Mad River Union
TRINIDAD – The Trinidad Rancheria is planning to construct a 100-room hotel adjacent to the Cher-Ae Heights Casino in the coming year.
While many members of the tribe are excited about the oceanside hotel, the revenues it will generate and the addition of as many as 50 new jobs, a group of Trinidad area residents is questioning the project’s environmental impacts, calling for greater transparency and public input.
The proposed hotel
The hotel would be built behind the existing casino, on its south side, in an area where there is now a road and a parking lot.
“At this point, it’s conceptual,” said David Tyson, interim director of the Trinidad Rancheria Economic Development Corporation and manager of the hotel project. Tyson said the building’s square footage, exact height and overall design have yet to be determined.
The five- to six-story hotel would include 100 rooms, an indoor swimming pool, a bar and a fitness center. It would be one- to one-and-a-half stories taller than the nearby casino, Tyson said, and would include rooms with ocean views. The hotel would have as many as 50 employees, including managers, night managers, housekeepers and maintenance staff.
“The community here is excited about the potential of the hotel,” Tyson said. “I’m happy that it’s going forward.”
In response to the proposed hotel, several Trinidad residents formed a new group – the Humboldt Alliance for Responsible Planning (H.A.R.P.), which is questioning the hotel’s environmental impacts and asking for greater transparency by the rancheria, including public meetings.
H.A.R.P. Chair Richard Johnson stressed that his group is not against the rancheria constructing a building. “We’re not saying ‘don’t build a hotel,’ ” Johnson said. Rather, the group wants to make sure environmental impacts are addressed.
“This is the largest project development in the Trinidad area” since the construction of U.S. Highway 101, Johnson said. “I think it has significant impacts to the community at large.”
In a press release issued Aug. 29, H.A.R.P. questioned whether the City of Trinidad has enough water to supply the hotel and raised concerns about noise, lighting, traffic and erosion.
“While we applaud the idea of appropriate development that will improve quality of life and economic prospects in Humboldt County, we think citizens should be fully engaged in the concept and planning process so that projects reflect local values, and so that the public fully understands all the potential impacts,” Johnson stated in a press release.
The group has asked the Trinidad City Council and county representatives to facilitate public meetings on the hotel project.
In an interview, Johnson mentioned several potential impacts from the hotel. For example, it may result in more traffic on Scenic Drive, he said. The portion of Scenic Drive between the casino and the city is in decent shape, but the roadway south of the casino is crumbling.
“It [Scenic Drive] is totally distressed to the south,” Johnson. Visitors exiting the casino may decide to turn left instead of right, adding further traffic to the failing roadway, he said.
Another concern is lighting. If light bounces off the marine layer, it could obliterate viewing of the night sky, Johnson said. He said he was also concerned about additional traffic in Trinidad and parking problems.
An environmental assessment detailing the hotel’s impacts may be released as early as this week, Tyson said. Being that the rancheria is a sovereign nation, it doesn’t need building permits from the County of Humboldt. However, it is required to get approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and must follow the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the environmental assessment.
The environmental study is in draft form, with the BIA reviewing some of the final edits, Tyson said. The BIA may approve the document’s release any day now.
When that happens, the document will be available for the public to review and will be sent to various agencies for comments. Among those agencies would be the City of Trinidad, Cal Fire, the County of Humboldt and the California Coastal Commission.
The rancheria would then respond to those comments and ultimately seek approval from the BIA to proceed with construction.
Tyson said he has had discussions about the project with officials from the City of Trinidad, Cal Fire and the County of Humboldt. He said when the environmental assessment is available, rancheria officials hope to make a presentation before the Trinidad City Council.
“We wanted to be transparent,” said Tyson, who added that he was concerned about providing information that is either incomplete or incorrect.
For example, the rancheria initially estimated that the hotel would, conservatively, consume 18,000 gallons of water per day. Architects have now brought that estimate down to about 4,500 gallons a day, Tyson said.
The rancheria has an on-site sewage treatment plant, which recycles about 40 percent of the water used and recirculates it in toilets, which further reduces the amount of water needed from the City of Trinidad.
H.A.R.P. is raising concerns about the hotel’s water usage. “The Rancheria is served by Trinidad’s municipal water system, which may not be able to accommodate anticipated demand from the proposed development,” states a press release from H.A.R.P. “The most recent hydrologic study of Luffenholtz Creek found that, in a dry year, the city’s water supply is already almost completely allocated.”
Trinidad City Manager Dan Berman said that supplying additional water to the hotel is ultimately a decision that would be made by the Trinidad City Council.
Before the city can determine whether it has an adequate supply for the hotel, it needs more information.
“We need to get a real detailed proposal,” Berman said.
Once the city receives a proposal, then its engineers can do a full analysis, Berman said.
“The city does have some capacity in its water system,” Berman said.
The city draws its water from Luffenholtz Creek, where the water supply rises and falls depending on rain. Typically, in the winter, there’s ample water in the creek. By the end of summer and early falls, the supply declines.
Another consideration is water storage. Tyson said the rancheria has a 100,000-gallon water tank and is willing to look at other supply options and drought plans. “We can develop alternatives,” Tyson said.
Another concern cited by H.A.R.P. is traffic.
“The traffic is being addressed in the document,” Tyson said. The hotel, he said, will not alter the existing traffic volume. If anything, the hotel might reduce traffic, he said. Instead of cars coming and going from the casino, they come, park and stay.
Another concern raised by H.A.R.P. is noise.
Tyson said there will be noise during construction, but it will be quiet once the hotel opens. “Patrons aren’t going to be happy if it’s noisy,” Tyson said.
There is a conceptual drawing that’s being circulated around town that shows a hotel with a roof-top bar. The proposed hotel will not look like the one in the drawing, nor feature a roof-top bar, Tyson said.
Interchange, gas station
H.A.R.P. members are also concerned about the impacts of other rancheria projects, including a proposed highway interchange, RV park and a gas station/convenience market.
Since 2001, the Trinidad Rancheria has been working on various studies to build an interchange connecting its property to adjacent U.S. Highway 101 about a half mile south of the Trinidad exit.
The project would require a full-blown environmental impact report, with a draft scheduled to be created in 2021. If the project is approved and funding is available, construction could begin in 2024.
The gas station/convenience market and the RV park are called for his the rancheria’s master plan, but there are no plans to pursue those projects in the near future, Tyson said.