By Kevin L. Hoover, Arcata Eye
October 28, 2009
The hotly contested race for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Board pits two Arcatans with unassailable environmental credentials against each other, stressing longstanding friendships and laying bare generational divisions.
For Third Division voters, the race is a referendum on two very different philosophies for Humboldt Bay’s future.
Dan Hauser, former state assemblymember and Arcata city manager, is challenging incumbent environmental engineer Mike Wilson for the Bay District seat.
As anyone who’s kept up with current events knows, Hauser advocates for development of a shipping port on the bay, which would work with a restored rail line. Hauser contends that port/rail development can be done without compromise to the environment, and that restoration of the shipping infrastructure is the best bet for long-term job creation and retention. That platform has won him strong support from conservatives, labor and some business interests.
Wilson believes that environmental restoration and trail development are more stable underpinnings for long-term economic stability. He is skeptical of both the environmental and economic viability of any large-scale port/rail development. His emphasis on natural values has earned him the backing of most of the environmental community, alternative transportation advocates and many in the health care field.
Having followed Bay District business for years, Dan Hauser’s sense of duty has led him to interrupt his idyllic Arcata existence with a return to public service.
Once on the Bay District commission, Hauser said, he’d work with bay-neighboring communities to scope out opportunities for creation of living-wage jobs.
Vast, untapped potential is waiting to be exploited, Hauser said. “Our bay is one of the last possible resources for economic development in our area,” he said. “I see opportunities for coastal-dependent industries, shipping, safety and certainly the environment and natural values. It’s an extension of the restoration of the creation of the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. That can be expanded greatly around the bay.”
Hauser thinks he’s the kind of environmentalist who the pro-development commission majority could work with. “I’ve had long experience with putting together coalitions of people with diverse backgrounds and interests,” he said.
“Getting people to work together rather than against each other, especially in Sacramento.”
Hauser isn’t willing to take a back seat to Wilson in trail advocacy. But he thinks the idea of co-locating rail and a trail on U.S. Highway 101’s west side is impractical for both. “You’d have to fill wetlands, and that’s something that’s extremely difficult and inappropriate to do,” he said.
He’d flop the trail over to the spacious east side of 101. “The east side has much more opportunities for a transportation trail, but helping people access the vast amount of territory we’ve purchased for wildlife habitat and wildlife viewing opportunities along that east side,” he said.
The trail route would take a left turn where Janes Creek meets Samoa Boulevard, and utilize the improvements to that street as part of the long-planned Gateway Project. It would pass over the freeway bridge, which is slated for sidewalk widening, then head south through City- and Caltrans-owned lands, and continue to Eureka.
Hauser wants to hold the proposed Redwood Marine Terminal up for critical analysis, while being mindful of the economic potential of a “scaled-down” version. “In the same way that we just improved the airport, I think we can include the shipping opportunities on Humboldt Bay.”
He doesn’t foresee the Bay District being able to use much of the excess water capacity suddenly available from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. “That’s going to be a very difficult thing,” he said, and aquaculture – farming of marine life – creates limited demand. “Ninety-nine percent of the aquaculture opportunities use salt water, not fresh water. I don’t believe we’re going to be raising trout or catfish, and those would be the only real fresh water opportunities.”
He does believe saltwater aquaculture should be pursued, but is clearly more enthused about brawnier industries.
Short-sea shipping, he said, is a “great idea as a start towards long-term shipping.”
The Marine Life Protection Act is heavily flawed in several ways, Hauser said. Besides lacking enforcement provisions and buy-in from user groups, “I really don’t like to see something like this being pushed by a private organization with state backing,” he said. He predicts possible blocking by court action until the MLPA can be revised to improve community participation.
Hauser says he’ll capitalize on his contacts with influential state and federal policymakers to maximize Humboldt Bay’s economic and environmental potential. “I have a tremendous number of contacts in Sacramento and in Washington,” he said. These include “the various agencies as well as legislators that I believe can help us on the North Coast.”
His decades of experience on issues now relevant to the bay will well-serve the district, he said. Co-creation of the Marsh and Arcata’s successful Aldergrove Industrial Park are only part of the story. Largely forgotten is Hauser’s key role in preventing development of Bayside’s bottomlands via the ATOPAK development in the 1970s. That would have consisted of a Holiday Inn, mobile home park, shopping center and apartments.
He thinks his opponent’s emphasis on development of light industry is laudable, but beyond the scope of the Bay District’s charter. “The Harbor District has certain tools and cities and counties have certain tools,” he said. “Development of light industry, non harbor-related, is something that we took advantage of in creating Aldergrove Industrial Park. But the Harbor District can’t do zoning. It doesn’t have a redevelopment agency.”
It can, he said, work to assist neighboring communities, but not to the extent advertised by Wilson. “The Harbor District has to use the tools that it has,” he said.
Hauser holds that industrialization of the bay can be accomplished without imperiling sensitive ecosystems by enforcement of protective regulations to prevent introduction of non-native species which he helped create as a state assemblymember.
“Those are already in state law, in fact I was instrumental in getting that into state and federal law, that you can no longer dump bilge water in the enclosed bays of any of our western ports,” he said. Invasive species aren’t only introduced by shipping, he noted, and he’s all for aggressive prevention and eradication strategies.
He's stoic aboutsome of his longtime associats, such as Jim Test, Alex Stillman and others having endorsed Wilson. "Some were a surprise, some weren't," he said, not naming names. He doesn't want to discuss specifics so as not to complicate ongoing relationships.
All in all, Hauser thinks that between his clarity of vision, track record and legislative skills, he’s the prime choice for the job. “I believe I have an obligation to use my experience, contacts and expertise to improve job opportunities, economic development and the environment of the bay region,” he said.
His first four years as a bay commissioner are just a start, according to Mike Wilson. Asked about his accomplishments over the past four years, his first response has to do with broadening the scope of economic development via the district’s Economic Development Committee. That body’s focus is encouraging existing business and infrastructure around the bay.
That includes short-sea shipping, with the bay district administering a regional program executed by Humboldt Maritime Logistics, LLC. The existing Schneider Dock could handle the business, which might infuse $20 million a year into the district for further infrastructure development.
That scale of shipping, using barges, is do-able, Wilson says, as opposed to the much grander Redwood Marine Terminal the district’s pro-development majority has approved. While he’s on the committee to review consultants for an EIR, “we don’t have any money to do the study and there’s no customers identified for it,” Wilson said. “I would say it’s very tenuous.” He regrets that the district hasn’t expanded its investigation into uses of the terminal site for genuinely sustainable and productive enterprises such as light manufacturing, aquaculture or a business park.
Aquaculture is poised to grow on the bay, with good-paying, low-impact jobs. “That’s where I would focus my energies,” Wilson said, “on things we do well and can do better.”
Unfortunately, the opportunity presented by the 60 million gallons of fresh water per day that the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District has to find a use for is not one the Bay District can readily capitalize on. “There’s not a lot of industries that use that much water,” he said.
Wilson becomes animated when discussing progress on establishing the Humboldt Bay Trail. The multi-group task force’s work has already jiggled loose grant funding for the Arcata section, and Wilson is eager to move forward with the extension to Bracut.
Plans for water trails are moving forward as well, with a new dock to be installed at the Marsh. Studies of the bay’s tide gates will both help protect sensitive areas during oil spills and prioritize the gates for upgrades, improving fish passage. “We can re-connect the bay to the watersheds and expand wetland and estuary restoration,” Wilson said. “That provides more employment as well as natural resources.”
Apart from specific projects, Wilson is proud to have shaken up the district’s insular culture. “I’ve worked hard to bring more transparency to the district,” he said. “We know more about the functions of the district than we did in the four years prior and even the 30 years prior.”
Fiscal responsibility is still lacking, he said. “The direction the district has been going in has cost the public a lot of money and has produced relatively little,” he said. The vaunted rail and container-port favored by the board’s majority is a dead end, Wilson believes, and will collapse of its own preposterousness sooner or later, he believes, and he’d like it to be sooner.
“We don’t have a budget that will last more than a few years if we continue down this track,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
He thinks the Bay District commission has been so focused on the mammoth port/rail dream that it has failed to deliver on smaller, more attainable features that would genuinely serve bay residents. “They forget that ultimately, we need to provide services for the communities that pay for us.”
Because of the lack of realistic direction, big budget cuts loom, and a major refocusing ought to be undertaken. “The realities are going to necessitate a different plan,” he said.
He’d like to repurpose the Maritime Commerce Director position toward cultivating grassroots economic development. “We need to build the businesses around the bay that will necessitate shipping, not the ‘build it and they’ll come model,’ which hasn’t worked.”
On the environmental side, Wilson doesn’t think the district is doing enough to plan for climate change and sea level rise. The community, he says, has outpaced the district in awareness of the coming challenge, and he’d like to tap into that.
Repairing dilapidated levees may be a waste of resources. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this really a good strategy for the long term, and should we be considering a retreat strategy for sea level rise?’”
But therein lies opportunity, too, as near-bay landowners might cultivate peat to lock up carbon, then sell the credits. It’s just one idea. But the real bonanza, he said, will be the multi-modal trail, which scores as practical infrastructure and a huge quality-of-life factor in attracting and retaining new business.
He thinks the Marine Life Protection Act can work as long as it’s based on science and has buy-in from fishermen and others who derive their livelihood from the ocean.
The 3–2 split on controversial items, with him and Pat Higgins in the minority, might change pending the results of the Fourth Division race. Nonetheless, he sees the commission majority reluctantly migrating closer to his view of bay development out of practical necessity. “All three of them are more open to a new direction than my opponent is,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a shift.”
While Wilson respects Hauser’s accomplishments, he sees them as part of the past and thinks his skill set and vision reflects the future. And he doesn’t feel outgunned by Hauser’s Sacramento connections. “I believe that my experience is more relevant because of the time frame,” he said. “It’s current. I’ve worked with all of the funding agencies, all of the regulatory agencies and all of state agencies that have brought tens of millions of dollars into this community,” he said. “They’re peers of mine.
The question is, ‘What’s the relevant experience?’”