By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Crescent City and Alber Seafoods have negotiated to pay $48,000 in state water pollution fines that the harbor's wastewater treatment plant has racked up over the past few years.
But both parties want the California Regional Water Quality Control Board on Thursday to divert the fees for an engineering study to figure out why the plant keeps violating state water quality standards. The board will review the case at a meeting in Eureka.
The meeting comes after months of wrangling over responsibility for the treatment plant. Harbor officials had threatened to close it by April 1, the start of whiting season. Alber Seafoods, in turn, threatened to relocate its processing facility, along with about 100 jobs.
The treatment plant filters seafood materials out of wastewater from the San Francisco company's processing plant. The treatment plant has repeatedly discharged too much material, exceeding state water standards.
Harbor officials don't know whether the violations stem from harbor operations or from Alber Seafoods' work. The plant's design could cause the problems or state water quality standards may remain impossible for the facility to meet, said Harbormaster Richard Young.
"We need to know what the problem really is," Young said.
In the meantime, Young and Alber Seafoods president Donald Alber have agreed to pay their own violations. The seafood company would pay for problems with ammonia discharge and turbidity, while the harbor would pay for such violations as submitting reports late or discharging water at the wrong time.
Under that plan, the plant would remain open, Young said.
With a large fishing industry that supplies much of the state with crabs, Tom Dunbar, a senior water resources control engineer with the regional water board, expects that the harbor would want to keep the treatment plant.
Diverting the fine money, though, depends on whether the state agency agrees that the harbor treatment plant operates as a publicly-owned treatment works facility that serves a small community, Dunbar said. In that case, the money could fund a study and work to fix the plant's problems within five years.
"The language can be interpreted different ways by different people," Dunbar said.
Alber wants harbor officials to continue supporting the working seafood industry while using it as a tourism attraction for the port. He hired an architect to draft plans for a store and tourist center, where visitors could see how fishing boats operate.
"Those working harbors are a big reason why people go to the harbor," he said. "That could start to draw some tourist traffic."