Coastal Voices: Harbormaster gives update

By Richard Young June 14, 2011 11:00 pm

Mark Twain once said, “Don’t tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly don’t tell them where they know the fish.”

Crescent City is a place where the people know the fish. Since the March tsunami, a lot of fish stories have been told and retold here, some of them factual, some partly factual, and some based on no facts at all.

Right now, the harbor is the topic of many of these fish stories. I want to end the speculation by explaining the harbor’s goals for the reconstruction of the inner boat basin, and based on the best information we have now, presenting the most likely time frame for reaching significant milestones.

The harbor’s primary and highest goal is to have a safe and productive crab season, both for the local fishing fleet and for the community. Crab fishing is a major source of income for individuals and families here in Del Norte County. It is the most significant fishery we have on the North Coast, and Crescent City is the most productive harbor on the North Coast.

Crab fishing occurs at a time of year when the weather is bad and fishing is dangerous. Fishermen need a safe place to moor their vessels when they return from fishing. The Harbor Commissioners and staff are doing everything possible to provide that safe moorage in time for the 2011 crab season.

The process of rebuilding the harbor is occurring on a number of levels simultaneously. Some of these are visible and obvious, such as the delivery of temporary docks. Others are not so apparent, such as the multiple, complex tasks required to obtain permits from the regulatory agencies that oversee and govern every step of the rebuilding process.

The first and most important step in the rebuilding process is dredging. The March 11 tsunami left approximately 75,000 cubic yards of sand in the inner boat basin. We must get rid of this material through dredging before other important steps can proceed. We need to repair the rock riprap around the harbor, install new pilings, and place new docks, but dredging comes first.

We are working with regulatory agencies including the California Coastal Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board to obtain dredging permits. We have also been consulting with Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the National Marine Fisheries.

The regulatory agencies have been very responsive to our needs, but even under the best of conditions this is a lot of work, takes many hours, and requires a lot of paperwork. We are making significant progress, but the progress is not easily measured nor visible.

You cannot walk around the harbor and watch any of this happening, yet it is the foundation of the major operations that will follow.

In support of the permit process we have contracted with a firm to analyze the new materials in the inner boat basin. Core samples will be taken during the week of June 13, and we expect to receive initial results from the physical and chemical analysis by June 27. More comprehensive biological analysis results should be available by late July.

Our goal is to have all the required permits and contracts in place so that dredging can begin by Aug. 22. We hope to have the dredging proceed continuously (24 hours per day) so that the process will be finished by late September.

When the dredging has been completed, the harbor will install temporary docks so that the inner boat basin will be available to the approximately 85 vessels of our home fishing fleet. Our goal is to have this done by Oct. 15, a date when the weather becomes undependable.

The temporary docks, which were delivered on June 7 and 8, are not a viable long-term strategy for moorage. They are, however, the best short-term solution we have to get the harbor ready for the upcoming crab season. The docks were obtained at no cost to the harbor. We obtained a commitment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for the costs associated with transporting the docks to Crescent City from San Francisco West Marina.

The harbor plans to provide temporary moorage for crab season by using a combination of these temporary docks and renovation of the existing docks. The temporary docks will be used as walkways to allow fishermen access to boats, but boats will need to be tied to piling or moorings. In the future, the temporary docks will be replaced with purpose-built, custom, permanent docks that will provide a home to our fleet that is better than what we had prior to the tsunami.

A lot has been happening at the harbor, and a lot is about to happen. There are far too many projects moving forward to discuss them all in this brief column. I hope this is just the first of many regular, timely updates about the progress being made to restore, rebuild, and revitalize the harbor.

In the meantime, if you have questions about the harbor, or would just like to know more about the progress we are making, you are welcome to come to the open discussion sessions with me on Thursdays at 3 p.m. at the harbor office, or to attend the public sessions of the Harbor Commission meetings (first and third Tuesday of each month, 6:30 p.m., at the Flynn Center).

Richard Young is the Crescent City harbormaster.