Thursday, March 24, 2016

Palco Marsh Potty Fire an Act of Protest?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 4:49 PM

click to enlarge Camps at the Palco Marsh. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Camps at the Palco Marsh.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning the portable toilets in the Bayshore Mall's north parking lot burnt to almost nothing. So says the press release from Humboldt Bay Fire, which responded to a call at 5:28 a.m. to find the plastic potties completely destroyed by fire.

But Richard Marks, who serves on the Humboldt Bay Harbor Commission and advocated for the installation of the toilets, said their fate was sealed March 18, when the city announced that illegal campers must leave the area by May 2.

"We thought the city and the Harbor Commission had an agreement to let us know if they're going to serve eviction notices," said Marks, who alleges the toilets were burned down as an act of protest by irate marsh residents. The commission had two previous toilets toppled in July 2015, shortly after residents were told to leave.

The July 2015 departure date was suspended in lieu of offering services to marsh campers, but it looks unlikely that the city will pull the football again, with plans to construct a waterfront trail through the area slated to start this spring. 

New portapotties will probably not go up in the meantime, according to Marks. 

"It was hard for me talk to my fellow commissioners, to do this again," he said, referring to the initial return of the toilets, intended to slow the ooze of human waste into the bay. "Personally, I would do it again. The bay needs it."

Eureka City Councilmember Kim Bergel has been visiting the illegal encampments regularly to speak to people preparing to transition out of the marsh. She confirmed a rumor that a local homeless advocate had cleaned the restrooms recently with gasoline to remove graffiti, but Battalion Chief Kent Hulbert disputed the theory that this may have accelerated the flames.

"Gasoline does dissipate fairly quickly," he said. "The fact that it burnt down is not surprising. It's fairly common for those to burn. People vandalize them often."

Hulbert added they do not recommend cleaning with gasoline.

A request for proposals for temporary camps from the city will go out tomorrow, according to Bergel. The city is asking nonprofits to step up with solutions for the 100-plus people currently sleeping rough in the Palco Marsh. 

"I feel like what we're doing is working, it's just going too slow," she said, referring to the "Housing First" strategy currently endorsed by the city and county. "And there are more people coming in."

Marks called it a "conundrum," saying he approved of the city's plan but, without a designated place for the displaced to go, they will probably end up on the Samoa Peninsula, where he lives.

From Humboldt Bay Fire:

On the morning of March 22, 2016 at 5:28 AM, an engine from Humboldt Bay Fire responded to a report of portable toilets on fire in the area known as “the North Forty” near the Palco Marsh. Bayshore Mall Security was on scene on arrival of Humboldt Bay fire. Firefighters located the remains of two portable toilet structures that had been almost entirely consumed by fire in the far north parking lot to the rear of the Bayshore Mall. Firefighters extinguished the remaining fire. The two toilets, provided by the Humboldt Bay Harbor District in an attempt to help
prevent human waste from entering Humboldt Bay, had been reduced to piles of burned plastic and fecal material and were a total loss.

On scene personnel attempted to identify the cause of the fire, but were unsuccessful. The fire is suspicious, but at this time the cause is undetermined. Persons having any information about the fire are asked to contact Humboldt Bay Fire at 441-4000. 

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