Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Oct. 18 @ 4:23 p.m. / Community, Local Government
Harbor District Appeals to Huffman, Says Congressional Earmarks Could Be The Lifeline It Needs
Harbor commissioners are urging federal representatives to send some dollars their way, saying their intervention is necessary to keep Crescent City’s port — and by extension the local economy — afloat.
Calling its Oct. 17 letter to Congressman Jared Huffman a plea for help, the Crescent City Harbor District outlines the many challenges it faces, saying that some are partly due to federal policies outside their control.
These challenges include the 2023 groundfish and salmon season closures, ongoing litigation with Fashion Blacksmith and roadblocks to dredging. The Crescent City Harbor District is also continuing to pay off a USDA Disaster Relief Loan that paid to rebuild the inner boat basin following the 2011 tsunami.
The Crescent City Harbor District hopes Huffman will allocate Congressionally Directed Spending dollars its way “in light of the daunting challenges CCHD faces.”
“Congressional earmarks may now stand as the vital lifeline preserving the fiscal solvency of CCHD,” the Harbor District’s letter states. “As a cornerstone supporting our local fishing industry, CCHD’s financial health is intertwined with the economic vitality of our community. Without such pivotal intervention, the very lifeblood of our local economy is at risk.”
On Tuesday, in addition to sending the letter to Huffman, commissioners asked Harbormaster Tim Petrick to forward the letter to the USDA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the California Water Resources Control Board as well as state representatives Mike McGuire and Jim Wood.
Petrick said he and Assistant Harbormaster Mike Rademaker drafted the letter with help from Commissioner Rick Shepherd.
Shepherd singled out the port’s ongoing obstacles to resuming dredging as one of the main reasons he felt asking Huffman for help was necessary.
“The harbor has been working diligently and put a lot of time and effort into the dredging permit process,” Shepherd said. “It was just not capable of us achieving (that permit) due to bureaucratic and federal and state laws that have prevented us from doing the dredging. I wanted to get it to the right people.”
Following the commission’s vote on the letter to Huffman, Petrick gave a breakdown of the “dredging permit roadmap” the port has been working for roughly two years. This includes conducting pre-dredge surveys, sampling the sediment and identifying a place to dispose of the material in the port’s dredge ponds.
According to Petrick’s roadmap, the Harbor District is in the second of three stages — the permitting and agency consultation phase. This involves working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“Today in round numbers, we’ve spent over $100,000 on consultants doing sediment testing, bathymetric surveys, creating the sampling plans for the Water Board and the Army Corps,” Petrick said. “We’ve got over 600 staff hours into this. I myself have over 2,600 emails between myself and either consultants or attorneys or regulators and over 300 phone calls with them as well. It’s been a saga.”
Shepherd, who’s also a commercial fisherman, said the port’s dredging woes stem from a transition in harbormasters that occurred about 20 years ago. The port’s dredge permit got stuffed into a drawer and was never renewed. Pointing out that he wasn’t as involved in Harbor District matters as he is now as a commissioner, Shepherd said he didn’t think it would be a “big deal” to renew that permit.
Shepherd said he now knows that renewing a dredge permit is a huge lift.
“It was a big big mistake by this harbor from many years ago and we’re paying,” he said.
In its letter to Huffman, the Harbor District states that not being able to dredge has prevented it from meeting its contractual obligations to its tenants, Fashion Blacksmith in particular.
A state arbitration panel recently ordered the Crescent City Harbor District to pay nearly $1.3 million to Fashion Blacksmith as a result of its inability to do the required dredging.
“We made every conceivable effort to support Fashion Blacksmith and keep it operational,” the Harbor District’s letter to Huffman states. “However, despite our diligence and determination, the intricate and burdensome permitting process proved insurmountable, preventing us from fulfilling our commitments and leading to the permanent closure of Fashion Blacksmith.”
As for lingering financial effects from the 2011 tsunami, the Crescent City Harbor District took out a $5 million USDA loan to meet requirements for grant funding to rebuild the inner boat basin. According to the Harbor District’s letter, the tsunami wreaked $50 million in damages to the harbor.
On Tuesday, Petrick said the port took out the USDA loan “with the mindset that the revenue streams we traditionally had would be available to us.” However due to changes in state and federal fishing regulations, “a lot of that has changed,” Petrick said.
“That’s not just fisheries… this harbor does a lot of things,” the harbormaster said. “A lot has been increased legal fees and consultant fees and environmental testing and environmental regulation as far as how to build and where to build and what you can do. Over the last decade, a lot of those regulations have shifted and in a lot of ways they’ve shifted in a much more aggressive manner than could have been predicted.”
Commissioner Brian Stone praised the letter, but said he’d like to include more information about the revenue streams the port relies on to operate. According to him, taxes, including property taxes and lodging taxes, account for about 13 percent of the Harbor District’s revenue. The other roughly 85 percent comes from fees and leases, Stone said.
Stone urged Petrick to outline the role taxes play in the harbor’s operation for federal officials who may not be familiar with how taxing in California works.
“This is basically a business on top of a government entity. To make it work properly, we have to make money,” he said. “(We have to) let them know that, hey, when you place restrictions upon us, that reduces our revenue stream and when our revenue stream goes down it makes it that much more difficult for us to operate.”