Mock-up of the proposed 100-room, five-story Hyatt hotel at the Trinidad Rancheria from the water below. | file image via California Coastal Commission.

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The building of a new hotel on the Trinidad Rancheria has encountered another hurdle as the tribe is now demanding that the City of Trinidad supply the water necessary to supply the hotel or else the tribe will withhold required upgrades to a stormwater management improvement project in Trinidad Harbor, according to a letter the tribe sent to the City of Trinidad. 

Back in August, the Trinidad Rancheria got a conditional green light from the California Coastal Commission to build a new five-story, 100-room hotel on Scenic Drive. The tribe was only allowed to build the hotel if it found a reliable water source. In July, former Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, a Trinidad Rancheria member, sent a text message to Dayna Bocho, chair of the California Coastal Commission, saying, “Today was very exciting, we hit water today and will be able to have well water treated and used for the hotel.” 

Further drilling produced wells that allegedly put out five to six gallons of water per minute — nearly half the amount needed for the hotel. However, it appears the wells didn’t produce as expected.

On Wednesday, Tribal Chairman Garth Sundberg (Ryan’s uncle) sent a letter to Trinidad Mayor Steve Ladwig alleging that the City has not been cooperative when it comes to the whole water situation.

“[T]he city has not demonstrated good faith in dealing with the Trinidad Rancheria, and the City’s conduct over the past year has contradicted the spirit of government-to-government partnership upon which the Tribe’s support for the Stormwater Project and the Provisional Agreement was predicated,” the letter reads.

The Tribe owns nine parcels along the Trinidad Harbor waterfront, which were placed into federal trust status last year, and Tribal leadership has said it intends to complete a stormwater improvement project and build a 1,300-square-foot visitor center on the property. But now the Tribe appears to be using those improvements as a bargaining chip.

Chairman Sundberg’s letter argues that the City has a “surplus of water, and therefore could meet the Rancheria’s need.”

It goes on to state, “Although the City has asserted that its draft Water Policy is based on the potential lack of capacity, the objective analyses indicate otherwise, and the city has not followed up on the Trinidad Rancheria’s request to work as partners on the water request.”

The Trinidad City Council plans to discuss the matter at a special meeting on Thursday. There will be three main topics of discussion: the terms of water delivery; what happens in drought years when water restrictions may be required; and “what improvements to the water plant is the Rancheria willing to provide?”

A staff report notes, “It seems as if the Rancheria is now halting cooperation on all matters with the City until a decision is made on the hotel project, including the Stormwater project to be completed in the harbor parking lot. To keep the process from stalling entirely, Mayor Steve Ladwig, Mayor Pro-Tem Jack West, and City Manager Eli Naffah agreed to begin a conversation with the Rancheria on what each party is willing to consider for the water decision.”

The City of Trinidad has said it remains committed to finding common ground on this project, but the final decision will be up to the City Council, whose members must base their decision on “facts generated by the water studies, the needs of the City, and all members of the greater Trinidad community,” the staff report states.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the two entities reads as follows: 

  1. The City of Trinidad agrees to engage in a conversation with the Trinidad Rancheria regarding their request to provide City water for their proposed hotel project.
  2. The City will use data from the series of water studies completed in 2019 by the City’s engineering firm, GHD.
  3. The Rancheria will use data gathered from a number of sources and studies relating to demand for the project and supply from their wells, etc.
  4. The Rancheria will address the use of grant funds from Indian Health Services among others, to assist with improvements to the City’s water system and infrastructure.
  5. The City will determine conditions necessary to provide water, and address conditions when water is unable to be provided due to drought and other unforeseen changes to water supply.
  6. The end result is to arrive at a range of proposals and scenarios relative to the potential feasibility of providing water to the Rancheria’s hotel project.
  7. No decision will be made regarding providing water, but rather the scope of the request, limitations, conditions, etc. will be addressed in order to provide a complete perspective for future City Council and Tribal Council actions.
  8. Only the entire Trinidad City Council can agree to a binding contract on behalf of the City.

Thursday’s City Council meeting will be held via videoconference, starting at 6 p.m. Read the agenda here.