Trinidad Water Wars Continue

The Trinidad Rancheria is throwing down the gauntlet. The tribe wants to build a new hotel, but in order to get the necessary permits, it needs to show it has access to a viable water source. Though two wells have been dug at the proposed site on Scenic Drive, they don’t provide enough water for a 100-room hotel. Receiving water service from the City of Trinidad was part of the back-up plan, but now that plan has hit a hurdle.

Six story Hyatt Place hotel design presented in the BIA’s draft Environmental Assessment, October 2018, courtesy of HARP

The City of Trinidad’s ability to provide water to the proposed site, which is outside of city limits, is dependent upon its ability to provide water to its own residents, including in drought years. The City is in the midst of developing a water plan, called the draft Administrative Water Connection Policies and Criteria for Evaluating Connection Requests Outside City Limits (draft Water Policy), that will determine who has priority to receive city water. That plan was reviewed by the City Council on April 14 and sent back to the Planning Commission with the directive to include provisions for drought. The Water Shortage Contingency Plan will be discussed by the Trinidad Planning Commission at its regular meeting, Wednesday, May 20 at 6pm.

The draft Water Policy gives priority to areas within city limits, followed by areas that are contiguous to the city and already receive water service, the idea being that these areas could be easily annexed at some point in the future. Next in line is the CalFire station, located north of the city on Patrick’s Point Road, which has been trying to get city water for over 20 years and was finally granted Coastal Commission permission under the provision that the city amend its general plan to include also providing water to the RV parks and areas with visitor-serving uses that are in between the city and the CalFire station. It’s possible that after these obligations are fulfilled, the Trinidad Rancheria could then receive water service. 

On May 13, Tribal Chair Garth Sundberg sent a letter to Mayor Steve Ladwig and the Trinidad City Council stating that the tribe would withdraw its support for, and end its participation in, the Stormwater Management Improvement Project to protect water quality in Trinidad Bay unless the city agrees to supply the tribe with the water needed for the hotel. The Stormwater Management Improvement Project seeks to eliminate stormwater run-off to protect marine life in the Trinidad Head Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), including the kelp beds in the State-designated Critical Coastal Area. Chairman Sundberg stated in the letter, “The Trinidad Rancheria will not grant the City any right to use its land to support the Stormwater Project until and unless the City provides a final and mutually acceptable decision responding to the Trinidad Rancheria’s request for expanded water service in the spirit of the government-to-government partnership upon which the Provisional Agreement was predicated.”

It is possible that the city could still provide water to the Rancheria for the proposed hotel, but only as long as that doesn’t jeopardize its ability to provide water to all of the other customers who have been established as priorities in the draft Water Policy. In the letter, Chairman Sundberg references the city’s Water Treatment Plant Production Rate Test and Analysis, stating that it indicates “the City does have a surplus of water, and therefore could meet the Rancheria’s need.” The letter adds, “rather than working as a partner with the Trinidad Rancheria, the City appears prepared to use its control of the water system, which draws water from outside the City, to deny the Trinidad Rancheria the most basic and necessary resources.” 

The City of Trinidad will hold a special meeting on Thursday, May 21 at 6pm via teleconference to discuss a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the tribe about entering into conversation about the tribe’s use of water. Included in the proposed MOU are provisions that “The City will determine conditions necessary to provide water, and address conditions when water is unable to be provided due to drought and other unforeseen changes to water supply,” and that “the end result is to arrive at a range of proposals and scenarios relative to the potential feasibility of providing water to the Rancheria’s hotel project.”

According to the Bryce Kinney, founding member of Humboldt Alliance for Responsible Planning (HARP), the chairman’s letter, followed by the rushed process of coming up with an MOU, makes if feel like the Rancheria is holding the health of the bay for ransom to get the water they want. HARP’s website states that the request for water service would equal approximately 9,500 gallons of water per day, roughly 25% of the City’s estimated available surplus. HARP has been very vocal in its opposition to this project, not just because of the water use issue, but also because it feels that the 5-story hotel and associated highway interchange will have adverse effects on the environment, and are not compatible with the character of the community. HARP is opposed to the proposed MOU because it is not based on the draft Water Policy, which is still being discussed. More information on the HARP’s stance on this project can be found at humboldtalliance.org.

The Northcoast Environmental Center has joined HARP in opposing the proposed hotel and associated development by signing onto comments that HARP submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The May 21 Trinidad City Council meeting can be viewed by following the links found at http://trinidad.ca.gov/calendar. Public comment may be submitted via email in advance of the meeting, or in an orderly process during the conference. If you do not have access to email and you would like to provide a written statement, please deliver your comment to 409 Trinity Street, Trinidad CA, by 2:00pm, Thursday, May 21, 2020. Email public comments to cityclerk@trinidad.ca.gov Your comments will be included in the public record for the meeting, and will be accepted at any time during the meeting.