Federal officials are seeking to expand an ocean dumping site for dredge spoils off Eureka, Calif., and one future plan includes using a location near the shore for disposal to help buffer the coastline from sea-level rise.

 

Each year an estimated 1 million cubic yards of nontoxic sediment is dredged from Humboldt Bay and dumped about three miles offshore to clear the way for recreational boats and commercial vessels, including oil tankers.

 

Jennifer Kalt, director of the advocacy and education group Humboldt Baykeeper, said scientists have been advocating for placing sand closer to shore rather than hauling it out to the ocean to counteract erosion that happens on the north and south spits of the bay. 

“Local experts have been advocating for this for years—it’s good that the EPA is nally listening,” Kalt wrote in an email. 

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While Caltrans' project on the 6-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 that connects Eureka and Arcata is aimed at improving safety for motorists, the agency got an earful Aug. 7 from California Coastal Commissioners who felt it is ignoring a potentially far more dangerous threat: sea level rise.

 

"This is ground zero," said Chair Dayna Bochco. "We don't have a lot of time right here. The traffic is a terrible problem. The water is going to be a worse one."

 

The meeting — which saw commissioners ultimately approve a coastal development permit for the long-awaited safety corridor project — featured some dire warnings of the imminent threat of sea level rise to the low-lying areas of coastal Humboldt County, including the stretch of 101, which one commissioner said has been identified as the "most vulnerable" in the state. The discussion of sea level rise at the meeting was so foreboding, in fact, that one of the state's highest ranking planning officials walked away saying California needs to urgently come up with a multi-agency plan — and a lot of funding — to begin charting a course forward.

 

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The California Coastal Commission went against the recommendation of its staff Thursday and gave the Trinidad Rancheria the go-ahead — or a “conditional concurrence” — to build a five-story hotel on its property off Scenic Drive south of the city.

This means that the Coastal Commission, which is tasked by law with protecting the California coastline, will not stand in the way of the Bureau of Indian Affairs granting the Rancheria a lease and a loan guarantee so that the project can start. The “conditional” part of the concurrence means the commission is giving the Rancheria six months to come up with a reliable water source — either through an agreement with the city of Trinidad or by proving its newly drilled well has the capability to provide the 14,000 gallons of of potable water per day that the hotel will require without draining neighboring wells. According to Trinidad Rancheria CEO Jacque Hostler-Carmini, the well can produce 8,040 gallons per day. 

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Late into the long afternoon hearing at yesterday’s meeting of the California Coastal Commission, Chair Dayna Bochco acknowledged two things that had become quite evident. 

 

The first was that she was a bit confused.

 

The commission had just voted 5-6, narrowly deciding not to agree with a staff recommendation to disagree with a consistency determination from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (See? Confusing.)

 

…Bochco, as chair, wound up casting the tie-breaking vote, and she seemed to realize her pivotal position immediately beforehand.

After appearing to tally the “yes”es and “no”s on a piece of paper, she gave her head a little wag back and forth, the classic physical representation of being on the fence. 

 

Finally, she voted no, signifying that no, she didn’t agree with staff about disagreeing with the BIA on the hotel’s consistency with the Coastal Act — at least not on the basis of its design.

 

Right?

 

“We’re trying to figure this out,” Bochco said after that first vote, glancing over at the commission staff for help.

 

Then she made her second acknowledgement, seemingly to no one in particular: “Probably not the best meeting you’ve seen run.” She then shrugged and added sarcastically, “Fire me.”

 

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After a long afternoon of public testimony, which included harrowing video footage of near-collisions at the Indianola cutoff, the California Coastal Commission this evening approved a long-planned renovation project from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for the six-mile stretch of Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata. 

 

Voting 10-1, with Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh casting the lone dissenting vote, the commission approved the project, but only after adding some conditions designed to expedite sea-level rise planning, which the commissioners agreed is urgently needed on this road in particular.

 

Executive Director John Ainsworth and Chair Dayna Bochco both referred to this section of highway as “ground zero” for sea-level rise, noting that the land around Humboldt Bay is subsiding as the oceans rise.

 

But ultimately the commission decided that safety concerns are too pressing to hold out for more comprehensive (meaning expensive and bureaucratically complex) planning measures, such as building a causeway or embarking on managed retreat to higher ground for the businesses and infrastructure now sitting on reclaimed tidelands.

 

Construction of the “corridor improvement” project — which will include an undercrossing at Indianola, a half-signal at Airport Road and closure of the other four median crossings, among other elements — is scheduled to begin next year and last into 2026.

 

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