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YouTube, June 1, 2022. A handsome, middle-aged man speaks quickly in televangelist, political-speak. He’s energized and has a slightly, raspy voice much like the governor of our state. Quote the energized man: “We have beaten back big coal…big coal would have run right over us…we’ve put the nail in the coffin of big coal!” proclaimed State Senator Mike McGuire, the godfather of Redwood Trail. The streaming presentation’s opening shot featured an ominous smoke-bellowing locomotive embellished with skull and crossbones. Surrounding captions read: “Hell No to Coal!” and “Stop the toxic train!” Yes, in June, Senator Mike McGuire took a victory lap while acknowledging help from courageous, coal-fighting representatives Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson. What did this fighting trio do? Supposedly, McGuire, Huffman, and Thompson stopped a dreaded, toxic coal train from running one hundred coal cars—four to six times day night, and day—(according to Mike McGuire) through our neighborhood’s so that China and other Asian counties could supply climate-destroying, coal-fired electrical plants. How did these political heroes do this? They demanded that the U.S, Surface Transportation Board, which oversees permissions for railroad right of ways, including 176 miles of defunct tracks of the old North West Pacific railroad between Willits and Eureka, not allow an entity known as the North Coast Railroad Company LLC to utilize those tracks to ship carloads of evil coal to the port of Eureka. Supposedly, North Coast Railroad Company LLC, a corporation registered in Wyoming, was going to use the rail line (in hopeless disrepair) to ship coal all the way from Montana and Wyoming to Eureka California, nearly fifteen-hundred miles one way over tracks that functionally no longer exist. Currently, Power River Basin coal deposits in Wyoming (significantly Native American controlled) are shipped via rail lines to ports in Vancouver British Columbus, and Longview Washington, which adds up to—give or take—about 600 railroad miles. North Coast Railroad Company LLC, whoever they are or were, apparently didn’t own a map. Nevertheless, according to Senator Mike McGuire, big coal was “beaten back.” McGuire, Huffman, and Thompson were pounding their coal-fighting chests. And…what a hell-of-a-fight it was. “Nail in the coffin,” exclaimed Mike McGuire. Big coal was down for the count.
Actually, all that happened was this: at the Surface Transportation Board, the North Coast Railroad Company LLC and their representing attorney (accidentally or conveniently) failed to get to the station on time. They didn’t appear to continue to file. The STB deadline was never met. What? Attorneys for big coal didn’t have a calendar? Smartphone anyone? But, was this really a fight at all? Was somebody blowing toxic smoke in your face?
Pause. Let’s back up. The old North West Pacific Railroad (NWP) constructed around 1914 was an assortment of various rail companies rolled into one to ship timber, produce and carry passengers between San Francisco and Eureka California. In the 1980s as timber shipping slowed, NWP was purchased by a privately held consortium, one of whose owners and general counsel was former North Coast congressman Doug Bosco. Mr. Bosco is also part owner of the Press Democrat Newspaper under the auspices of Sonoma Media Investments, which also owns Sonoma Magazine, North Bay Business Journal, Sonoma Index-Tribune, and the Petaluma Argus-Courier. These entities provide most of the printed news north of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you read about the Toxic coal train, you probably read about it in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a newspaper that seldom if ever never prints a bad word about any politician who has a capital D before or after their name.
But, back to the NWP. Gradually, as noted, timber products declined further. Floods and washouts ensued, tunnels collapsed, and most significantly in the northern section of the NWP, repairs were neglected. In 1989, to save the NWP from total abandonment, and use state and federal funds with some unknown, political magic, the NWP became the North Coast Redwood Authority headed by a former congressional aide to Doug Bosco, Mitch Stogner. The North Coast Redwood Authority was managed and advised by an assortment of Democrat party loyalists and office holders on the political slurp. Published reports identified Doug Bosco as a person who was an essential part of the transitional deal between the old NWP and the brand-new North Coast Redwood Authority. It’s complicated, but as the North Coast Redwood Authority took over the rail line, but, somehow, the NWP (Doug Bosco as an attorney and part owner) maintained a one-hundred-year lease on either all or various portions of the tracked rights-of-way to the south. North Coast Redwood Authority received fifty million in state funds for so-called “track repair.” Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters, a leading expert on California politics, wrote that the North Coast Redwood Authority was a “shameful boondoggle, which has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over three decades to achieve nothing.”
North of Sonoma County, the North Coast Railroad Authority did do “nothing” to maintain the rail line. Trees grew up between the rails. Portions of the roadbed continued to fall away. $145 million in state and federal money vanished down the broken tracks. Where? Meanwhile, in Sonoma County and Marin something called the “NWP Company” popped up, apparently morphed from the old NWP including, of course, Mr. Bosco again. SMART later emerged utilizing the NWP Company’s right of way to send their often-empty cars back and forth from Santa Rosa to Larkspur, while the NWP Company transported gravel on a portion of the line until SMART assumed that freight operation too. The NWP Company was supposed to pay SMART for moving gravel, but not until they made at least five million dollars a year, which they supposedly didn’t. Not a bad deal with an excellent attorney at the helm. Are you following the bouncing railroad ties? I can hardly follow them myself. What choo-choo train company or authority owned or controlled what section of track at any given time? Deals and transformations remained hidden, unreported, and often unremarked behind the one-party curtain of northern California politics and journalism. Where exactly did the state and federal monies go? One would have to be an accomplished accountant, perhaps, even a forensic accountant, to determine how the money moved around, or if it even moved at all. Up to now, the history of the NWP, the NCRA, and the NWP Company is more akin to that childhood story about the little train that could. “I think I can, I think I can if there’s public money in the deal.”
Of course, like a chameleon, everything changed again. Enter YouTuber Mike McGuire with SB 1029. No more North Coast Redwood Authority. Forget about the wasted money, wherever it went. Forget about the past. Let’s establish something grand and new to make us all forget if we even knew at all. How about a trail? A hiking trail instead of a railroad line. In fact, The Great Redwood Trail. Who doesn’t like the sound of that? The Great Redwood Trail, a proposed 300-mile hiking, biking, and horseback riding trail from Larkspur to Humboldt Bay championed by Mike McGuire, who over the years, has been a campaign recipient of several thousands of dollars from, yes—Douglas Bosco, again.
Unfortunately, aside from key enviro-dreamers and Great Trail supporters, who may have something to gain from the trail, like managerial jobs, planners, or board of director seats, who wouldn’t enjoy hiking hundreds of miles up the Eel River gorge in one-hundred-degree summer heat dodging mountain bikes and stepping on horse manure? Were there proposals in the news? A groundswell of public interest? North of San Quentin prison were thousands desperate to hike? Working families do love to hike. Mostly in a park, thirty feet from their cars where they pitch the family tent while the kids run down to the lake. Hikers and Backpackers are a different breed. Hike three hundred miles? No problem there. But, not along an endlessly, flat railbed covered up with gravel and dirt. Give real hikers the Pacific Crest, or the Appalachian Trail. Up and down the remote mountain trails they go where there’s gorgeous scenery everywhere while the trees and flowers pass. Flat and dusty is not their deal.
Unfortunately, McGuire’s SB 1029 didn’t exactly have hikers or nature lovers running madly to Dicks, Big 5, or Cabelas for backpacks, new hiking boots, or sleeping bags. And, let’s face it, working folks, the average you and me, don’t have time for hundred-mile hikes. Out of the question when one’s life is nine to five. So…something had to be done to keep The Great Redwood Trail alive in the public’s mind. Enter the toxic train from hell.
But, was the toxic train a scheme? Take, for instance, the North Coast Railroad Company LLC itself, the coal train corporation that didn’t have a calendar or alarm clock to make a timely response to the Surface Transportation Board. The corporate filing for the North Coast Railroad Company lists a Sheridan Wyoming address: 1309 Coffeen Ave. Sheridan, Wyoming. 1309 Coffeen Ave. Sheridan, Wyoming is, in fact, an Urgent Care facility! There’s an associated law firm listed in the filing: Cloud Peak Law Group P.C., 1095 Sugar View Dr. Suite 100, also located in Sheridan Wyoming, but a Google search takes you behind a Goodyear tire shop piled with used tire casings! No coal cars around at all. No locomotives. No mining equipment. Just tire casings cooking in the sun. Further examination determines that the origin of the filing was infile.com.LLC, 171350 State Highway, Houston Texas. It’s an office in Willow Brook Plaza in Houston near a busy freeway, and, again, no adjacent coal cars, locomotives, or mining equipment. As you’ve already guessed, infile.com.LLC is an online, corporate filing service. You too can create a corporation in Wyoming as did the North Coast Railroad Company LLC for about $I50 bucks. Filing with inline.com.LLC might cost another $85 to $150. North Coast Railroad Company LLC…coal high-rollers if there ever were! Did Senator Mike McGuire, congressmen Jared Huffman or Mike Thompson take a minute or two to peek behind the coal train curtain to establish exactly who or what this coal train company was? What? Too busy crying wolf? Who’s responsible for cooking this up?
According to published news accounts, two names are publicly connected to the North Coast Railroad Company LLC, better known as the coal train from hell. Attorney Robert Wimbush and a so-called “project consultant” for the North Coast Railroad Company LLC, named Justin Wright. Wimbush is the Chicago attorney who filed the initial letter of intent to take over the broken rail line with the Surface Transportation Broad, and then, apparently, forgot the deadline to advance the filing with the board. Wimbush is a partner with Fletcher & Sippel LLC in Chicago, a firm that does handle surface transportation and railroad issues, but how, why, for how much or none at all, did attorney Wimbish come to be involved with northern California’s mysterious, toxic coal train? Justin Wright has been associated with brief and extremely furtive statements concerning the coal train. Originally, it was intonated that the coal train might have 1.2 billion in the bank, but, to date, no money has appeared save for the corporate, online filing in Wyoming totaling less than 300 bucks. Justin Wright is connected to a company called Terra Nova Strategies as a “senior partner.” Terra Nova Strategies are consultants in, their words: finance, business development, and most interestingly—political and government relations. Terra Nova Strategies claims to have thirty years of experience in “political campaigns,” specifically: “campaign financing, automated calls, direct mail, large yard signs, and bumper stickers.” Bumper stickers!? What do bumper stickers or large yard signs have to do with obtaining a rail line right of way for a coal train company from Wyoming? Do you call the yard sign guy to start a railroad company? Wrong person? Maybe, but even the Press Democrat has linked Justin Wright to Terra Nova Strategies. Interestingly, Terra Nova, amongst other addresses, does have an office in Walnut Creek, California. Has Justin Wright ever met or had contact with anybody connected to a state senator or congressional representative, their affiliates or acquittances in Northern California, say for bumper stickers or how to start a coal train corporation? Interestingly, on Terra Nova Strategies’ internet site, when one clicks Political and Government Relations up pops a quote from old Sun Tzu—Chinese philosopher extraordinaire. Quote: “Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.” Does that mean that one has to first imagine a toxic coal train before it can be defeated?
And, what about Eureka Bay? The imagined terminus for the toxic coal train now derailed by The Great Redwood Trail that mysteriously came and went in our lives? Did Mike McGuire, Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, Justin Wright, the attorney without a calendar, or some other Wizard of Oz behind the coal train curtain, ever consider the bay of Eureka as a place to ship coal? Has anyone, pro or con the toxic, coal train, examined a nautical chart for Humboldt Bay? Coal ships? The navigational portion of Eureka Bay is small and narrow. Could a coal ship, which is a bulk carrier, even make it in or out of Eureka Bay? Let’s take a look. Large ships do enter and egress Humboldt Bay. In May, the cruise ship Seven Seas Mariner paid a visit to Eureka. The Seven Seas Mariner is over 700 feet long and is rated at 48 thousand tons. It has a draught of 21 feet. Draught or draft is how much of a ship’s hull is underwater. It’s important for ocean-going ships entering in and out of ports. The Eureka Bay north channel is dredged, and it currently shows 30.5 feet on a NOAA nautical chart as of October 2020. The Seven Seas Mariner drew 21 feet of water and easily passed in and out of Humboldt Bay with an extra nine feet of water under her keel. However, ocean-going bulk carriers come in various sizes. They’re a different kind of ship. Mini-size bulk carriers are about 300 to 400 feet in length and are used primarily for short voyages in coastal waters. Then comes Handysize, up to 600 feet, then Handymax, 700 feet plus, and so forth, up to Supermax, 900 feet or more. The Mini and Handy, the smallest bulk carriers, draw 10 meters of water or 32.8 feet of water loaded. The next bulk carrier up, the Handymax draws 12 meters of water, or 39.36 feet of water fully loaded. Oil tankers and super bulk coal carriers can draw 80 feet or more. Again, at mean low tide, there are 30.5 feet of water in the Humboldt Bay channel. Drawing 32.8 feet of water loaded, even the smallest bulk coal carrier (in ballast) might make it into Humboldt Bay, but that ship could never make it out. Something else to consider. Ships underway in shallow water are subject to “squat,” which means they sink on average two feet lower in the water with forwarding movement. Additionally, to assure profitability, coal is mainly transported across oceans aboard larger bulk carriers sometimes known as Capesizes—bulk carriers with drafts exceeding 45 feet. Eureka as a coal port? If anyone paid attention, especially McGuire, Huffman, and Thompson, shipping coal out of Humboldt Bay was as viable as floating the Titanic in a swimming pool.
The Press Democrat. There’s been lots of menacing toxic train news in its pages. As mentioned, The Press Democrat is partially owned by Doug Bosco in partnership with Sonoma Media Investments. The Press Democrat, since the passing of fair-minded, editor Art Volkert, has come under the editorial lead of first Pete Golis, then Paul Gullixson, and currently Mike Sweeney all of whom have moved the paper further and further to the wokey, progressive left. Darrius Anderson is also a Press Democrat partner. A younger Darius Anderson was Doug Bosco’s congressional driver. Chauffeurs for congressional representatives? Who knew? Anderson went on to head Platinum Advisors, one of California’s most lucrative lobbyist firms. Doug Bosco, undoubtedly, is the major “political influencer” north of the Larkspur ferry. A lobbyist and a political fixer owning a newspaper? What could go journalistically wrong with that? Editors and writers may plead impartiality, but in the darkened portions of their minds, they know who signs their checks. The Press Democrat has gradually morphed into a feel-good, around-the-house-and-in-the-garden newspaper featuring sunny days at wineries, weekly cheese plates, and mind-numbing, opinion pieces by Pete Golis, of whom one wag once commented: “if Cream of Wheat could write, it would write like Pete Golis.” In-depth investigative reporting? The dust remains on the keyboards. Renowned investigative journalist, Stephen Pizzo, co-author of Inside Job, once said that in regards to the Press Democrat and investigative reporting, “as the guilty are led from the courthouse in handcuffs, the PD will take a picture. That will be the beginning and end of their investigation.” Since the menace of the toxic coal train first appeared, the PD has published at least six major articles, numerous unfavorable editorials, and favorable guest comments opposing the toxic coal train. The PD has also served as a high and righteous soap box for Senator Mike McGuire, Jared Huffman, and Mike Thompson as they metaphorically laid their bodies on the tracks to stop the diabolical coal train.
However, as of late, there’s been a belated and rather odd PD sea change since the coal train attorney slept in and missed their date with the Surface Transportation Board. Recently, reporter Andrew Graham of the Press Democrat wrote that there was something “far-fetched” about the toxic coal train. “Was there anything to it?” Graham mused. He went on to point out that Justin Wright and Chicago attorney Robert Wimbush are the only two people linked to the North Coast Railroad Company LLC, and that they are impossible to reach, especially North Coast Railroad Company frontman Justin Wright at Terra Nova Strategies. Coal fighter Mike McGuire has also chimed in belatedly after the toxic coal train was derailed. McGuire surmised: “Someone was paying one of the most respected attorneys (in the field) trying to advance this proposal…who is financing the coal train?” McGuire righteously fumed. Even political influencer Doug Bosco—as was reported in his own newspaper—had his head-shaking doubts. “To take coal and ship all the way up there I would say is very far-fetched,” Bosco said. He further commented that representatives from the North Coast Railroad Company LLC had not contacted him. “You have to think, who are these people,” said the former congressman, political influencer, and Mike McGuire campaign contributor. Of course, all these head-shaking questions, ponderings, and finger-pointing were asked conveniently after the official establishment of The Great Redwood Trail. But, do Mr. Bosco and Mike McGuire protest too much? Don’t forget, O.J. Simpson is still looking for the culprit who murdered his former wife.
To his credit, PD reporter Andrew Graham tried his best to find out who was behind the toxic train. Graham reported that he tried to reach Justin Wright at Terra Nova Strategies for comment, but all he received was an email response from Wright’s assistant stating that Wright was unavailable, because he was “…currently in the hospital following an accident…” Yes, PD reporter Graham did the best he could to look into the nicks and crannies of Justin Wright and Terra Nova Strategies. But how did he miss the Lao Tzu quote and Mr. Wright, big-time coal train developer, selling bumper stickers for your car? Yes, “who is financing the coal train?” Mike McGuire asks. “Who are these people,” Douglas Bosco wants to know. “It’s not clear if the outcry from three California lawmakers (McGuire, Huffman, Thompson) has spurred any law enforcement involvement,” reporter Andrew Graham wrote. Does somebody need to go to jail? We’ve all seen the classic Casablanca. Remember when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) shoots Major Strasser to prevent him from stopping Victor and Ilsa’s plane from taking off? Rick’s sometimes pal, Captain Louis Renault, (Claude Reins) says “round up the usual suspects?” Remember that? Who are the “usual suspects” when it comes to the toxic coal train?
Now that the toxic coal trains are off the tracks for good and we’re saved from sucking coal dust into our lungs, things are looking good for McGuire’s Great Redwood Trail. According to the Eureka Times-Standard, McGuire huffed that ‘big coal has been scared off.” The coal train cabal “wining and dining local officials” is gone. Who were these local officials? Who paid for their “wining and dining?” Where did they eat? Did the tab cost more than it did to create the North Coast Railroad Company LLC in the first place?
Nevertheless, it’s all good news for the big trail. SB69 brought in $10.5 million of our tax money to commence planning and staffing for The Great Redwood Trail. That means $10.5 million for Great Trail bureaucrats sitting in their seats. Does this sound like the old North Coast Rail Authority to you? Attention Dan Walters, are you experiencing déjà vu?
To date, there’s been no actual construction of the trail. Not to worry, Great Trail Mike has got a plan for that and it will only cost $15,000 per mile to cover up the old tracks with gravel and dirt. Sorry, no road bikes. Dirt’s too loose. They’ll have to stick to 101 dodging Winnebago’s and logging trucks. Besides, as yet, there’s no money for the dirt. So, where will the money come from? According to grand impresario Mike of The Great Redwood Trail…climate change. That’s right, the money will come from climate change—the current key to the political piggy bank. According to Mike, bicyclists, hikers, and horseback riders will create a zero-carbon footprint as they hike, bike, and ride to Eureka. Scant argument there. Of course, it goes without saying that without The Great Redwood Trail, bicyclists, hikers, and horseback riders would probably be riding and hiking someplace else. But comparisons seldom count when our planet is at stake. McGuire contends that the money is already there. From where? According to Mike, the money will come from the California Coastal Conservancy, a tax-funded agency that produces grants for worthwhile environmental and fishery projects throughout the state of California. And, presto! Somehow, through the often-mysterious labyrinth of political maneuvers in Sacramento, the California Coastal Conservancy is now in charge of The Great Redwood Trail’s “master plan.” The $10.5 million already allocated via SB69 to commence office work on the Great Trail has already been passed forth via the Coastal Conservancy, with another $2.5 million promised for “for the advancement of the trail,” according to the California Coastal Conservancy itself, which just happens to have $500 hundred million in the bank to combat climate change. And, what do you know, who’s the chairman of the Coastal Conservancy? Douglas Bosco of course. Let the circle be unbroken. From his NWP, and his help creating the North Coast Railroad Authority to The Great Redwood Trail, Douglas Bosco’s still in the mix.
To conclude. State Senator Mike McGuire and our congressional representatives scared us half to death that a coal company from Wyoming was going to rain toxic ruin on where we live. Our representatives waged a courageous fight, but the alleged coal train representatives didn’t show up for that fight, while the only visible coal train advocate was apparently busy selling bumper stickers. It’s clear that attorney Robert Wimbish of Flectcher & Sipple in Chicago, the lawyer who signed the initial North Coast Railroad Company filing with the Surface Transportation Board, is, in fact, an accomplished rail representative above reproach when it comes to filings with the STB. However, he has consistently declined to state who’s behind the North Coast Railroad Company LLC. Likewise, Terra Nova Strategies is a legitimate business, but, to date, Mr. Wright appears to be unavailable to also inform us who was behind the North Coast Railroad Company LLC. The mystery persists. Is it possible that Wimbish and Wright are also in the dark? Was anything ever face-to-face? Who signed the checks for services, if money changed hands at all? Who was behind the toxic coal train that was going to destroy our lives? Was it legit or not? If the North Coast Railroad Company LLC was a devious scheme it has certainly worked. Hapless, pondering citizen, you can all now take a hike.
However, in Wyoming, they still have a rule or two. Wyoming’s known for cowboys. We’ve all seen a Western or two. Mythically speaking, bespeak a lie to a cowboy, they’re not inclined to let you off the hook. “Partner,” says the cowboy, “California’s down the road; it’s chockfull of sleazy tricks.” In fabled theory, cowboys are honest and direct. And, did you know that up in Wyoming—a friendly business state as much as it is—it’s against the laws of that state to file or create a corporation if it is a “scheme?” Not exactly a hanging offense, but filing a corporation to achieve something other than what it is, is an answerable offense. Yep, as they might say up in ol’ Wyoming: “toxic coal train? Heck, partner, we can attach a prison car anytime you want.”
But, that’s in movies and myths. Around here, nobody ever goes to jail with the simplicity of single-party rule. The sheep are often munching on schemes, which they believe are lovely dreams.