A Vibrant Future for the Noyo Headlands
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
The Noyo Headlands is a resource we want to protect. It can contribute to our quality of life, become a recognizable symbol of Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Coast, and be an economic benefit to the region, providing living wage jobs and resources while increasing resilience, capturing carbon and providing wildlife habitat. The Noyo Headlands Work Group (NHWG) is committed to participatory planning and restoration on the Noyo Headlands.
Georgia-Pacific (G-P) closed its Fort Bragg mill on the Noyo Headlands in 2002, and Koch Industries bought the Georgia-Pacific Corporation (GP) in 2005. The majority of the property is fenced off from public access. Restoring or planning reuse of the headlands while the Department of Toxic Substances Control determines clean-up requirements for the property is a formidable task. For twenty years, the community has participated in numerous design efforts to plan future use of the property. These efforts have been stymied and prolonged by G-P tactics of delay, frivolous lawsuits, and benign neglect.
GRI Volunteers with Mendocino County Youth for Climate Co-Founder Sara Rose, hosting a "Welcome Rally" outside of the California Coastal Commission meeting in Fort Bragg in July. The Noyo Headlands was on the agenda for the day and thanks to GRI organizing 14 out of the 16 total commenters during public comment for the agenda item were speaking out for the importance of a community led future for the site. The other two speakers were Chris Hart and Robert Pinole of Mendocino Railway.
Over time a community vision for restoration of the property has evolved that emphasizes eliminating environmental pollution and wise healthy commercial and residential land use. Critical components of this vision are day-lighting the buried creeks and removing the toxic mill ponds, carbon sequestration through restoration of wetlands and the creation of an estuary and protection and restoration of a wildlife corridor connecting the Noyo River to MacKerricher State Park.
Restoration and protection of the Noyo Headlands property creates a planned open space that increases the resilience of the area to sea level rise, and provides a natural carbon sink low-impact recreational area. This natural capital source would be a gem around which other appropriate community uses can evolve. These include the Noyo Marine Research Center, Blue Economy light industrial uses, as well as net-zero workforce housing and retreat center, and other low-impact economic engines the community has identified.
G-P has yet to meet its responsibility to clean up the Noyo Headlands. Recently, while the City engaged in extensive plans to purchase and restore the property, G-P suddenly and unexpectedly transferred ownership of the land to Mendocino Railway (which operates a small tourist amusement train in Fort Bragg). This transfer occurred as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Mendocino Railway against G-P in which Mendocino Railway claimed to be a public utility that could take the land through eminent domain. The settlement allowed Mendocino Railway to purchase the 300-acre ocean-front property for a mere $1.23 million which is approximately 1/80th of the land’s value. In addition to Its dubious assertion of eminent domain authority, Mendocino Railway also claims its activities are not subject to the jurisdiction of the City of Fort Bragg or the California Coastal Commission (the vast majority of the Noyo Headlands is in the coastal zone). The City as well as the Coastal Commission (represented by the California Attorney General) are currently litigating Mendocino Railway’s assertions.
The California Public Utilities Commission, and others, have already determined Mendocino Railway is not a public utility. The litigation will likely result in a ruling that Mendocino Railway did not have eminent domain authority and is also subject to the jurisdiction of the City and the Coastal Commission. Once this occurs, Mendocino Railway’s acquisition of the land through eminent domain will also be subject to challenge and the lands transfer being judged illegal. Regardless, there is no question the City and the Coastal Commission will have a say in how the property is managed and restored. The Community has and continues to engage in planning for a future that does not prioritize its use for profit, as has been the case for years. The entire Mendocino North Coast community, the City of Fort Bragg and its citizens are committed to a different future than once again being a “company town,” exploited solely for the profit of owners and investors who live elsewhere.
For more information on what we are up to, see our section on the GRI website here. We also welcome your comments and financial support. If you want to be involved, contact George Reinhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustrated vision for the future of the headlands, by Marcia Mellow
--Noyo Headlands Working Group, a division of Grassroots Institute, Mendocino County