Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

City Council adds its backingto highway project

The Highway 199/197 project won't have its day in court for a few months, but Del Norters aren't letting that stop them from debating it now.

Supporters and detractors of a proposed $38 million construction project on highways 199 and 197 continue to take sides at local public forums, peppering public comment periods with declarations of allegiance to either the highway construction, which some say will boost the economy, or the endangered fish that others claim it will threaten.

Most recently, seven members of the public - a majority of them local business owners and managers - spoke in favor of the project at this week's Crescent City Council meeting, where council members unanimously passed a resolution in support of the construction. Unlike last week's county supervisor meeting, where a similar resolution was passed, no one at the meeting spoke in opposition to the project.

"This resolution needs to be passed tonight, and it's very important to us," Councilwoman Kathryn Murray said, citing public safety issues andlocal economic development, which all the other council members echoed.

Members of the public went further. The seven who spoke included farmers - several from the local lily bulb industry, one of Del Norte's biggest - as well as Wes White, CEO of Hambro Group, which, as the operator of the Del Norte County Transfer Station, uses the highway frequently to ship garbage.

White, who also spoke on behalf of Bettendorf Trucking, South Coast Lumber, and Curry Transfer and Recycling, said that the aforementioned companies represent 290 trucks that travel on highways 197 and 199 every week.

"We all would like you to reaffirm your conviction to the improvements," White said. "We could reduce the number of loads going through that canyon if they have the improvements."

White told the Triplicate that Hambro would not change the kind of trucks used to ship Del Norte's garbage as a result of the truck-length-restriction-lifting project, but "it will still make it safer."

Then there were the lily bulb farmers, who all spoke of rising transportation costs and the effect on their businesses.

"There's four bulb growers here today, and 45 years ago there were 26," Rob Miller, President of Dahlstrom and Watt Bulb Farm, Inc., said. "Part of that reason is competition in the marketplace and pricing of product. It's exceedingly difficult to get product out of here."

Miller, who has been involved with the trucking industry for more than 40 years and said a lot of misinformation had been passed around regarding STAA truck requirements, went on to describe how STAA trucks won't be heavier in weight since all trucks in the state have an 80,000-pound weight limit. Additionally, even though STAA trucks can be longer than the trucks currently allowed, many are equipped with sliding axles that allow for better turning radiuses than the shorter trucks - especially better than the trucks available in 1984 when restrictions were put in place.

"Today - we're in the 21st Century, remember - they have sliding axles and the wheel bases are better even though the truck is longer," Miller said. "There's a huge issue with trucking and the economic development in Del Norte County. One of the reasons why businesses can't come here is because it's exceedingly difficult to get products in and out."

Councilmember Richard Enea also said that he had discovered through conversations with the manager of Crescent City's Walmart that transferring produce to shorter trucks often squishes fruits and vegetables, causing Walmart to have to throw away lots of fresh food.

And it's not just trucks that would benefit from the highway project, Enea noted. Beyond the economic benefits that longer trucks would bring, he said, the construction would make the roads safer for cars, too.

"It's a matter of public safety for us to have safer roads to drive," Enea said. "It's not just about trucks; it's about cars. Those safety improvements are for us."

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