The Harbor District’s Redwood Marine Terminal property, formerly home to a pulp mill. | Image via Humboldt County Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

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This morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Humboldt County will receive $300,000 from the agency’s revolving loan program to finance continued cleanup of contaminated property on the Samoa Peninsula. 

During a phone-in media announcement, Fourth District Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass said the money will allow the nonprofit Timber Heritage Association (THA) to take possession of the Samoa Roundhouse, a historic piece of infrastructure from the Hammond Lumber Company’s rail operations. The THA has been renting the property from the Humboldt County Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

Bass said the EPA funds will have a significant impact.

“The importance goes way beyond the peninsula,” she said. “Brownfield cleanup can cure economic and environmental issues. … Cleaning them up not only leads to economic revitalization, it leads to more jobs, tourism and housing. It’s a really good thing for our community.”

Rep. Jared Huffman was on this morning’s call and said he was pleased to see continuing cooperation between county government and the EPA. He recalled that the last time he was on a conference call with members of those government entities was a few years back “when we frankly dodged a bullet” with the removal of 3 million gallons of toxic pulping liquors from the former pulp mill site on the peninsula.

“The partnership is huge,” said Harbor District Vice President Larry Doss. He noted that the roundhouse, a building constructed in 1893 that functioned as a locomotive garage for the Hammond Lumber Company, is the oldest of its kind on the west coast. The folks at the Timber Heritage Museum have long wanted to convert it into a public museum showcasing the history of the region’s timber industry.

Chris Dart, president at the Danco Group, and Marianne Naess, executive vice president of Nordic Aquafarms, were also on this morning’s call. Both credited the EPA’s revolving loan program with allowing their companies to pursue large-scale development projects on the peninsula — Danco with its Samoa renovation project and Nordic with its planned $400 million-to-$500 million recirculating aquaculture system facility

The contamination at the roundhouse site is primarily from lead-based paint, which was applied liberally over the years, according to Andrew Whitney, an economic development specialist with the county.

Below is a photo and video showing the roundhouse property, and below those is a press release from the EPA.

The Samoa Roundhouse. Image via the Timber Heritage Association.

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News release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

HUMBOLDT CTY.  — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $300,000 in supplemental funding for ongoing redevelopment work on the Humboldt Bay in northern California’s Humboldt County. Humboldt County is one of 25 successful Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grantees nationally.

The RLF supplemental funds are being provided to communities with demonstrated successes in using the Revolving Loan program to clean up and redevelop brownfield sites. A brownfield is a property where expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

Humboldt County will use the funds to complete the cleanup of five sites at the historic railroad Roundhouse Property in Samoa, Calif. These funds will allow the non-profit Timber Heritage Association to take ownership of the property, clean up the contamination and allow the public to access this historical, cultural resource. 

“Since 2014, EPA has invested $11.5 million to remove hazardous materials and revitalize brownfields in Humboldt County,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “Restoring the Humboldt Bay harbor area will create housing, community centers and economic opportunities for the area.”

“Cleaning up brownfields is good for the environment and the economy. Contaminated areas are dangerous blemishes that keep communities from using these lands to the fullest. It’s great to see the county and the hard-working Timber Heritage Association responsibly address lead contamination on this Samoa property,” said Representative Jared Huffman. “This grant is a great reinvestment for the county that will go a long way in revitalizing working lands and the communities that depend on them.” 

“It is exciting to see the success of the long journey to this milestone of housing and showcasing key Humboldt history,” said Larry Doss, Vice President of the Humboldt Bay Harbor District. “The buildings, the contents and the land speak to the amazing ingenuity of the local pioneers and their Redwood story.”

“This is an outstanding example of what can happen when community partners come together with a common goal in mind.  Not only will this benefit those partners, even more so, it will benefit the greater community at large,” said Virginia Bass, Humboldt County Supervisor.  “The Samoa peninsula is truly Humboldt County’s diamond in the rough that is beginning to shine as the gem it is.”

When Revolving Loans are repaid, the loan amount is returned to the fund and lent to other borrowers, providing an ongoing source of capital within a community. To date, EPA’s Revolving Loan grantees across the country have completed 759 cleanups and attracted approximately 45,000 jobs and $8.4 billion in public and private funding.

There are estimated to be more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. All of the communities receiving supplemental funds per today’s announcement have census tracks designated as federal Opportunity Zones within their jurisdiction. An Opportunity Zone is an economically distressed community where new investment, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Most often, those who reside near these sites are low-income, minority, and disadvantaged Americans. When coupled with leveraged funds, such as other Brownfield grants or Opportunity Funds, Revolving Loans can be a powerful tool for revitalizing a community of need.

Grants awarded by EPA’s Brownfields Program provide communities across the country with an opportunity to transform contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and achieve broader economic development outcomes while taking advantage of existing infrastructure. Under President Trump, over 70% of the communities selected for Brownfields grants in 2019 were located in Opportunity Zones. Brownfields grants have been shown to:

  • Increase Local Tax Revenue: A study of 48 brownfield sites found that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional local tax revenue was generated in a single year after cleanup. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of these sites.
  • Increase Residential Property Values: Another study found that property values of homes near revitalized brownfield sites increased between 5% and 15% following cleanup.

As of February 2020, under the EPA Brownfields Program, 31,516 properties have been assessed and 92,047 acres of idle land have been made ready for productive use. In addition, communities have been able to use Brownfields grants to attract 160,306 jobs and more than $31 billion of public and private funding.

The 2021 National Brownfields Training Conference will be held on April 26-30, 2021 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Offered every two years, this conference is the largest gathering of stakeholders focused on cleaning up and reusing formerly utilized commercial and industrial properties. EPA cosponsors this event with the International City/County Management Association.