HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Calif. — The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved a preliminary plan to remove some of the eucalyptus trees bordering the Arcata Bay last week in order to complete construction of the Humboldt Bay Trail.
"The county has been working for the last five years on developing the four mile connection that would extend Arcata's trail and then meet up with the Eureka Waterfront Trail," Deputy Director of Humboldt County Public Works Hank Seemann said.
That four mile segment will connect two stretches of trails that would complete the 14-mile passage along the waterfront. But completing construction means the trail would run parallel to the northern segment of where the eucalyptus trees stand along Highway 101.
"We're proposing to build a trail directly adjacent to a portion of those trees," Seemann said. "We're proposing for the trail to go around the old mill site, and so that proposed alignment would allow us to avoid a majority of the trees."
By going around the mill, the county can leave the southern stretch of eucalyptus trees alone. However, the northern portion would need to be cut down and removed because they would pose a significant safety hazard if a trail were to run beneath them.
"There's a long history of eucalyptus trees in the state dropping limbs without notice," Seemann said. "It's a unique aspect of that species, and so we're very concerned about the safety and the liability of having the trail under those trees."
There has been a notable amount of pushback from the community regarding the removal of the trees due to their longstanding history on that very spot along the bay.
"Going back, really 100 years, there was a rancher named Henry Devoy, and he owned over 1,000 acres of property in that area," Seemann said. "My understanding is that he planted eucalyptus trees as a wind break to help shelter his ranch from winds coming off the bay. Those trees that he planted actually froze and suffered mortal injury in 1933, and so they were cut down because they were killed by the frost, and then they were replanted a few years later. They were originally planted when 101 was an unpaved, two-lane highway."
The project the board of supervisors approved last week includes the presumption the northern stretch of trees will be removed. The county estimates removing the trees could cost $380,000.
"Access is really challenging being right next to the highway," Seemann said. "These are large trees, and then there's the need to deal with the root mass."
That's no small task, since Seemann says they would be dealing with 219 large tree stems greater than eight inches in diameter. But the expense to remove the trees could be covered under the construction grant for which the county submitted an application to the state just last week.
"That allows us to go back to the state and request allocation for the next phase of funding to do the detailed design," Seemann said. "That's going to take probably another year and a half or so. We also need to apply and acquire all the environmental permits, so that's a lengthy process as well."
Currently, the county's in the process of hiring two certified arborists to complete their own tree risk assessments, so the board of supervisors have a second and third opinion before approving the project to move forward. The county hopes this phase of the process is completed within the next three months.