The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District voted unanimously at a special meeting yesterday to declare a state of emergency due to increased sedimentation in the channel into Humboldt Bay that is causing dangerous conditions and imperiling the county’s fuel supply.
The vote came after the district received the results of depth testing by the Army Corps of Engineers, which found that the 48-foot deep channel is currently at about 21 feet, filled with sediment that washed out of the Eel River during storms last month. The shallowing of the channel is creating large cross waves and “extremely large sneaker waves” around Buoy 9, an area known as “Rock and Roll Alley,” according to a staff report. The conditions are imperiling local recreational and commercial fishing boats, as well as the commercial shipping industry, including the fuel ships that deliver 6 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel to the Chevron fuel dock every nine days.
“These conditions place an extreme hazard to life, property and the environment,” the staff report states.
Chevron released a statement this morning through the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office indicating that operations are not currently being disrupted.
"The Chevron Eureka terminal is currently operating at normal levels of supply and has not experienced any supply issue related to Humboldt Bay shoaling," the statement says. "Chevron and our shipping agents are aware of the recent shoaling (silt buildup) at the Humboldt Bay entrance, and we understand that the Harbor Safety Committee has a plan in place to address the shoaling impacts on others such as our community's commercial ships and fishing fleet. Chevron has supplied fuel to the North Coast reliably for generations without interruption and we plan to continue that practice."
The district — as well as other local agencies that have similarly declared a state of emergency — are hoping the Army Corps will move quickly in dredging the channel. But the dredging season doesn’t start up again until June and the Corps’ dredges are currently in dry dock, prompting Harbor District Executive Director Larry Oetker to caution the board that the earliest reasonable hope for dredging would be in April. In the meantime, conditions are likely to worsen.
As a result, the district is urging some forward planning. It has asked Chevron to consider making smaller, more frequent deliveries — which would make for safer passage through the channel — and is also urging local fuel providers to store as much gas on site as possible.
In the meantime, North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman told the Times-Standard
that his office is working with the Army Corps of Engineers, trying to speed up its timeline for dredging.