was indeed heavy transport. It used to haul fuel to the silos by the graveyard, lumber to the N/S line in Willits, and various other heavy freight. Usually at night. Little Stinker was hauling loggers in and out of the woods long before tourism was a “thing” up here. Before WW2 gutted out the rails (steel) for the war effort, every gulch was accessible by rail. Precious little remains today, and it is worth preserving.

    The lines themselves have fallen into disrepair. This is not a reason to abandon them. Precisely the opposite. Trendy as a hybrid may be today, rail transport is FAR more efficient, second only to pipelines. Locomotives were hybrids back when hippies were first embracing smoke belching Nazi inspired VW’s as the new trend. We should FIX the lines north and south of Willits and get the heavy freight back on trains where it belongs. Trucks are dramatically less efficient, and significantly more dangerous than rail.

    If toting fat gaudy tourists back and forth keeps it alive? If they build some big fat tourist trap on the Mill site? Money will flow to our community. But see, wealthy pretentious transplants don’t care about that. They don’t work here. And that’s why I don’t care what they think. And neither should you, random reader.

    It’s a big plan, but probably a worthy one. The only real losers here are the tourist traps down in Mendocino. Fort Bragg never will be like Mendocino, but it could do something similar, in a different way. A brighter future than renaming the town “Fort Homeless”.

    • Yes, Little Stinker the railroads would ease much of the truck traffic on 101 and 20. And people could travel by train, what a concept! I personally would love taking a train from Ukiah to Willits then head to the coast, or up to Eureka! It would rival any scenic train ride in the world!

  6. The vindictive childish FB CITY Council will do their best to get in the way as best they can so as not to look as if they “lost” and to preserve their “image”, whatever twisted image they cling to as far as what they and their new narcissistic leader believes the EYES of theFB public see them with. I get the feeling they think they are on the high school gov’t and debate team, get out the way FB City council you are lacking in expertise and or the experience needed to run this town. Go home and play house, step down or step up , at the very least grow up.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFever
I like to think of myself as a journalist for the everyman. Journalism has become a craft practiced largely by the urban elite. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at if you know a story that needs to be told.

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