Supervisors Squabble Over Port Development District

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – An advocacy group that supports east-west railroad development is forming a multi-agency port redevelopment partnership. The Board of Supervisors has appointed its representative to it.

But the vote to do so, taken at supervisors’ Oct. 1 meeting, wasn’t unanimous. Supervisor Mark Lovelace, a rail development skeptic, dissented. He said the proposal should be firmed up with the county’s Harbor District before it is shopped to other agencies.

The citizen-based Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group generally supports enhanced use of the county’s port to generate new economic activity and the jobs that come along with it. Its members are also advocates of developing a railroad-port link, an idea that’s being met with a mix of support and criticism.

At last week’s supervisors meeting, Supervisor Virginia Bass acknowledged that the working group’s proposal to form a multi-agency committee in pursuit of port revitalization has advanced in a “clunky” process.

The pro-rail Eureka City Council has already appointed representatives to the formative committee and appointment of county reps had been on supervisors’ Sept. 10 meeting agenda. It was pulled, however, and Bass cryptically said it was because “some things needed to be cleared up.”

She supports the committee’s formation and said it can be a conduit for collaboration. Representing the working group, Bayside resident Karen Brooks said the committee will unite the county, the City of Eureka, the Harbor District and the Wiyot tribe in a “collaborative decision-making process.”

She said “the ultimate goal is to create jobs by utilizing the harbor.”

Having a private sector group coordinate the process has been cause for concern since last December, when a majority of supervisors approved a resolution recommended by the working group. It calls for a marketing study on attracting national and international shippers to Humboldt’s port.

The resolution was opposed by Lovelace and then-Supervisor Clif Clendenen. At last week’s meeting, Lovelace said a multi-agency port committee’s formation should originate with the Harbor District, not a private group.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell disagreed, saying the “energy” of public-based groups is positive and should be encouraged. She made a motion to appoint Bass to the working group’s committee, with Bohn as the alternate and Headwaters Fund Coordinator Dawn Elsbree as a staff rep.

Lovelace reiterated that the Harbor District should be the lead agency, not the working group, and doing it otherwise “is not a good way to start.”

Apparently referring to the ideological split over the feasibility of rail development, Supervisor Rex Bohn said he’s “hearing more that’s not being said than being said.”

He believes the working group’s efforts are laudable. “I don’t see a downside to it, in case it’s upsetting something that other people have visions for,” said Bohn.

Though rail development wasn’t mentioned specifically, it continued to affect the conversation. “It constantly gets to me that anyone who is concerned about the process here is somehow against jobs,” Lovelace said. “The implication is there constantly.”

He added that “certain ideas that aren’t parked in data” have gained traction in some quarters and “somehow that’s more important than the stuff that’s actually supported by data.”

The Harbor District’s economic stimulation plans include enhanced support of the oyster farming industry, purchase and leasing of a dredge and redeveloping dock facilities for export of timber products.

Plans to launch commercial and research-oriented aquaculture facilities and a public dock are afoot with the district’s recent acquisition of the shuttered Samoa pulp mill property.

The district also commissioned a $20,000 rail feasibility study that described railroad development as a “high cost, high risk venture.”

With Lovelace dissenting, supervisors approved the appointments to the working group’s committee. The Harbor District and the Wiyot tribe will soon be asked to appoint representatives, said Brooks.

She said the committee may be ready to hold its first meeting on Nov. 6.

In the midst of the discussion, supervisors had asked Harbor District Commissioner Richard Marks for his take on the situation.

Marks said last winter’s marketing study resolution was an issue for the district’s board and there was criticism about the way the working group moved it along.

An amended version of the resolution was approved by the district’s board, he continued, but the process was “not pretty.”

He said the district generally supports the committee concept but its scope needs to be defined.

 

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