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Surface Transportation Board
The federal Surface Transportation Board has not determined if it will mediate or intervene in a dispute over a bluff-top fencing project in Del Mar. File photo/The Coast News graphic
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Still no decision from feds to mediate NCTD fencing dispute

DEL MAR — Both the California Coastal Commission and City of Del Mar recently filed requests for the Surface Transportation Board to mediate a dispute with the North County Transit District over its proposed fencing project along the Del Mar bluffs, but there’s still no decision from the federal agency.

The regional transit agency voted in January to give the City of Del Mar until Feb. 28 to agree to a modified 4-foot-tall fence design on the Del Mar bluffs. If the city fails to accept this agreement, the NCTD will proceed with a proposed 6-foot-tall fence design.

The city has just under two weeks to enter into a written agreement with the transit district and accept liability and maintenance responsibility for the modified fence design. This is likely the last time this deadline will be extended in hopes of reaching an agreement with Del Mar.

Del Mar originally had until Dec. 31 to reach an agreement with NCTD, which included the slightly smaller fence design. After no agreement was reached, NCTD filed a new petition on Dec. 30 with the STB, seeking sole authority to proceed with the project.

Michael Booth, a spokesman for the STB, told The Coast News that the board has not yet reached a decision regarding the request and there’s currently nothing on the docket to indicate that a decision has been made.

Booth added that the request would have to be looked into further because typically all parties must agree to the request for mediation, but in this case, only one “party” is asking for further mediation, and it is unclear if the STB board is able to grant the request without the consent of all parties.

In fact, STB regulations state that “the Board shall grant any mediation request submitted by all parties to a matter, but may deny mediation where one or more parties to the underlying dispute do not consent to mediation.”

In a reply letter to the STB, an attorney on behalf of NCTD urged the STB to deny the request for further mediation.

“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. Therefore, Board-sponsored mediation at this late stage 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,” wrote the NCTD attorney.

NCTD created the fencing plan to reduce deaths and injuries caused by those trespassing on the tracks. According to the original NCTD petition, there have been 112 fatalities along the Coaster rail line since 2010, including eight in Del Mar since 2014.

The City of Del Mar and opponents of the project argue that the fencing would erode the bluffs, block ocean views and restrict access to the beach. Many also argue that the project is no longer necessary as the newly approved SANDAG transportation plan aims to move the tracks into an underground tunnel by 2035.