After two hours of public comment, the Planning Commission continues its hearing on Nordic Aquafarms until August 4 | Lost Coast Outpost

The Humboldt County Planning Commission. | Screenshot of Thursday’s meeting.

PREVIOUSLY: The Planning Commission is set to consider permits for the Nordic Aquafarms project this evening


Last night the Humboldt County Planning Commission heard a series of briefing reports followed by nearly two hours of public comment, leaving no time for the legislative body to deliberate and vote on the proposed $650 million land-based fish farm. for the Samoa Peninsula. Thus, the hearing to consider certifying the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approval of two key permits continued until next week’s meeting on Thursday August 4th.

As a quick refresher, Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms has proposed a major development that would include the demolition and remediation of the long-defunct Samoa pulp mill, followed by the two-phase construction of a 766,530 square foot recirculating aquaculture system (RAS). facility, which would produce up to 27,000 pounds of Atlantic salmon annually for distribution on the West Coast.

Thursday’s hearing began with a lengthy briefing report led by designated county planner Cade McNamara and Byron Turner, a senior planner with LACO Associates, who helped prepare the environmental document. The pair outlined the details of the project and offered insight into the various permitting agencies that must approve various aspects of the effort. (See yesterday’s post and its links to previous ones Outpost cover for details.)

McNamara noted that Nordic’s project would be located on a high-priority site, a brownfield zoned for coastal-dependent industrial activity, and the company plans to carry out further reductions and cleanups before beginning construction.

He then went through a series of “master responses” to some of the 242 comments the county received on the project’s environmental impact report. This collection of comments included 12 from local, state and federal agencies, 19 from non-governmental organizations and 79 from individuals, as well as 132 letters of support.

Key areas of concern include greenhouse gas emissions, discharge of treated effluent through an existing 1.5 kilometer long outfall pipe, impacts to Humboldt Bay from intake infrastructure water and the carbon footprint of the project’s fish feed.

McNamara and Turner explained the analysis and mitigation measures that led the county to conclude that this project will have no significant impact on the environment.

A few planning commissioners had questions. Peggy O’Neill asked about seismic safety for employees, for example, and planning and construction manager John Ford explained that a large recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) building onsite was designed as a refuge that can withstand once in 2,500 years. seismic event.

Commissioner Noah Levy asked about the checkpoints between the first and second phases of construction and was assured there were. And Commissioner Melanie McCavour quizzed Nordic staff on what steps will be taken to prevent the build-up of natural estrogen from fish feed in the ocean and bay.

Levy applauded the Nordic staff, saying, “They worked very hard to create a project that would set a new standard, in many ways.” He also observed that the county has put “a lot of strong conditions in place,” adding, “I just see our work here as trying to make sure that those conditions are adequate, within the limits of what is feasible, to make it the best project it can be.

In a separate presentation, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Executive Director Larry Oetker described Nordic’s plans as an ideal solution for the former Harbor District dependent coastal property, and he touted the valuable assets of Humboldt Bay’s infrastructure, including its vast fresh and salt water supply, underutilized industrial properties and ocean outlet.

“We were able to work and attract Nordic Aquafarms to come here because they recognize that this is the premier site on the entire west coast of the United States for aquaculture operations,” Oetker said. “I don’t say this lightly. The infrastructure you are evaluating here is the dream of almost every coastal community you see. »

Brenda Chandler, interim CEO of Nordic, gave her own presentation, saying the company had heard public feedback and had “gone above and beyond, in some cases, and tried, where possible. , to include your demands in our commitments to you”.

She cited the company’s commitment to using 100% renewable and carbon-free energy as an example and said, “We want to be the neighborhood employer. [that] everyone is proud. The company plans to hire about 150 full-time employees, not including construction work, Chandler said.

“Our team hopes you’ll agree that Nordic Aquafarms is the best fit for Humboldt County, from our strong foundation to our commitment to sustainable and balanced environmental and social values ​​and delivering fresh, sustainably produced food to the community. ‘west,” she concluded.

The first batch of public comment was dominated by members of the Local 3 operations engineers union, who showed up to the meeting in force to defend the project, saying it would create much-needed paid jobs and allow them to show their children something they are proud to have helped build.

“Nordic has come and gone beyond…” said union member Harry Herkert. “They’re taking a rundown, contaminated pulp mill and they’re going to turn it into a viable industry.”

He added that he was not Nordic’s target market, since he went out and caught his own salmon in the ocean, but he thought the company had done their due diligence and would be a good one. neighbor for years to come.

“And it’s good to see that we’re attracting that kind of industry,” he continued. “We need it. The port is collapsing. We need a sustainable industry. We need jobs back, and they’re going to provide 300 construction jobs – paid jobs – then, in the future , 150 full-time jobs that will also be [paying] decent and sustainable wages. … So I’m begging you, please pass this project. Do it tonight. Let’s get the ball rolling. »

Others also expressed their support. Colby Smart, assistant superintendent in the Humboldt County Office of Education, said county schools have a number of aquaponics programs that are languishing “in their early stages” because students aren’t seeing many career opportunities. . “It changes that,” Smart said.

“This project represents a critical part of that school-to-career pipeline, and I really, really approve of it,” he added.

Rafael Cuevas-Uribe, professor of fisheries biology and aquaculture expert at Cal Poly Humboldt, said he reviewed the plans for the project and was impressed with its state-of-the-art technology, including a fine-mesh filtration system. advanced for effluent.

“I’ve never seen a recirculation system with this kind of advanced technology,” Cuevas-Uribe said. He noted the vast gap between the amount of fish consumed in the United States and the amount produced and said the aquaculture industry has struggled because it has been defined by its critics rather than its supporters. He included himself in the latter category and encouraged the county to approve the project.

John Friedenbach, general manager of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, reminded people that the district’s ‘abundant’ water, from the Mad River, was used to supply 65 million gallons per day at the two pulp mills that operated on the peninsula for decades. Nordic, by comparison, needs less than three million gallons a day, less than five percent of previous demand. He too urged the Planning Commission to approve the project.

But many people also voiced criticism and opposition, and as public comment shifted from person to caller, the balance gradually shifted to members of local environmental groups who advocated either additional approval conditions or an outright rejection of the project.

Several people said that the salt water intake infrastructure for the fish farm should be located offshore, rather than in the bay. Others criticized the environmental impact report for making assumptions in its modeling and omitting analysis of key elements of the project, such as the greenhouse gas impacts of its fish feed. and its egg supply.

Eight separate members of the 350 Humboldt climate action group took turns speaking, each expressing concerns about the project’s carbon dioxide emissions and climate change impacts.

“If this project goes ahead, I would ask that you require Nordic to issue a performance bond in the amount of $500 million to protect Humboldt County ratepayers,” said 350 member Laura Simpson. Humboldt.

Jessie Misha, president of the Humboldt County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said permit conditions need to be improved to ensure minimal climate impact. She said the county should require Nordic to switch to zero-emission electric trucks and require low-carbon fish feed, re-evaluated annually.

Caroline Griffith, executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center, expressed appreciation for the accessibility of northern leadership at this point, but added that the project is “really massive” and said her organization has serious concerns.

The main one is ocean discharge, and Griffith said the county should change the conditions of approval to require effluent monitoring as soon as it begins. It is important to ensure before construction of phase two begins that this landfill does not affect biological resources or contribute to harmful algal blooms, she said.

Griffith also expressed concerns about emissions from transportation and fish feeding as well as the sheer size of the proposed plant.

“The scale of the project is really concerning,” Griffith said. “And we suggest starting with a smaller project, or that the planning commission consider publishing a [coastal development permit] which expires within a set period of time, perhaps five or 10 years.

Jennifer Kalt, executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper, echoed the latter point, saying that if Nordic were willing to start small and adhere to “clear benchmarks” before scaling up, it would “help greatly” to respond to the various concerns of his organization. .

Eventually, the list of public speakers reached its end, and while some members of the Planning Commission expressed interest in moving on to deliberations and possibly a decision, others spoke out in favor of waiting until next week. to conclude. Commissioner Brian Mitchell, for example, noted that he was calling at the East Coast meeting, where he was well after midnight.

And so, with one motion, a second unanimous approval, the Planning Commission has agreed to return next Thursday to review everything its members have seen and heard so far.

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