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On Rails

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
March 8, 1999


It is a rare occasion when I find myself in complete agreement with San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater. Up to this point it was unclear if her call for smart growth was anything more than green washing. North County Transit District's plan for double tracking across the San Dieguito Lagoon has shown that she is actually considering the environmental health of the region she serves.

Echoing the concerns of Del Mar residents, Encinitas City Councilman Dennis Holz, coastal activists, and environmentalists, Supervisor Slater is asking for an Environmental Impact report for the entire coastal North County rail corridor. This request is supported by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Why the need for the double tracking when the NCTD Board of Directors has yet to publicly approve a policy to double track the coastal corridor? Better yet, why double the tracks when NCTD has cut back on Coaster service? Who exactly benefits from this expansion, if the commuter rail is being downsized? When NCTD wanted to double track in Encinitas, justification wasn't based on Coaster or Amtrak traffic levels. The need for a "passing track" was based on existing and projected freight traffic.

The fact that NCTD wants to double the tracks along the coastal corridor to accommodate rail traffic, serving the maquiladoras of Tijuana, should be of concern to all of us. Economics before ecology has never paid off in the long run. The fact that the rails were built across the lagoons in the first place, only to require massive repairs and restoration 80 years later, should prevent us from allowing those same mistakes to be made again.

Long before Highway 101 and Interstate 5 added to the problem, earthen berms supporting the railroad were blocking sand from making it onto the area's beaches. Because of this loss of sand North County cities are now scrambling to secure funds to prevent homes and business' from falling in the ocean. Fixing the problems associated with these berms will cost billions of dollars.

Agencies working to protect and preserve coastal ecosystems have come out in opposition to double tracking to the deaf ears of NCTD, which has historically placed profit before people. Recently Sheryl Barrett of the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service stated that the "widening of the causeway and trestle across the San Dieguito River to accommodate another railroad track would seem to require the destruction of coastal wetland habitat of importance to migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, and a functioning wetland ecosystem."

This statement alone warrants a comprehensive environmental impact report for the entire region. Any damage being done to local plant and animal species, is being done to us. If NCTD is so reckless that they are willing to compromise the quantity of life in Coastal North County, It only goes to reason that they would be equally inclined to sell out our quality of life as well.

The double tracking agenda is currently being acted out in a piecemeal approach as a way of sidestepping significant regulations. The city of Solana Beach has embraced double tracking in order to get NCTD to lower the tracks through their city. "Out of sight, out of mind," doesn't really work for the endangered species trying to survive in the area's lagoons.

Commercial freight traffic should not come at the expense of environmental sustainability. NCTD should stop operating in a vacuum, and start concentrating on moving people around a crowded San Diego County.

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