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Just a Moment 

Paging through the final Environmental Impact Report for the Marina Center project -- the big box-anchored development that kazillionaire Rob Arkley is proposing to build on the Eureka waterfront, just west of Old Town -- my eye landed on a familiar piece of artwork. There it was, attached to the letter of protest submitted by "Anonymous": Journal cartoonist Joel Mielke's riff on the business of attracting cruise ships to our bay. Think of the fabulous vistas afforded to the modern cruiser, Mielke snarked. Sydney's Opera House! San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge! Seattle's Space Needle! Eureka's Home Depot!

The final Marina Center EIR, which was released on the city of Eureka's Web site last week, includes and incorporates 179 letters that the city received supporting or opposing the project, or else offering deep scientific or legal criticism of the draft report, which was released earlier this year. The authors responded to each and every specific complaint about the draft, with varying degrees of success. The response to the Mielke cartoon, at least, was straightforward. "The necessary attractions to ensure the success of the cruise ship industry to visit specific locations is outside the scope of the proposed project and [the California Environmental Quality Act]," the authors wrote.

Cartoonists are one thing; state agencies and nonprofit interest groups with lawyers at the ready are quite another. Alas, it is not quite so easy to dispose of criticism brought by the California Coastal Commission, the Department of Fish and Game, the California Water Resources Control Board, the California State Lands Commission, the County of Humboldt, the Northcoast Environmental Center, Humboldt Baykeeper or the Environmental Protection Information Center, to name just a few of the agencies and organizations that filed substantial letters in critique of the draft. Which is why it's something close to insane that the city has elected to turn this sucker around in a matter of a few weeks.

When a municipality certifies an environmental impact report as being A-OK and up to snuff, it has to be prepared to stand by that certification in a court of law. Suddenly, it becomes the entity whose name is listed at the top of the lawsuit. There has long been a large, well organized and well funded opposition to the Marina Center project, some branches of which specialize in environmental science and law. They've listed their objections pretty plainly in the final EIR. They include, but are not limited to, the expected traffic impacts of the project, its potential compliance or noncompliance with wetlands protections, the ramifications of its location in a tsunami zone and a place that could become inundated by rising sea levels and -- most crucially -- the adequacy of the toxic clean-up plan at the site of the development, the former rail yard known as "the Balloon Track." City staff and environmental consultants have responded to these critiques in the final EIR, but if you think that's going to be the end of the story then you have been huffing gasoline.

Marina Center and the Balloon Track property have a long, twisted political history. If you want a piece of that history, you can check out a few previous Journal cover stories -- "Finding Beauty in the Blight," (Oct. 11, 2001), "Blown Off Course" (Nov. 4, 2004), "On Different Tracks" (March 16, 2006). Things have been quiet for a couple of years, but with the final EIR up for a vote that will change very quickly now. There will be full-scale war over this thing in the Eureka City Council chambers, at the California Coastal Commission and, almost certainly, in the courts.

All we're saying is that if the cash-poor city of Eureka is going to take its place in the center of this big, messy fight -- which it must do, if the project is to proceed -- then the City Council at least should take another month or six weeks to make sure, as best it can, that it is on solid footing with this EIR, the legal defense of which will be borne by the taxpayers of Eureka. We don't know why the majority of the City Council thought that ground-truthing this matter could be accomplished in the space of a few days, but we do know that they were wrong. Also, I'm sorry to be the one to tell them but their great haste in this matter has an odd smell.

A month or six weeks -- barely a blip in the lifecycle of the Marina Center, the fight over which will continue for a couple more years at least. You can't give multiple state agencies, and their pages and pages of detailed legal and scientific analysis, that much time? You may live to regret that.

Ask them yourself. The second of the city's two quickly organized Open Houses on the subject is being held in the Eureka City Council chambers tonight (Thursday, Oct. 15) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. That's at 531 K St., Eureka.

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Hank Sims

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