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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The California Coastal Commission approved a six-month extension on legalizing the commercial cannabis industry in the coastal zone at its monthly meeting on Friday in Half Moon Bay. 


Humboldt County commercial cannabis industry is still illicit in coastal zones simply because there have not been any regulations implemented. It could be another six months before those rules are put in place after the commission voted 9-1 Friday morning to extend the deadline by six months.


County Planning Director John Ford send a letter to the commission expressing frustration about the impending delay.


North Coast Commissioner Ryan Sundberg initially pushed Friday morning for a three-month delay, stating the county sought to move forward and noting the lack of rules puts local cannabis farmers in a tough position.


“The request I had from the county this morning was to do a three-month extension and not the one year,” Sundberg told the commission. “We’ve got people in Humboldt who have invested millions of dollars in projects and this keeps getting held up and held up. I understand where they’re coming with a sense of urgency because of many, many jobs and lots of money invested.”


Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the commission, shot down the idea. “I don’t want to bring something to you half-basked,” he said.


Jennifer Savage, who said she was representing Humboldt Baykeeper and Friends of the Eel River, spoke during the public comment period and backed the extension.


“The potential to degrade coastal resources is too great to rush forward without a local public hearing and we hope that lessons from the implementation of the inland cannabis ordinances will be fully incorporated with input from the local communities,” she said.


“And on a personal note, as a 21-year resident of Humboldt County, I know very well how all things cannabis are intertwined with all things Humboldt and I absolutely urge you to give the necessary time and allow the local community to weigh in as it takes to get this right,” she added. 


A motion was made, amended and ultimately approved 9-1 giving a six-month extension.


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On Monday, a growing European aquaculture company will announce plans to build a massive fish farm at the Harbor District’s Redwood Marine Terminal — the former Samoa pulp mill.

Nordic Aquafarms, the company behind the proposal, is a Norway-based firm with active fish farms in Denmark and Norway, with another $500 million project in development in the state of Maine. It currently produces farmed salmon and yellowtail at its European plants.

According to Richard Marks, who sits on the Harbor District’s Board of Directors, Nordic Aquafarms’ plans include a brand-new, state-of-the-art, enormous facility — up to 600,000 square feet in size.

The Harbor District’s Board of Directors will hold a special meeting Monday afternoon, at which point it will almost certainly approve a lease agreement with the company. The meeting will begin in closed session at 12:30 p.m. at the district’s offices on Woodley Island, followed by an open meeting at 1:30 p.m. (See agenda here.)

Nordic takes a novel, or at least unusual, approach to farming saltwater fish: All its facilities are entirely on land, rather than in pens in the sea. The farmed fish are completely isolated from wild individuals so they can’t contaminate the gene pool, and the contained environment means that the water can be treated and removed of nutrients before it is released back to the sea — both answers to the most common environmental objections to farmed fish.

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A cancer-causing toxic wood preservative found at the site of a defunct lumber mill in the Glendale area has a state agency looking into whether chemicals could seep into the nearby Mad River and affect local drinking water.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control certified the site in 1998, placing a concrete cap over soil that might have been contaminated. But in late December, the department announced it had determined rising groundwater is contaminated with a toxic chemical, prompting a change in plans.

The chemical, pentachlorophenol, was used in pesticides for logging practices until its ban in 1984. According to the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the chemical was listed in 1990 as a carcinogen under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. Meanwhile, the mill went out of business in 2002, and state taxpayers have funded chemical monitoring at the site ever since.

DTSC project manager Henry Wong said his team is still weighing options on how to proceed.

“It’s not like you won’t be able to drink the water next week,” said Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, a local nonprofit that works to protect coastal resources. “But it’s something we really need to keep an eye on and make sure (DTSC) does the best job possible with, instead of cutting any corners.”

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