Harbor candidate accuses district of giving away public land

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT BAY – A candidate for a seat on the harbor commission is claiming that the district improperly tried to give away public property.

Trinidad resident Susan Rotwein, a candidate for the Division Five seat on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Board of Commissioners, first brought up the

Susan Rotwein

Susan Rotwein

charges at a Sept. 30 candidates forum in Samoa, where she faced off with incumbent candidate Patrick Higgins of McKinleyville.

At the forum, Rotwein said that the district “gave away public trust lands in a deal with the pulp mill.”

Rotwein was referring to the district’s 2013 purchase of the old pulp mill property on the Samoa Peninsula from Freshwater Tissue Co. The district acquired the property in exchange for agreeing to clean up the toxic mess left behind.

As part of the deal, the district agreed to quitclaim its interest in three separate Freshwater Tissue properties that the company, at the time, would continue to own after  escrow closed. The quitclaims meant that the district was agreeing to give up any ownership it may have had in the properties.

However, of the three parcels, two of them contained public trust easements. These easements are generally in the tidal mudflats of the coastal properties.

According to a 2014 letter from the California State Lands Commission, the district doesn’t have the authority to give away public trust easements.

Because the district didn’t have the authority to transfer ownership of the public trust easements, it appears that this portion of the sales agreement is basically nullified – the mudflat easements are still owned by the public, despite what the sales agreement says.

Also, the district recently purchased one of the parcels in question, which means there’s only one parcel left with a questionable quitclaim.

A letter from the State Lands Commission states that there is a “cloud on the title” of that parcel, but “Commission staff is working with the district to remedy the situation to make clear that the parcel is still subject to the public trust easement.”

Harbor Executive Director Jack Crider said he disagreed with the State Lands Commission interpretation of the law, but the district is working to amend the deed on the parcel to reflect the public trust easement.

Rotwein said the situation raises all sorts of concerns and makes her wonder what other mistakes have been made. She said she would like to see a forensic audit done to make sure everything is above board.

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2 Comments

  1. Korbel said:

    Mr. Simpson: Rarely have I seen so much miss-information in such a short
    writing. You are correct in that you owned four parcels, and that
    parcel C is not affected.

    Three of your parcels were subject to a public trust easement for commerce
    navigation and fisheries. Parcel A, which was sold to the Harbor
    District in 2013, and Parcel B on the north, were involved in a Tide
    Land Settlement Agreement between the Harbor District and L-P decades
    ago. At that time, the Harbor District did convey to L-P the land
    you now own, however, they reserved a public trust easement for
    commerce, navigation and fisheries over the easterly part of the
    property, along the Bay.

    Parcel 4 includes Tide Land Survey #75, and an upland parcel. It has not
    been involved in any settlement, and it is definitely subject to the
    public trust easement.

    The Deed from the Harbor District to FTC describes Parcels B,C and 4, and
    they failed to reserve the public trust easement for commerce,
    navigation and fisheries. The Deed falsely states that the Harbor
    District does not have any interest of record in the parcels, in
    spite of the easement reserved in the Deed to L-P.

    You tried to confuse the issue by stating that the Harbor District could
    not have quit claimed any rights to Parcel 4, because they were not
    involved in that transaction. Their Deed to your corporation was
    recorded in 2013, before your sale, as you know well.

    You say “Parcel B was not in question as a portion of this parcel
    occurred on October 6, 2015.” I am having a hard time figuring out
    exactly what you mean by that gibberish. If you are referring to
    your sale of 17 acres to the Harbor District, it is interesting that
    they have now paid you $650,000??? to buy back the public trust
    rights which they tried to give you in 2013, along with a few more
    acres.

    The State Lands Commission did not make any mistake in it’s letter. The
    Harbor District did sign a Deed to you which appears to give up the
    public trust rights which they are to protect. The State said that
    since the Harbor District does not have the authority to give up
    those rights, that the Deed only clouded the title to the public
    trust rights. Their purchase of 17 acres solved one of the two
    problems.

    I do have a couple of questions for you. What was your purpose for
    requiring the Harbor District to sign a Deed to property you already
    owned? Did you think that they had the authority to give up the
    public trust rights? Was that your reason?

  2. Bob Simpson said:

    Ms. Rotwein: My name is Bob Simpson. I serve as President of Freshwater Tissue Company. I am very involved in the issue you wrote about. When you run for an elected office you must know what you are talking about before speaking or writing in public. It appears you did not receive that lesson before your supporters anointed you Harbor Commissioner.
    Freshwater previously owned 4 legal parcels referred to as Parcel A, B, C & 4. Of these 4 parcels, 3 of the parcels are adjacent to the State Lands property located on the easterly boundary near the bay. Parcel C is our westerly parcel that fronts New Navy Base Road.
    Parcel A was sold to the Harbor District. As you will learn, this is the only parcel that has ever been in question.
    Parcel 4 was sold to Schneider Dock. So State Lands knows the Harbor District could not have quit claimed any rights to Parcel 4 as the Harbor District wasn’t involved in the transaction.
    Parcel B was not in question as a portion of this parcel occurred on October 6, 2015. So any rights that belonged to Parcel B were granted in 1973 when the tidelands property was recorded. In fact, all rights owned by that piece were deeded by Freshwater to the Harbor District on October 6th.
    The only parcel in question is Parcel A. Freshwater’s S.F. based law firm, Allen-Matkins, drafted the sales agreement for Parcel A. Allen-Matkins is quite confident that State Lands will eventually realize they made a mistake. The reason for the delay in this decision is the State Lands attorney has been on maternity leave for 6 months. She is back on the job and was brought up to speed. Accordingly to State Lands, they need to review their maps before they can describe what they believe the issue might be. Mr. Rotwein….this issue was raised by Bill Bertain who made an inquiry without knowing the facts. You have just repeated the same mistake. But in your case, this is inexcusable as you are using fiction in your attempt to smear your opponent Pat Higgins. I hope the voters in your precinct read this response and realize how careless you are.

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