My Word | Pay attention as offshore wind is developed

By Colleen Clifford, Manila resident

This article originally appeared on the Times-Standard.com.

As a 20-year Manila resident and a member of the Peninsula Community Collaborative (PCC), I feel the winds of change blowing and am paying close attention to the offshore wind projects slated to come to Humboldt Bay.

Humboldt Bay and its offshore waters are becoming an integral part in the reduction of our reliance on fossil fuels. Currently, our harbor district is in negotiations with Crowley, a logistics and maritime service company based out of Jacksonville, Florida, to develop land in Samoa into a marine terminal. This port will be an industrial manufacturing plant that builds and ships out various components of offshore wind turbines. Wind components will eventually be shipped out to wind energy farms off of Humboldt shores and throughout the coasts of California and Oregon.

Living on the peninsula means living within the most amazing ocean, bay and dune ecosystems. I am lucky enough to walk directly to the beach and sometimes not see another person for hours. It is beautiful, peaceful, accessible, and unique. Other folks fish, surf, kayak, and otherwise enjoy these public spaces. As a lifelong environmentalist, I support the transition to renewable energy sources, but I also believe it is so important to keep this landscape and community safe during development.

While developing a port in beautiful Humboldt Bay, it is essential and appropriate to expect commitments from the developers that stand to profit from the new industry. Even the most “green” companies have the potential to cause harm and exploit the people, land, and resources of a community. Now is the time to lay out expectations of how we want Crowley to integrate into the Humboldt region. While I do not expect them to resolve all the historic challenges of our community, I expect them to participate immediately in the ongoing efforts to address needed improvements, as well as mitigate potential harms from the construction and functions of the port.

The best indication of Crowley’s good faith would be the inclusion of a community benefits agreement in their option to lease with the harbor district. There have been signs that the local leaders of Crowley have good intentions and that they want to initiate best business practices in good faith. While early communications with them were friendly, the progress toward executing a binding agreement has been disappointing. Having the details of community benefits memorialized in the option to lease, a legal document, will show the Humboldt community that our needs are taken seriously and will be properly addressed over the entire scope of the project.

One example of a community benefit term that I contributed to, on behalf of Peninsula residents, is a community fund that shares in the revenues of the developer that will cover current and future investments in vital infrastructure and services such as transportation, recreational and outdoor access, health services, and childcare.

Recent alarming news about sexual harassment and sex trafficking at Crowley only enhances the urgency of strong community protections. Humboldt County has unacceptable firsthand experience with high rates of missing, murdered and Indigenous peoples’ cases. To bring in a company that has a track record of high-level executives ignoring and perpetuating the culture of sexual abuse, without seriously addressing them before an option to lease is signed, would be negligent on the part of local officials.

Furthermore, community benefits priorities have been established over months with incredibly focused, intentional input of a wide cross-section of local stakeholders and local community networks, such as the peninsula residents and the PCC, fisheries, environmentalists, labor organizers, and Tribal nations. I am heartened by the dedication of these individuals who are engaged in the grassroots process of welcoming this potentially useful energy production with the most serious and well-intentioned path forward.

We are right now building the foundation of this multi-decade offshore wind industry and we must consider the people that will have this project in their backyard, literally and figuratively. To see a transition to renewable sources of power in the global energy market originating in Humboldt would be a wonderful thing. We must also expect innovations in how this corporate industry commits to the communities in which they will reside. I strongly urge the harbor district to make community benefits a condition of approving the option to lease with Crowley by December.

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