Supervisors pick harbor commissioner for North Coast Railroad Authority

Torn between two viable candidates, a majority of the Board of Supervisors has voted to appoint Harbor District Commissioner Richard Marks to the North Coast Railroad Authority’s Board of Directors.

Although the second candidate, Arcata resident Dan Hauser, has extensive experience as a former state Assembly member and served as the railroad authority’s executive director from 1996 to 1998, Marks’ status as a Harbor District commissioner swayed a majority of supervisors to vote for him.

Supervisors who supported Marks said it’s a good idea to have a link between the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) and the Harbor District.

Addressing supervisors and answering questions at the June 4 board meeting, both candidates had similar views on supporting rail with trails options for the unused NCRA line and both vouched for the economic potential of railroad restoration.

A public comment session seemed politically divided, however. Several railroad development advocates supported Hauser, including Jan Kraepelin, a vocal supporter of east-west rail development.

He described Hauser’s work as an assemblymember – which included authoring the legislation that established the NCRA – and key originator of the Arcata Marsh as “heroic.” Responding to those who’d supported having a Harbor District commissioner on the NCRA, Kraepelin reversed the idea and said it would be more appropriate to have a NCRA boardmember on the district’s board.

That would be up to voters, as district commissioners are elected.

Harbor District Commissioner Pat Higgins defeated then-Commissioner Charles Olivier, a staunch railroad development advocate, in 2008. At last week’s meeting, Higgins dismissed the viability of railroad redevelopment, saying, “The industrial railroad is dead in Humboldt County – it’s not coming back.”

He added that a trail in the rail corridor between Arcata and Eureka could fuel a more realistic economic engine – tourism.

When it came down to decision-making, supervisors said they could support either candidate. Marks has been politically active and he was a supporter of Supervisor Virginia Bass’ election campaign. Making a motion to appoint Marks, she said his Harbor District status makes him a logical choice.

“I think it’s important to have the Harbor District-NCRA link because I think they’re going to be very important partners in the conversation we have on the future of Humboldt Bay port development,” she continued.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace seconded the motion. Acknowledging his well-known reputation as a railroad skeptic and advocate for trail development, he said neither Marks nor Hauser anchors his stances.

But Lovelace agreed that linking the district and the NCRA is “critical.”

Supervisors Rex Bohn and Estelle Fennell supported Hauser, leaving the definitive vote to Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg. Clearly conflicted over which one to choose, Sundberg prefaced his decision by saying that such dilemmas are a “miserable” aspect of being a supervisor.

He supported the motion, reiterating the importance of having a district commissioner on the NCRA board.

Marks is a former Samoa pulp mill worker who headed the Western Pulp and Paper Workers union prior to the mill’s closure. He unsuccessfully ran for supervisor several years ago and was elected to the district’s board in 2009.

Another recent appointee to the NCRA board is Arcata Councilmember Alex Stillman, who was picked by a City Selection Committee made up of officials from the county’s various cities.