I attended the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District meeting last night where the Harbor Commissioners voted 4-0 (Aaron Newman was absent as he was literally out fishing) to acquire the Freshwater Tissue Pulp Mill for $0. That’s correct, $0. So why would a seller let go of their asset to a buyer for $0? Easy. After Bob Simpson purchased the closed Evergreen Pulp Mill he sold off as much of the equipment and assets as he could salvage. What he recently discovered is the mill has four million gallons of black liquors still on site in the holding tanks. The estimated cost of this clean-up is $3-4 million.

Black liquor is the spent cooking liquor from the process when digesting pulpwood into pulp paper by removing the lignin and other extractives from the wood to free the cellulose fibers. Unfortunately this black liquor is a potential carcinogen that is normally burned off. However, since Evergreen Pulp Mill did a “hard shut down” of the mill, this was not done back in 2008.

To use a Las Vegas reference the Humboldt Bay Harbor District “bet on the come” with this project. The goal is to remove and transport this black liquor as quickly as possible. This is now the Humboldt Bay Harbor District’s problem. If an earthquake or tsunami hit before the removal of these black liquors, we would have an environmental disaster on our hands and our Humboldt Bay would go from one of the cleanest bays in the state to Love Canal overnight. More importantly when two Harbor Commissioners were asked what if the EPA and FEMA do not come through with the funds to clean up this site said basically, “We’re screwed.”

The Samoa pulp mill was built by Georgia-Pacific back in 1965. It has since gone by many different names: Louisiana-Pacific, Samoa Pacific Cellulose, Stockton Pacific, Evergreen Pulp and most recently Freshwater Tissue. When Evergreen Pulp closed the mill and their two executive managers went back to China back in October 2008, it left 180 mostly union workers unemployed. The average blue collar worker was then making an average pay of $21 per hour (plus overtime) including full benefits and retirement package. It was a huge financial blow to our local economy.

I want to give kudos to the Harbor Commissioners. Our Harbor Commissioners didn’t worry about politics. Instead they focused on policy and what they could do to move our community forward. So many elected officials are worried about upsetting anyone they end up doing nothing. I’ve had numerous conversations with former politicians asking what they accomplished while in office. Most stated they did meetings. When I asked what these meetings resolved, they stated it led to more meetings, which led to extra meetings, which then lead to additional meetings.

This project could be a game change for Humboldt County in 5-10 years. The goal is to have around 400 living wage jobs on the Samoa Peninsula when this project is complete. HSU has signed on as a partner. Coast Seafood, Taylor Mariculture and Schatz Energy Lab are onboard. They want to streamline the aquaculture (oyster farming) process and increase the yield of these shellfish. They want to build a new dock so that deep water shipping containers can come into the Humboldt Bay.

If the railroad is ever up and running, the Humboldt Bay could become a port hub to rival Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach. Ask the longshoremen and truckers (and their respective unions) how they feel about that.

As a note, all five current Harbor Commissioners were automatic appointments as they ran unopposed in their elections. For the environmental trails and kayaking folks on the left and the railroad people on the right you can’t complain about the job these five Harbor Commissioners are doing as you didn’t run anybody against them.