On the cover North Coast Journal

April 21, 2005


Out with the tide? As administrators mull a move for Telonicher, Humboldt State faculty protect their Trinidad turf [man looking out at ocean view]

On the cover: Humboldt State Fisheries Biology professor Dave Hankin
looks out over the Pacific from the Telonicher Marine Lab in Trinidad. [Photo by Helen Sanderson]
Out with the tide? As administrators mull a move for Telonicher,
Humboldt State faculty protect their Trinidad turf

story & photos by HELEN SANDERSON

[Dave Hankin in office]SITTING IN HIS SECOND-STORY OFFICE IN THE Wildlife Building at Humboldt State one recent morning, Dave Hankin's thoughts were focused on matters miles away -- 14 miles to the north, to be exact. The fisheries biology professor and department chair was thinking about the university's Fred Telonicher Marine Laboratory in Trinidad, and how the university would like to relocate it to Eureka.

For Hankin [photo at right] and others in the marine sciences department "the Telonicher" is an irreplaceable gem. The thought of trading it for a new lab somewhere in Eureka seems foolish.

"It would be like if someone asked me to pawn off my wife's finest diamond ring," Hankin said. "I wouldn't do it. I just wouldn't hawk it."

HSU administrators told the marine sciences staff this semester that a move for the lab -- which is by no means a done deal -- would make it possible for the facility to expand and remain competitive among students, and would fit with the university's plans to create a greater Eureka presence.

The announcement

Though the idea has been tossed around for the last couple of years, the plan to move the center from Trinidad was formally introduced by HSU President Rollin Richmond at a special meeting with the Northern California Institute of Marine Sciences group Feb. 24 at the university. Richmond told the 10-12 faculty and staff present that selling the Trinidad marine lab would fund construction costs for a new one in Eureka. The grander scope of the deal would be to combine the lab, the Natural History Museum, First Street Gallery and Continuing Education Offices -- all examples of HSU's outreach to the broader community -- into one large complex.

[Telonicher Lab building]In an interview with the Journal earlier this year, Richmond explained HSU's movement toward establishing itself in Eureka. "This is not an effort to remove the university from Arcata, it's a way to provide some additional resources to the people of Eureka," he said.

There are three sites owned by the city that the HSU administration is considering as the Telonicher's new home. One parcel is behind the Bayshore Mall, another is near the Wharfinger Building, and the last -- and apparently most appealing site to the university -- is the Halvorsen property, which has six acres available just west of the Samoa Bridge adjacent to Halvorsen Park.

Eureka City Manager Dave Tyson said over the past six months or so he has had occasional discussions with Richmond and other administrators about donating city-owned waterfront land to the university.

"[The university officials'] main interest seems to be on the Halvorsen property. They like the size of the site and its proximity to downtown [Eureka]," Tyson said.

Richmond's proposal at the Feb. 24 meeting was not received warmly by the faculty and staff, according to Dave Hoskins, HSU's lead marine facilities technician, who sat in for Hankin. Hoskins said that as the administration went around the room to gather feedback from the NCIMS members, only two professors seemed somewhat amenable to moving the marine lab to Eureka. Administration officials agreed that there was considerable opposition, but said a number of professors were silent on the issue.

[View of Trinidad Head]In response, Hankin drafted a letter detailing the faculty's opposition to giving up the Trinidad marine lab. Instead, Hankin suggested the university keep the Telonicher and build an additional estuarine research center located on Humboldt Bay.

There are good, scientifically based reasons why the move would be ill-advised, faculty members said.

For one, the lab, which opened in 1966, has a nearby source of good quality seawater from Trinidad Harbor for its aquarium tanks. Second, it is within walking distance of both sandy and rocky intertidal habitat so students can take a short hike to the beach to collect various sea critters for their studies. And it has a great view, something Hankin says is an attraction for both prospective students and faculty.

The Telonicher [above left] sits on a 1.4-acre parcel on Ewing Street overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Trinidad Head from its westward-facing, front row perch [photo at right]. The land was purchased by the university for $22,500 in 1964. A Trinidad real estate agent guessed that today the property alone is worth $375,000, and with everything that is now on it, a conservative value would be $2 million.

Trinidad Mayor Chi-Wei Lin said that the marine lab is a major attraction in Trinidad. Hankin told him about the possibility of the move, but he had not heard directly from the HSU administration.

"It's a prestitigious institution and it's a tradition here," Lin said. "It's a big attraction for our town and we like it very much. If it moved it would be a loss for our city, it brings tourists here."

Twelve thousand people signed the lab's visitor book last year.

In an e-mail to the Journal, Richmond said that the university is taking Trinidad's concerns into consideration.

"This discussion is in the earliest possible stage. I want to be sensitive to the Trinidad community, and also to our research faculty, in moving forward on this. I look forward to talking at length in the near future with Trinidad leaders on this issue," Richmond wrote.

For the same reasons Lin likes the Telonicher's presence in Trinidad, Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee said the city would be happy to have the lab on the waterfront.

"I would love to see more [projects] between the university and the city and more development. It would attract more people into [Eureka]," La Vallee said. "It would give us more vibrant activity on the waterfront."

But Hankin and his colleagues, some HSU researchers and staff in the marine sciences department agree: The Eureka waterfront -- situated as it is on the bay and not the ocean -- is no competition for the ideal conditions of Trinidad's coastline when it comes to hosting a marine lab.

And while the 16,000-square-foot facility is small by the standards of other university research laboratories in California like Moss Landing on Monterey Bay, Hankin says that the Telonicher's recirculating seawater system is impressive for a marine lab of any size.

[the vessel Coral Sea, at dock]But there are drawbacks in Trinidad, too, said Carl Coffey, the university's vice president of administrative affairs. There is limited room to expand the marine facilities on the small Trinidad site, and the lab is about 25 miles from the university's 90-foot research vessel, the Coral Sea, which is docked at Woodley Island.

From the faculty's viewpoint, none of the Eureka sites are ideal, mainly because of poor water quality, in particular low levels of salinity, high levels of turbidity, and pollution from boats and industry on the bay. The Halvorsen parcel is the least attractive of the three properties, Hankin said, since it is the farthest from the mouth of the bay, and the water there has the lowest levels of salinity, or salt concentration, which is required for the health of certain marine life.

According to Fisheries Biology Professor Tim Mulligan, the seawater that the marine lab extracts from Trinidad Harbor has 32 to 36 parts per thousand salinity concentration. By comparison, he said, the Halvorsen site is usually around 20 to 24 parts per thousand because of a freshwater influence from the Eureka Slough. During heavy rains, that rate can plunge as low as 12 to 14 parts per thousand, and turbidity can jump when sediment is flushed from the slough into the bay, Mulligan said. Even mussels, which can thrive in most places, would have a hard time surviving in that type of water.

Hoskins said that at the Feb. 24 meeting the administration seemed to heavily favor the Halvorsen site. They proposed that the water quality dilemma could be bypassed in one of two ways -- by regularly sending the Coral Sea out to collect the seawater from the ocean and haul it back, or by running a pipe underwater, across Woodley Island and out into the channel on the other side. But the water there, Hoskins said, is only slightly better.

He said the plan seemed a bit desperate.

"You can build labs anywhere, you can build labs in Las Vegas. But it's going to be expensive to maintain and you're not going to draw researchers to a facility that doesn't have good seawater," Hoskins said.

[vacant property, bay and Eureka in background]
The Halvorsen site seen from the Samoa Bridge

Is bigger better?

Hankin said his letter to the administration was prompted by faculty fears that talks between Eureka officials and the university could develop into formal proposals and land deals before the professors' concerns were clearly heard.

The letter was signed by all of the 18 staff and faculty who work in the marine sciences department, including professors from fisheries, oceanography, biology, wildlife and geology. The formal statement made clear that the marine sciences staff does not want to lose the Telonicher, and proposed the creation of an additional facility on Humboldt Bay for studies better suited to estuarine research.

[Tim Mulligan holds an abalone in laboratory]

Professor Tim Mulligan holds an abalone at the Telonicher Lab

"Our preferred option is based on a two-lab concept that calls for construction of a satellite marine laboratory (HSU Bay and Estuarine Studies Center) at a biologically acceptable location on Humboldt Bay, while maintaining the existing TML," the statement reads. "Existing space would be reallocated at TML and a modest on site expansion, if needed, could accommodate future increased demands at TML itself. We estimate that this preferred option would satisfy all marine science needs at HSU for at least 25-30 years."

Hankin referred to the plan as "adding to the arsenal" of the marine studies department.

But Bob Schulz, director of physical affairs for HSU, doesn't fancy the idea, seeing the venture as adding to the university's maintenance costs. From a marketing standpoint Schulz thinks bigger will be better -- one large site that fuses the marine lab with the Natural History Museum would be more attractive to incoming faculty, students and tourists, he said. Scattering the marine facilities between Trinidad and Eureka would not look as impressive as one larger complex would.

"Imagine you're 17 or 18 years old and you come here to look into the marine biology program and you have to drive to two different facilities that are [25] miles away from each other," Schulz said. "That is not going to have as much of an impact as one larger site."

[students in lab classroom]Hankin doesn't agree with Schulz's logic. Access to diverse habitats is part of what makes HSU's marine programs unique, he says.

"This is a great place for students in the sciences. They've got the [fish] hatchery on campus, the Arcata Marsh, Trinidad, Big Lagoon, Humboldt Bay. It's good to have a variety of habitats," he said.

Biology Professor Frank Shaughnessy's students do most of their fieldwork on Humboldt Bay studying eelgrass. When they're not out on the bay collecting samples, they're studying at the marine lab in Trinidad.

[Right: an afternoon invertebrate zoology class at the marine lab]

Shaughnessy rarely uses the Trinidad marine lab himself, but that doesn't mean he would rather see a marine lab in Eureka.

"I'm not for having a lab on the bay if it means the Telonicher has to be destroyed," he said. "If we could find the money to have two labs, that would be best because my students do so much work in Eureka."

Where the university would get the money for any sort of lab might be the bigger question. Neither Coffey nor Schulz could speculate on the issue of finances, saying that the prospect of a new lab is far enough into the future that funding has not been deeply considered yet.

Rumors have floated that multimillionaire owner of Security National Rob Arkley might be interested in funding the project, which would be nearby his own upcoming waterfront development on a 30-acre parcel adjacent to the Halvorsen site. Reached in Houston last week, Arkley said that he had no knowledge of the possible move for "the Telonicher."

"I promise you I have never even heard that word before," Arkley said.

Hankin said that a loose estimate for a new marine lab in Eureka, which would require sophisticated and expensive water treatment facility and would include a new concrete pier, would run upwards of $40 million. "There's got to be big money from somewhere to make this thing happen," he said. A small estuarine center in contrast, would cost somewhere around $5 million, he estimated.

James Howard, Dean of the College of Natural Resources, speculated a new lab would cost closer to $30 million.

While the price is steep, Howard said that HSU needs to consider the price it might pay if it loses its competitive edge against other universities that have newer marine labs.

"There is a fund-raising effort going on in San Luis Obispo to develop a marine facility there. Their school is a major competitor for ours for students in the sciences," Howard said. "They're also developing a new coastal facility at San Diego State. [The administration] is realizing that we probably need a new facility with more capabilities than our current one if we're going to be competitive. We have to look at the new reality for marine sciences in California."

The Telonicher may not be very showy, but fisheries professor Mulligan says that it is highly functional. "We're still able to do a tremendous amount of work here."

[Rachel Moore holding urchin, in lab]One of Mulligan's undergraduate students, Rachel Moore [at left], who is currently working on a study of the growth rates of the gonads of purple urchins -- something called uni, a Japanese delicacy -- said that she doesn't want the lab to move to Eureka either.

"It would be a total bummer. The location of this place is what sold me on coming here," Moore said. "Wouldn't you rather walk out onto the majestic Pacific rather than a mudflat in Eureka?"

Right now, Hankin and Mulligan -- who was named the HSU 2004-05 Outstanding Professor of the Year -- are submitting a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation for funds to remodel the Telonicher's wet lab, where students store their sea specimens, from abalone to urchins. The renovation would cost $180,000 for new tanks and lighting. Mulligan thinks that HSU has a good chance of landing the grant and will hear back from the NSF in September.

But Hankin said he would feel guilty renovating the wet lab if it were going to be torn down at some point. He told Richmond as much, to which the president reportedly said not to worry -- the lab wouldn't be sold off for at least another five years. That timeline only heightened Hankin's uncertainties.

"Five years from now is not very far off," Hankin said. "If they want to get something going within five years, that means they need to start cutting deals now."

More Telonocher Marine Lab photos below

Bay stewards push for new center

ONE LOCAL GROUP THAT SHARES THE HSU faculty's vision for an estuarine center is the Humboldt Bay Stewards. In fact, that's why the Stewards were formed a year ago -- to examine the possibility of bringing such a center to Humboldt Bay.

At a forum held by the group last June called "Listening to the Community: The Future of Humboldt Bay," the No. 1 interest expressed by the public was to have an estuarine center, according to Maggy Herbelin, the organization's coordinator.

It was late last semester when Herbelin first approached Natural Resources Planning Professor Michael Smith about working with a group of his senior students to do a project on locating good sites on Humboldt Bay for an estuarine center. The four students who took on the project will present their work at a forum this Wednesday evening, April 27, at the Wharfinger Building.

Amanda Piscitelli is one of the HSU students working on the study. She said that she and her classmates interviewed people from different agencies, like Fish and Game and the county planning department, as well as HSU marine sciences professors. From their research, the students gleaned a set of criteria to be considered when choosing an appropriate site for an estuarine center.

Topping their list is water quality. Other important factors the students have identified are size (ideally they think the center should be on a parcel twice the size of the Telonicher site), the proximity to or space to build a boat launch and dock, access to nearby habitat for research, proximity to downtown Eureka, and parking availability.

The students found that the possible sites that best meet these criteria are the Coast Guard Station off Samoa, Dock B in Fields Landing, and the city's parcel behind the Bayshore Mall.

According to Hankin, the Coast Guard site has been considered as a possible marine lab site in the past, but is no longer available to the university. The other two sites, while they are nearer to the mouth of the bay and therefore have better water quality, would not give the university the exposure it's seeking.

This is what makes the students' project more idealistic in a way -- it was never bogged down with marketing considerations or political concerns.

"We're not actually proponents of making this happen. We're just looking into it," Piscitelli said.

Herbelin said she is aware of the current tension over the Telonicher.

"We do not want to see the marine lab close," she said. "We think that the program there has its own merit and should be continued and this should be an expansion rather than a replacement."

[jugs of algae and water on shelves]  [trays of oysters in water]

[octopus in tank] Man and young child looking into tanks

Inside the Fred Telonicher Marine Lab:

Top left: Algae stored in the culture room.
Top right: Bins of oysters kept in seawater at the wet lab.

Above left: A giant pacific octopus in an aquarium.
Right: Visitors peer into saltwater tanks.





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