The Eureka City Council decided Tuesday to abandon the Waterfront Drive extension project after reviewing the project's opposition and potential for litigation.
”I do believe that this horse is dead, and we keep beating it,” Councilman Lance Madsen said before the council voted 3 - 2 to scrap the project. Councilman Mike Newman and Councilwoman Marian Brady dissented.
Newman said he couldn't support the motion because the project seemed to be a welcome idea during the city's visioning sessions. He said he would like to postpone the decision and gather more public input on the issue.
”I believe we need to go through more of a public process on this before we say no to Waterfront Drive,” he said.
The project -- a two-lane extension of Waterfront Drive from Del Norte Street to Hilfiker Lane -- has been on hold for nearly two years. The city began the project's environmental review process in 2004 but came to a standstill in 2010 due to opposition from environmental groups and the California Coastal Commission, an agency that would eventually review the project's permits. Commission staff were concerned the project is inconsistent with the California Coastal Act and would negatively impact surrounding wetlands.
The council heard from several environmental groups at its meeting Tuesday, with representatives from the Northcoast Environmental Center and Humboldt Baykeeper emphasizing that the project is considered inconsistent with state coastal law. NEC Board President Larry Glass said the organization has been concerned with the project since 2005.
”Fast forward to 2012, and nothing has changed,” he said. “It's just as illegal and inconsistent as it was in 2005.”
So far, the city has spent $385,000 of public transportation funds on the environmental impact report, leaving $153,000 remaining for more environmental work, according to city staff. Continuing the environmental review meant the city would have to request more transportation dollars from the Humboldt County Association of Governments. Because of the time passed, staff would have to revisit most of the work that has already been done to make sure its still applicable.
Councilwoman Linda Atkins said the project has too many obstacles, and the money would be better spent on other transportation projects like filling in gaps in the existing drive. The environmental review could cost another $300,000 to complete, at which point there will probably be lawsuits against the city over the report, Atkins said, and ultimately the Coastal Commission would reject the project.
”This is a total waste of our money and our time. And it's going to get us into a huge litigation, and it won't get us anywhere in the long run because we won't be able to build it,” she said.