On Thursday, the safety committee of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District called for an emergency meeting to address the issue of shoaling in the bay due to severe winter storms.


The harbor district, responding to results of soundings performed by the Army Corps of Engineers that found the bay shallower than at any other point in its history, called for an emergency declaration. But the district does not have the authority to declare an emergency.

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District voted unanimously at a special meeting yesterday to declare a state of emergency due to increased sedimentation in the channel into Humboldt Bay that is causing dangerous conditions and imperiling the county’s fuel supply.


The vote came after the district received the results of depth testing by the Army Corps of Engineers, which found that the 48-foot deep channel is currently at about 21 feet, filled with sediment that washed out of the Eel River during storms last month. The shallowing of the channel is creating large cross waves and “extremely large sneaker waves” around Buoy 9, an area known as “Rock and Roll Alley,” according to a staff report. The conditions are imperiling local recreational and commercial fishing boats, as well as the commercial shipping industry, including the fuel ships that deliver 6 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel to the Chevron fuel dock every nine days.


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Coast Guard station, Eureka marina to be cleared of sediment


It’s a race against time on Humboldt Bay as two separate dredging projects battle the elements so both finish before an Oct. 15 deadline, according to harbor district and city of Eureka officials.

Sediment is set to be removed from near the Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay boathouse at the south end of the Samoa peninsula before work is done at the Eureka Boat Basin near the Wharfinger Building. Sediment brought up from the bottom of the bay will be dumped in the Pacific Ocean about 3 miles west of the Humboldt Bay entrance — known as the Humboldt Open Ocean Disposal Site, or HOODS.

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Dredging on Humboldt Bay could be done this year. So why is that such a big deal? Because it's been a decade since the bay has been cleaned and some 80 million gallons of mucky, goopy sludge has piled up. But in order to dredge the bay, the harbor district and city of Eureka need approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, along with other federal and state agencies about where to put that gunk. And those approvals are moving about as fast as boats in thick mud.

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Until late last week, the City of Eureka and the Humboldt County Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, the two agencies responsible for performing maintenance dredging, planned to dump the dredge spoils on a beach along the Samoa Peninsula, as they have for years.


EPA public affairs officer Bill Keener said beach dumping is not allowed because the sediment from the bay is primarily composed of fine-grain silts and mud, making it inappropriate for the surf zone on sandy beaches. Back in 1995 the EPA designated a disposal site for Humboldt Bay dredge spoils three miles offshore. It’s called the Humboldt Open Ocean Disposal Site (HOODS). “However, the 1998 permit for the Harbor’s dredging was inappropriately issued by the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers allowing continued surf-zone disposal,” Keener explained.


“[The] EPA, the Corps, and the Coastal Commission all agreed to allow that permit to stay in force, in order to give the Harbor time to plan (and budget) for a different dredging operation after the permit expired in 2008.”


So when the City and Harbor District last dredged the marinas, in 2007, it was considered the last use of that 1998 permit. Keener said regulators were unambiguous on this point.


“[The] EPA (as well as the Army Corps and the California Coastal Commission) made it clear both in 1998, and at the time of the final dredging under the old permit in 2007, that the permit could not be renewed the same way.”


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