The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District was awarded a $155,000 federal grant to assess how wastewater discharge could be improved for peninsula communities and the district’s Samoa pulp mill site as new industries begin to move on to the site.
District Executive Director Jack Crider said the U.S. Economic Development Agency grant was awarded after the county Board of Supervisors designated the pulp mill site as a “spot blight” in March 2014.
“An EDA grant is a kind of tough one to get,” he said. “The county has been a great partner working to get it.”
With the funds, the district will assess four components of feasibility with three relating to wastewater projects and the fourth relating to a water treatment. Crider said that about $80,000 of the funds will be used to hire a consultant to look at the feasibility of discharging wastewater from Fairhaven and Samoa through the ocean outfall pipe — the mile-and-a-half pipeline that discharges wastewater 100 feet under the ocean surface.
The consultant would also look at extending Eureka’s sewer discharge pipe to the ocean outfall pipe. Eureka’s Elk Wastewater Treatment Plant current discharges waste into the main channel of Humboldt Bay, with Crider stating there has been some “controversy” on whether this method has any effect on bay marine life.
Currently, the pulp mill site does not have any industrial users that discharge out of the ocean outfall pipe, but interest in the site has been growing.
Thirteen oyster companies are now leasing areas of the pulp mill site for their hatcheries and seed planting. Another industry currently has exclusive right to negotiate for a lease in order to build a wood pellet factory in the machine shop building that would bring in about nine tanker ships a year, Crider said.
“These guys are moving pretty quick,” he said.
Should any need arise to begin discharging wastewater, Crider said the district would have to apply for a permit.
“It’s usually a lot of money so the grant will really allow us to make this happen,” Crider said.
The fourth assessment would look at how the harbor district would filter the slurry from the sand dredge it purchased last year. With the district having a water filtration plant designed to treat 30 million gallons of water a day on the Mad River, Crider said the study will look whether they could discharge the dredge slurry into two clarifying ponds.
“There are 13,000- to 17,000-gallon sand filters on the property,” Crider said of the filtration site. “That solves a lot of our challenges. At the end of dredge season, we would de-water the clarifiers and remove the sediment.”
The pulp mill site itself has been undergoing waste cleanup as well by the Environmental Protection Agency. Determined to be an emergency threat to the bay due to its unstable tanks filled with caustic chemicals and liquids, the pulp mill has been the site of a multi-agency cleanup operation since March 23 with truckloads of chemicals being shipped off to a Washington state pulp mill.
After several delays, including an instance when a contractor fell into a tank and suffered chemical burns, Crider said that the cleanup is set to be fully completed by July.
“We’re waiting to find out when they’re going to drop the smokestack and trying to decide with the tile tanks,” he said. “It should be pretty much all gone.”
Second District Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) was present when the cleanup began, and released a statement on Thursday after the grant was announced.
“I am optimistic that the pulp mill can be repurposed in a way that provides jobs and protects the environment,” Huffman said. “It’s vital that the community find ways to take advantage of this important bay property.”
The harbor district Board of Commissioners were set to hear a short update on the cleanup effort at its Thursday evening meeting.