Two candidates for the Fourth District seat on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District board exchanged tersely worded comments at a forum held on Oct. 17, sponsored by Access Humboldt and the League of Women Voters. The forum occurred at Access Humboldt's TV studio, and viewers phoned in or emailed their questions for the contenders.
Incumbent Richard Marks has served on the district board since 2009, a period marked by the dismantling and cleanup of former pulp mill tanks that had been filled with deadly chemicals, the emergence of new aquaculture businesses along the docks, and, at least according to Marks, a pronounced improvement in the district's finances.
Challenger Marian Brady, a current Eureka city councilmember, sees things differently. She wants to see a lot more dredging in the bay so businesses can ship their wares in and out year-round. She does not believe that the financial footing of the district is sound and wants to have a forensic audit of its finances. She supports a proposed east-west railroad that she says could bring increased shipping to the port.
Marks has been endorsed by the Humboldt County Central Democratic Commitee, Humboldt Progressive Democrats, the North Coast People's Alliance, the Humboldt County Green Party, the Humboldt Young Democrats, the Humboldt-Del Norte Central Labor Council, a long list of other trade unions, the mayor of Eureka, a majority of the Eureka City Council, a majority of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, several former harbor commissioners and several former fellow commissioners of the Samoa Peninsula Fire District.
Brady has been endorsed by the International Longshore Warehouse Union Local 14, County Supervisor Rex Bohn, County Sheriff William Honsal, former Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills, former County Sheriff Mike Downey, Harbor Commissioner Larry Doss, Humboldt County Planning Commissioner Mike Newman, Fortuna Mayor Sue Long, several members of the Eureka Planning Commission and former Eureka City Manager David Tyson, who is currently the Interim Director of the Trinidad Rancheria Economic Development Corporation.
The geography of Humboldt Bay dooms it to continual problems with shoaling. Every winter, a massive amount of sand washed down from the Eel River builds up along the coastline and ocean currents carry it north where it clogs Humboldt Bay. When sand fills the bay, it becomes too shallow to allow large ships to enter. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges the bay each year but not soon enough or often enough to keep it clear year round.
This is a sore point for Brady, who believes that the harbor district should have figured out some way to keep the bay deep and open year round. She said that the district made a bad decision when it bought a dredge that turned out to be inappropriate for its planned uses.
Marks replied that it was exactly the same model of dredge that the district had successfully used 10 years earlier. What changed was the permitting requirements to use that particular model — something that the district had no control over. Nor does the district have the ability to control the Army Corps of Engineers.
According to the harbor district's website, "The district is engaged in a portwide marketing effort to increase visibility of the Port of Humboldt Bay to a worldwide market, with the goal to optimize and diversify shipping activity to Humboldt Bay shipping terminals."
Someone wanted to know why Eureka could not imitate the success of Coos Bay, Oregon, another Pacific port just 200 miles to the north — and farther away from East Asia in terms of miles.
Marks said the district had been approached by a wood pellet manufacturer, businesses from the Philippines and even Chevron, but when they realized Eureka has no rail connections, these businesses lost interest.
Brady said some of those businesses went to Coos Bay instead, because Coos Bay is connected to rail lines.
"But we have some advantages that nobody else has," she said. "One of them is the turn-around time getting in and out of our port — if we do develop new docks out there."
Brady believes that the shipping potential of the port would be vastly increased if rail connections could be made, particularly an east-west connection.
Marks pointed out that the North Coast Rail Authority has been virtually dissolved — that state law, had made it a trail authority, thus eliminating any possibility of a north-south rail line. As for an east-west line, the harbor district paid for and published a study showing that such a line was likely to be unsuccessful, and that finding a cargo that would pay for itself would be near impossible, Marks said. The study can be found on the Harbor District's website.
"Coos Bay has an east-west rail that is a lot shorter and flatter than the one we've been talking about, and they still have a lot of issues keeping it open. As a matter of fact, I think it's not running right now," Marks noted.
Other listeners wanted to know about the status of jobs on the peninsula.
Marks reminded listeners that thousands of jobs that once existed on the peninsula were lost when the timber industry collapsed and the pulp mills shut down. However, the aquaculture industry is growing and thriving, due largely to the clean waters in Humboldt Bay.
Brady reminded the audience that the district had received money from the Headwaters Foundation to do pre-permitting — that is to get all the paperwork in place with the multitude of agencies that deal with water issues — so that if a small business wants to set up an aquaculture company on the docks, it can easily do so. She said the pre-permitting was incomplete and that some companies were still waiting for it to be finished.
Marks said that some of the pre-permitting had already been accomplished, and that three companies that grow baby oysters are thriving in the district's waters. He added that the Headwaters Foundation was pleased with the progress that made.
Topics discussed less acrimoniously included public access to the bay, the success of a cruise ship that arrived last year and the use of dredging spoils to fortify local sloughs against sea level rise.
Brady said her best qualification for the office are her creativity and connections with individuals in many agencies. Marks pointed to leadership as his best qualification.