Sunday, July 6, 2014

Conflicts of coastal interest imperil health of our dunes

Conflicts of coastal interest imperil health of our dunes - Uri Driscoll/Eureka Times-Standard

Coastal dunes provide protection and wildlife habitat that many of us enjoy. As the grasses were stripped from our dunes we were told they would be "fragile" and recreation activities would need to be curtailed.

The massive vegetation removal efforts have caused significant erosion, de-stabilization and a host of related effects. That has been acknowledged, quietly, by those involved. The problem is, these effects were not a part of the original plan.

Oregon and Washington state have completed extensive studies sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that warn of the inevitable effects of lowering and de-stabilizing coastal dunes. Problems with projected sea level rise would be compounded. Inexplicably, this legitimate research is largely ignored locally.

The coastal development permit written for Friends of the Dunes (FOD) for digging out beachgrasses, was written by county planner Trevor Estlow. Oddly enough, he is a director for FOD and is married to their restoration manager.

The de-stabilizing of these dunes also fills established wetlands with smothering windblown sand. The Department of Fish and Wildlife should be very concerned, we thought. Oddly enough its wetland specialist Mike van Hattem, is also a director for FOD, an organization he should be regulating.

There is a frequently exposed water main that runs along the Samoa peninsula. It becomes exposed as the bare sand erodes off of the pipe. We provided a well researched presentation to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District in April. We showed the de-stabilization and increased erosion caused by removal of the beach grass. One would think they would be concerned, since that pipe provides water to a large part of the county.

For instance, each time bulldozers are used to rebury the pipe we all pony up to pay the $11,000 bill. Oddly enough, the chairman of the Water District, Aldaron Laird, is a contributing member to FOD.

The Harbor District would be very concerned, we also thought, as that pipe is the key to success on their newly acquired property on the bay. Oddly enough Harbor Commissioner Mike Wilson, is president of FOD, the organization that is still promoting the de-stabilizing of our dunes.

Surely we thought, the Coastal Commission would be interested in the information we have found regarding diminished topography, loss of wetland functions and wildlife, threats to infrastructure, expected sea level rise effects, etc. Oddly enough sitting on the board of FOD, you guessed it, is a representative of the Coastal Commission, Tamara Gedik.

These agencies generally intently scrutinize much less invasive projects. They seem to be giving these a pass.

We have attempted numerous times over the last couple years to engage Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace. The district he represents has many of the effects we are witnessing. Unfortunately he has proven to be more of an obstacle to dialog than a facilitator. We are hopeful, but not holding our breath, that he will help set the table for an honest discussion.

I think it is quite fair to say we have moved well past the appearance of a conflict of interest. If the regulators that are hired to protect the public trust are directors and contributors to the very organizations they are supposed to be regulating, what else can we think?

Uri Driscoll resides in Arcata and can be reached at

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