A Norway-based aquaculture company will soon decide whether to pursue a project on Humboldt Bay’s former pulp mill site and its interest has highlighted the economic potential of the Samoa Peninsula.

 

At its Aug. 3 meeting, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors was updated on the project and its infrastructure-related challenges. The company, Nordic Aquafarms, entered a lease with the Harbor District, which owns the project site, but now has doubts due to the need to upgrade freshwater delivery infrastructure and the more expensive proposition of removing turbidity.

 

Economic Development Director Scott Adair came to the meeting with good news – a federal funding source will pay 80 percent of the $3 million cost of improving the delivery infrastructure.

 

Water infrastructure isn’t the only utility concern on the Samoa Peninsula. Roads, bridges and broadband telecommunications infrastructure also need improvement or development and supervisors discussed forming a multi-jurisdictional Joint Powers Authority to handle it.

 

The Nordic project represents an initial $400 million investment and the creation of 100 primary and ancillary jobs. The site’s zoning includes aquaculture and the county is keen on promoting new industry.

 

But a letter of support for the project wasn’t approved without discussion and some debate. The letter is important to Nordic’s board of investors, which will decide on whether or not to go forward with the project on Sept. 15.

 

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The county Planning Commission’s review of a Glendale cannabis manufacturing project has exposed a lack of testing for dioxins on former mill and lumber storage sites, which could have implications for drinking water.

 

Considering the stakes, one commissioner described the lack of testing as “ridiculous.”

 

The uncertain contamination status of the project site eclipsed concerns about volatile manufacturing and an assumed link between cannabis and crime as the commission reviewed the project at its September 5 meeting

There were concerns about those uses from neighboring residents. But a more entrenched issue soon became apparent.

 

Ryan Plotz, the attorney for the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, warned of potential effects on drinking water. “The district is seriously concerned that the project’s construction and operation will result in contaminated soils and groundwater flowing into the nearby Hall Creek, which flows into the Mad River and ultimately into the district’s downstream intake wells,” he said.

 

Plotz said groundwater levels of toxic pentachlorophenol (PCP) have “skyrocketed” since the sites were deemed uncontaminated in 2003.

 

“What’s really important is that no dioxin sampling has been done on the soil of this property at all. And these sites need to be tested for dioxins, not just pentachlorophenol – just as you would test old buildings for lead and asbestos, every lumber mill site in this county needs to be tested for dioxins.” 

 

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With conflicting and uncertain data on the contamination of a northern Humboldt former lumber mill site, there is concern about the safety of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District's drinking water. Daniel Mintz reports.

 

Listen Now

Staff members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — at least those well-spoken gentlemen who hosted a public meeting on Aug. 26 at the Wharfinger Building — would assure you that the nuclear waste should be very far down on that worry list. But some members of the public would tell you otherwise. That clash of viewpoints made for a very interesting two hours.

 

The original purpose of the meeting was to satisfy some pro forma requirement for public interaction, a necessary task to check a box on a bureaucratic to-do list. However, not a half hour in, some very concerned folks had seized control of the agenda and were letting the NRC and the PG&E public relations officer know exactly what they thought — and feared — about the legacy of Humboldt's experiment with nuclear energy.

 

In the 1950s, atomic energy was touted as the solution to all America's energy needs. In 1960, PG&E began construction of a nuclear power plant next to its existing conventional power plant at King Salmon. It went on line in 1962 at a cost of $33 million. Fifteen years later, PG&E took the plant off line, estimating at that time the cost of decommissioning would be $382 million. Fortunately, rate-payers had been contributing to this fund each month as we paid our monthly power bills. Apparently, we will continue to be paying for quite some time, as the final cost of decommissioning is now estimated at more than $1 billion.

 

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission called a meeting in Eureka this week to collect community input about the Community Advisory Board’s (CAB) efforts to assist with the Humboldt Bay Power Plant’s decommissioning. CABs typically consist of an organized group of citizens interested in safe decommissioning practices and spent fuel management, and are usually sponsored by the local licensee or mandated by the state legislature. Responsibilities may include reviewing decommissioning plans, providing feedback, serving as a forum for public education, making recommendations and considering plans for future reuse of the site.

 

Ultimately, after similar meetings across the country, the NRC will create a report for Congress to guide the development of future community advisory boards. Community members generally praised PG&E’s engagement, but called for better education of board members. “Any future CAB should have an educational framework,” longtime Humboldt Bay CAB member Mike Manetas said. “It’s such a complex and complicated issue.” 

 

Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper, CAB member since 2013 and longtime Surfrider ally, sent an email blast out prior to the meeting, noting that the underground casks containing the spent fuel rods and dismantled nuclear reactor were designed to last about 50 years, and the PG&E Decommissioning Fund is only funded through 2025. 

 

“What will happen after that?” Kalt asked. “What are the NRC's plans in case of an emergency?” At the meeting, she highlighted the risks posed by sea level rise, relaying how planners ignored the North Spit tidal gauge measurements when building the storage facility that would house the spent fuel. The readings spun so far above expectations that researchers assumed the gauge was wrong – and then further studies proved the opposite. Not only is the sea rising, but the lands around Humboldt Bay are sinking. “King Salmon is literally ground zero,” Kalt said. 

 

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