August 29, 2002

City to appeal passing rail decision

For the North County Times

ENCINITAS ---- Mayor Christy Guerin announced Wednesday that the city will appeal a federal ruling that would allow North County Transit to construct a rail passing track through town without first getting state or local permits for the project.

The appeal continues a long battle between the Encinitas and NCTD over the transit district's $6.2 million plan to install a parallel, second track on the rail route through the city.

The proposed double-tracking from E Street in downtown Encinitas to Chesterfield Drive in Cardiff would allow trains to pass each other at full speed, and, according to NCTD, is needed to make the rail line more efficient and versatile in handling passenger and freight traffic.

NCTD sought a ruling from the federal Surface Transportation Board concerning city and state demands for requiring permit approvals of the project. Encinitas also insists that NCTD needs to complete an environmental impact report on the project.

But the federal board ruled last week that no local or state permitting for the double-tracking project is required because NCTD's ownership of the rail route makes it an interstate railroad operator. The ruling also dispels the city's demand for an EIR.

The city's appeal is based on its contention that NCTD is being miscast as a interstate railway agency, Guerin said.

She said the transit district was formed by the state to handle local transit service and does not qualify for "the federal exemption" from local and state permitting for construction projects.

After the council decided in closed session Wednesday to challenge the federal board's ruling on the permitting issue, Guerin said Encinitas today will file for a stay of execution on the federal board's decision until the city's appeal is ruled on.

Guerin said that the federal Surface Transportation Board's ruling is not a surprise. She cast it as another step a likely scenario that would end with the double-tracking battle finally being decided in court.

"The council is ready for double tracking," she said. "We know it's coming. We just want it to be done right."

For years, city officials have said that NCTD's plan to double-track through town at ground level would create unacceptable noise, vibration and danger to pedestrians and motorists.

They have suggested that NCTD consider under-grounding the 1.7-mile segment of double track through Encinitas in a covered trench. Transit district officials say the cost would be too high, estimating it at $237 million.

In other news, the council heard requests from 19 community organizations for a total of $77,000 in city grant money this year. The city, however, has only $35,000 budgeted for the grants and will decide at a later meeting how to distribute the money.

Maryanne Bache, administrator officer for the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, said she has grown accustomed to tough grant competition.

"You just have to convey your request as best you can and hope that things work out," said Bache, who presented a request for $4,400 to help pay for the planning of a project to construct a raised boardwalk on a portion of the Nature Center Trail at the lagoon.

"If we get the grant, it will allow us to go ahead on the project. If we don't, it'll delay it," Bache said, adding that the boardwalk through an environmentally sensitive part of the trail could be completed in two years at a cost of about $50,000.

The council granted the conservancy's request for a $2,300 grant last year to help with start-up costs for the boardwalk project.

The San Dieguito Academy Foundation got a $2,000 city grant last year to offset part of costs of conducting Grad Night, a drug- and alcohol-free event celebrating high school graduation in June. Students from Sunset and North Coast Alternative High School also participate.

Traci Sickinger, the foundation's liaison for the event, was back to ask for a $5,000 grant this year.

Sickinger said the live-music celebration, which includes a midnight cruise at San Diego Harbor, is aimed at steering graduation celebrants away from the dangers of alcohol or drug use at private parties.

She said more than 90 percent of San Dieguito High School graduation classes attend the foundation's Grad Night festivities.