By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Seeking gravel for area road and construction projects, Del Norte County officials turned to the Smith River Advisory Council.
Noting gravel's rising costs, a need to build roads and a possibility of boosting business, County Board Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen attended the council's Tuesday meeting to ask about commercial gravel mining possibilities on the Smith River.
"There should be a way," Hemmingsen said.
But the river lacks a large supply of aggregate the rocks that can be crushed into gravel and it has not replenished the material that mining companies took in the past after floods and storms washed a lot of sediment downstream.
"To have a viable operation in Smith River is not really feasible at this point," said Dan Free, a fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Arcata.
Free works with the County of Humboldt Extraction Review Team, a partnership of federal and state agencies that review rivers and draft gravel mining plans.
The Smith River likely could yield only up to 72,000 cubic yards of sediment each year, and only some aggregate would result from the mix of sand, dirt and rocks.
"That's one viable operation, maybe," Free said.
And the gravel bars that the waterway now hosts offer needed habitat to juvenile and adult salmon.
"Without those gravel bars, you're gonna have a lot of shallow water and the fisheries are gonna be impacted," he said.
Such work also needs to consider long term impacts to waterways, fish and habitat, said Jim Waldvogel, a Sea Grant Extension advisor for the county who serves as the council's chairman.
"Kind of like when we took all the wood out of the forest," Waldvogel said, noting reforestation efforts to counteract those effects.
The Smith River Advisory Council may help set up a forum to discuss the gravel issue that, according to assistant county administrative officer Jay Sarina, has approached a critical point.
"We're gonna need an aggregate source," Hemmingsen said. "We'll keep exploring."