By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The Crescent City Harbor District will ask a maritime court to declare that it is not obligated to dredge the harbor just because a business requests it.
In response to a claim to the district from harbor businessman Chris Van Hook, who blames the district's dredging policy for hampering his abalone farm, the district filed a lawsuit against Van Hook in a San Francisco court.
"We're seeking what is called a declaratory relief' in court for a judicial decision on the obligations of the district," said San Francisco maritime attorney Cory Birnberg. "Whether it's Crescent City or San Francisco, a district cannot just go out and dredge."
Birnberg said because of all the obstacles facing a harbor district when it comes to dredging, including environmental surveys and permits from various agencies, the procedure is not exclusively in the hands of any district.
"At the time Mr. Van Hook made the claim, the district didn't have a permit to dredge that area," said Birnberg. "It is our belief this is not something a harbor district has an obligation to do, or can do."
Van Hook, a former harbor commissioner and owner of Abalone International on Whaler Island, complained to the Board of Harbor Commissioners several times during the past two years that his business was severely damaged because of sediment filling his abalone cages. He said his calls for dredging were not answered until the damage had already been done.
Harbormaster Rich Taylor and boardmembers Garry Young and Mario Deiro declined to comment on the case this week, referring all questions to their legal counsel.
"We made a huge mistake investing in this harbor district," Van Hook said yesterday. "Ours was the single largest private investment in the district in the past 20 years. I would highly recommend anyone interested in investing here wait until it is restabilized, which will probably take many, many years."
The lawsuit was filed with the United States District Court, Northern District, in San Francisco on March 6.
"I don't know what the determination would be finally," Birnberg said of the court's decision. "We will get their direction and proceed from there. But whatever the court says, there is a desire to treat (Van Hook) as fairly as possible."