5th District effort to request delay in Trinidad hotel hearing stalls

Rancheria's proposed hotel set for June hearing at Coastal Commission

The latest design of the Trinidad Rancheria’s hotel project, which is set to be heard by the state Coastal Commission in June. (Contributed)
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A state Coastal Commission hearing for the Trinidad Rancheria’s five-story hotel project is set for June, but some, including 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone, would rather see the hearing take place at the commission’s August meeting in Eureka, where Humboldt County residents could voice their feelings about the controversial proposal.

Madrone tried unsuccessfully at Tuesday’s Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting to petition his fellow supervisors to call on the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to ask for a delay to August. The commission’s June meeting is set to take place in San Diego, while its August meeting will be at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka.

“We believe (our constituents) should be afforded the opportunity to voice their concerns and/or support to the commission,” read a proposed letter that the supervisors ultimately didn’t agree to sign.

The project has stirred controversy among Trinidad residents since its inception. At its core, the project would be a 100-room hotel for tourists and visitors to the tribe’s Cher-Ae Heights Casino.

But criticism of the project’s potential environmental impacts on the small city’s water supply, as well as its visual imposition on Trinidad’s picturesque bay, have prompted Rancheria officials to revise the building’s details.

The Coastal Commission’s staff, meanwhile, has identified problems in the project’s design that would make it inconsistent with the state Coastal Act. The staff pointed to the building’s water supply, wastewater treatment system and traffic issues, among other concerns.

Rancheria officials have said they’re working with commission staff to figure out the project’s details. The Bureau of Indian Affairs doesn’t actually need to adhere to state coastal policy — since the Rancheria is sovereign — but officials say the tribe is legally bound to make an effort to at least address the state’s concerns.

Madrone emphasized locals ought to receive a chance to honestly say how they feel about the project to the commission.

“There are a lot of local concerns about this,” Madrone said. “I don’t know why one would not want to … support transparency. We’re talking about a two-month delay.”

He noted some of the misgivings with the project, including that the Rancheria is considering shipping water supply to the hotel on trucks. That doesn’t comply with the norms of state coastal policies, he said.

Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell noted, however, that the letter wouldn’t be effective. The Bureau of Indian Affairs won’t budge from the June meeting placement anyway, she said, adding that the Coastal Commission would do its due diligence regardless of where the meeting takes place.

In an intense meeting, 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone tried and failed to persuade the other supervisors to support his request for a two-month hearing delay. (The Times-Standard file)

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass said she empathized with the frustration of seeing the Coastal Commission address a Humboldt County issue somewhere else. But “everyone’s project is big,” she said, and it’s not right for the supervisors to decide when and where individual issues should be heard.

Meanwhile, 3rd District Supervisor Mike Wilson said the letter, addressed to the BIA, holds less weight than if it were written to the commission. In any case, he said he’d be willing to support signing the letter, but the other supervisors’ misgivings probably meant the discussion wasn’t going anywhere.

Madrone responded swiftly to the other supervisors’ hesitance.

“I am simply looking for support from my fellow board members for something my constituents and my district have asked for — like you would want me to support things in your district,” he said.

Bass countered that Madrone’s words sounded almost like “blackmail,” like the other supervisors were “being backed into a corner” to support the letter just because he wanted them to.

“I think what you’re hearing there is my frustration in my second time bringing this forward,” Madrone responded.

“It feels more political to me than really weighing in on … where the district rep is coming from in knowing their community best,” he said, his voice starting to thin. “I haven’t got that kind of respect yet, so I’m looking forward to that … it’s not blackmailing, it’s speaking from the heart.”

“I appreciate that,” Bohn added, “and as I learned as a young child, respect is earned, not given. And I hope you know that.”

That was as far as the discussion went. Madrone made a motion to sign the letter and Wilson seconded, but the other supervisors didn’t seem willing to go forward, prompting Madrone to rescind the motion.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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