With Humboldt Bay Harbor considered integral to reviving the economy of this coastal town north of San Francisco, keeping shipping lanes dredged and accessible to international cargo is a top priority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ San Francisco District, which along with community leaders and business owners, sees the mission as key to the region’s recovery.
“We’re committed to helping all the stakeholders to ensure that the dredging is done to the proper depths so that they can realize the economic prosperity that they expect,” said Lt. Col. Adam Czekanski, deputy commander of the district, who spent Wednesday meeting with members of the region’s shipping industry and community leaders to detail the Corps’ commitment to continuing to dredge the harbor’s waterways.
Humboldt Harbor is part of “a $70 billion dollar maritime economy within our footprint which in turn drives a gross domestic product of $585 billion so it’s very important to us that we do our navigation mission well,” Czekanski said during an address about Corps operations in the region sponsored by the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group.
Czekanski said that the Bayport, a 303-foot hopper dredge operated by Manson Construction Co. began operations in the harbor last week, substituting for the Corps own hopper dredge Essayons, which is in dry dock for repairs. The interior channels are authorized to be dredged to 38 feet, the Bar and Entrance channel to 48 feet.
Because of a lack of funding, the Corps has not been able to dredge the inner channels since fiscal year 2011, but “the interior channels still appear to be pretty close to the depth they need to be,” Czekanski said. Funding limitations will also allow the Bar and Entrance channel to only be dredged to 45 feet this year, an increase from the 44 feet it was dredged to in 2014.
Those attending the address raised questions about the funding shortages, something Czekanski described as an on-going challenge for his San Francisco district.
“We always ask for the amount required to do all the channels. However, when [the request] goes up, typically we only receive enough to do the Bar and Entrance channel.”
Goods including wood chips produced in the region are loaded onto cargo ships in Humboldt Harbor destined for markets across the Pacific. “Our customers in China and Japan are looking for consistent and reliable access to the Bay,” said Jason Carlson, general manager of the Samoa wood chip facility for the Green Diamond Resource Company who discussed issues with Lt. Col. Czekanski while both observed the dredging operations. “As long as we can expect the Corps to come in and do the dredging, we can build our business around that,” he said.
Community leaders such as Eureka City Council member Marian Brady would like to see Humboldt Harbor develop into a world class port and revive the region’s struggling economy, perhaps even becoming a regular destination for cruise ships.
“I believe the future for Eureka lies in having a very vital and active port. We’re just really thankful to the Army Corps for being able to find a way to get that done for us at this very critical juncture.”
“The whole region is trying to build business out of Humboldt Bay,” said Carlson who added that efforts are underway to upgrade cargo operations to allow expanded commerce, which is being made possible by the Corps’ on-going dredging mission.
“What I heard was a lot of positive news,” said Lt. Col. Czekanski. “The number of ships coming in is going to be increasing.”