Last night before a standing-room only crowd, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District board voted 4-0 to accept $5,000 from US Mine Corp. for a 3-month “Exclusive Right to Negotiate” for a large portion of the former Evergreen pulp mill in Samoa. Commissioner Greg Dale was absent.
US Mine Corp. requested a 6-month agreement with options for extensions to explore the idea of building a facility to process ore from unspecified mines and use the waste to manufacture pre-formed concrete products. The public raised questions about water and air pollution, with particular concerns for Humboldt Bay’s fragile ecosystem, wildlife, and fishing industries.
Commissioners voted for a 3-month agreement so the company could provide answers to basic questions about its plans, while allowing the District to continue the search for other potential tenants.
Many speakers focused on concerns about the use of cyanide, which is used to extract gold from ore. Characterized by US Mine Corp’s president A. Scott Docktor as “not that toxic,” cyanide processing was banned in 1998 by voter initiative in the state of Montana, when 85,000 gallons of cyanide-laced water leaked through damaged leach pad liners, killing all life in a 17-mile stretch of Colorado’s Alamosa River.
Others raised fears of dust and particulates, citing decades of air pollution from the two pulp mills and PG&E’s former nuclear power plant.
Humboldt Hill resident Nova Cramer said, “My great grandfather was a gold miner, and I hold the deed to the King Tut mine. But I’m no fan of gold mining – I survived the whaling station, the pulp mills, and the nuclear power plant, and I have a long list of dead people.”
Despite company claims that operations would be entirely inside the pulp mill warehouses, with no discharges to air or water, the public was skeptical.
“No amount of engineering or spill response planning will prevent the level of damage to Humboldt Bay that would occur from a major earthquake,” said Jennifer Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper.
The Harbor District and US EPA recently removed millions of gallons of caustic chemicals left behind by the previous operator, Evergreen Pulp, a Chinese corporation that was sold to a shell company in 2008. The cleanup has to date cost taxpayers $4 million and is expected to cost $10 million to complete.
Arcata resident Rocky Drill said, “This sounds like another Wall Street project, where a few people make a bunch of money and then leave us to clean up the mess.”
Few questions or concerns raised by the public or the Commissioners were answered. The company’s representatives either did not know or were not forthcoming with specifics about its proposal, saying that they did not know what type of ore it would process, what chemicals would be involved, or even which mines it would serve.
Ralph Faust, retired Coastal Commission Senior Counsel and former Humboldt County Planning Commissioner, advised weighing the opportunity cost of tying up the property “in visions of sugar plums…Is there any suggestion that there’s an approvable project at the end of the tunnel?”
Commissioner Pat Higgins said, “We have very high standards for what’s going to be acceptable, in terms of proposals that are protective of Humboldt Bay – so I don’t have any problem hearing them out.”
Commissioner Mike Wilson requested an amendment to shorten the agreement to 3 months, since there isn’t enough information on the table. “Three months should be enough time to decide whether this is something we want to look at,” he said. “I am concerned about the opportunity cost, and also for how we are marketing this facility and how it fits with our vision.”
Commissioner Richard Marks advised US Mine Corp that the bar is very high for convincing the Humboldt Bay community to keep an open mind about a new toxic industry. “You’re dealing with people who’ve lived with toxic chemicals in their neighborhoods, and aren’t interested in going back to those days.”
Larry Glass, Northcoast Environmental Center President, told the Commissioners, “You haven’t been on our radar for a while, since you haven’t been doing a lot of crazy shit, but you will be now. You’ve been doing a lot of positive projects; this seems like a big distraction.”
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For more info on the history of the pulp mill, its acquisition by the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, and the ongoing cleanup and repurposing:
August 22, 2013 – Jen Kalt interviews Commissioner Mike Wilson about the Humboldt Bay Harbor District’s recent purchase of Samoa Mill Site and future plans as aquaculture and energy research facility.
An extensive history of the Samoa Pulp Mill and its environmental impacts is available at http://westeureka.weebly.com/blog.
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