Environmental groups oppose extension of Waterfront Drive

Environmental groups oppose extension of Waterfront Drive

By Meghan Vogel
The Eureka Times-Standard

June 29, 2004

EUREKA, CA — A battle of competing visions is shaping up over Palco Marsh.

While the city says environmental studies need to be conducted to determine the feasibility of a road through the area, a coalition of environmental groups say the city shouldn’t waste any more money on the project.

Earlier this month, the Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center sent a letter to the California Transportation Commission on behalf of local environmental groups opposing Eureka’s plans for the extension of Waterfront Drive to Truesdale Street.

The 1.25-mile extension would help alleviate some of the traffic congestion on Broadway, said City Engineer Brent Seimer. Eureka has requested $550,000 in additional state funds to study the environmental impacts of the Waterfront Drive Extension Project. EPIC, however, maintains putting a road through the marsh conflicts with the city’s delayed efforts to restore it.

“We’re asking that no more public money be spent on this project,” said Cynthia Elkins, EPIC’s program director. “In light of the state’s current fiscal crisis, we believe it’s unwise to spend money on studying something that’s clearly illegal and illogical in the first place.”

Eureka originally received funding from the California Coastal Conservancy to purchase and restore the marsh land in 1985. However, the restoration efforts have been beleaguered by a series of delays, including the discovery of contaminated soil, which has taken years to clean up.

The extension of Waterfront Drive needs to be studied, Seimer said, because traffic from Broadway, the main thoroughfare of Highway 101 through town, is impacting neighborhoods by seeking alternate routes. Already, he said, traffic on Harris Street has doubled in the past few years. Even if Waterfront Drive is extended, Seimer said it would only alleviate the problem for about 10 to 12 years, and a long-term vision is needed.

The planned extension would be about 40-feet wide and include two lanes and two bike lanes. Old railroad tracks already exist in the area. If the city receives funding for the environmental studies, the drafts of those studies are expected to be out for public comment by February 2005.

EPIC maintains a road through Palco Marsh, which they prefer to call Eureka Marsh, would negatively impact wildlife and public access.

“The project conflicts with the City of Eureka’s General Plan, which states that within the Coastal Zone, the city shall ensure that environmentally-sensitive habitat areas, including wetlands, are protected against any significant disruption,” the letter states.

However, in a letter to EPIC dated June 17 and signed by City Manager David Tyson, the extension would be in line with Eureka’s General Plan. Tyson’s letter quotes General Plan Policy 3.A.8: “The City shall develop Waterfront Drive along Humboldt Bay from the Elk River interchange to the vicinity of Eureka Slough.”

The city also takes the stand that until environmental studies are done, the impacts of the extension will not be known.

“Your comments appear to advocate that all public participation be stopped, and that a decision be made without proceeding through the required formal environmental review and local and state permitting process,” reads Eureka’s letter to EPIC.

Elkins said the city should be working toward restoring the marsh, not studying the impact of a road through it.

“The marsh has amazing potential,” she said. “The benefits not only extend to wildlife, but also to residents and visitors to the region. The area needs some tender loving care, and we’re calling on the city to restore it and realize its potential.”