Last week the Journal featured profiles of candidates for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District's 5th District seat, a race that sees starkly different philosophies about the purpose of the agency and the future of the bay.
That divide holds true for the 2nd District race as well, where challenger Nick Angeloff and incumbent Greg Dale are vying for a four-year term on the harbor commission.
Dale, who was appointed to the harbor commission in 2011, says he believes the district has been on the right track with its acquisition of the Samoa Pulp Mill, expansion of mariculture and diversification of economic opportunities on the bay.
Dale, who lives in Fortuna, is the southwest operations manager for Coast Seafoods, a thriving oyster producer on Humboldt Bay. That role recently put him at the center of a conflict of interest lawsuit against the district and its sitting commissioners, which claims Dale inappropriately negotiated a $1.25 million loan from Coast Seafoods to the Harbor District to pay for the shipping of caustic liquors from the Samoa Pulp Mill site. Dale and Harbor Commission President Richard Marks have dismissed the suit, saying Dale recused himself from voting on the loans and was well within the law, and decried the timing of the filing — a month before the election — as a political ploy.
At a Sept. 30 debate, Dale said the district has a number of visioning plans that are "by and large ... in the implementation stage." Those include plans to relieve the North Bay of heavier industrial activity, making it more suitable for an expansion of oyster farming and other mariculture.
Shipping and heavier industrial use has been guided toward the central bay, he said, where Green Diamond invested $8 million in wood chip shipping improvements, but, Dale said, the district has been wise to move away from a singular focus on shipping. "The market dictates a lot of the activity here," he said.
"One idea and plan was to market this port, and I was part of this plan," Dale continued. "And I agreed with what the plan said. [The Harbor District] spent the last 15 years marketing the port, it dredged channels. We marketed this port almost to bankruptcy."
And while Dale said he's not against robust shipping from Humboldt Bay, he said there has to be a business that wants to operate out of here. So far, that hasn't come to fruition. So the current board focused on diversification, while protecting the fishing fleet and expanding the mariculture industry, he said. One way to protect the fishing industry, he said, was to raise slip fees and make changes on Woodley Island, including loosening zoning on the island and building a second restaurant. While that may seem counterintuitive, Dale said the marina was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and needed more revenue. "We were going to lose the marina," he said.
And he said he and others on the current commission have been open to a variety of potential markets. "The current board is not opposed to moving on any viable project," he said. "It's not the Harbor District's business to make jobs — they can only facilitate infrastructure."
Angeloff, an archaeologist from Rio Dell, isn't satisfied with the Harbor District's diversification.
He lambasted the commission for turning the district's focus toward conservation, recreation and businesses like oyster farms and away from large scale shipping. At a Sept. 30 debate, he said the 15 years the district spent marketing "entail a period of time where the national and Humboldt economy in particular were in serious economic downturn." He said looking into other economic opportunities — even as shipping dwindled to a halt in Humboldt Bay — amounted to "voodoo economics."
Other ports knew better, he said. "Effectively, what they did was modernize their facilities, knowing that the economy was coming back, and attract more market share to their district."
Shipping out of Humboldt Bay last year amounted to about 500,000 tons of material, far less than was shipped in the years before the 2008 recession. Angeloff has alternately said the port could ship 5 million or 10 million tons if the district pre-permitted replacing docks and the development of a new green port.
Angeloff has repeatedly said he's met with Central Valley agricultural producers who "had no idea" that they could ship products through Humboldt Bay. "If [the Harbor District] had been marketing as they should have been, [agricultural producers would] know there was option to ship through Humboldt Bay."
Speaking on the phone last week, Angeloff declined to name those producers, saying the negotiations were confidential, though he said they were "all very impressed with the opportunity our harbor affords."
Corroborating Angeloff's Central Valley visits is retired rice farmer Bill Hewler Carlson, whose number Angeloff provided. Carlson said he and Angeloff did "a little groundwork" with rice brokers and millers in the Sacramento Valley, and said there was interest in Humboldt Bay, as other ports sometimes become overwhelmed with traffic, though he acknowledged that proper trucking and infrastructure for container shipping are lacking locally.
Angeloff said he's been promoting investment in Humboldt Bay on his own "dime and time" for years. "Recently it has led me to bring investors to our port from Washington DC, New York, Hawaii, Shanghai and Beijing," he said at his campaign announcement. But, similarly, he declines to mention who these investors are or their reactions to their visits to Humboldt Bay.
But Angeloff said shipping is the key to well-paying union jobs.
Like Susan Rotwein, who's running for the 5th District commission seat, and Larry Doss, who took the 1st District unopposed, Angeloff has cast doubts on the wisdom of the Harbor District's purchase of the old Samoa Pulp Mill, saying it was a bad decision to go into debt to the Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Seafoods, which allowed for the cleanup of the site. The EPA will forgive the debt in seven years, and Coast Seafoods recently negotiated an extended lease on mariculture tidelands in exchange for the loan it made to the district.
Angeloff declined to comment on the lawsuit filed against Dale and the district, referring the Journal to comments he made during a Fortuna Chamber of Commerce debate in September. The chamber does not record its meetings, and it's unclear what those statements were.
At the Sept. 30 debate, Angeloff called for a forensic audit of the district's budget, and said grant funding, mariculture and aquaculture will not fund the recreation and conservation improvements that the current commission has moved toward.
"If, and only if, we refocus efforts on shipping," Angeloff said, "will we have a strong economic base."