EBRPD okays Miller Knox land use plan, vows to fight diesel trains in the park

OAKLAND - The East Bay Regional Park District board of directors unanimously approved a land-use plan amendment for Miller Knox Park Tuesday. The board also vowed to fight Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad's stated intention of running diesel engines and railcars along the shoreline in the park from Point Richmond out to Ferry Point.

At a standing-room only meeting at EBRPD headquarters, more than a dozen members of the public spoke in favor of the land use plan - and against BNSF.

"They have not been good neighbors to Richmond," Jordan DeStaebler said of BNSF.

In late February, the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to oppose the railroad's plans. PRNC OPPOSES.

Speaker after speaker spoke passionately about how important the park is to the community and that having diesel engines and railcars blocking public access to the water was simply unacceptable.

Several also spoke in favor of the section of the plan that calls for removal of abandoned tracks within the district's jurisdiction to allow for development of a section of the San Francisco Bay Trail between Keller Beach and Ferry Point

While no representatives of BNSF spoke at the meeting, EBRPD District Counsel Carol Victor said the district had just received a 17-page letter from the railroad's attorney's objecting to adoption of the plan.

District Board member Colin Coffey - a practicing attorney in Walnut Creek - said he thought the letter was "at best fantasy, at worst dishonest."

In an earlier letter to the board, BNSF's attorney L. John Nelson IV said expanding business operations required use of the tracks in Miller Knox Park.

BNSF's tracks along the shore at Miller Knox Park

"BNSF has not recently operated trains within the easement area, but it has notified the Park District of its expanding business at Richmond Terminal, necessitating the reactivation of its rail use within the easement in the near future," Nelson said. Nelson is with the legal firm of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith.
BSNF's historic easement along the shore was contingent on the railroad having industrial customers to serve, several district officials commented during the meeting.
     
But with no more industrial activity in that area - or any projected - the easement is not needed, they said.
     
Audience member DeStaebler also testified that he believes if BNSF is simply looking for more space to shuttle freight cars, it could easily add track in its existing yards.
     
The tracks BNSF said it wants to reactivate have been out of use for several decades.
     
EBRPD Chair Ayn Wieskamp thanked the meeting participants and the public before declaring a recess. "We are doing the right thing," she said. "And we are going to need doers and supporters in this."

Read the original article on The Point.