The Humboldt Bay area may become the site of the first offshore wind energy project on the west coast of North America. The pieces are quickly falling into place for Redwood Coast Energy Authority to become the first local government entity to apply for a commercial offshore wind lease from the federal government. Unlike land-based projects, this lease bid would be just the beginning of a series of studies and related permits that could culminate in project development in 5-7 years.

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."

 

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The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, & Conservation District voted unanimously to approve a $20,000/year, 3-year “Option Period” for the company to secure all the necessary permits, and a 30-year lease agreement with two 10-year options for its former pulp mill site in Samoa, giving Nordic AquaFarms / California Marine Investments, LLC site control while it develops plans and pursues permits for a land-based fish farm. A signing ceremony was scheduled immediately following the public hearing at 1:30 pm. 

Despite assurances that their goal is "full disclosure," the Harbor District did not provide the lease agreement in advance of Monday's public hearing, which was announced Friday afternoon, unnecessarily creating a climate of distrust rather than an opportunity for meaningful public input.

Photo of the site by Jennifer Savage, 2014

Monday meeting set to OK 30-acre lease; 80 local jobs foreseen

 

Hundreds of millions of dollars and 80 jobs are coming to Humboldt Bay, according to recent announcements from the harbor district and a Norwegian-owned fish farm company.

 

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Board of Directors at a special meeting Monday is set to consider leasing 30 acres on the Samoa Peninsula to California Marine Investments, a subsidiary of Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms, for use as a land-based aquaculture facility.

 

Nordic is considering raising salmon or steelhead at the proposed facility, pending negotiations with local permitting authorities. The company plans to submit permit applications by spring 2020, according to the release, which also highlighted local government support for the project.

 

Contacted Saturday by the Times-Standard, Jennifer Kalt, director of the Arcata-based environmental nonprofit Humboldt Baykeeper, said she had met with project proponents.

“They seem to have considered a lot of the major issues,” she said. “They aren’t going to be using nonnative fish, growth hormones or genetically modified fish.”

 

Kalt said she was “cautiously optimistic” that this is the type of project that can be developed in the bay and be respectful of coastal resources, contrasting Nordic Aquafarms’ plans with a previous proposal by the US Mine Corporation in 2015 to build an ore processing plant at the Samoa pulp mill site — a proposal that the company ultimately withdrew after encountering strong community concerns at a packed harbor district meeting.

 

“We’ll be looking very closely at what they’re proposing to discharge,” Kalt said of Nordic’s proposal. “They’ve said it’s a closed system, but it would discharge up to 7 million gallons [of water] a day” into the ocean, she said.

 

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A land-based aquaculture facility – likely producing salmon or steelhead – the venture will serve as the West Coast base of operations for Nordic Aquafarms, which is currently in the process of developing an East Coast equivalent in Belfast, Maine, according to the company.

 

The facility will use what is known as recirculating aquaculture system, or RAS, which utilizes large tanks and water treatment systems in raising the fish. The company says the method prevents many of the common concerns associated with farm fishing in offshore pens, including pollution from waste, chemical use and the potential to pass on diseases and parasites to wild fish.

 

According to Nordic AquaFarms’ conceptual video states, “We are introducing the largest full-integrated modular concept ever developed, with innovation leaps in fish-handling and logistics, with a minimal ecological footprint."

 

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