Veterans from across Humboldt County have recently joined forces to battle ongoing disrepair of sites in Fortuna and in Southern Humboldt County, where the Garberville courthouse and veterans hall has been closed for over two years due to black mold.
“We’re trying to work on fundraisers,” Arcata Veterans Hall manager and county commander of the six American Legion posts around the county Jeff Sterling said.
Efforts to resolve these issues have been taken up by veterans of the Arcata, Fortuna and Garberville veterans halls. What’s holding both of these projects from moving forward, they say, is the county.
Second District Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell and Humboldt County Administrative Office public information specialist Sean Quincy didn’t return requests for comment left Friday before the evening publishing deadline.
Garberville Veterans of Foreign Wars post 6354 Quartermaster Loren Pancoast said the building was closed due to 15 years of deferred maintenance, namely a leaking roof, that veterans brought to the attention of the county but never got fixed.
“It’s a county building,” he said. “They keep insisting we have to rebuild. That we can’t fix the hall. There’s some controversy in that but that’s what their engineers say.”
Sterling said he wants to help organize a fundraiser to fund the renovation or rebuild of the Garberville hall.
Fortuna Veterans Memorial Building housing committee member and canteen chair Ivan Brownell said deferred maintenance on the Fortuna hall — also a county building — includes a leaky roof, leaking water heater and inadequate plumbing.
“The county’s literally not doing their job,” he said. “They’re supposed to be maintaining it but they’re not.”
Brownell said the Fortuna hall has the necessary funds and donors on deck and member veterans who are skilled laborers to complete the repairs.
“We have the manpower, we have everything but the county has tied our hands,” he said.
Brownell said the county maintenance crews want to help but their hands are tied, too.
Sterling said the issue in Fortuna was prevailing wages. According to California Department of Industrial Relations website, all workers employed on public works projects — work paid for in whole or part out of public funds — must be paid the prevailing wage as determined by the Department of Industrial Relations director.
“The county’s telling Fortuna, ‘You can’t do that, we have to put a contract out for prevailing wages,’” Sterling said.
Sterling worries that by the time either halls are fixed that most of the current member veterans won’t be around, so it will be even more difficult than it already is to attract younger veterans to these organizations which can provide veterans with opportunities to interact with others who have gone through the same strenuous and sometimes traumatic experiencing while serving.
Brownell said there’s a growing population of younger veterans in Fortuna some of whom have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from what they’ve seen in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“They have nowhere to have that brotherhood [without veterans halls],” he said
Brownell said his focus is on fixing up his home hall for now but also wants to help Garberville.
“I think all the vets halls would be willing to get the Garberville vets hall back on board,” he said.
For now Southern Humboldt veterans are still using the Healy Senior Center in Redway as a meeting space.
“I feel they’re very generous to have us go in and have our meetings,” Pancoast said. “But it’s not anything like we had or what we feel we need. We’re the big losers in this whole thing and the county doesn’t care.”
Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.