“I would really like someone from the NCRA or the operator to hold a joint meeting or something,” Wilson said. “We’re not getting any acknowledgment that this project even exists.”

Answers lacking in big Bay plans – July 29, 2008

Jennifer Savage
Eye Scene Editor

WOODLEY ISLAND – Ongoing concerns over the future of Humboldt Bay prompted more than 50 people to attend last week’s Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District meeting. 

In addition to the usual attendees offering their usual critiques, a significant number of new constituents showed up.

With the room filled to capacity, many attendees could only listen through the doors, kept open through the mostly temperate evening.

Fill the marina

Prior to the big ticket items, open public comment took place. Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association representative Ken Bates reiterated the association’s request that the Bay District strive to decrease the Woodley Island Marina vacancy rate. “We still would like to see it 90 percent full,” Bates said. 

The HFMA has sought to mitigate an upcoming slip increase by suggesting the district instead  increase income by reworking its leasing policy. The association suggests the Bay District evict derelict and non-used boats, reassign boats to more appropriately sized slips and reduce the percentage of slips reserved for transient vessels to make room for local residents currently on the marina’s four-year waiting list.

Revenue bonds, explained

A presentation by District Treasurer Mark Wetzel addressed the revenue bond portion of the draft Redwood Marine Terminal Business Plan. Revenue bonds, he explained, are a form of debt secured by the revenue of a specific project, as opposed to “general obligation” bonds paid through taxes and needing voter approval. Revenue bonds are more risky, Wetzel said, and in this case, would be secured solely by projected marine terminal income. If the revenue failed to meet expectations, discharging the debt would be “a long and painful process,” he finished.

Cruise ship projections questionable

Like many, Third District Commissioner Mike Wilson questioned consultants TranSystems’ reliance on an unprecedented number of cruise ships visiting Humboldt Bay.

“It’s TranSystems’ report,” District Chief Executive Officer Hull said. “It’s theirs to justify – they need to justify.” The didn’t “just make it up,” he continued, but they failed to explain how the increase would occur. Hull said he expected the final draft to contain a better rationale.

Rail tie-in

The proposed port development necessitates the return of rail to Humboldt County, a component which continues to polarize the county. Wilson suggested seeking funding based not on revenue bonds, but by presenting the port as a coastal barge feeder alternative to the rail. “Then it actually becomes a reasonably fundable project,” he said, citing California Transportation Commission support. “It would drastically change the equation,” Wilson continued, instead of continuing what he called, “The path of most resistance.”

Discussion of the rail component prompted questions over why the North Coast Railroad Authority had yet to officially recognize its role in the proposed development plan.

“I would really like someone from the NCRA or the operator to hold a joint meeting or something,” Wilson said. “We’re not getting any acknowledgment that this project even exists.” Hull assured him that an NCRA representative would attend the next district meeting.

‘Disappointed’

First District Dennis Hunter expressed some dismay over TranSystems’ business plan. “I want a more specific economic forecast,”  he  said. Hunter also agreed TranSystems needed to justify the number of cruise ships used to support revenue projections and further needed to explain the cash flow analysis.

Fifth District Commissioner Pat Higgins followed with his own concerns over TranSystems’ lack of clarification. “I’m really disappointed in the business plan’s lack of specifics,” he said.

Woodley Island resident Susan Penn said that TranSystems “looked at what was here,” but didn’t talk to the people who work on the docks about what they wanted.

Planning for the future

Several speakers echoed each other, demanding the district provide jobs for their children. Green Wheels Executive Director Chris Rall noted that much of the ongoing rail debate mistakenly drew on the notion that passenger rail would be a component of the railroad’s return. “But there’s no plan for a tourist train or passenger train,” he said. 

Meanwhile, he continued, planning for the unlikely rebuilding of the rail precludes any other development options. “If it’s unfeasible, we’re wasting time and the district’s resources,” he said. “My kids are 10 months old, and I really want them to be able to ride on a trail now.”

Arcata nurse Lynn Ryan said plenty of jobs await in the nursing field. “You go to school for three years and you got yourself a job,” she said. “A high-paying one.”

Goldman Sachs, ‘a big if’

Tied into the business plan is the need for private investment, related to the recent proposal by investment giant Goldman Sachs to acquire such investment on behalf of the Bay District. The district has been negotiating with Goldman Sachs to do so, but according to District Counsel Paul Brisso, “huge issues and questions that may be insurmountable” have stalled negotiations. If an agreement is reached, he said, details will be brought to the public, “but that’s a very big if.”

Budget update

At the last meeting, an abrupt halt to discussion of the district’s budget occurred when Second District Commissioner Roy Curless “called the question.” (Eye, July 15.) After reviewing Robert’s Rules of Order, Hunter realized he’d erred in his president’s role. “I try to fairly facilitate these meetings,” he said. “As your human president, I made a mistake.”

“It was an honest mistake,” Wilson assured him. “You’re all right.”

The budget approval was unanimously rescinded, then passed 4-1, with Higgins dissenting.

Dates to remember

The next Bay District meeting takes place Thursday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Woodley Island Meeting Room. (Due to increased public turnout, meeting location may change. Visit humboldtbay.org for information.)

Public comment on the Redwood Marine Terminal Business Plan is due Aug. 28. The plan is available for review at humboldtbay.org. Written comments can be sent to the District office at 601 Startare Drive Eureka, CA  95501 no later than 9 p.m., Aug. 28.

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, Hull will present the Redwood Marine Terminal Business Plan to the Eureka City Council. The meeting takes place in the Council Chamber on the second floor of Eureka City Hall, 531 K St., Eureka.

The NCRA meets Wednesday, Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. in the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Chambers, 825 Fifth St. See northcoastrailroad.org.

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