Time commitment, monetary risks and public outcry led the U.S. Mine Corp to pull out of negotiations for leasing a section of the Samoa Pulp Mill site during the early stages.
“We were able to do some more research and take a more specific look at costs, permitting and timelines for agency approval and public approval,” US Mine Corp general manager Guy Reed said. “We just felt it was a risk the company wasn’t willing to take.”
Almost a month ago representatives of the corporation vied for exclusive rights to negotiate with the Humboldt Bay Harbor District for a lease at the Samoa Pulp Mill site, where they were aiming to start an ore-to-gold processing facility.
The proposal, while welcomed by Humboldt Bay Harbor District Executive Director Jack Crider who is seeking tenants for the industrial site after a lengthy and expensive clean up, was met with some resistance from community members who voiced concern about having a potentially toxic process so close to the bay.
At a packed Feb. 12 public meeting, Harbor District commissioners offered the U.S. Mine Corp exclusive rights to negotiate for three months rather than the six months initially proposed. During the three month period, the corporation planned to refine the details of their proposal and come back to the Harbor Commission with more concrete plans and answers to questions raised at the meeting.
However, while the representatives described Samoa’s deep harbor, central coastal location and industrial site as an ideal spot to process ore from mines up and down the coast, Reed said “it just looked like a little bit more than we were willing to take in terms of chances.”
“The more information we gathered, the less likely it looked like it was going to be a possibility,” he said.
Crider said the abrupt end to negotiations came as a surprise and he was expecting to receive a letter with the terms of the exclusive rights to negotiate with the mine company and instead opened the letter containing the company’s decision to withdraw its application.
“It was a little frustrating,” Crider said. “I thought they would at least give it a little bit more time to refine their proposal.”
Losing a potential industrial tenant could complicate efforts to lease the site, Crider said.
“When you get an industrial application that quickly runs away, it does not help the marketing for future industrial use,” Crider said. “If the community does not want an industrial use of that facility, then maybe we should really start thinking about what we want there and what the other alternatives are.”
Harbor District Commissioner Richard Marks agreed that looking into other options, such as aquaculture, hydroponics and aquaponics, is the best way to move forward.
“I want something that will create jobs with a living wage that is not controversial to our environment,” he said.
Marks is not only chair of the Harbor Commission but also a resident of the Samoa Peninsula and a former employee of the Samoa Pulp Mill. He said he has seen first hand the effects that the pulp mill had not only on the surroundings but also on the employees.
“I was vocal about my weariness of their proposed project,” Marks said. “I did not feel it was a perfect fit for the peninsula.”
With the clean up of the pulp mill site not even yet complete, now is not the time to bring in another potentially toxic industry to the bay, he said.
“I want jobs, but not at that price,” Marks said.
Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said she hopes that the mining corporation’s decision to back out early will leave room for options that are more compatible for the bay. “I was hoping they would do that once they saw how difficult this project was going to be both in terms of the agencies that would have to approve a project like that, as well as the public opposition,” she said. “Hopefully the toxic industries are a thing of the past and we can learn from our mistakes.”
The focus should be on finding industries that do not put the bay at risk, she said.
“We really should not waste our time on things that are not even appropriate or approvable,” Kalt said. “What we want to see out there is something that can be done in a way that is going to be beneficial to both the environment and the economy, we need to have jobs and industry that don’t put the environment at risk.”
The public concern influenced the U.S. Mine Corps decision to withdraw the proposal and focus on different potential sites, Reed said.
“Really what it boiled down to is we felt like it was a good fit for the public and the community, and it seemed like a large part of the community felt differently about that,” he said. “We want to be welcomed by the community, it is a partnership with a community.”
Reed said the company appreciated working with the Harbor District and having the opportunity to pitch the idea to the community.
“We were happy to get a fair shot,” he said.