TS - 20 years is too long to wait for action on Balloon Track

20 years is too long to wait for action on Balloon Track

Gary E. Bird/For the Times-Standard MY WORD
Posted: 02/05/2010 11:00:00 PM PST

My name is Gary Bird. I am a citizen and taxpayer of Humboldt County. I grew up in Eureka; water-skiing, crabbing and fishing on Humboldt Bay. If you frequent the bay, you've probably seen me walking my white and brown dog or fishing in my Boston whaler. I continue to enjoy Humboldt Bay, however I am extremely frustrated by the fact that for the last 20 years the Balloon Track has remained contaminated. The question that troubles me is why has it taken so long to make any progress cleaning up this site?

I've talked to Peter Nichols (Baykeeper), Bonnie Neely (4th district county supervisor), Randy Gans (CUE VI), Sidnie Olson (Eureka city planner), Carolyn Woodhouse (Regional Water Control Board), and other interested parties. I met with and reviewed financial statements regarding the Baykeeper, and other involved environmental groups. I've also reviewed reports from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board and local politicians campaign contributions. Despite my efforts the issue of why it has taken so long to clean the Balloon Track remained unanswered. So, I decided to do my own investigating, using a method that seems, at times, forgotten. I used common sense.

I walked the Balloon Track to see what I could see. Not knowing the scientific names, I will describe my observations as lots of mud puddles, a drainage ditch to the bay and lots of overgrown brush. Added to this is garbage, junk railroad cars, and a few bums. The one important thing I could not see, but I'm sure is there, is contaminants. That is the one issue all parties agree on.

Returning home, I made some phone calls and determined that the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the environmental investigation and clean up at the Balloon Track, or any similar contaminated area, is the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. These folks, revealed that they have been involved in investigation and overseeing clean-up plans at the Balloon Track since 1988 (that's right 1988). They described themselves as the experts in environment cleanup, stating “That's what we do up and down the state.” They describe the current cleanup plan as satisfactory and appropriate.

So there we have it! The Balloon Track is contaminated but cleanable.

But wait! The environmental folks don't like the plan for clean-up. So, I read their appeal in the Coastal Commission office. Man did that make it sound complicated. They took issue with the clean-up report and basically requested that the clean-up plan return to square one. But what could be their motive? That's where the financial report (Prop. 65) comes in. Wow! Do they make a good living. More confusion.

Interestingly, staff from the California Regional Water Quality Board commented that the Baykeeper suggested cleanup alternatives (refer to Coastal Commission appeal) is an option but in their opinion it is a complete “overkill.”

Next stop 4th District County Supervisor Bonnie Neely's Office, at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2009. After careful consideration, I decided to use my common sense approach again (Since Neely and I are Eureka High School classmates, I was sure we could have a meaningful conversation). That thought ended when Supervisor Neely met me with her attorney in tow. The three of us adjourned to an conference room where I was basically schooled by a savvy politician and her attorney. Nothing of substance was discussed. However, I do recall Supervisor Neely suggesting that she was satisfied with the Balloon Track process and progress and that any and all future development around the bay could expect the same sort of care and concern by her office.

Ouch! Departing the meeting I wished Supervisor Neely a speedy retirement (perhaps we could go fishing together someday?).

So what did I learn? Well, to begin with after more than 20 years the Balloon Track continues to be contaminated. Despite having a plan to clean-up the tract, approved by city and state officials, the project has once again been delayed by bureaucratic review. This time by the California Coastal Commission, one wonders what will be next?

Regarding the environmental groups who oppose the cleanup efforts, the one clear motive that stands out is the issue of money, as reflected in the Proposition 65 settlement summary. If nothing else the reader should review the Prop. 65 settlement summary. That public information might provide an understanding of some of the environmental groups motivation.

Bonnie Neely's refusal to provide leadership in this matter is most disappointing. Her attitude toward development on the bay ought to scare the hell out of all taxpayers. It would appear that her large campaign contributors have a major influence on her decisions regarding the bay. Ms. Neely's role as chairperson on the California Coastal Commission and as Humboldt County's 4th District supervisor seems to be a serious conflict of interest.

Please citizens “GET INVOLVED.” Investigate, ask questions, and hold your political leaders responsible. Elect leaders who are not beholding to special interests but rather are looking out for the vitality and well-being of our community. Learn more about the Coastal Commission, its seemingly limitless powers, and the environmental groups who use red herring tactics when their true motives appear to be financial. Go walk the Balloon Track and see what all of the hullabaloo is about.

We taxpayers deserve land and a bay that is not contaminated, and 20 years is too long to wait for action.

Gary E. Bird, a retired Humboldt County probation officer, resides in Myrtletown.