UPDATE: Earthquake Damage to Grandstands Jeopardizes Fate of Humboldt County Fair



An emergency meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss the earthquake-caused damage to the grandstands at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds and possible actions, including the county creating an agreement with a contractor and having them work directly with engineering firm KPFF, which conducted the structural assessment, to come up with a finalized plan.

The Humboldt County Fair Association is doing the same at 5 p.m. to discuss any updates from the earlier supervisors’ meeting.


Speaking before the Board of Directors for the Humboldt County Fair Association last night, Tom Mattson, Humboldt County Director of Public Works, said the fairgrounds’ grandstands were unsafe to occupy and securing them in time for this year’s fair will cost an estimated $1 million dollars.

“I cannot recommend using the structure at this time,” said Mattson. “Our structural engineer says that the risk of an earthquake during that period of time is very low, but if there were to be one during the fair, it would be catastrophic.”

The annual fair is the association’s biggest revenue-generating event and also an economic driver for the region, pumping an estimated $5 million into the community, per HCFA Board president Andy Titus.

The news comes at a precarious financial time for the organization, which is still detangling the fallout of alleged embezzlement by its former bookkeeper, Nina Tafarella.

The case is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; no charges have been filed at this time.

Mattson told the board he met with a contractor to get an estimate on the price of a temporary fix and handed out diagrams of the proposed temporary seismic bracing. He added that due to labor shortages, the contractor was not certain they could finish before the fair, which kicks off on Aug. 17.

The announcement of the pricetag was met with palpable dismay by the board. The association currently has $628,317 in its accounts. According to its most recent income statements, expenditures have outstripped incoming revenue almost three to one. Mattson added that the shoring would be a “Band Aid,” not a permanent fix, and that while the repairs would qualify for reimbursement from the state Office of Emergency Services, OES would only reimburse for either the temporary fix or the permanent one, but not for both.

Interim CEO Jill Duffy asked if the county would be paying for the repairs as the fairgrounds are county property. “That’s a question for the county supervisors,” Mattson said. “It’s not in my budget, I can tell you that.”

HCFA Director Greg Gomes, who chairs the horseracing committee, asked if there was something “less than a Band Aid,” that would allow horseracing to continue without crowds in the stands. The California Horseracing Board is due to consider the fair’s license this Thursday, June 29.

Gomes added that the association was “running out of time,” to finalize races, with recruiting ongoing for horses. The races are a major draw to the fair, with attendees generating associated revenue in ticket and carnival as well as concessions sales.

“If we can’t do the horseracing, we might be lucky to get $1 million,” said Titus.

Mattson did not have an answer for Gomes on whether there was a less expensive fix that would allow the racing to go on. It was clarified that the rest of the fair could continue without fixing the stands, but they must be cordoned off.

Duffy added that they have also been vandalized recently, with people breaking monitors and leaving broken glass behind.

“Who is going to make the decision to make the temporary fix or not,” asked director Jack Rice. “That’s a political decision, not my decision,” said Mattson, referring again to the county Board of Supervisors. “But can you make a recommendation?”

“My recommendation would be to do the long-term fix,” said Mattson.

The supervisors are due to meet this morning. The association voted to authorize Titus to write a letter and ask for an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss repairs to the stands. Director Clint Duey volunteered to speak during public comment.

More information about the meeting will be in this week’s Enterprise, on stands Thursday.

Editor's note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that North Coast Journal Inc. has a contract with the Humboldt County Fair Association to promote this year's fair, as well as an upcoming event. The company's marketing department — which retains no editorial control — is fulfilling the contract.

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

Add a comment