Dec. 2, 2004
CALTRANS: `TALK TO US': Caltrans wants to know what you think about state highways. The department is surveying the public to "identify areas for improvement," and invites state residents to log onto its Web site, www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi to answer certain questions. Locate the red text, "Please take our maintenance survey." The survey runs through Jan. 5 and takes about 15 minutes to complete, Caltrans says.
by HANK SIMS
The county's railroad tracks have lain dormant for nearly 10 years. Financial troubles at the Stockton Pacific pulp mill may threaten the only major shipping service in Humboldt Bay.
Transportation problems are nothing new in Humboldt County, but an energized new group of business leaders believe that the region is ideally poised to become a player in the movement of goods produced in the global marketplace, if only it would grasp the nettle.
The Rail and Port Infrastructure Task Force (RAPIT), which was formed earlier this month, argues that the current international climate gives the county an opening to develop its port and railroad, bringing in new jobs and business opportunities.
"The opportunity is here -- we need to take advantage of it, now," said Eureka attorney and task force member Bill Bertain. "We want to catch this tide at its full."
In a letter sent to business owners and government officials earlier this month, the task force noted that the great increase in trade with Asia in recent years has caused costly delays at major ports up and down the West Coast. Humboldt Bay may be the only California shipping port that lacks the cranes and other dockside equipment to handle container traffic; RAPIT believes that with a little investment in these tools -- plus a revitalized railroad -- the county could easily attract some of the large ports' excess traffic.
RAPIT members say that there are many other reasons why now is the time to push for a revitalization of the region's transportation infrastructure. The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District recently acquired a deep-water dock in Samoa. The Headwaters Fund has made $5 million available to fund improvements to local transportation projects. Concerns about terrorist strikes against vital routes have meant that the federal government, through its Department of Homeland Security, has been willing to spend money on infrastructure.
But the task force believes that the potential for attracting some of the global shipping from Asia has the greatest immediate potential to bring new jobs to the county. A recent article in the Journal of Commerce, an industry newsletter, reported that the Port of Long Beach -- which has experienced record backlogs in the run-up to the holiday season -- has been steadily hiring dockworkers in recent months. The article stated that port operators hope to add 1,000 registered longshoremen and 3,000 part-time laborers to its rolls in the coming months.
RAPIT member Marc Matteoli, a Eureka real estate broker, believes that the Humboldt Bay region could develop these kinds of high-wage jobs too, if only the infrastructure were in place. Matteoli lamented what he described as the failure of politically active citizenry not to take the needs of blue-collar workers into consideration when planning the county's future.
"I think we've got a moral duty to consider that group," he said. "There's often an unfortunate elitist attitude among those who think that quality of life is the first issue."
Jacqueline Debets, the county's economic development coordinator, is skeptical that the region's economic woes can be solved be a single "silver bullet" such as shipping. She said that although infrastructure is vital, the county would be better served by getting its residents additional training for jobs that are likely to be marketable to companies that may seek to invest in the area.
"I think that the reality of the economy of America is that it's hard to find a high-paying job with a high school education," Debets said. "The fact is that the economy of America is changing to a high-end service-sector economy."
Debets added that when she talks to local business leaders -- even those in the manufacturing sector -- the infrastructure improvement they most desire is another fiber-optic line to service their Internet needs.
But Bertain argued that other countries -- particularly those in Asia -- have become extremely competitive with the United States' technology industry lately, turning out millions of skilled engineers in recent years. With those countries developing the "high-end service" industries that Debets spoke of, there may be more of an opportunity -- and a need -- for manufacturing jobs in the United States, according to Bertain.
"We should not think that America is not going to be a manufacturing country," he said. "We're going to have to be."
If the county had a dependable shipping system, he said, local government leaders and the business community could lobby members of this new wave of manufacturers to set up shop here.
RAPIT members said that their highest priority will be to lobby local officials and representatives of the Port of Oakland in the hopes of encouraging a stronger relationship between Oakland and Humboldt Bay. The two ports recently applied for a $50,000 grant from the federal Maritime Administration to fund a study of a proposed barge service between Humboldt and the San Francisco Bay. l
by LUKE JOHNSON
Though players have used it for almost seven years, the disc golf park near the water district pump station in Arcata has become one of the newest official courses in California.
But the transition took some doing.
Located on Warren Creek Road, about three miles east down West End Road, the park's use by the golfers posed a potential risk for unsuspecting hikers and other park users. In June, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, which owns the land, and local disc golf club Par Infinity, agreed that, in the best interest of all parties, the course would be closed for disc golf.
Then Par Infinity approached the water district to try to work something out. Negotiations were slow to develop because of the water district's hesitancy to get involved with managing a disc golf course. At the same time, though, the water district did not want to limit public enjoyment of the park.
"We have a longstanding tradition of allowing community members to use our parks -- by virtue of having land along the river we have an obligation to allow the public access to this land," said water district General Manager Carol Rische. "We were able to reach a use agreement with Par Infinity that will allow this."
The agreement requires Par Infinity to manage the playing of disc golf in the park. It is the club's responsibility to ensure that golfers respect the posted rules of the course and are able to co-exist with other park users. The water district must approve all decisions regarding repairs, improvements, or any other changes.
"This is an opportunity for disc golfers to show the community that this is a positive thing," said local attorney and Par Infinity member Nick Kloeppel, who played a major role in the negotiations. "Part of our agreement with the water district was that we take full responsibility for maintaining the course. That means it's up to us to keep the area clean and safe for all users."
Aron Johnson, a resident of the area surrounding the Cooper Gulch disc golf course in Eureka, can testify to the positive effects that course has had on that community. The golfers have helped keep away the drug users, prostitutes and campers that plagued the park, he said.
"I've talked to my neighbors and most of them have told me that, since the course was put in, they feel safer than they've ever felt around the neighborhood," Johnson said.
The object of disc golf is to throw a disc (heavier and stiffer than a traditional Frisbee) into the basket, a contraption equipped with hanging chains that provides a "hole."
While disc golf provides a wonderful community activity, it is not free from controversy. As golfer population increases, so does the threat posed to surrounding flora and fauna.
Yvonne Everett, an Environment and Natural Resource professor at Humbold State University, taught classes three years ago that studied the environmental impacts of the disc golf behind HSU in the Arcata Community Forest.
"We compared soil compaction and vegetation trampling in various locations around the forest. Around the disc golf holes we found very significant compaction, which can have negative impacts on root growth and thus reduce vegetation cover and potentially increase soil erosion," Everett said.
Par Infinity said it remains sensitive to these environmental issues. They have put on "work parties" in an effort to restore some of the damage done to the forest; the next one is scheduled for Saturday. It is also hoped that foot traffic will be more diffuse now that there are two operating courses in Arcata, thus minimizing the damage to any one area.
"Since part of our agreement includes maintenance, picking up litter and respecting the natural setting are high priorities," Kloeppel said.
Disc golf has been around since the `70s, but the last six years have seen a dramatic increase of courses worldwide. There were 850 courses in 1998; today there are upwards of 1,700 courses in the world, with 1,500 of those in the United States and 90 in California. l
Luke Johnson is a writer and Americorps worker in Arcata.
Comments? Write a letter!
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.