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Coastal Voices: What’s on economic horizon?

At first glance there does not appear to be much in the way of economic development going on as you drive through Crescent City.

However, when you peel back the layers of studies, reports, permits and paperwork, you find economic development is alive and well in our region.

Economic development requires infrastructure to be in place to support businesses and residences. Infrastructure improvement does not happen overnight, it takes years to realize. There are some very exciting, long awaited projects looming on our horizon.  Many economic development projects are finally coming to fruition through the hard work and persistence of individuals, various governmental entities and the sovereign nations.

These projects will bring Del Norte County up to speed with the rest of the nation and help us to be more competitive in the worldwide economy. Tracking and nudging these infrastructure projects as they move forward was the goal when the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority came up with the phrase “HAS199.com” to outline the work at the harbor, airport, sewer, U.S. Highway 199 and broadband Internet service, all ongoing infrastructure projects to improve the future of our region.  I would like to share the progress and exciting developments regarding these projects.

Harbor: Our famous tsunamis are indeed exciting and will continue to be a part of our lives. The 2006 tsunami caused millions of dollars of damaged infrastructure so extensive that repair was not possible and the Harbor District began work to fund the reconstruction.  After a long and lengthy process, funding was identified that would allow for the harbor inner basin reconstruction.

The project is currently in the design phase while the funding and permitting agencies battle over the height of the wave the reconstruction should be rebuilt to withstand. The Harbor District expects to break ground on the reconstruction project late this year with plans for project completion in late 2013.

Additionally, the federal channel that is the entrance to the Harbor was recently dredged — the first time in almost a decade.

Airport: An important first impression for visitors to our beautiful community is being tackled with the airport terminal and runway improvements.  Plans at Jack McNamara Field are under way for a new terminal building, a new access road, runway safety upgrades and additional parking.

These improvements, and mandated FAA and TSA safety upgrades, have been approved by the California Coastal Commission and are entering the design phase.  The new terminal will offer passengers spacious modern waiting, screening and boarding areas as well as provide restaurant, shop and other retail space. The new terminal will create opportunities for new businesses and jobs and could be completed as soon as late 2013.

Sewer: For decades we have limped along with an outdated and overburdened wastewater treatment plant. After much debate and internal struggle, the city held a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new wastewater treatment plant last October. The state-of-the-art facility will allow us to meet increasingly stringent regulatory standards and to protect the environment and public health for decades.

The new analytical laboratory provides both much-needed services and new careers in our community. With the commissioning of our new advanced wastewater treatment plant, we are poised to take full advantage of business development opportunities that lead to economic prosperity.  

U.S. Highway 199: This is the North Coast link to the I-5 corridor. At least once a year our region is cut off from the rest of the world by closures due to slides and other hazards. Many of the goods brought into our community are loaded from larger to smaller trucks because it is unsafe for larger rigs to travel this highway. This additional handling of goods increases the end price to consumers.

For decades we have struggled to convince the “powers that be” that we need safer and more reliable roadways. The Del Norte Local Transportation Commission executive director, Tamera Leighton, came up with an innovative plan to use funds over the next several years to finance the project.

The draft environmental report for the road improvements was published and public comments received. Improvements have begun and will be completed over the next several years.

Internet: In today’s technologic world it is nearly impossible to survive without some sort of Internet-based device to find your way around, to communicate with others, or for research, work and recreational activities.

Currently, the fiber optic line providing Internet service from the north dead-ends in Crescent City.  To have more robust broadband Internet access, we need to connect our end of the electronic pipeline to another community to form a continuous loop. We can go east or south. Going south would require installing fiber optic cable to Arcata. Going east, we need to connect existing services in Gasquet with Cave Junction.  The “go east” option appears to be gaining the most traction.

An opportunity in the medical field has made this option much more viable than thought a year ago. With luck, things will be resolved by this time next year.

Tribal economic development: The Smith River Rancheria recently finished its wastewater treatment plant upgrades as well as a restaurant expansion. It is moving forward with its new hotel and has plans for significant community improvements.

The Elk Valley Rancheria is steadily moving ahead with its plans for a destination resort complex that will service visitors and vacationers.

The Yurok Economic Development Corporation is actively working on its cultural village that will educate and allow visitors insight into the historic Native American lifestyle.

Other plans are also in motion for downtown, Front Street, Beach Front Park, and Northcoast Marine Mammal Center improvements.

As the future of our economic development is rising over the horizon, I leave you with this thought: Private investment follows public infrastructure improvements.

Bill Renfroe is executive director of the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority.

 

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