Solution Still Sought for Dredge Problem

June, 2017

There is no question about it: Humboldt Bay’s two marinas need to be dredged as soon as possible. Sediment has built up over the last decade, leaving boats enveloped by mud at low tide. Until late last week, the City of Eureka and the Humboldt County Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, the two agencies responsible for performing maintenance dredging, planned to dump the dredge spoils on a beach along the Samoa Peninsula, as they have done in past years despite protests from the public and warnings from the agencies charged with permitting the spoils disposal. The City of Eureka and the Harbor District are now back to the drawing board after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently rejected the original proposed plan. 

The plan to dump dredge spoils on Samoa Beach first appeared on the Harbor District’s February 9 meeting agenda. This raised the concern of Surfrider and Humboldt Baykeeper because the plan would not only impede public access to the beach, but would likely be denied by agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers, further delaying the much needed dredging. 

The plan was presented at the Harbor District meeting on February 9 and the Eureka City Council on February 21, both of which were well attended by fishermen, surfers, beachgoers, and environmentalists.  The Eureka Parks and Recreation Director, Miles Slattery, gave a PowerPoint presentation describing dredging goals and history, efforts taken since the previous dredge cycle, and a disposal opportunities evaluation. Slattery presented Samoa Beach as being “the best option” for disposal due to the comparatively low cost and its ability to accommodate high volumes of dredge material. Not included in the analysis was the need to obtain approval from permitting agencies.

On May 3, the Harbor District and the City officials finally had a conference call with the EPA, who gave a clear “no way” to the beach disposal plan per longstanding policies on ocean dumping. According to EPA Public Affairs Officer Bill Keener, the only reason beach dumping was allowed in the past was due to a permit inappropriately issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1998. That permit expired in 2008 and the EPA, Army Corps, and Coastal Commission all agreed it could not be renewed. This meant the previous marina dredging completed in 2007 was the last time beach disposal would be allowed. 

May 3 also happened to be the date the Harbor District and City of Eureka set to host a public meeting at the Wharfinger Building to present the disposal options they have been exploring. The meeting was reminiscent of the previous Harbor District and Eureka City Council meetings back in February. Once again Slattery gave a PowerPoint presentation, and once again the meeting was well attended by various stakeholders and interested members of the public. During public comment, members of the public clearly conveyed their frustration with hearing the same information over again, with no clear plan for an immediate solution.

Still attempting to continue with the beach disposal plan, on May 8 Humboldt County Supervisor Ryan Sundberg sent an email to Jack Bowles, Director of State and Local Relations at the EPA, explaining the dire need for dredging and requesting the agencies rejection of beach disposal be overruled. The email was reportedly in response to Bowles’ request for more information. On May 16, Jason Brush, acting Assistant Director for the EPA Region 9’s Water Division, responded to Sundberg’s email, reaffirming the EPA’s opposition to beach dumping.  

The EPA has now given a firm “no” to beach disposal twice, but there are still a number of alternative options for the disposal of dredge spoils. One possibility is to use the Samoa Lagoons site (near the bridge) to remove debris and sediment, and then pump the decant water to the former pulp mill’s water treatment plant, and eventually discharge it back to the bay or ocean. Anther option includes “beneficial reuse” for the dredged materials, which (if uncontaminated) could be used to restore local marshes. The only solution already approved is dumping the spoils three miles offshore at the Army Corps’ offshore disposal site.

Moving forward, Surfrider and Baykeeper would like to see the Harbor District and City work closely with the permitting agencies and stakeholders to identify the best immediate solution as well as long-term options and then do meaningful public outreach around those options, bringing our community together so that our bay once again can be home to working harbors, as well as be a place for a variety of recreational opportunities that everyone can enjoy.