Talk of Humboldt Bay stokes nostalgia among locals who remember it as once being the county’s flagship industrial source, but the dialogue Wednesday at the Samoa Cookhouse was modeled around shaping the harbor’s economic future.

“Our goal is to work with the private sector to bring great jobs,” said Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District executive director Larry Oetker.

Oetker addressed a roomful of locals comprising the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group, a grassroots community organization that explores ways of revitalizing the harbor.

Among the major plans is rebooting the shipping industry, but to do that, the harbor must evolve into a year-round site of industry, Oetker said. Currently, the bustle around Samoa is slow, since the winter months bring weather that makes shipping work untenable.

Oetker stressed the need for a long-term solution to natural processes like sediment deposits from the Eel River that fill up around the entrance to the South Jetty. The sediment creates the danger of shoaling, or a shallowing up of the water that puts crabbing boats facing larger waves in peril.

“We need to do a long-term study with engineers and find a long-term solution,” he said.

Offshore wind energy at the bay is another one of Oetker’s visions. “Giant” wind farms at the very end of Humboldt Bay could make the harbor an energy hub of Northern California while avoiding the businesses set up there, he said.

Pete Oringer, a Working Group board member, said he’s visited various Western European countries in the past year and noticed wind turbines there.

“They’re putting their money there; they’ve done the due diligence,” Oringer said. He encouraged people to put their money toward the harbor in order to do the same.


Describing himself as a dreamer, Oetker said that attracting businesses to the harbor should fall into Humboldt County’s lap, since, unlike bays in other major areas, the county doesn’t have existing infrastructure that obstructs viable shipping channels.

Oetker pointed to different areas nearby the Port of Humboldt. If those areas had the necessary infrastructure, he said, then many more businesses could begin setting up shop there. The costs of building would be offset by the ensuing property tax revenue, he said.

The harbor district is nearing the end of a process completed with the county Planning Commission in order to permit businesses at the Samoa pulp mill that previously weren’t allowed to be there, since the area is set aside for coastal-dependent industry.

The permits are valid for around seven years, Oetker told the Times-Standard, but if coastal-dependent businesses come around, those permits could be overturned.

“We need a bunch of small businesses at the site in order to support all that industry,” he said at the meeting. “There’s no way they’d all meet coastal-dependent industrial standards.”

The meeting carried a spirited sense of urgency to start improving Humboldt Bay as soon as possible. Harbor District commissioner Richard Marks said the energy comes from the possibility of offshore wind energy. The company TerraGen has proposed building dozens of wind turbines in the Scotia area.

“Larry (Oetker) wants to be prepared to build the infrastructure to get it ready for (TerraGen),” Marks said. “He wants to build the right partnerships to get us there.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.