The Humboldt County Public Works Department is set to tell the Board of Supervisors that moving forward with the Humboldt Bay Trail Project is going to necessitate the removal of more than 200 eucalyptus trees along U.S. Highway 101 north of the old California Redwood Company mill.


While conceding that it received a host of comments urging preservation of the 90-year-old trees in the county’s California Environmental Quality Act review of the project, the department warns it will “recommend termination of the project if the northern group of eucalyptus trees cannot be removed.”


In an 11-page CEQA comment evaluation memo, the department makes the case that the trees would pose a danger to users of the yet-to-be constructed 4.2-mile segment of multi-use trail connecting Eureka and Arcata, as the trail would fall within 10 to 15 feet of the trees, between the railroad tracks and the highway.


“Trail users would be situated within the failure zone of many elevated limbs measuring 6 to 12 inches in diameter and weighing hundreds of pounds,” states the memo, citing the county’s Hazard Tree Plan and the Tree Risk Assessment, which apparently sets the national standard for such decisions.


The memo also includes newspaper accounts of several eucalyptus-related horror stories: the tree that fell on a wedding party, killing a 61-year-old grandmother, in Whittier last year; a woman seriously injured by a falling 10-foot branch while walking with her boyfriend in San Diego in 2013; and a 4-year-old girl killed on a playground in Highland Park by a falling tree limb in 1990. At least a couple of the stories include reports of resulting lawsuits.


In all, the department is recommending removal of 219 trees — or 42 percent of the entire row.


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The past is a sometime thing. Some dismiss it most of the time, others part of the time — or part of the past. Let’s face it, some live in it. As one who reads, writes and muses on the past, I float amongst all the above.


Certainly there are things I would rather not dwell upon. Others I revisit so often that friends and family run screaming from the room.


I try, as with good fortune I grow older, to limit the nostalgia to appropriate occasions. Mike McGuire’s proposal for a Great Redwood Trail is such an occasion.


State Sen. McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose district includes the proposed 300-mile route of the trail, can get almost poetic talking about the beauty of it.


“I have to say,” he told me last week, “this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity … so few times in our lifetimes do we have a chance to see such a thing happen.”


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The bill that is proposing to create a trail system alongside North Coast Rail Authority tracks is propelling through the Legislature. It cleared its first major hurdle — passage in the Senate — in May and passed out of an Assembly committee in late June.


The bill proposes to dissolve the North Coast Rail Authority, a state-created entity that has overseen a 300-mile stretch of rail through Northern California since 1989, and create a new entity, the Great Redwood Trail Agency, which will oversee the trail system envisioned to snake along the same route.


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The company deemed responsible for nearly causing an environmental catastrophe on Humboldt Bay and the Samoa Peninsula may be walking away while public agencies pick up a more than $16 million price tag for the cleanup, according to local and federal officials contacted by the Times-Standard this week.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed Evergreen Pulp Inc. as responsible for allowing tanks filled with caustic liquors at the Samoa pulp mill site to deteriorate and fill up to the point where the next major rainfall could have caused the chemicals to spill into the nearby bay.


The EPA states it paid $15 million for the 2014 emergency cleanup — five times more than was first reported to the Times-Standard in 2014 — in which tanks containing the pulp liquors were drained and loaded into trucks bound for a Washington state pulp mill where the chemicals would be reused.


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Humboldt County is preparing to spend $1.3 million to prevent a slowly expanding plume of chemically contaminated groundwater it’s known about since the early 1990s from seeping into Humboldt Bay — if it hasn’t already — and to further examine the health risks thereof, which remain unknown.


County Public Works environmental analyst Todd Becker said the county, regional water quality control board and local engineering consultants will work during the next year to determine how far the groundwater and soil contamination has reached.


Recent groundwater tests indicate chemicals left behind by a former Eureka gas station and dry cleaning facility stretch about 700 feet northwest from the Humboldt County courthouse to an empty lot on Second Street. While Becker said there is luckily no concern about drinking water contamination because of there being no groundwater wells in the region, he said the potential for chemicals to leak into the bay could impact recreational users and local fisheries such as the bay’s shellfish industry if not addressed.


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