Edited from the Trinity Journal:
MORE PROBLEMS FOR UP STATE RAIL CONNECT COMMITTEE AND CALTRANS
The Up State Rail Connect Committee meeting held in the Veterans Hall (in Weaverville) on November 9, 2016 At that meeting I identified the intractable problems that prevent Humboldt Bay from becoming a commercial cargo seaport. I have discussed these problems at length in previous commentaries.
During the review of the proposed Scope of Work for the study, the presenter challenged my comments regarding Humboldt Bay by emphatically stating, and I paraphrase here, “we have to make an assumption for this study and we are assuming that there will be a functioning cargo port in Humboldt Bay.” I am certainly in agreement with the presenter that certain assumptions have to be made. However, there must be facts and data that support the assumptions and unfortunately, none were offered by the committee.
So, let me offer an alternative assumption about the proposed Humboldt Bay seaport with facts and data that support it. There will not be a functioning commercial cargo seaport in Humboldt Bay’s future, and here is why. History, besides its geographical attributes as a small “niche” seaport it has only handled a small trade with forest products and aggregates and that trade dried-up years ago. Until relatively recently there was never a push to move into the big leagues and compete for cargo against major ports like Oakland and LA/Long Beach.
Isolation, Humboldt Bay is in the middle of nowhere. Even if there was a rail connection in place now it would be at least a 200 mile trip just to the Sacramento Valley UP rail line. The nearest classification yard where freight train consists are assembled is in Roseville. That is another 200 miles south on the UP line or approximately 400 miles from Humboldt Bay seaport to the UP train classification yard. It is impossible for Humboldt Bay to compete with port of Oakland in rail travel cost and travel time. Oakland’s distance to the Roseville UP train classification yard is about100 miles.
Maritime container freight economics, I’ve addressed this issue in detail in previous commentaries. It’s those darn economies-of-scale again. Humboldt Bay cannot compete successfully for container freight with Oakland, LA/Long Beach because it’s just too small. Decline in overseas purchase of commodities and decimation of commercial bulk commodity shipping fleets, I have addressed these issues in previous commentaries, again, making Humboldt Bay a non-starter as an operating cargo seaport. The 2003 Humboldt Bay Revitalization Plan said very clearly, do not spend public money in support of a cargo seaport in a “build it and they will come” manner for reasons that still exist today. Finally, there are no port terminal facilities, no port terminal operator, and no commitment from any maritime shipping line now or in the future to use Humboldt Bay as a cargo destination. Again, I have reported on this in previous commentaries.
So, where are we? CALTRANS and the Humboldt Bay seaport advocates marshal no facts or data to support their assumption that there will be an operating commercial cargo seaport there. Instead it is based on wishful thinking and “Trust-us” statement’s.
The facts and data I have presented here and in previous commentaries clearly say the opposite. The proposed CALTRANS quarter million dollar plus (375k) grant to Trinity County to study a rail connection to a cargo seaport in Humboldt Bay that doesn’t exist and never will is an unconscionable waste of public funds. CALTRANS what were you thinking? How did you get roped into this by the Humboldt Bay seaport advocates? How could you buy into an “economic development” commitment that is based on wishful thinking and then announce it in the California State Rail Plan? Who in the CALTRANS hierarchy is responsible for that decision and the decision to follow through with a quarter million dollar plus grant to Trinity County for the study of a rail line to a non-existent commercial cargo seaport?