With a final reading scheduled ahead of what appeared to be a quick adoption, Eureka councilmembers held off on making a final call on its proposed coal ordinance this week.

The ordinance regulating the transport by rail and storage of coal and related substances over city property was discussed initially at the council’s Nov. 16 regular meeting following the addition of a clause allowing a small allotted amount, defined at 25 pounds handled per 24-hour period for non-commercial uses.

Talk of an ordinance on the transport of coal comes after talk of potential interest looking to use Humboldt Bay as a port to ship coal to Asian markets. As part of these possible plans, rail lines could transport coal up the coast from the Bay Area.

Exemption clause B states any person who claims they are negatively impacted by the purpose of the ordinance can seek an exemption from the city manager, who has the final determination in a potential appeal case.

“So theoretically, and years from now, somebody could propose to ship coal (to Humboldt Bay) through Eureka and the city manager could grant that without coming to the city council?” Bauer asked.

City attorney Bob Black said that was the case, and that checks on that clause can be added.

“If you want it to come to the city council that’s certainly a possibility,” Black responded. “You could also include a right of appeal of any citizen from the city manager’s decision, and those would then probably end up in your lap which is fine if that’s the way you want to do it.”

“Because the threat, as nightmarish as it seems, is unfortunately real, I think you know the side effects of coal trains and coal exports would range from the health and safety impacts that are targeted by the ordinance,” said Colin Fiske, president of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities. “It’s imperative that we do everything possible to stop that from happening.”

Humboldt Baykeeper director Jennifer Kalt said she supports the ordinance but found the waiver clause odd.

“I’m not sure why that would be included. It seems pretty draconian to go around the city council and just have a manager be able to make such a huge decision,” she said.

After some discussion of how to approach the issue, with striking clauses and adding public notices for appeals among the ideas being discussed, Black suggested reintroducing a version of the ordinance that is less vulnerable to legal challenges at a future date.

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