Kin to the Earth: Richard Marks

Richard Marks for Harbor Commissioner 2018 Facebook profile photo.
Richard Marks for Harbor Commissioner 2018 Facebook profile photo.

Commissioner on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District, Division 4

Richard may not be what you think of when you picture an environmentalist. For nearly 30 years, Richard was a heavy equipment operator at the Samoa Pulp Mill. He was also a union organizer for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers and President of Local 4. But he is also a deep lover of Humboldt Bay and has been one of its most important champions. Richard is a Kin to the Earth.

After working for years next to Humboldt Bay at the mill, Richard shifted to working on behalf of the Bay. First elected to the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District in 2009, Richard now serves as Chairman of the Board. In his work on behalf of the Harbor District, Richard safeguards the bay. Most notably, Richard was instrumental in the cleanup of his former place of employment.

First, the Harbor District purchased the mill site and three million gallons of caustic liquors stored onsite. The liquors, once used to break down wood chips into pulp, were stored in old, rusting tanks—so rusty that rainwater leaked in, slowly filling up the containers until they were ready to burst. The threat was so real that once the EPA saw the problem, they made cleanup of the site its top priority. With overflowing, corroding tanks, time was of the essence. Next, the Harbor District coordinated a massive cleanup with the EPA—700 trucks, each hauling 2,500 gallons, carried away the hazardous chemicals to be safely reused by another pulp plant in Longview, Washington. Richard takes no greater pride than knowing that the harbor is healthy.

According to Jennifer Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper, “the acquisition of the former pulp mill was a risky proposition. But Richard was so determined that he was clearly not going to take no for an answer, and the District bravely plowed ahead where no other government agency dared to tread.”

The Harbor District is working on additional cleanups of contaminated soil and debris and rehabilitating old mill buildings for a modern business park. On top of the renovated buildings is a massive solar array—the largest in the county—able to power 750 kilowatts. Already 18 businesses have taken up residence in the old mill, helping to generate income for the Harbor District. Once near bankruptcy, Richard and company have brought the District back to financial solvency.

Richard Marks placing a yardsign for his reelection campaign in Eureka. Photo from the Richard Marks for Harbor Commissioner 2018 Facebook page.
Richard Marks placing a yardsign for his reelection campaign in Eureka. Photo from the Richard Marks for Harbor Commissioner 2018 Facebook page.

“Cleaning up the former pulp mill site is one of the Harbor District’s greatest achievements,” said Surfrider Foundation’s Jennifer Savage. “But it’s only one of a long list of ways in which Richard made the Harbor District better.”

Richard just went through a tough reelection fight but emerged with a decisive victory, taking home some 62 percent of the vote. (This was especially comforting, as Richard’s opponent ran against the Harbor District’s cleanup work.) Richard put a lot of miles in, knocking on doors in the past election. By his count, he totaled over 3,000 doors. And he did it in fashion, rocking pink and robin’s egg blue sneakers.

Reflective of his dual nature—both salt of the earth union organizer and beloved environmentalist—Richard’s campaign endorsements were a study in contrasts. Both Mike Wilson (a bleeding heart liberal, in my words) and Greg Dale (a “conservative Republican,” in his words) sing Richard’s praises.

Says Dale, “Richard Marks is one of the best public servants I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with.  He not only listens to all sides of an issue, from all parties, he follows up by educating himself and others on the issue before making a decision. His genuine good will, honesty, professionalism and pleasant demeanor come through in all circumstances and through his influence, makes us all better humans. I’m proud to call him a
mentor and friend.”

When Richard isn’t saving the bay, he’s probably playing (or writing about) softball. Richard is the President of the Mad River Softball Association. He even maintains a blog—samoasoftball.blogspot.com—where he writes about the local leagues (and local politics, food reviews, rankings of worst bands, and a random smattering of other things that
strike his fancy).