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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Japan announced earlier this month it planned to release treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years.

The decision, long speculated at but delayed for years because of safety worries and protests, came during a meeting of Cabinet ministers who endorsed the ocean release as the best option.

The question is whether the treated radioactive water will have any impact on Humboldt Bay. The answer, experts and government agencies say, is not much.

“If this water is released, it will increase the radioactive load in the immediate environment (around the nuclear site), and although the amounts may be relatively low, it will prolong the recovery of this area,” said Steven L. Manley, a professor emeritus at Long Beach State University. 

“If released, it would take over a year to find its way to the waters off Humboldt and significant dilution will occur. The scientist from (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) measured very small amounts (but measurable) of Fukushima radionuclides reaching (Humboldt County’s) coastline from the initial disastrous release. Kelp Watch found no detectable increase in kelp tissue from our shores (Alaska to Mexico) of the radionuclides that traveled the currents from Fukushima.”

Jennifer Kalt, the executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper, said she is more concerned about the people of Japan and their safety than of treated radioactive water making its way to Humboldt Bay.

But she added she’s happy there is no longer a nuclear plant locally.

“The stakes are way too high,” she said. ”I’m glad people watchdogged the power plant here and got rid of it many years ago.”

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As the world celebrates Earth Day 2021, local experts warn the historic Arcata dikes holding back Humboldt Bay will be overtopped monthly, possibly in as soon as 30 years, due to rising sea level from climate change. 
"There is no stopping sea level rise for the next century or next couple of centuries," said Aldaron Laird, an environmental planner specializing in local sea level rise who is currently working with Greenway Partners on several local projects. "It's just going to keep right on going."

Wiyot Tribe Natural Resource Specialist Adam Canter said Arcata has a site on McDaniel Slough that is at risk — one of 52 Indigenous cultural sites around Humboldt Bay that could be inundated in the coming decades.

Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, identified three sites in Arcata that are at risk of tidal inundation in the coming decades that have tested positive for dioxin contamination: one on Janes Creek, another on Butchers Slough and the former Little Lakes Industries site off I Street near the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. 
Last year the Arcata City Council voted to submit an application for a federal assessment grant of $300,000 for the same property and received the grant earlier this year.Last year the Arcata City Council voted to submit an application for a federal assessment grant of $300,000 for the same property and received the grant earlier this year.
Arcata Community Development Director David Loya said he is hopeful that the city will get the cleanup grant and the cleanup will begin as early as this fall, but he anticipates next summer is more likely.
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Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) says the state must tap into offshore winds to meet its ambitious goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. 

Assembly Bill 525 would require state regulators to set a planning target of at least 10 gigawatts of offshore wind production by 2040, with a short-term goal of 3 GW by 2030. To set the plan in motion, AB 525 also directs state agencies to begin securing necessary federal permits and planning for port upgrades and other infrastructure projects.

According to a recent study by various California regulators, by 2045 the state will need to be able to produce and store at least 140 GW of new renewable energy. It also estimates offshore wind could produce a maximum of 112 GW annually.

Meanwhile data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration pegs California’s 2018 total energy consumption as second highest in the nation, but fourth lowest per capita due to its climate and energy efficiency programs.
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