This is in response to the editorial, “We Are Not Destroyed,” in Saturday’s paper.
Communication with the Harbor Commission in recent years has been minimal. I hope to correct that, at least somewhat, with my presidency.
To begin with, this has been a long process since the 2006 tsunami. Once we were qualified for state aid, the previous board started the process of finding funding to rebuild. They did an excellent job by finding and receiving “grant” funds for the entire project. That means that there will be little or no out-of-pocket expense to the harbor or our community. This is an example of state government working for the better of its people. At this point, the process gets bogged down.
Once funding was achieved, the question of how much came into view. During the best of time the state can be a little stingy with its funds for a project like this, a disaster for a “small” community. However, at this point, an argument began. Would the state fund for a 10-year disaster, a 25-year, a 50-year or a 100-year?
To further complicate things, there had never been any real discussion of how to rebuild the inner basin and what is an improvement, and what is a rebuild. There also had never been a study done on how the current design is affected by the flow of a tsunami within the inner basin. All of these questions had to be answered before the funding could begin. Furthermore, getting permits now depends on which plan is approved.
Our engineer, Ward Stover, proceeded to answer all of the above questions. The study came first. After extensive work a detailed document was produced to show how the current in the inner basin causes most of the damage. It also showed what type of docks and such would stand up to what type of tsunami. Upon its completion the 50-year plan was recommended. Under this plan we would have received little or no damage in last Friday’s event. When we went to the permitting and the funding agencies, the argument ensued.
To begin with, the state in all its wisdom, only wanted to fund the 10-year plan. This means every 10 years on average we would again be in the same boat of finding funding to rebuild to the tune of $13 million. The commission and our engineers had to prove that, through study and such, it would be better to spend $22.5 million and put the 50-year plan in place. In the long run, and this became a long-running argument which has persisted throughout my two-and-a-half years on the board, it would save the state millions in taxpayer dollars over the life of this plan.
We also decided to go into the permitting process, at the same time as negotiating with the funding agencies, in order to hopefully speed things up. Of course the permitting then was transferred from one board to the next numerous times, because no one was going to approve something that hadn’t been funded yet. Just since I have been on the board, the Coastal Commission has put us on the meeting agenda and removed us at least four times. Each time added about three to four months to the permitting process. This is not a real knock on Coastal Commission, it is simply how the state permitting agencies work. It has been very frustrating to me, a teacher who wants to get things done, but it is a learning process.
We have now been approved for both funding and permits for rebuilding from the 2006 tsunami damage. Building should begin this summer, hopefully sooner because of this new disaster and the dire need for both our fishing community and the economic engine in our county. We are 60 percent completed with the design process and rapidly moving forward at this point. With the great response from the community, the state, and even at the national level, perhaps we will get started more quickly and with more funding.
James Ramsey is president of the Crescent City Harbor Commission.