CASE STUDY: Planning for Both Environmental Protection and Economic Development in Trinidad Harbor, California

Case Study
Planning for Both Environmental Protection and Economic Development in Trinidad Harbor, California

California, Humboldt County, Northern Coast, City of Trinidad

2006 – present

Trinidad is a small city of roughly 300 people on the northern coast of California, renowned for its spectacular scenery and natural resources. Commercial and recreational fishing have evolved as the cornerstone of the local economy. Trinidad Pier, built in 1946, has provided critical infrastructure for a once-thriving salmon fishery and private boat recreational fishing. Groundfish and salmon fishery management regulations imposed since the 1980’s have resulted in substantial reductions in (nontribal) commercial and recreational fishing in the region, and contributed to social and economic impacts that have altered the fisheries landscape at Trinidad. Additionally, the bay’s kelp beds have been designated an Area of Special Biological Significance and a Critical Coastal Area. These designations mandate stringent water quality standards and as such, run off from the pier meant that the pier itself was designated as a hazardous discharge. This designation essentially mandated the pier’s reconstruction at a cost much higher than the industry standard. The goal of the project was to reconstruct the pier to improve both the water quality, and the social and economic vitality of the Trinidad Bay region. A combination of planning to address both environmental and economic issues jointly, broad community support, and diverse partnerships facilitated fundraising success by the owner of the pier, Trinidad Rancheria, and the City of Trinidad, that resulted in the opening of a new, low-to-no discharge pier in spring 2012.

The environmental, fisheries, and economic challenges faced in Trinidad are similar to those encountered on small community waterfronts across the country, and many of the approaches used here can be applied elsewhere.

Limited resources can be overcome by forming mutually beneficial public/private partnerships. These partnership are based on common objectives in order to collectively seek funding, and cooperatively implement actions.

The state policy and regulatory frameworks that apply to Trinidad are likely more restrictive than those of many other states.

Some of the funding mechanisms accessed by the City are California state grants – resources will vary state-to-state. Trinidad Rancheria was also able to access funding specific to its tribal status.

Best Practices
A central theme in Trinidad’s success has been the consistent process of engaging stakeholders to promote understanding, build support, form partnerships, improve planning, raise funds, and take action. Project leaders recommend these as best practices.

Build a Broad Base of Support
A key to success is the persistence of the Trinidad Rancheria Chief Executive Officer and her ability to recognize that pier redevelopment is linked to a diversity of community issues and to call on this vision to build partnerships and networks that are beneficial to all. A partnership between Green Diamond Resource Company and Trinidad Bay Watershed Council is also powerful. Green Diamond owns more than half of all the land in the watershed and has pledged staff and financial support for the Integrated Coastal Watershed Management Plan.

Involve Stakeholders from the Beginning
Before planning efforts began, the City and the Rancheria identified those individuals, groups, and agencies most invested in protection and redevelopment of harbor resources. Those stakeholders were engaged since the initial stages of planning so as to identify and address their needs and concerns. Their input was integrated as plans evolved and their involvement facilitated community consensus.

Invest in Planning
Planning is a key tool in waterfront development. The City of Trinidad is a small community with limited resources, making it necessary to tackle issues one-by-one and integrate results into a whole as progress is made. The City hires consultants for key functions such as planning and engineering, thus providing access to a wide range of expertise and resources, including grant writing to obtain financing for a variety of projects. Additionally, the development of the Integrated Coastal Watershed Management Plan provided the foundation needed to justify fund seeking proposals, which ultimately resulted in the awarding of $15 million in harbor-related grants.

Plan for Environmental Protection and Economic Development Together
Habitat and water quality protection standards for the area resulted the designation of the pier itself as a hazardous discharge due to contaminated run off from the pier, which essentially mandated the pier’s reconstruction. As a means of eliminating discharges, the City and the Rancheria were able to access funds for harbor redevelopment and pier reconstruction. Also, during the Integrated Coastal Watershed Management planning process, stakeholders considered and incorporated both water quality goals and socioeconomic goals in developing the watershed plan. The plan was completed in 2008 and has since acted as launch pad for new initiatives.

Consider Putting Collaboration Before Self-Interest
Because Trinidad Rancheria was not an eligible applicant for State Water Resources Control Board funding, the City of Trinidad (which was eligible) chose to partner with the Rancheria in its own application in order to enable the Rancheria to access pier reconstruction funding. The application was successful in funding the identified pier work, but did not fund all other proposed activities.

Full Case Study Description
Located 300 miles north of San Francisco, Trinidad is known for its spectacular scenery, unique cultural history, and abundant natural resources. The incorporated city has a resident population of just over 300, and the Trinidad-Westhaven region has a population of roughly 2,000. Once home to the Yurok village of Tsurai, Trinidad became a hub for the gold mining, whaling and timber industries in the mid- to late-1800s. Currently the upper half of the watershed is owned by a private timber company. But, as those industries declined, residents increasingly turned to fishing for their livelihoods.

Following the construction of the Trinidad Pier in 1946 and a mooring basin soon after, Trinidad became an active fishing village, with smokehouses and a seasonal “mosquito fleet” of up to 400 salmon trollers by the late 1970s. Charter fishing operations, first established in 1952, provided recreational fishing opportunities for visitors and residents.

Over the years, the pier fell into disrepair and required replacement. When the state designated the bay as an Area of Special Biological Significance in 1974, the pier became subject to particularly stringent water quality standards. In 2000, the pier and adjacent restaurant were purchased as a business investment by the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, a local, federally-recognized tribe. The Rancheria initiated the effort to reconstruct the pier, which would involve a complex permitting process due to the Area of Special Biological Significance. To navigate the process, the Rancheria partnered from the beginning with the City of Trinidad Then before planning began, the partners identified those stakeholders most invested in protection and redevelopment of harbor resources and engaged them in the planning process throughout. Stakeholder input was integrated as harbor redevelopment and coastal watershed management plans evolved and their involvement facilitated community consensus.

The goal of the project was to reconstruct the pier to improve both the water quality, and the social and economic vitality of the Trinidad Bay region.

Challenges & Issues

Maintaining Environmental Quality
Trinidad’s location, geography, oceanography, and storm and fog hazards, together with the bay’s designation by the state as an Area of Special Biological Significance and a Critical Coastal Area, make it impractical to develop as a larger scale fishing port. The designation also created a zero-discharge zone to maintain high water quality in the area. Runoff from the pier, which included fish cleaning waste and boat cleaning chemicals, then constituted non-point sources of pollution that were considered ‘prohibited discharges’ in this zero-discharge zone. These factors made the pier itself a hazardous discharge, essentially mandating its reconstruction. In this way, the reconstruction of the pier addressed both environmental and economic goals for the community by simultaneously providing for improved water and habitat quality, and improved infrastructure for local businesses.

Regulating for Fisheries Management
Over the past 30 years, growing concerns about the status of West Coast salmon and groundfish stocks prompted the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the State of California to implement increasingly stringent management measures for commercial and recreational fisheries. These measures included the establishment of fishery management zones, restricted areas, season limits, commercial and recreational fishery closures, and most recently the complete closure of the salmon fishery in 2008. Cumulatively, these measures have have resulted in substantial reductions in (nontribal) commercial and recreational fishing in the region, and contributing to social and economic impacts that have altered the fisheries landscape at Trinidad.

Economic Challenges
The fishing industry cites increasing fuel and gear costs, dockage, offloading, and crab catch fees as significant issues, in addition to the loss of local fishing support services such as the fuel dock and fish cleaning station, and lack of local vessel repair, refrigeration, gear suppliers, etc.. Changing and uncertain revenues due to natural variability in crab stocks and regulatory constraints on rockfish and salmon also pose challenges.

The Rancheria’s greatest challenge has been replacement of the aging pier itself. The need for its replacement has been seen as critical by recreational and commercial fishers, support businesses, and the community alike. In addition to the pier’s function as a tribal investment, it directly or indirectly supports 60 local tribal and nontribal families, and generates activity that supports 25 local businesses. In addition to dockage and offloading fees, the Rancheria depends on fees for mooring rentals, boat launches, and boat washing. However, these sources of revenue have become less reliable following recent declines in recreational use that are linked to regional fishery closures.

Securing the estimated $10 million needed to complete the pier reconstruction project (an amount significantly more than the industry standard) posed a challenge, especially given resource variability and regulatory uncertainty. Raising the funds required an ongoing effort involving public/private partnerships among private organizations, and businesses, and local, state, and federal government to share costs and secure grant funding. For example, in order to access funding through the State Water Resources Control Board (, the partnership between the Rancheria and the City of Trinidad proved critical, as the Rancheria was otherwise not eligible to apply on its own. To complete the project, the Rancheria accessed funding from numerous sources, including the California State Coastal Conservancy (, the Headwaters Fund (, the EPA Brownfields Program (, the Federal Highway Administration (, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs ( to support various aspects of the pier reconstruction project. A partnership between the watershed’s major land owner, Green Diamond Resource Company, and Trinidad Bay Watershed Council was also valuable as the company pledged staff and financial support for the Integrated Coastal Watershed Management Plan. Additionally, leadership from the Trinidad Rancheria Chief Executive Officer helped clarify the vision of pier redevelopment as linked to a wide range of community issues. These diverse partnerships were a key to success.

Next Steps
The new pier opened in June 2012.

Key Partners
Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, City of Trinidad, CA,

Case study compiled by:
Kristen Grant
Marine Extension Associate
Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Jonas Savage
Environmental Director
Trinidad Rancheria

Rebecca Price-Hall
Grant Administrator and Watershed Coordinator
City of Trinidad

Additional Information
For More Information
Waterfront Revitalization for Small Cities (1990)

“Fishing is the main reason Trinidad is an incorporated City.” Mr. Savage suggests that all Trinidad stakeholders have links to fishing (mostly crab), whether it be commercial, recreational, or fishing/waterfront related tourism. Therefore the community is tied to the pier, which has likely made community consensus easier. – Jonas Savage, Environmental Director, Trinidad Rancheria (personal communication, February 10, 2012)

“It is critical to create relationships that are mutually beneficial – these relationships are a key strategy for making progress in small communities where mutual support can provide human resources, if not financial resources, to get a job done.” – Jonas Savage (personal communication, February 10, 2012)

“To succeed in development work in small communities, you need to be responsive to opportunities and work in partnership, favoring collaboration at times versus protecting your own interests. It’s important to recognize the value of community leaders and the enthusiasm they generate in others. Encourage them to lead and be willing to follow their lead. Working collaboratively is infectious – those involved here have gone on the apply the approach elsewhere in the community.” – Rebecca Price-Hall, Grant Administrator and Watershed Coordinator, City of Trinidad (personal communication, February 2, 2012)

“Public engagement is one of the hardest, most frustrating parts of community planning – but it’s the most important. If you don’t bring stakeholders in at the beginning, to address their needs, interests, concerns – you will need to do it later when it is harder to accommodate. So in a way, you have to go slow to go fast.” – Jonas Savage (personal communication, February 10, 2012)

“The planning process is a 5 – 10 year endeavor, and before it ends, it begins again. This is the most discouraging part to many involved with community development, but change takes time.” – Jonas Savage (personal communication, February 10, 2012)

“Since the (Integrated Coastal Watershed Management) Plan was developed, $15 million in grants have been awarded – $8 million to pier redevelopment alone.” – Rebecca Price-Hall (personal communication, February 2, 2012)

California’s North Coast Fishing Communities Historical Perspective and Recent Trends: Trinidad Harbor Fishing Community Profile. Pomeroy, Caroline; Thomson, Cynthia J.; Stevens, Melissa M. California Sea Grant College Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla CA, 2010

Informational Public Meeting for the Trinidad Pier Reconstruction Project. Trinidad Rancheria,

Reconstruction Project Description. Trinidad Rancheria,

Last updated 19-Mar-13

Trinidad, CA


  • Pacific

Geographic Scope

  • City
  • Small (< 20,000)
  • Rural (<500 people per square mile)

Governance Structure

  • Dillon Rule


  • Economic development
  • Environmental impacts: resource protection, habitat loss, water quality degradation
  • Regulatory factors


Waterfront Uses

  • Pier/dock/wharf/lift
  • Commerical fishing
  • Recreational fishing
  • Charter fishing
  • Coastal tourism
  • Public access (docks/wharfs/beach/park)
  • Pier/dock/wharf/lift
  • Commerical fishing
  • Fish/bait shops, fish cleaning station
  • Recreational fishing
  • Charter fishing
  • Recreational boating, kayaking, other recreational watercraft
  • Coastal tourism
  • Retail/commercial
  • Restaurant accessible by water
  • Hotel/motel/lodging providing water access

Digital Coast Snapshots
Flood Exposure
Wetland Benefits
Coastal & Maritime Job