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
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.