Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, May 4 @ 3:20 p.m. / Infrastructure, Local Government
Crescent City Harbor Could Get Test Results From Dredge Material Samples In The 'Not Too Terribly Distant Future,' Harbormaster Says
• Arbitrators Reach 'Interim Decision' in Fashion Blacksmith Dispute With Harbor District Over Dredging Responsibilities
• Crescent City Harbormaster Says It's Four Months Away From Permit That'll Lead to Disposal of 95,000 Cubic Yards of Dredge Material
Crescent City Harbor commissioners could find out whether fine silt and soil the port has been storing in dredge ponds for a decade has toxic substances in it in the “not too terribly distant future,” the harbormaster said Tuesday.
Harbormaster Tim Petrick said representatives of GeoEngineers pulled up roughly 80 gallons in 16 five-gallon buckets of material on Friday. Test results could come back as early as the Harbor District Board of Commissioners’ meeting May 16, he said.
Partial test results from samples from the port’s outer boat basin are also trickling in, but that information wasn’t in a format Petrick could present to commissioners yet.
These test results are necessary for the Crescent City Harbor District to receive a beneficial use permit from the California Water Quality Control Board. Once the port gets that permit and finds a home for the material, it would be able to get a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to resume dredging.
Petrick said he’s working on both permits at the same time with GeoEngineers focusing on the Water Board and Eureka-based Pacific Affiliates focusing on the Army Corps of Engineers.
“The Water Board is the first domino to fall,” Petrick said. “Once they approve (the beneficial use permit) and they approve the disposal site, then we’ll be good to go. We could start moving it the next day. But we got to get trucks and operators, and 90,000 cubic yards takes awhile to move.”
Dredging has been a point of contention for the Crescent City Harbor District for years and has been brought up at meetings regularly since July 2021. In September 2021, Petrick told the Outpost that the Army Corps had accepted responsibility for about 60,000 cubic yards of that material. But it can’t be deposited in a regular landfill because the California Water Quality Control Board considers it waste.
The only approved disposal place for the material is the Humboldt Open Ocean Disposal Site near Eureka, Petrick told the Outpost in 2021.
On Tuesday, Petrick told commissioners if the Water Board issues a beneficial use permit, the material could be used on “permitted projects.”
“For instance, say Caltrans says, ‘We need 50,000 cubic yards of fill and we’ve already got a project permitted and we’re moving forward,’ (the Water Board) will approve this for that,” Petrick said, referring to the material in the harbor’s dredge ponds. “One we’re working on, I guess the tribe of Elk Valley has a quarry to fill in and so we’re attempting to get past that permitting issue by saying, ‘Look, they’re the tribe. They don’t have to follow your rules.’”
Petrick told commissioners that if the Harbor District can clear one of the ponds, it’s possible they’ll be able to refill it with more dredge material if they dam it off from the second pond. But he said he didn’t want to “lock in two-thirds of the ponds” if he didn’t have a definitive answer.
During the meeting, Commissioner Gerhard Weber expressed frustration at the permitting process.
“If all of us commissioners have to take a test right now to talk about the permitting process — what agencies are involved, what the sequence is — we would all fail that test,” he said. “How do we expect the general public to make up their mind on how well we are doing on dredging? What is this whole thing if we’re not even sure.”
Weber called for dredge updates to be delivered to commissioners in writing.
“When we forget what we hear, we got to go back to what’s written down and then we can start educating the people that sent us here and let them know we’re trying to do our best,” he said.
Petrick’s update regarding dredging came after the Harbor District announced that arbitrators had reached an “interim decision” in a dispute between the district and Fashion Blacksmith, a tenant of the port for 42 years.
That dispute stems from a 1996 provision in Fashion Blacksmith’s lease that requires the district to dredge underneath its synchrolift to a depth of at least negative 18 feet from mean lower low water, according to Petrick.
The port never had the necessary permits to dredge, but because regulations were more relaxed 27 years ago, “it wasn’t really an issue,” Petrick told the Outpost. Regulations have become stricter in recent years, he said.