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Nerve Gas Bosco: The Reload

BOSCO, the eternal curse. Frankly, we enjoyed the guy when he was an automatic Congressional vote for nerve gas, always waffled on offshore oil drilling, functioned as a total slave of corporate timber, and otherwise drew pay as a Congressman working steadily against the interests of most of his constituents. Back when people still read newspapers we so often referred to Bosco as Nerve Gas Bosco or, simply, N.G. Bosco, that Bosco said he often got letters addressed to him as N.G. Bosco.


WHAT WE LIKED best about Bosco was his temper. He'd go completely off at hostile questions, which is why the Congress-ciphers who succeeded him — Riggs, Thompson, Huffman — only meet the great unwashed in highly controlled contexts, like rsvp sessions in winery tasting rooms, the ante rooms of the fancier Northcoast hotels.

ANYWAY, Bosco married the daughter of a Eureka timber bigwig, lost his seat to a Republican and wound up half-owner of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat whose pages faithfully reflect Bosco's self-interested views on matters that could cost him money. (Bosco's loss of his seemingly safe Congressional seat to Republican Frank Riggs served as one more example to local professional officeholders that their support is soft, very soft, outside their immediate families. Because Bosco, a self-alleged liberal, voted against the Northcoast, Peace and Freedom Party candidate, Darlene Comingore, siphoned off the left votes, electing Riggs who voted pretty much like Bosco during his tour of Washington, DC.)

NO SURPRISE that Bosco and his Democratic Party gofers control the train that will never again run between Southern Marin and Eureka, but still generates enough income to keep Bosco and friends interested.

* * *

Over the last few weeks a controversy has developed which pits the self-alleged “above the law” North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA, aka the Democratic Party of California Railroad) and their subcontractor/operator, John Williams’ Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) against the (not-so) SMART commuter train which — very optimistically — still hopes to operate a commuter rail line of “self-propelled” commuter rail cars along a small section of track in South Sonoma County and Northern Marin — not exactly a high-priority shipping/commuter corridor in the first place.

The controversy began when a SMART maintenance employee discovered 18 rail cars, including 12 filled with liquid propane gas (LPG) and six loaded with grains on a little used rail spur of dead-end track in American Canyon a few miles north of Vallejo on the northeast corner of San Francisco Bay and well east of the main north-south line. Neighbors started noticing the cars too. They’d been there for months and seemed abandoned.

The LPG tanker cars were supposed to be moved to Schellville, about half-way between American Canyon and Petaluma where they were supposed to be “stored” for another indeterminate period with 80 other LPG tankers destined, the NCRA says, for (unidentified) processing facilities in the East bay farther south.

The NCRA had “stored” the first 80 LPG tankers in Schellville without telling anybody they were doing it or what was in the tankers. Then, out of alleged “courtesy,” the NCRA decided they better tell the SMART authorities that they were shipping hazardous material and SMART said, “Wait a minute. You want to move hazardous cargo on our commuter rail line through residential neighborhoods?” SMART said no to the NCRA.

How dare they?!

Apparently some initial negotiations were held between SMART management and the NCRA (represented by former Democratic Congressman Doug Bosco who chairs the NCRA board and now co-owns the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.)

But Bosco and the NCRA’s position was: We can ship whatever the hell we want over these tracks according to our prior agreement to share the tracks with the commuter line and we don’t even have to tell you what we’re shipping.

Predictably, these negotiations broke down without resolution.

Without further ado, the NCRA filed suit with the federal Surface Transportation Board, saying SMART had no right to prevent the NCRA from shipping anything they want.

At this point — late last October — several Bay Area news sources picked up the story including the Press Democrat, the San Francisco Chronicle, CBS News and ABC News.

The PD story — predictably, considering that Bosco is a co-owner of the PD — painted the SMART people — already under fire for cost overruns, endless delays and overpriced plans for a constantly delayed commuter service — as unreasonable obstructionists who were not abiding by their agreement with the NCRA.

The PD quoted Bosco et al about the alleged federally inspected safety of the LPG tankers. The PD also included a statement from SMART board member Deb Fudge (a former hazardous materials manager for PG&E who helped negotiate a 2011 agreement between SMART and Northwestern Pacific governing shared use of the rail line) saying, “It gives me pause to have all that hazardous material stored on the track.”

But the PD failed to mention that SMART spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding had said, “Because we believe that this is a public-safety issue, a health-and-safety issue, we have told [Northwestern Pacific/NCRA] that they are not to move anything on our tracks without the proper safety plan — without the proper hazardous-materials plan. Until we have that documentation and until we know exactly how they plan to transport this, they are not permitted to use our track.”

In other words, NCRA/Bosco took the case to the feds — along with all the lawyers and expense — demanding they have the right to ship whatever they hell they want on the tracks without pesky planning demands from SMART — rather than comply with SMART’s reasonable request that the explosive LPG contents be shipped in accordance with a safety plan, complete with times, dates, speeds, weight-factors, public safety measures, crossing protections, and public notifications.

Now the case is in hands of the feds and nobody knows how long that will take nor how much it will cost while the LPG continues to sit waiting to be shipped or….

Nobody’s complaining or obstructing the other rather modest and inobtrusive shipments have indeed turned up on NCRA tracks in the North Bay — a few carloads of feed grains for an animal feed company and barley for Lagunitas Beer. Only the LPG.

The PD also didn’t bother to mention any of the many neighbors of along the tracks who are obviously concerned about large amounts of flammable propane rolling through their backyards — neighbors who have read horrifying stories of train accidents and derailments in other parts of the country.

Bosco told the Chronicle that the NCRA “is not planning to ship petroleum products along the shared passenger line skirting Highway 101.” But Bosco’s flunky, NCRA President and Bosco’s former Chief of Staff when Bosco was a California legislator, Mitch Stogner however, said the freight operator “might entertain bringing propane to a customer in Ukiah if the track from there to Windsor is ever refurbished.”

(The track “refurbishment” idea is another scam of its own. See my previous extensive coverage of that clever arrangement as uncovered by former dissident NCRA Board member Bernie Meyers: “The Corruption Behind The Non-News At The NCRA”.)

There’s also the seemingly endless LPG “storage” question.

“Residents in Schellville [where the first 80 cars of LPG sit] do not like liquefied petroleum gas being stored in their backyard,” reported KGO-radio in San Francisco. “As neighbor Saira Lopez sees it, the view from outside her home could definitely be better. The cows don't bother her, but these parked railroad cars containing two million gallons of liquefied petroleum gas do. They've been there for two weeks. ‘It's kind of scary because one time I thought I saw smoke coming out of them,’ said Lopez.”

We have not seen the response from the SMART staffers to the NCRA’s recent Surface Transportation Board filing. But we expect it will be along the lines that Ms. Mariani-Belding mentioned regarding a hazardous material shipping plan.

Remember, a couple years ago, the high-handed NCRA management and board similarly declared that they didn’t need to bother with Environmental Impact Review requirements as a government agency even though their operator/contractor proposed what would in all other contexts require compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

PS. In researching this controversy we looked up the NWP railroad yard in American Canyon on Google Earth. We’re not sure exactly when this satellite image was taken, but the result would indicate that environmental factors and hazards are not exactly a priority for the NCRA or the NWP.

* * *

SO, HERE WE ARE with a dispute between the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) and Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit (SMART) that we summarized a few days ago. Neither train really runs along the same tracks, of which there is one set, although Bosco’s choo-choo occasionally moves some barley or grain a few miles. SMART might actually get a train going, albeit with about as many passengers as our local MTA, but Bosco and the NCRA will never, ever pull into the Cloverdale Station with a merry, "Cloverdale! Cloverdale! Next stop Willits! All aboard now for Eureka!"

LAST TIME that happened was, I believe, 1965. Anyway, the two flamingly mismanaged train companies are in an argument about some Liquid Propane Gas tanker cars, which we have described previously:

On Friday, the Press Democrat — which happens to be co-owned by Bosco, attorney for and co-owner of the Northwestern Pacific, ran an update on the NCRA-SMART dispute (“Gas tanker cars moved from Sonoma tracks as SMART and freight operator spar,” by PD reporter Derek Moore).

In that story Moore quotes Bosco with statements that are so arrogant that they remind us of the old Bosco circa 1980s when then-Congressman Bosco shilled for the most destructive extractive industries on the north coast: Big Oil and Big Timber. Bosco’s arrogance and detachment back then got him unseated when a large portion of his Democratic Party based abandoned him for Peace and Freedom Party candidate Darlene Comingore, allowing upstart Republican Frank Riggs to win.

Since then Bosco has slowly morphed from corporate attorney to big time property owner, fueled primarily by the huge inheritance his wife, and former SoCo Superior Court Judge, Gayle Guynup got in 2003 when Guynup’s wealthy father died. Bosco now owns or co-owns large timber tracts, gravel mining operations, mining operations, ranches and not so long ago he went from attorney for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP), which has the freight operations contract with the NCRA which Bosco set up and which is run by his former Chief of Staff Mitch Stogner in an arrangement that is more economically incestuous than any local non-profit could ever dream of.

To Bosco, the long-inoperative NCRA/NWP railroad is the link between his extractive industry business interests and he’s not going to let some penny-ante upstart local officials get in his way.

The SMART officials have so far avoided making many public statements beyond their entirely reasonable request that the NCRA/NWP should provide notice to them on those rare occasions when they move freight, especially hazardous cargo. SMART wants Bosco to have a plan in place before storing or shipping hazardous materials on the commuter tracks which run past wetlands and through residential neighborhoods.

Bosco told his employee/reporter Moore on Friday, that “the railroad will continue to refuse [SMART’s request to provide info on hazardous shipments] on the grounds that SMART is not entitled to that information.... ‘We don’t disclose their business anymore than they disclose ours’,” Bosco informed his amanuensis, Moore. Moore did dare to point out that Bosco “is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.”

Accoding to Moore, “The city of American Canyon and Napa County also have entered the legal fray over concerns that the movement and storage of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions pose a public safety threat. In their federal filings, attorneys for American Canyon, a city of about 20,000, outlined safety concerns with moving and stranding gas tankers along a rail line that passes through populated areas, ‘under busy freeway overpasses’ and next to wetlands.”

In the face of numerous incidents with railroad derailments and spills all over the country, “Bosco insists that the gas tankers pose no safety concerns. The former congressman also said the dispute highlights the reason why local jurisdictions should not be involved in the regulation of interstate commerce.”

“In a way, this is a good thing,” Bosco told Moore. “It should show people the mess you can get into whenever everyone thinks they have a say what railroads transport.”

Bosco! Monarch of all he surveys!

* * *

PERSONAL SPECULATION: Why is the NCRA/NWP even handling LPG tanker cars? Obviously, they’re not going from point A to point B anywhere on the Northcoast. They may be a holding zone for Bosco’s oil industry pals at the giant Tesoro refinery just across the Carquinez Strait rail bridge outside of Martinez or the huge Valero refinery outside of Benicia. Or both. So the “news” that the dozens of LPG tanker cars were recently moved may mean that the refineries were just using Bosco’s tracks for temporary storage until the refineries wanted the LPG to make their winter fuel mixes. So Bosco & Co get a little PR value out of ordinary business as if they were doing the North Bay a favor by moving the tankers in the face of public complaints, when in reality they would have been moved anyway. The imperious Bosco now wants to continue to use the NCRA/NWP tracks as tanker storage for East Bay oil but doesn’t want to bother asking pesky locals for permission. So he’s turning to the federal Surface Transportation Board (which he probably has old-time political connections to) to make the locals get outta the way because that’s much easier than dealing with the “mess” — i.e., the public and their local reps.

Valero Refinery, Benicia
Valero Refinery, Benicia

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