Image from LostCoastOutpost
EPIC, together with our allies at Humboldt Baykeeper, the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, 350 Humboldt, Humboldt Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, and the Northcoast Environmental Center, recently won a surprise victory in what seem like an arcane procedural matter concerning the proposed Nordic Aquafarm facility on Humboldt Bay: Nordic has agreed to do a full environmental impact report and not just a initial statement/mitigated negative declaration. Confused? You should be! This gets into the weeds of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) but the difference is important and it is a victory worth celebrating. (This was a collaborative victory and EPIC thanks our friends with whom we shared a joint comment letter.)
The proposal by Nordic—to install a large land-based recirculating aquaculture system to grow Atlantic salmon—is subject to CEQA’s mandate that the county study and mitigate any potentially significant environmental impacts. The company and the county made clear that they did not believe that the project would result in any such impacts, so the decision was made to do an “mitigated negative declaration”—meaning that, if mitigation measures were employed, then there would be no significant impacts. Our coalition disagreed with this decision for two reasons.
First and most importantly, we believe that there are potentially significant impacts from the project. The project would require a LOT of energy (moving and cooling water is resource-intensive) and based on the existing “carbon intensity” of power from California’s grid—the amount of greenhouse gases released per unit of energy—we believe that this would result in significant release of greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, we believe that given the novelty of the project—there is no other like it in the United States—we need to go through a more conservative and cautious approach, which demands more environmental analysis, public participation, and consideration of alternatives. That’s precisely the benefit of doing a full environmental impact report versus just a mitigated negative declaration.
Here’s where things went weird: Humboldt County and Nordic Aquafarms agreed with us—or at least agreed that doing a full environmental impact report was a better process. It is rare to have one’s concerns heard and appreciated in this manner. Kudos to Planning Director John Ford and to Nordic for listening to our concerns.
EPIC has not taken a position on the larger proposed project. There are certainly going to be impacts to the environment, but the project also could result in a cleaner Humboldt Bay, as project construction would result in the cleanup of the old pulp mill site and we anticipate a future advocate for maintaining clean water in Humboldt Bay and the Mad River in Nordic—after all, they have a financial interest in water quality given they are going to pull water from both for their fish farm.