Important issues are at stake in Moss Landing Harbor District election.
Thursday, October 22, 1998
The names may be unfamiliar, and the election of minimal concern to most Monterey-area voters, but the issues surrounding the race for the Moss Landing Harbor District Commission are as significant as any on the upcoming November ballot. A total of six candidates are competing for three seats on the commission. The incumbents are Jack Compton, Margaret "Peggy" Shirrel and Thomas Tengdin. The challengers include three representatives from the fishing industry: fishermen Thomas Villa and Phil Evans, and Donna Solomon, a fish buyer.
Among the key issues harbor commissioners are responsible for overseeing are the dredging and safe disposal of contaminated sedimentation that flows into the harbor from the Salinas Valley, maintaining the economic viability of Moss Landing''s commercial fishing industry, protecting the ecology of the Elkhorn Slough, and promoting the needs of Moss Landing''s marine research and tourism industries.
Of the 140,000 residents who live within the Moss Landing Harbor District, which includes Prunedale, Castroville, Salinas, Spreckels Marina, and the Toro Park corridor, approximately 73,224 are eligible to vote.
For all the candidates interviewed by Coast Weekly, no single issue was more important than the dredging of the harbor.
"Dredging is the biggest headache we have, and if we can''t keep the harbor dredged we might as well shut the doors to the harbor," says Compton, a 27-year Moss Landing resident and 10-year incumbent who is running for his third election bid. "Dredging needs to be done on a yearly basis, with storm-water runoff being the biggest problem."
As the harbor mouth for the Salinas River and Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing has unique and ongoing problems keeping the harbor dredged. With recent El Ni¤o storms, the amount of sedimentation flowing into the harbor has been increasing. And, because of the intensive farming in the Salinas Valley, the sediment that does flow into the harbor can have an especially high content of toxic material from pesticides, fertilizers and other farm-related chemicals.
With the designation of Monterey Bay as a marine sanctuary, and recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring dredge spoils to be dumped farther away from the harbor, the cost of dredging and the amount of time it takes to comply with the more stringent regulations have increased significantly. Where it used to cost approximately $4 per yard to dump the spoils at the old dump site at the edge of the bay just north of the harbor, it now costs almost $40 per yard to remove the spoils further upland.
"The dredging process has been slowly trying to come to terms with the EPA and their regulations over the type of materials in the dredged spoils," says Shirrel, who has served on the commission since 1992. "Sediment that was deposited off-shore they now want transported and deposited upland. Where it used to cost $60,000 a year to dredge, it now costs $1.2 million, and because of the new regulations we''re behind schedule by about a year."
In order to expedite harbor dredging for the future, and to better comply with EPA regulations, the candidates say Moss Landing''s long-range goal is to work with other federal, state and local agencies to contain the sediment before it reaches the harbor and moves into the Sanctuary.
Another significant environmental issue that will involve the harbor district in the future and which should concern all Monterey County residents is the Elkhorn Slough, which is undergoing increased environmental degradation from scouring of the channel over the last 15 years.
According to State Water Resources Control Board member Marc Del Piero, who was in Monterey recently to initiate discussions between federal, state and local agencies on the Slough, it was the creation of the Moss Landing harbor, the breaching of numerous levees, and the tidal influence from El Ni¤o that is increasing scouring of the channel, resulting in more seawater intrusion into the Slough and increasing loss of wetlands.
"Right now it is the Army Corps of Engineers, and not the state, that has jurisdiction over the Slough," explains Del Piero. "We''re looking at trying to get the Corps to sit down to discuss the ongoing jurisdictional problems."
Although most visitors and tourists are drawn to its numerous antique shops, harbor commission candidates agree that it is the commercial fishing industry that forms the heart and soul of Moss Landing. Protecting and promoting the fishing industry while striking a balance with other uses remains a major priority for all the candidates.
"Moss Landing is associated with the antique businesses, but it is a fishing community and actually has the most working boats along the coast," says challenger Solomon, who has been living in Moss Landing since last January.
"This is the most important harbor we''ve got and in other communities up and down the coast where fishermen were not well represented, commercial fishing was closed down and became just an area for the public. Something has got to be done to understand what fishermen are going through, and my main theme is working hand in hand with fishermen. I''m concerned if we don''t do something different and all get involved it won''t be there."
Solomon, like her fellow contenders, supports recent regulations allowing commercial fishermen faced with declining prices for fish, to sell their catch directly from their fishing boats.
"As long as fishermen follow the rules, brokers can work around them," says Solomon, an advocate of increased cooperation between the California Department of Fish and Game and the harbor district in regulating the fishing industry to the benefit of fishermen.
"The harbor district isn''t necessarily there to regulate fishing, just to make sure things are done properly and run smoothly," says Solomon, "but I''d like to see more teamwork between fishermen and Fish and Game, to see things are done on a daily basis to make sure things are working. A lot of the community is unaware of what''s going on here, what goes on in the fisheries and how the pier works."
"The declining fish business concerns me," says Compton, who cites the added economic benefits fishermen provide as the most important reason why commercial fishing needs to be supported.
"Fishing has a multiplying factor for the economy, and for every fisherman there are 12 or 13 jobs created, yet some fishermen feel they''re being pushed out the back door by regulators like Fish and Game," adds Compton, who supports renovation of the "Santa Cruz" cannery. "Landing receipts show Moss Landing is one of the biggest fish receivers between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and with a new cannery I hope Moss Landing will become a larger fish receiving area."
Although commercial fishing remains an obvious economic priority for Moss Landing, the candidates recognize that the town''s future could also be helped by promoting greater mixed-use among fishermen, researchers and recreational users.
"Keeping the bay in pristine condition, keep erosion from escalating in the Slough, and keeping Moss Landing a recreational area for all voters is one reason why someone in Salinas should vote in this election," says Shirrel.
"The county sees us as a valuable resource, and with the marine lab being built it will draw more people in the business and education community," adds Shirrel.
"This has to be an area for all who love the ocean," adds Solomon.