Huffman voices enthusiasm during a busy day in DN

Despite fiscal challenges at the federal level, Del Norte County's new congressman pledged his support for the building of a multi-agency visitor's center off of U.S. Highway 101 on Monday, while also discussing the reconstruction of Crescent City Harbor.

During a visit to Del Norte, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he would act as an advocate and a liaison for the agencies involved in both projects and help procure funding where possible.

"You never know when an opportunity will come along," Huffman said. "There's lots of ways I can help."

Huffman discussed the ongoing reconstruction with Harbormaster Richard Young and harbor commissioners Scott Feller and Ron Phillips. He later met with other harbor commissioners, county and city representatives, officials from Redwood National and State Parks, the Yurok Tribe and Six Rivers National Forest, as well as a representative from the Crescent City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the proposed Interagency Visitor Center.

The congressman said he would be watching out for Del Norte in a couple of other ways as well, looking to ensure that when the time comes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the necessary funds to dredge the federal channel that connects Crescent City Harbor with the sea, and to help airport officials get an extension of a deadline for applying for federal funds for a runway safety project.

Huffman also visited with Smith River Rancheria officials.

Speaking over the pulse of a drill as workers pounded a piling into place on the harbor's H dock, Young filled Huffman in on the history of the reconstruction. The $57.6 million project is repairing damage wrought by winter storms in 2006 and 2008 and tsunamis in November 2006 and March 2011, Young said. But instead of putting the harbor back to what it was prior to the November 2006 tsunami, he said, the project seeks to create a facility that is far more tsunami-resistant.

"As far as we know we're designing and building the first tsunami-resistant harbor on the West Coast," said Young, adding that the project is being paid for using funding from the California Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a Community Development Block Grant, as well as a loan. "Ultimately the Coastal Commission approved a 50-year tsunami-resistant design."

Young told Huffman that after considering and rejecting a project that would have built a huge gate to arrest the energy from a tsunami or create a wider mouth at the harbor's entrance, the project focuses on building stronger docks. Increasing the number of pilings and increasing their size will help the harbor weather winter storms and a 2011-size tsunami, the harbor commissioners said.

"We've had several small tsunamis," Phillips said. "We know the pattern of the way it comes into the harbor."

Young also showed Huffman plans to create a promenade around the harbor and discussed goals of bringing in restaurants, hotels, retail stores and other amenities for tourists. Young also pointed out the proposed site for the Interagency Visitor Center. Huffman applauded both projects.

"People love working harbors and find that authentic maritime character attractive," he said. "I can't help but see the synergies of what you're trying to do. (The harbor) is a spectacular resource. It seems like it has so much possibility."

Huffman's response to the proposed Interagency Visitor Center was much the same. Project facilitator Grant Werschkull walked the congressman through visitors center project. Fourteen agencies are participating, he said, including Redwood National and State Parks, the county, city and harbor and the local Native American tribes.

The agencies hope to raise $9 million to build the center and another $2.8 million to construct interpretive exhibits, Werschkull said. The building would also be constructed with tsunamis and earthquakes in mind, even including an evacuation trail that leads from the harbor to Elk Valley Road, he said.

During the meeting, Candace Tinkler, chief interpreter for Redwood National and State Parks, said the goal of the Interagency Visitor Center is to create a single location for visitors to get information about what there is to see and do.

"I don't think it makes any sense anymore for individual agencies to do the same thing," Tinkler said. "Visitors come for a seamless experience. The more we can make it that, great. Too many agencies make it confusing."

Tinkler noted that visitors come from all over the world to view the redwoods. They just need information on what else there is to do in Del Norte County, she said.

"They don't understand the variety of things we have to do here," Tinkler said.

Huffman said he was encouraged to learn of the level of collaboration between the various agencies. He said that even though Redwood National and State Parks is considered a world heritage site, its importance is understated.

"I don't think it's appreciated (as much as) a Yellowstone or a Yosemite," he said. "I'm encouraged to hear this much collaboration and forward thinking and long-term plans to help this park reach its potential."

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