District hopes former mill site brings prosperity

Harbor Commissioner and Supervisor-elect Mike Wilson leads a tour of the new redwood Marine Terminal II. Jack Durham | Union

Harbor Commissioner and Supervisor-elect Mike Wilson leads a tour of the new redwood Marine Terminal II. Jack Durham | Union

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

SAMOA PENINSULA – The harbor district hopes to bring the bay’s working waterfront into a new era with the grand opening of its newly refurbished Redwood Marine Terminal II, located at the site of the old pulp mill out on the Samoa Peninsula.

The sprawling industrial facility, located on 72 prime acres just south of the town of Samoa, includes a 1,170-foot-long dock with deep-water access; 130,000 square feet of warehouse space; 70,000-square-feet of shop and office space and enough fresh water to supply industry with a whopping 60,000,000 gallons a day.  There’s also  a mile-and-half long ocean outfall line for disposing of treated effluent – a rare disposal option. That line has been maintained and is partially in use, disposing of water from the DG Fairhaven Power LLC biomass plant, located further south on the peninsula.

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District recently completed a $3 million upgrade of the facilities, which involved putting new roofs and new siding on the warehouses and offices, as well as revamping and upgrading the electrical system. In 2014, the district also worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up acids and pulping liquors that were left behind by Evergreen Pulp, which abruptly closed down in 2008.

The next phase of the project includes the demolition of the giant smoke stack and clean up of the piles of demolition debris scattered across what looks like a postapocalyptic landscape.

Although there’s a lot more work to be done, businesses are already operating at the site and the district is optimistic that more will come.

The accomplishments, as well as the site’s future potential, were celebrated during a grand opening ceremony Friday, Oct. 14, with a Who’s Who of local government dignataries on hand to speechify and chow down on local oysters and pepperoni pizza.

The dignataries praised the harbor district for its work to save the site, which it purchased for $1 in 2013. The acquisition was controversial, and not without risks. But doing nothing, noted Third District Supervisor-elect Mike Wilson, would have had its own consequences.

“The risk of inaction was greater than the risk of action,” Wilson said during an impromptu tour of the facilities before the official ceremony.

The pulping liquors posed a major threat to the bay, he said. Had they not been cleaned  up, the aging silos they were stored in could have failed and dumped the sludge into the bay, decimating wildife and damaging the shellfish industry.

Also, had the district not obtained the site, the facilities would have continued to crumble and degrade, and the community could have lost valuable industrial infrastructure.

Besides the buildings and the docks, Redwood Marine Terminal II also includes a 60 kv power substation and an unused 23 MG boiler capable of producing enough power to supply electricity to roughly 25,000 homes.

The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District water supply, which is utlimately fed by Ruth Lake in Trinity County, is capable of providing 60,000 gallons of  untreated fresh water to the site, an amount that Wilson said is significantly more than just about any potential industrial user could possibly consume. The site also has a water filtration plant capable of treating 30,000 gallons a day.

Among the businesses operating now on the waterfront is Taylor Mariculture, which uses floating docks at the marine terminal to grow clam and oyster seeds. Wilson said that the company, which takes advantage of the bay’s pristine waters, will soon be the largest seed nursery on the West Coast. There are also an electrical company and some shipping companies onsite.

One of the small companies operating Redwood Marine Terminal II is Pacific Flake, which produces what it calls “artisan salt,” that is “pure and natural sea salt formed by fire evaporation” with no additives or preservatives. See pacificflake.com for more information.

According to Wilson, who is on the harbor commission and will become a county supervisor in January, several other companies have expressed an interest in leasing buildings at the site. Some of them are local, and some are from out of the county, he said.

The problem is the zoning. Much of the pulp mill site, as well as many other areas around Humboldt Bay, are zoned for coastal-dependent uses. That means that businesses must be dependent on being next to the water to operate.  Even the old pulp mills would be out of compliance with this zoning if they existed today. So if a new company such as a wood pellet manufacturer wants to locate at the site, it cannot, even though the company may use barges to haul supplies.

Addressing a crowd that gathered in an otherwise empty warehouse Friday, Wilson said, “The reason we don’t have people in this room right now, a business operating this moment, is because we have some outdated land use policies that our community is trying to deal with.”

The County of Humboldt has applied to the California Coastal Commission to allow what is called “interim uses” in these zones. That would allow non-coastal dependent businesses to operate on waterfront sites, including the former pulp mill property.

Jack Crider, chief executive officer of the harbor district, said that the issue will likely go before the state commission early next year.

Crider and others at the event spoke postively about the industrial site’s future.

Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), said in an interview that the refurbished facility is a “huge opportunity.

“We’re going to have a future of sustainable jobs, repurposing an amazing site, and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Wood said.


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