Trinidad Rancheria makes McKinleyville pipeline plea

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MCKINLEYVILLE – A proposal by the Trinidad Rancheria to connect to McKinleyville’s water system received a mostly chilly reception from the public during a meeting last week of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD) Board of Directors.

A majority of more than three dozen written comments submitted to the district were in opposition to the pipeline, with many saying they are against the rancheria’s proposed hotel. 

Others expressed concerns that the water line would spur additional growth in the Westhaven area and result in urban sprawl.

But according to tribal representatives, the proposal has nothing to do with the Hyatt hotel, which would have 100 rooms and stand five-stories tall adjacent to the existing casino.

Representatives of the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria said the water is needed for the tribe’s future economic development projects, which include a proposed RV park, mini-mart, a gas station, a cultural and community center, a visitor center and housing.

“Our request today is not about the hotel,” Tribal Chairman Garth Sundberg told the board during its virtual Zoom meeting on June 11. “The tribe must have the ability to develop our lands and find alternative water supplies.”

Trinidad Rancheria Chief Executive Officer Jacque Hostler-Carmesin said the rancheria has water for the hotel and will proceed with construction.

“Our design and engineering will be completed in about a month’s time,” Hostler-Carmesin said.

The hotel, she said, is not the issue before the HBMWD.

“The issue before you today is about supporting the tribe’s efforts to move forward to supply the rancheria and its economic development with water for a long-term solution,” Hostler-Carmesin said. “We are not asking for water this year. We know that that’s not going to be possible with this project. This infrastructure project is going to take a lot of planning and it will take a lot of effort on everyone’s part. So we’re just asking for the board to begin planning with us and the McKinleyville Community Services District to move that process forward.”

Multiple agencies

The HBMWD is the wholesale water supplier to McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka, Glendale, Fieldbrook, Blue Lake, Manila and the unincorporated area near Eureka. The HBMWD sells the water to governmental agencies, such as the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD).

According to MCSD Manager Greg Orsini, the MCSD’s northern-most water line extends to Woody Road in the Dow’s Prairie area. 

That would be the nearest connection for the Trinidad Rancheria. HBMWD directors said they would need to know how much water the rancheria needs and the size of the MCSD water  line to determine whether the project is feasible. There are also a number of legal, engineering and financial issues that need to be explored.

The HBMWD would need to approval from the MCSD for the project.

Another potential player is the Westhaven Community Services District (WCSD), whose territory the pipeline would pass through.

Westhaven CSD Manager Paul Rosenblatt said his agency would want to consulted if the pipeline project moves forward. Westhaven might want to have a connection to the pipeline for emergencies, he said.

Rosenblatt also addressed the issue of growth that could come with additional water.

“Our community is very sensitive to growth,” Rosenblatt said. “We would ask that growth inducement be figured into this request.”

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Water woes

The Trinidad Rancheria had approached the City of Trinidad and asked for additional water for its hotel. The city already provides water for the rancheria’s casino, housing and offices.

In response, the city tasked its Planning Commission with developing a policy on how to handle new water requests. The commission is currently working on the policy.  It also conducted water studies.

In May, Sundberg wrote a letter to Trinidad Mayor Steve Ladwig accusing the city of acting in bad faith. Sundberg said as a result of this, the rancheria would not allow the city to access tribal lands for a stormwater project.

In an effort to mend the relationship, city officials crafted a memorandum of understanding that would have created a formal process for the city and the rancheria to discuss the issue, but that was shot down by a divided Trinidad City Council on May 21.

Opposition to pipeline

Among the opponents of the controversial hotel project is a group called Humboldt Alliance For Responsible Planning (HARP). The group and its members, many of them residing in the Trinidad area, have argued against the City of Trinidad supplying water to the hotel, citing concerns about the adequacy of the city’s water supply.

The group is also against the rancheria getting its water from HBMWD, which has a surplus supply.

In a letter submitted to the HBMWD by HARP member David Hankin, the organization cites district regulations  that “discourage main extensions that are dead-ends’... Given the HBMWD policy that discourages main extensions that are ‘dead-ends,’ it seems reasonable to conjecture that such a northern extension of HBMWD water service would require that any adjacent/nearby properties along the route of the main extension pipe would also be eligible to request water service connections.”

This could open up what a different speaker described as a Pandora’s box.

“If water service connections were offered to adjacent properties along a northward extension of HBMWD water lines, it would induce development and growth within the coastal zone. Indeed, the cumulative impacts of the Rancheria’s proposed developments (expanded casino, hotel, gas station, freeway interchange) would also spill over well beyond Rancheria trust lands,” states the letter from HARP. “The prospect of substantial development north of Little River within the coastal zone and adjacent to it raises issues that are of enormous concern to residents of the Westhaven/Trinidad area and also to the existing public water service providers (primarily the City of Trinidad and the Westhaven Community Services District) in this general area.”

Others at the meeting criticized the hotel, saying it would be a blight on the landscape. 

Gather information

HBMWD Board President Sheri Woo presented a lengthy list of information that the board needs to move forward. Some of the items include previous engineering studies done regarding supplying water to the Trinidad area, an estimate of the amount of water needed, the role of the services districts, a time frame and a the public  process that would be used.

The board opted to have district staff gather the information rather than create a sub-committee. “Do the best you can, given everything you’re doing,” Woo said.

Staff will gather the information and bring it to the board at the July or August meeting.

 

 

 







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