The Richmond City Council moved to oppose a railroad company's plans to reactivate a length of track that runs through a popular waterfront park Tuesday evening at their regularly scheduled meeting in City Hall.
The Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park was established in the 1970s, according to Mayor Tom Butt's Chief of Staff Alex Knox. Over the decades it spread out around a right of way that served Ferry Point and Terminal 1.
BNSF Railroad Company maintains that the tracks are active, and that their easement through the park still allows for train traffic, but city officials have joined the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and the East Bay Regional Park District in opposing the reintroduction of rail traffic.
The railroad has offered to move the tracks to a different path through the park, but parks and county officials have stated publicly that it wouldn't make much of a difference.
District 1 Supervisor John Gioia was applauded by the crowd during public comment when he announced that the Board of Supervisors had passed a resolution opposing the railroad's plans earlier that day.
"This proposal is unsafe, it's unhealthy and it's unfair," Gioia said, citing air quality impacts for nearby residents.
"Whether this rail is on the coast, on the bay shoreline or in the middle, it's harmful from a health standpoint," Gioia said.
There are also concerns about the risk of injury or death if a person were to be struck by a train, as well as the visual impacts along an otherwise scenic waterfront.
The council voted unanimously to support the park district in fighting back - but Mayor Tom Butt expressed concerns over whether the park district could prevail against the railroad, citing a previous legal battle in which the city sued BNSF and lost in an appellate court.
As a result of Tuesday's votes the city and county will be sending letters to state and federal officials including Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, as well as regulatory bodies that oversee the railroad.
The city attorney and county counsel have both been directed to provide unspecified legal support the parks district in search of a remedy the courts.
When asked for comment Tuesday afternoon, BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent said in a statement that negotiations over the land in question and the tracks running through it date back roughly half a century, and have occasionally been difficult.
The railroad maintains, however, that the alternative they've proposed involving the relocation of the tracks through another part of the park and establishing a trail along the current right-of-way is a viable compromise.
"Moving the rail line away from the shore and providing a trail in the current rail line location makes practical sense and is a much better environmental outcome than the Park's present plan, which will face regulatory and environmental hurdles," Kent said. "We look forward to continuing to work in good faith with the Park District on a joint-use plan."
A copy of the letter sent to the district by BNSF's attorneys is available online, courtesy of Richmond city staff, here.
CORRECTION: The previous version of this story erroneously referred to the agency as East Bay Parks and Recreation District.