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State requests mediation in Del Mar railroad fence dispute

The California Coastal Commission and the city of Del Mar both have filed requests for the federal Surface Transportation Board to mediate a dispute with North County Transit District over its plan to install a fence along the railroad right-of-way on the coastal bluffs in Del Mar.

Transit district officials have said the fence is needed to stop trespassing and save lives on the 1.7-mile section of railroad tracks. Del Mar and the Coastal Commission have opposed the barrier, saying it would damage the bluffs, ruin views and eliminate access to the beach.

In January, the district renewed a petition it filed in 2020 with the Surface Transportation Board asking for sole authority over construction on the bluff.

“The parties have made substantial progress in informally resolving its differences regarding petitioner North County Transit District’s fencing project,” states the Coastal Commission’s request filed Jan. 19. “Board-sponsored mediation could help the parties to resolve their differences without the need for further proceedings before the board, or at the very least, help narrow down the issues presented in this petition.”

In a reply to the mediation requests, the transit district said it worked with the city and the commission for more than 14 months to resolve their differences during a suspension of the petition that ended Dec. 31.

“While these discussions were constructive and held some promise at times, it is clear after this lengthy negotiation period that an agreement cannot be reached,” the NCTD reply states. “Therefore, board-sponsored mediation at this late state would be a waste of the board’s resources and another veiled attempt to delay a vital safety fencing project necessary to save the lives of trespassers along NCTD’s rail line in Del Mar.”

The transit board voted at its January meeting to extend the deadline to Feb. 28 for Del Mar to accept proposed modifications to the fence. If the city does not accept, construction will proceed without the modifications.

“NCTD remains hopeful Del Mar will accept a licensing agreement, as every North County coastal and inland city has done, so that we can move forward with that alternative plan,” Executive Director Matt Tucker said Tuesday.

Transit officials say they have the right and responsibility to do work that protects the tracks whether or not other agencies approve.

Asked when there might be a decision on the requests for mediation and the petition, a spokesman at the Surface Transportation Board said Tuesday he would look into it, but no further information was available.