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ER opinion: Revitalized port means a stronger economy
Sunday 13 Jul 2008, 04:59
Filed under: harbor, Humboldt, NCRA, Railroad

By David Borgeson
Published: Jul 12 2008, 11:51 PM
Category: Opinion
Topic: Column

Port-rail revitalization opportunities help labor, environment, and the community. The opportunity to restore the Redwood Dock facility along with the rail right-of-way from Samoa south to Willits and beyond is being scrutinized by skeptics and proponents alike. Thus far, the process has included the 2003 Port of Humboldt Bay Harbor Revitalization Plan, the 2003 Long-term Financial and Economic Feasibility of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Study, a portion of the 2006-2007 Humboldt Bay Management Plan, the 2008 Redwood Marine Terminal Feasibility Study and, most recently, the draft Redwood Marine Terminal Business Plan. Throw in the recent Goldman Sachs offer to solicit concessionaires and private investment, and the possibility of actually becoming a viable goods-movement corridor has local interests of all political shadings reacting predictably.

Documented public input to this point has been overwhelmingly pro-revitalization — to be done in measured steps. Step One restores the basic infrastructures at the Redwood Dock and along the NCRA right-of-way, while at the same time mitigating the harmful elements of these neglected publicly owned properties, as they exist now. Removing creosote pilings currently leaching toxins into the bay, slide repair and shoring on the rail line, storm culvert rehabilitation, brownfield cleanup and utility upgrades are all sorely needed. In their current state, these properties are not only useless, but can best be classified as liabilities. Just mitigating the negative effects of these public properties will cost millions, before development of any kind can proceed.

The public now owns these properties, and private investors/operators have shown interest in their restoration. The question is, who pays for the necessary front-end mitigation of past neglect? Private interests that benefited in the past from utilizing these facilities were not good stewards, leaving the properties in poor condition when these reverted to public ownership. Clarity of the proposed public/private partnership regarding how to resolve, and who pays for, the inherited environmental and physical liabilities would go a long way toward answering the concerns of the skeptics, and would assure proponents of port/rail restoration that harmful past practices will not re-emerge.

Three things are certain in matters pertaining to the Port of Humboldt. Opponents will oppose, skeptics will doubt, and proponents will push. Opponents have proved themselves intractable and formidable. Proponents have been frustrated for years of inaction and have reason for jumping at this opportunity with blinders on. What this community needs is a coalition of reasonable skeptics and cautious proponents to shape this opportunity into a port that answers the need for economic stimulation, while advancing conservation efforts and increasing recreation activities in and around Humboldt Bay.

David Borgeson is Vice President of the Humboldt County Building and Construction Trades Council and Business Representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 551. His email address is: davidb@ibewlocal551.org.

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