August 2019 Hearing Report

From ActCoastal

By Mandy Sackett | Published 2019/09/20

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This blog represents the views of the authors, and does not necessarily reflect the positions of ActCoastal and its partner organizations.

August Hearing Report

The Coastal Commission’s August hearing took place in Eureka at the Eureka Public Marina on Wednesday, August 7 through Friday, August 9. Two controversial items were heard; however, due to the complexities of the issues, neither resulted in a vote chart. The first was a highway improvement project by Caltrans for the Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor. The other was a Consistency Determination with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a 100-room hotel adjacent to the Trinidad Rancheria’s casino in Trinidad.

Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning

The Coastal Commission debuted their first Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning informational presentation focused on the North Coast. The presentation was a result of Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh’s request to hear an update on sea level rise planning by region at each meeting.

The presentation, given by Coastal Commission staff and North Coast experts, focused on the Humboldt County Humboldt Bay Area Plan, which shows an enormous vulnerability in the Bay due to geological subduction forces. With just one foot of sea level rise, earthen dikes protecting the 101 Corridor, and residential and other infrastructure, may be overtopped and result in flooding. Of particular concern are vulnerable lower-income communities along Humboldt Bay that may be impacted.

Also noteworthy is that two meters of sea level rise may overtop the seawall protecting the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in inundation. Efforts are underway to coordinate regionally. Commissioner Mike Wilson was very concerned about preserving sensitive habitats, noting that bays and wetlands such as Humboldt Bay are some of the most productive habitats in the world.

Finally, Commission staff pointed out that the sixth round of Commission’s Local Assistance Grant Program for sea level rise planning were just announced; applications are due on September 6.

Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project

Caltrans applied to the Coastal Commission for an improvement project along the Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor. Improvements would include a new interchange, bridge replacements and lane extensions. The project location would extend along a six-mile segment of Highway 101 along the east side of Humboldt Bay. Caltrans staff estimated that in total, the project would cost over $70 million.

Humboldt Baykeeper and the Surfrider Foundation raised serious concerns about investing heavily in infrastructure in an area known to be vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal hazards, especially given the lack of any long-term adaptation plan.

This project will result in perpetuation of public infrastructure in a coastal hazard zone, which could result in public safety issues. It is also likely that the government will act to protect their investments and these structures with hard armoring rather than relocating them out of harms way as sea levels rise. If coastal habitats along Humboldt Bay are blocked from migrating inland by hard armoring structures, those habitats will drown and be permanently lost. The Humboldt Baykeeper and Surfrider requested that the Commission require Caltrans to submit an adaptation plan for the highway prior to issuance of the permit and that Caltrans remove billboards along the 101 Corridor, which block public views to the coastal and ocean.

Commissioners ultimately approved the project, with some small amendments to address sea level rise concerns. Commissioners Donne Brownsey and Steve Padilla suggested moving the sea level rise planning deadline up from 2030 to 2025 and to add language that clarifies that no coastal armoring should be used to protect the project in the future. Commissioners approved the project with these amendments in a 10-1 vote. Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh being the lone “No” vote.

The Commission continues to grapple with whether to make substantial investments to maintain our vulnerable infrastructure now, knowing costly adaptation measures are inevitable as sea level rise and coastal hazards increase. However, if California's own state agencies refuse to plan for sea level rise, what does that mean for the future of our coast?