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FISH FARM TO REQUEST FUNDING, INCENTIVES

Supervisors to hear details of request at today's meeting

By ShomikMukherjee

smukherjee@times-standard.com

A Norwegian fish farm company looking to become a West Coast hub for aquaculture is asking for financial incentives from Humboldt County, according to a company presentation scheduled for the Board of Supervisors meeting today.

Earlier this year, Nordic Aquafarms was approved to lease 30 acres of property at the site of the former Samoa pulp mill, a three-decade agreement for a company that aims to make the county an economic hotspot for seafood supply.

But before that happens, the company is requesting the county fund or provide financial incentives for two possible “no-go” areas that could be “show-stoppers” for the project, a company presentation states.

Specifically, Nordic wants to cover the costs of treating water it would deliver to the Samoa Peninsula for use in the company’s proposed indoor, landbased fish farms.

Since the “available surface water has high and variable turbidity,” the cleaning costs are still unclear, according to the presentation.

The company is also requesting funding security to clean up a brownfield site. The last Samoa pulp mill closed in 2009, leaving behind hazardous waste and contaminated soil on the property.

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Nordic Aquafarms executive Marianne Naess speaks in May about the treated water from a large land-based fish farm that would be pumped into the ocean offshore of Samoa.

SHAUN WALKER — THE TIMES-STANDARD FILE

Nordic Aquafarms’ new lease won’t supplant the existing businesses operating at the Samoa pulp mill site.

TIMES-STANDARD FILE

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These are “local risks that our projects normally would not have to deal with, and thus we would not incur costs on,” reads a slide in Nordic’s presentation. “Our request is specifically related to risk and cost alleviation related to these issues.”

A representative for Nordic Aquafarms didn’t provide comment for this story by the Times-Standard’s publishing deadline. Company reps will present Nordic’s entire fish-farming plan, along with the request, at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Larry Oetker, who oversaw the pulp mill being leased out to Nordic, said Monday he believes a county-approved contribution of public dollars into the cleanup would be a “wise investment.”

“It’s no secret that the former pulp mill is not an easy site to develop on,” said Oetker, the executive director of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District. “We’ve been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the brownfield project for a long time.”

While Nordic’s request is centered around the fish-farming project, Oetker said the benefits of addressing the pulp mill contamination extend way beyond aquaculture.

“The tax returns will more than pay for the investment,” he said.

Incentivizing a brownfield cleanup could be a long-term boon for the site’s infrastructure, echoed 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass. As the board gears up to discuss Nordic today, Bass said she is excited — and views this as a chance to welcome the new neighbors.

“If you don’t treat companies well, you’re not going to get a good reputation in the circles,” Bass said. “I want us to be a community that provides great customer service to businesses that come here.”

Meanwhile, the company’s request for help with water treatment also received support, in principle, from another local official.

“In general terms, I think all of us would like to see some type of funding source,” said John Friedenbach, general manager of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. “We’re supportive of new industry coming into Humboldt County, looking for water.”

Since the closure of the mills, the district has been looking to deliver and sell 65 million gallons of water that now go unused. The district’s industrial system remains operational, but maintenance has been minimal for about a decade, Friedenbach said.

And like the pulp mill, Nordic would use surface water from nearby bodies of water like the Mad River, which runs clear during the summer but turns into a “chocolaty” color during the winter months when high flows stir up the sediment in the river banks.

“The turbidity is a challenge that needs to be investigated and addressed,” Friedenbach said.

Headdedthat the county, along with the North Coast at large, is “uniquely situated” so that it carries an excess water supply.

“To me, it makes sense to try to locate businesses in Humboldt County that can utilize water and provide economic benefits,” he said.

Nordic aims to create 80 jobs in Humboldt County. The company bills itself as a non-GMO fish culturing operation looking to build “synergies” with existing fishermen, Nordic executive Marianne Naess said in February.

But some fishermen at a Harbor District meeting earlier this year spoke skeptically of the fish farm’s exposure to tsunami dangers and its potential encroachment of the fishing industry.

Today’s meeting will mark the board’s first official opportunity to discuss Nordic’s vision for aquaculture at Humboldt Bay. Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-4410504.

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