If everything goes as planned, fresh fish raised in tanks on the now blighted former pulp mill site will be making its way across the West Coast in four years, opening up new avenues for economic development in a region still reeling from downturns in the once mainstay lumber and fishing industries.
At least that is the realistic best hope of officials with Nordic Aquafarms, the Norwegian company behind the proposed land-based facility that looks to ultimately produce some 25,000 tons of farmed fish a year here on the North Coast.
The clock was set in motion Feb. 11 with the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District's decision to sign a 30-year lease with Nordic amid concerns that the deal was ushered through without public input.
Touted for the potential to bring millions of dollars to the local economy and employing at least 80 people — the fish farm has its share of supporters, including Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass, who said the proposal would be one of the largest economic investments in the county "since the end of the 20th century."
"This opportunity represents, to me, the rebirth of the peninsula," she said.
Others, like Humboldt Baykeeper Executive Director Jennifer Kalt, one of the "stakeholder groups" that Nordic has been talking with in the recent weeks, are taking a measured approach as the process unfolds.
"What the company representatives have said to us, so far, has potential but there's no specifics of what they actually plan to do," she said. "So, we'll be waiting until there is actually something to look at."
Kalt, like others, questioned why the harbor district deemed it necessary to call a special meeting late Friday afternoon for a Monday afternoon closed session discussion on the lease.
"Unfortunately, the harbor district didn't make the lease available until after it was signed," Kalt said. "We would have appreciated an opportunity to review and comment on it before the commissioners approved it."
"I realize the harbor district is desperate to turn the pulp mill into a positive, but it could have waited a few days," she continued. "Why the rush?"
Members of the fishing community also raised concerns about the timing, the lack of specifics on the project and the lease and potential impacts to their industry, with one noting Nordic gave a "great presentation" but "there's a huge amount of unknowns."