Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Crowley Questions Mount for Harbor District

Posted By on Tue, Sep 5, 2023 at 5:03 PM

click to enlarge Jeff Andreini (right), Crowley’s former president of new energy, signs a deal to launch exclusive negotiations to develop and operate an offshore wind port on the Samoa Peninsula as Humboldt Bay Harbor District Board Chair Greg Dale (left) looks on. - SUBMITTED
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  • Jeff Andreini (right), Crowley’s former president of new energy, signs a deal to launch exclusive negotiations to develop and operate an offshore wind port on the Samoa Peninsula as Humboldt Bay Harbor District Board Chair Greg Dale (left) looks on.
Pressure is mounting on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to reconsider its relationship with Crowley Maritime, its partner in the rush to develop a marine terminal to serve the proposed offshore wind farm, or at least to hold off on consummating the partnership.

The first official salvo came Aug. 20 in the form of an op-ed Yurok Tribal Chair Joseph James published in a local paper calling on the district to “reconsider” its exclusive right to negotiate agreement with the international maritime industry giant due to a “rotten company culture” evidenced by two federal lawsuits. The latest, meanwhile, hit Aug. 31, with news that Crowley Wind Services Vice President Jeff Andreini had left the company amid sexual harassment allegations with ties to Humboldt County, as first reported by the Lost Coast Outpost.

Harbor District Executive Director Larry Oetker released a letter in response to the Outpost’s reporting about Andreini’s departure stating that the district takes allegations of sexual harassment “very seriously and holds the safety and well-being of our community paramount.” But the letter did not mention Crowley — much less Andreini — by name or denote any next steps, leaving it unclear exactly where things go from here. What does seem clear, however, is that questions about Crowley’s handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations and what the company’s culture mean for its future in a region with the highest rates of missing and murdered indigenous people in the country are poised to continue.

Back in October, as the federal government prepared to auction off two leases to build deep-sea offshore wind farms 20 miles off Humboldt’s coast, the harbor district announced it had entered into an exclusive right to negotiate with Crowley Wind Services, a subsidiary of the multinational maritime giant and Department of Defense contractor, to develop the old pulp mill site on the Samoa Peninsula into a state of the art heavy lift marine terminal. Crowley, it seemed, was drawn to what could be more than a $1 billion project to service the nascent industry, while Humboldt officials were drawn to the company’s track record of completing big projects and industry expertise.

But as James noted in his My Word column published in the Times-Standard, Crowley faces mounting legal trouble in the form of a pair of federal sex trafficking lawsuits. The suits, brought by a woman under the pseudonym of Jane Doe and Vanessa Treminio, both former Crowley employees, allege their boss, Juan Emilio Blanco, engaged in a pattern of harassing behavior the company ignored before he allegedly sexually assaulted Jane Doe and raped Treminio, both in 2018.

Jane Doe alleges she had voiced concerns about Blanco’s behavior to company officials, who’d also learned of Treminio’s rape allegation, in the months leading up to a scheduled trip with her boss to the U.S. in January of 2018 but the company failed to act and Blanco allegedly attacked her during the trip. In her lawsuit, Treminio alleges that she was travelling with Blanco on business in November of 2017 when he fraudulently obtained a key to her room from the hotel’s front desk, used it to access her room and raped her, holding his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

An attorney representing both women has said a former Crowley vice president admitted in sworn depositions in the case that he knew of Treminio’s rape allegation and did nothing to investigate it or report it to anyone else at the company.

The sex trafficking allegation centers on the claim that the company forced the woman to travel with Blanco, who was a “known predator” within the company.

Blanco, through his lawyer, has denied all the allegations and declined to comment publicly on the lawsuits. Crowley reportedly fired him in 2018, according to the lawsuits.

A spokesperson for Crowley has said the company has a zero tolerance policy toward sexual misconduct and is committed to creating a “safe and respectful work environment” but deemed the sex trafficking allegation “false and without merit.”

Despite the denials, the allegations have struck a chord on the North Coast, including among Native communities that for years have been working to raise awareness — and resources to combat — the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people. With the prospect of an industrialization on the county’s horizon that might include an influx of work crews, which local tribes contend brings an increased risk of exploitation and trafficking of Native women and girls.

In his My Word, James called on the harbor district to hold a transparent “screening and selection” process for a port developer that focuses specifically on MMIP and sex trafficking protection that includes a “robust evaluation of the human rights record of each applicant.” The tribe, James wrote, does not believe Crowley Wind Services would pass the test.

Following James letter, the CORE Hub, a new community organization under the umbrella of the Humboldt Area Foundation with the mission of solving the climate emergency while ensuring benefits accrue to underrepresented and marginalized communities to the greatest extent possible, offered its first formal input to the district’s port project. On Aug. 25, the hub sent a letter signed by 16 people, including tribal officials, leaders of environmental groups and other community organizations, commenting on the district’s notice that it was beginning the environmental review process for the project.

One of the CORE Hub’s primary concerns is that it appears the district may enter into a binding contract with Crowley before completing its environmental impact report for the project. It is crucial, the group wrote, that the district work to protect Native communities and not finalize its agreement with Crowley until the environmental review analyzes the project’s potential impacts and the measures needed to mitigate them.

It was amid this background that the Lost Coast Outpost published its bombshell report last week that Andreini, a face of the company’s efforts in Humboldt, had parted ways with Crowley amid allegations of inappropriate conduct.

According to correspondences the Outpost obtained through a public records act request, Redwood Coast Energy Authority Executive Director Matthew Marshall brought concerns to the company’s attention Aug. 22, saying Andreini had sexually harassed a subordinate employee at a bar during an industry conference in Sacramento in May, and that Marshall said Andreini’s behavior was so egregious that Marshall himself intervened.

“I’m disappointed to have to share this troubling information with you, but after speaking with numerous local women subsequent to the above incident my impression was that this behavior was not an untypical or one-off situation so I would feel remiss in not escalating the matter,” Marshall wrote, according to the Outpost’s reporting.

Crowley Chief People Officer Megan Davidson reportedly responded by thanking Marshall for bringing the issue forward, saying the company had not been aware of the incident when it happened but has since been “appraised of the situation and are handling the matter.” Within nine days, Andreini was no longer with the company, though the exact nature of his departure remains unclear after three years and eight months with Crowley.

Neither Andreini nor Marshall immediately responded to Journal inquiries for this story.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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