The Port of Humboldt Bay, once a bustling shipping hub for the region’s timber industry, may soon get a wholesale overhaul, complete with modern port facilities designed to support a major offshore wind energy project.

Granted, that project doesn’t exist yet. While the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) is pursuing a commercial offshore wind lease from the federal government, details for such a major development have yet to be proposed, much less approved.

But on Thursday evening, the Board of Commissioners for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District will consider hiring local engineering firm LACO Associates to develop a conceptual master plan for a completely reimagined port — one with a modern, seven-acre dock capable of handling large cargo vessels and assembling offshore wind platforms, turbines and blades.

Of course, the offshore wind energy prospects are still far from reality. Any such developments would be subject to extensive public review. In community meetings held over the past couple of years, plenty of locals have expressed concerns about potential impacts to the environment and the region’s fishing industry. 

Reached Monday, Jennifer Kalt, the executive director of local environmental nonprofit Humboldt Baykeeper, said the Harbor District appears to be looking a ways into the future.

“I would say that this plan will be years in the making,” she told the Outpost. “Early and frequent consultation with various stakeholders, including tribes, commercial fishermen and environmental groups, will be critical for such a major project to succeed.”

Jennifer Savage, California policy director for the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, noted that the district’s plans depend on unapproved projects as the anchor industry, and they call for further industrialization atop coastal dunes and wetlands that protect against sea level rise.

“We hope that in the pursuit of renewable energy to replace our dependence on fossil fuels, the Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District ensures its own plans are sustainable and supportive of the critical coastal habitat, recreational opportunities and existing economic resources in and along Humboldt Bay,” she said in an emailed statement.

While the main focus of this conceptual master plan is the potential offshore wind project, Harbor District Executive Director Larry Oetker said such planning will not go to waste. “If offshore wind doesn’t happen, we’ll look for the next compatible user.”

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