Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, June 12 @ 4:21 p.m.

Unable To Agree On Offshore Wind Energy Issue, Del Norte County Supervisors, Crescent City Harbor Vote To Terminate Tri-Agency

The Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority was instrumental to improvements to the Del Norte County Regional Airport, according to a 2022 report to the Board of Supervisors. | File photo: Andrew Goff

An amendment to the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority’s bylaws nearly provided a path forward for the beleaguered JPA on Tuesday. But the moment was fleeting.

Unable to accept the new language — which modified a clause regarding offshore wind energy — Harbor Commissioner Wes White said he would vote against the amendment. This led to Crescent City Harbor commissioners deadlocking over the issue since their board president, Harry Adams, was absent, which prompted Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore to move to terminate the Tri-Agency.

However it took a vote from the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors to start the domino effect that officially ended the decades-old joint powers authority seen by some as Del Norte County’s main driver for economic development.

“I find it difficult to believe we couldn’t come to a compromise on this issue and find a way to work together,” Crescent City Councilor Jason Greenough said after the Board of Supervisors and the Harbor Board approved terminating the Tri-Agency. “I understand you guys made a decision, but this doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t think it will sit well with the community that we can’t come together on something as simple as an MOU for an organization that’s supposed to encourage growth in our community. I just don’t understand it.”

Though Inscore’s motion to terminate the Tri-Agency died due to a lack of second, the Board of Supervisors 3-2 to end the Tri-Agency with District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard and District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short dissenting.

The Crescent City Harbor District Board of Commissioners voted 3-1-1 in favor of terminating the Tri-Agency. Rick Shepherd dissented and Adams was absent.

For the first hour or so of Tuesday’s special meeting, which brought the JPA’s three member agencies under one roof, elected officials rehashed the offshore wind energy discussion. White, his colleague on the harbor board, Brian Stone, and District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard continued to argue that the Tri-Agency is the united voice Del Norte needs in conversations with the state and federal players involved.

They called for removing a clause in the current iteration of the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement, 5.05 (e), which states the JPA “shall not support or pursue activities involving the offshore generation of wind energy.”

Harbor commissioner Rick Shepherd, who’s been a commercial fisherman for about 50 years, said the conclusion he and others have come to with regard to offshore wind is “there’s no stopping it.” It’s necessary for Del Norte to be involved in the development process, he said.

But Howard’s colleague, District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges, who had requested the offshore wind exclusionary clause be included in the bylaws in January, continued to voice his opposition. Borges also took issue with Del Norte County’s $70,000 contribution to get the Tri-Agency started.

“With the amount of money we’re talking about — $110,000 with the county putting up over 70 percent of that — you can’t hire a full time person with that amount of money to pursue all these things we want to accomplish,” Borges said. “One option, which I would possibly consider, is for everybody to equally put up a fair share. [With] $70,000 a piece, we throw out $210,000, we can come up with something good.”

The Tri-Agency was created to help the community’s economic recovery following the 1964 tsunami. In the 1970s, the joint powers authority brought two revolving loan programs to Del Norte County, according to a Jan. 25, 2022 report created by then county counsel Joel Campbell-Blair. One was funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce and was administered through the Del Norte Economic Development Corporation since 1976.

The other program was created in 1997 using a $400,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program was ultimately a failure when a handful of borrowers were unable to repay the loans they received, leaving the Tri-Agency floundering since about 2011.

Kevin Hendrick, a member of the Del Norte County Democratic Party, offered an amendment to an offshore wind clause in the Tri-Agency's joint powers agreement.

Other economic development ventures the Tri-Agency has been instrumental in include projects involving the sewer and the airport as well as the creation of the Del Norte Visitors Bureau, Campbell-Blair wrote in his report.

On Tuesday, Stone and Howard said the Tri-Agency members were able to recapture that debt in recent years, which led to the joint powers authority paying off its USDA loan about two years ago.

The $110,000 Borges referred to includes $10,000 and $30,000 in contributions from the harbor and city respectively and was seed money to get the Tri-Agency going again, Howard told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

In addition to the offshore wind exclusionary clause at issue the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement, the bylaws called for the inclusion of Del Norte County’s federally recognized tribes.

However, Inscore said there’s no way the Tri-Agency could make a good-faith invitation to the tribes for them to join due to its uncertain status.

“I wouldn’t join the Tri-Agency as it currently is,” he said. “Now, if it got itself together and was clear on its goals, its vision and its staffing plan….”

Borges said the county should keep its $70,000 contribution, have “our own internal economic development person” revise its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS, and “have our voice partnered with the city and harbor [so] we can get something accomplished.”

The CEDS is a five-year plan for economic development that includes a mention of offshore wind energy development. Borges pointed out that even if the offshore wind exclusionary clause is removed from the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement, it’s still in the CEDS.

It was Kevin Hendrick, chairman of the Del Norte County Democratic Central Committee, who came up with the amendment to the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement.

Hendrick’s proposed amendment stated that the “the [Tri-Agency] shall not adopt a policy position either for or against offshore generation of wind energy without a concurring vote and the explicit agreement of each of the member agencies.”

Hendrick acknowledged that for each member agency to reconsider its prior stance regarding offshore wind and the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement, they must take a 4/5ths vote in suspending the rules. But adopting the amendment would place an impediment before the JPA before it takes action on offshore wind, he said.

“With my proposal, everybody has to compromise a little bit for this to happen and it’s a demonstration of your commitment to keep this going,” Hendrick said.

The Tri-Agency should be able to engage in discussions regarding offshore wind, Hendrick argued. One reason is the possibility of Del Norte County receiving a much-needed redundant source of electricity since grid infrastructure would need improvement once the floating wind farms off of Humboldt Bay take shape.

While the Yurok Tribe has officially opposed offshore wind energy generation, they would be a natural partner with Del Norte County since they’re still involved in fighting for their rights, Hendrick said.

“These floating platforms are new and are not well studied,” he said. “As Humboldt projects proceed and as they prepare their environmental impact reports, this is the time we should be asking these questions — exactly what effects will these projects have on marine life and the ocean environment? It makes sense to allow Tri-Agency and others to continue to monitor progress to protect our interests.”

Hendrick also pointed out that the CEDS is “chalk-full of goodies.” Those goodies include expanding fishing access on local rivers by working with state and federal regulators and diversifying the agriculture industry to offer a variety of value-added products.

“We have to get past this impasse,” Hendrick said.

District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short, who is also concerned about offshore wind energy’s potential threat to local fisheries, motioned to incorporate Hendrick’s amendment into the Tri-Agency’s joint powers agreement.

Though he acknowledged that he voted in favor of the offshore wind exclusionary clause in the bylaws back in January, Short said he didn’t think that he was taking away the ability of the Tri-Agency to be involved in the conversation at all. Del Norte County should argue for its interests as the development of offshore wind energy platforms and the infrastructure needed to get that energy ashore continues, Short said.

“I do not want to support wind energy being placed off our shores,” he said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to take this away from us being at the table. If you guys want to discuss some change to the verbiage [in the JPA] I’m open to that, but I, again, I want to protect fishermen and the fishing fleet.”

Once the harbor board and Board of Supervisors voted in favor of dissolving the agency, the question then became how to divvy up expenses related to a lawsuit levied against the Tri-Agency by county resident Linda Sutter.

Sutter, who ran against Supervisor Dean Wilson for his District 5 seat earlier this year, has argued that Tri-Agency members are violating the Ralph M. Brown Act and objects to its lack of transparency. She also takes issue with the money the county, city and harbor district has plugged into the JPA to keep it going.

On Tuesday, Sutter lambasted the Tri-Agency again, calling for its dissolution. Mentioning the USDA loan repayment and the $110,000 in contributions from the city, county and harbor, Sutter criticized the Tri-Agency’s potential involvement in the offshore wind energy discussion.

“How can we stand idly by and allow this tragic travesty to unfold?” Sutter asked. “How can we condemn … our community’s livelihoods in the name of progress. It is unacceptable, it is unjust and it is a betrayal of the trust placed in our elected officials.”

The Tri-Agency’s attorney, Bob Black, said dissolving the agency would simplify the existing litigation. Noting that a hearing is set for June 20, Black said there will be costs associated with finalizing the litigation and dissolving the agencies in the range of about $15,000 total.

Inscore, whose motion to terminate the Tri-Agency had died due to a lack of a second from the two city councilors who showed up at Tuesday’s meeting, said he would bring up the issue of the shared costs from the JPA’s dissolution to the full Council.

Inscore continued to argue on Tuesday that the original offshore wind energy exclusionary clause shouldn’t be in the Tri-Agency’s foundational document. He even asked what Borges’ and Short’s response would be if it was offshore oil drilling instead of wind energy.

But, he also conceded that while Del Norte County deserves to have leaders, including tribal and business leaders, who are looking toward a better future.

“I just don’t know what that looks like,” he said. “It just doesn’t look like the Tri-Agency right now, and that’s unfortunate.”


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