Norway-based seafood company Nordic Aquafarms announced last week that it will pursue an environmental impact report (EIR) for its proposed onshore fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula in response to calls for further environmental analysis.
The Humboldt County Planning and Building Department released a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for the project last month but a coalition of environmental groups argued that the assessment didn’t go far enough.
Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, said Nordic should have pursued an EIR in the first place.
“Such a massive project is not something where shortcuts can be taken in the environmental review process and we appreciate their willingness to just go straight into the draft EIR process rather than push it through (the MND) process and see how it goes,” Kalt said. “I think it’s just saving everyone a lot of time and effort to just agree to do the draft EIR right away.”
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In response to news from Nordic Aquafarms and Humboldt County that the county will pursue a full environmental impact report for the proposed fish farm, a coalition of North Coast environmental organizations thank the company and county for listening to community concern and their commitment to rigorous environmental review.
“Our organizations called for the preparation of an environmental impact report because we believed that this project—which is unlike anything seen before in Humboldt County or even the state of California — could benefit from more thorough environmental impact review and public participation,” said Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper.

“Process matters. Thorough environmental impact review does two things: it allows the public to better engage with a project, helping to better shape and mold the project to reduce impacts and it allows the public to see and trust that this is safe for Humboldt Bay,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. “We are happy that the county and Nordic are moving forward in the right way.” Among the impacts that the coalition anticipate will be better studied and ultimately mitigated are greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to coastal communities and coastal access.

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In terms of sheer size, Nordic Aquafarms’ land-based aquaculture facility, slated for construction on the Samoa Peninsula, would be the largest development project Humboldt County has seen for decades, maybe since the heyday of the timber industry.

The facility’s five buildings — including two massive production modules where Atlantic salmon would be raised inside fully-contained recirculating tanks — would total 766,530 square feet, nearly an acre larger than the footprint of the Bayshore Mall.

It’s been more than two years since the Norwegian company announced its ambitious plans, and the environmental review period was scheduled to wrap up this week. The county, as lead agency, released its initial study last month: hundreds of pages of analysis capped by a conclusion that with mitigation measures the fish farm would have no significant adverse environmental effects. A 30-day period for the public to review the study and submit comments concluded Monday.

But in a surprise twist, Nordic executives this week announced that they will subject the project to yet more review, going above and beyond the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. 
 
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On Monday morning, three executives from an Orange County-based company called Victorum Corporation offered a tour of a former Sierra Pacific Industries lumber mill property, a triangular, 70-acre industrial parcel nestled between the Ma-le’l Dunes and the Mad River Slough.

Since the mill shut down five years ago, its rusting metal buildings have attracted transients and trespassers. Exterior walls have been tagged with graffiti, and earlier this year several of the old buildings were damaged or destroyed by arson, according to the Arcata Fire District. 

As the executives walked across the parcel’s vast expanses of asphalt on Monday they explained how, with $10 million they hope to raise from investors, they plan to transform the property into a state-of-the-art cannabis campus with up to eight acres of indoor and greenhouse cultivation, plus facilities for distribution, manufacturing and more.Lumber mill operations from the 1950s into the 1980s led to discharge of toxins, including dioxin and pentachlorophenol, into Humboldt Bay, and while a consent decree required Sierra Pacific to conduct extensive cleanup and monitoring of the site, environmental concerns remain.

“It’s one of the dioxin hotspots of Humboldt Bay, and any kind of ground disturbance at that site would be problematic,” said Jennifer Kalt, executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper. “But like many of these sites, as long as a redevelopment plan can be done in a way that’s protective of the slough, it’s better to clean it up than have water runoff with [those] dilapidated buildings.”

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A U.S. District Court judge on Sunday ordered a Humboldt County construction company to pay more than $2 million in civil penalties for violating the federal Clean Water Act by allowing toxic pollutants to discharge into a tributary of the Mad River.

Kernen Construction Co., whose services include excavating, paving, concrete and metal fabrication and more, was ordered to pay $2,087,750 as a result of a civil enforcement action brought by Arcata nonprofit Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs).

According to the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Kernen founders and executives Scott Farley and Kurt Kernen admitted liability on all claims asserted in the complaint. Namely, CATs accused the company of allowing stormwater laden with pollutants to flow into Hall Creek, a salmon-bearing stream that flows into the Mad River. 

The company’s facility at 2350 Glendale Drive, between Blue Lake and McKinleyville, is used to manufacture and store rock aggregate products. It was previously used to store roofing shingles, scrap metal, soil and organic debris. When it rained in the area, the ruling states, the stormwater picked up pollutants such as lead, copper, aluminum, pentachlorophenol and zinc — all of which are harmful to animals and humans. Due to insufficient stormwater controls, the pollutant-laden water was allowed to flow into the adjacent waterway.

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