The Humboldt County district attorney's office may be getting some outside help soon.
Paul Hagen, 44 -- an environmental prosecutor based in Mendocino County for four years -- is preparing to take on pollution-type cases here.
For starters, Hagen is "looking into" handling a case involving a major oil spill from a freighter docking in Humboldt Bay. In 1997, the M.V. Kure spilled nearly 5,000 gallons of crude in the bay, soiling hundreds of birds near the wildlife refuge. California Fish and Game is investigating the incident, too.
The Ukiah resident was assigned by the California District Attorney's Association to work half-time for his home county. For the other half, Hagen will split his time between Humboldt, Del Norte and Lake counties. The prosecutor who at one point worked for a large San Francisco law firm makes $50,000 a year as a deputy district attorney, state association Project Director Ed Lowry confirmed.
"Environmental law is very different (from traditional types of law). It's really regulatory law," said Hagen, one of six environmental prosecutors in the state. Those who thrive in this area are meticulously detail-oriented and quite adept in science, he said.
The pilot program is meant to help small, rural counties that generally do not have the staff, time and specific knowledge and expertise needed to handle such cases.
The call for lawyers to specialize in this area of paralleled the amount of federal environmental regulations that mushroomed in the 1980s.
These days, the state's most common type of environmental case involves bear poaching in northern Central Valley, Lowry said. Apparently, their gall bladders, revered in Eastern culture, are sold on the black market.
In Humboldt County, Hagen believes a typical case will involve new federal regulations that set new guidelines for underground storage tanks.
-- by SUSAN WOOD
Underground storage tanks violators take notice. Humboldt County's Public Health Department is cracking down.
With the new law now in effect that mandates better seals on these tanks, nearly 30 property owners from McKinleyville to Garberville have been identified as unauthorized to do business without a permit. Therefore, the businesses have received notice to inform the county's environmental health division of their plans.
"We want to hear from these people," environmental health Director Brian Cox said.
Tank owners were required to apply for a permit before Dec. 22. One month later, the county is starting to corral these businesses which have had at least a decade's notice to comply, Cox said.
"That's where Paul Hagen comes in," Cox said of the county's new environmental prosecutor. (See separate story, left.)
Serious violators are subject to fines amounting to $5,000 a day, he said.
The Health Department urges the property owner to apply for a permit immediately. Then the owner may remove, upgrade or install a new tank. Only 76 property owners with tank locations are currently permitted to operate in the county; 65 are service stations.
In contrast, the county identified 700 sites as having underground storage tanks in 1986. Though more than 500 sites have closed for business since then, Cox estimates that at least 70 percent of the total number of sites may be contaminating the soil or water supply.e may
The county has reported a number of cases in which hazardous substances have seeped into the water supply. Cox cited a 5-year-old case in Trinidad where gasoline from a California Department of Forestry tank oozed into the water supply.
The state may decide in mid-February whether to offer a conditional timber operator's license to Pacific Lumber Co., California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Karen Terrill announced.
The logging company's license was suspended two months ago for continued violations under the state Forest Practices Act. CDF cites the company's failure to install culverts required with a timber harvest plan along Bear River, south of Ferndale.
The state also pointed to the company running heavy equipment and vehicles through the stream's flowing waters. The violations followed a previous citation issued for improper clearcutting along Freshwater Creek
In a grand-scale effort to put its best foot forward, PL pleaded no contest in Humboldt County court this week to two counts of these violations. Six counts were dismissed. Among other measures, the company has agreed to pay $5,400 in fines to settle these claims, the company reported.
PL has laid off 180 workers as a result of the suspension and turned its attention to contract loggers, encompassing half the company's logging operations. These contractors use the company's sawmills but are unaffected by the suspension.
The setback hasn't significantly hurt the company financially yet, PL spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkel said.
The plaintiffs for a 9-year lawsuit over marijuana destruction efforts by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management hosted public meetings this week to urge public feedback to the federal agency's recently released draft of its raid policy.
BLM officials declined an invitation to attend, but they plan to use the input in their final draft.
The guidelines which include an environmental assessment resulted from a U.S. District Court settlement six months ago that requires BLM to establish a policy in Northern California that dictates the handling of marijuana raids, a law enforcement tactic southern Humboldt County residents, civil rights and watchdog groups have criticized the agency for.
The Drug Policy Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, filed suit against the federal government in August 1990 for civil rights and environmental violations, following "Operation Greensweep."
During the aggressive raid, the U.S. Army "seized" the Hidden Valley Campground south of Shelter Cove for its command post, and consequently disrupted wildlife and residents, local DPF member Ed Denson of Alderpoint contends. DPF and the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project strongly object to the fed's helicopter flyovers especially in relation to residents and endangered and threatened wildlife nesting and roosting grounds.
Eight species are listed as inhabiting the BLM office's public lands, including the bald eagle, northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.
The BLM special agent-in-charge sympathizes, saying the agency is "sensitive" to the complaints.
"I can relate to what they're saying; I don't like (the helicopters) either," Special Agent Roger Bruckner said in a phone interview from Sacramento.
Bruckner contends the remote nature of many BLM areas make it susceptible to pot farms and almost impossible for the agency to monitor on foot. Plus, the lack of BLM staff accentuates the problem, he added.
The Arcata field office one of six offices in Northern California manages 5.7 million acres from the coastal area of northwest California near the Oregon border south to mid-Mendocino County.
Safety on public lands, Bruckner said, represents a major consideration for putting on these "necessary" raids.
"It would be wonderful if we lived in a perfect world, and we could feel safe," he said, making a guns and drugs equation. But Denson called the pot raids "attempts to demonize marijuana" efforts that "don't work."
The guidelines are available for review at BLM offices in Alturas, Arcata, Cedarville, Redding, Ukiah and Susanville and Eureka, McKinleyville and Humboldt State University libraries. Public comments on the plan are accepted until Feb. 10 at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 2135 Butano Drive, Sacramento 95825.
Juicy news for those who love navel oranges.
Prices are slowly coming down after surging over the holidays due to a citrus crop freeze in California, Humboldt County produce buyers reported.
Jim Gupton, produce manager of the Murphy's Markets, said he sold oranges for up to 29 cents a pound in his five markets before Christmas. When the freeze wreaked havoc on the California crop traditionally picked from fall to summer, prices soared to up to $2.29 a pound. As a result, the freeze froze consumer interest as the public stopped buying oranges, Gupton said.
Oranges more than doubled in price at Wildberries Marketplace in Arcata, too, Produce Manager Frankie Freitas said.
"I don't think people realize how bad the damage was," Freitas said.
After assessing the damage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 60 percent of the citrus crop was lost. The agricultural commissioner in Tulare County where most of the state's navel oranges are grown and 75 percent of the crop was frozen the deep freeze translates to a $293 million loss. Preliminary estimates mark the state's total loss at $591 million.
The $1.5 billion citrus industry faces massive layoffs in the economic disaster.
In a slight reprieve, the citrus distribution chain has slightly reduced the going rate of oranges and will continue to do so to avoid leaving consumers bitter.
At Murphy's stores for example, oranges are now about $1.29 a pound, and Gupton expects the prices will at least level out at $1 a pound.
Orange juice prices were not affected by the freeze because most of the juice oranges are grown in Florida and elsewhere.
The parent company of the Times-Standard announced a merger with another newspaper group that adds 10 daily newspapers to its California-affiliate base. This amounts to more than a half million in circulation in this state alone.
Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc. is due to manage the partnership between its Garden State Newspapers subsidiary and Donrey Media Group effective Feb. 1. The deal bumps the total national circulation to 1.7 million among 50 daily newspapers in 13 states. That circulation figure expands to more than 2 million with the 119 non-dailies.
The move increases the MediaNews presence in Northern California and the greater Los Angeles basin, where the company already owns the Daily News of Los Angeles. It also publishes The Denver Post in Colorado.
In California, Garden State Newspapers will own two-thirds of the new group and Donrey Media Group will own the other third, the companies reported. Donrey is contributing to the partnership the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Enterprise-Record in Chico and the Times-Herald in Vallejo, to name a few.
Times-Standard Publisher Mark Richmond said the readers of the Eureka-based newspaper will probably not notice the direct effect of the merger on the newspaper. However, the companies are expected to benefit from sharing resources.
If a loud boom cracks across the Humboldt County coast and the ocean withdraws from the shoreline, beachside or bayside would be the wrong place to stand.
This is one in a number of lessons learned from the earthquake-spurred tsunami that killed 2,200 people on Papua New Guinea last July.
Next Wednesday, Humboldt State University geology Professor Lori Dengler will share these lessons on the Arcata campus in Founder's Hall at 5 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend the lecture "From Humboldt to Aitape: Lessons from the July 1998 Papua New Guinea Tsunami."
Dengler toured the aftermath of this south Pacific island region in November, talking to survivors, relief workers and government officials about the experience.
After a loud boom was heard off the island's northeastern coast, a blast of air strong enough to knock villagers down preceded a 23-foot-high wave. The towering wave was first in a series of three, much like the 1964 tsunami that killed 14 people in Crescent City.
In Papua, New Guinea, survivors reported the waves were so powerful they ripped their clothes off. The waves uprooted trees, snapped tree trunks and piled debris at least 500 yards inland.
Disaster relief officials have long warned North Coast residents to brace for such an event. Their worst fear lies in geologic movement on the Cascadia subduction zone, a severe tectonic rift offshore.
"If (this type of) earthquake took place, and we only had two minutes, it would be difficult to alert people," Humboldt County sheriff's Sgt. Pete Jimenez said.
In the event of an emergency of this magnitude, the Sheriff's Department would activate an emergency operations command center with other agencies. The team also consists of representatives from the cities' public works departments and the county's health unit and school districts.
Alerts to evacuate low-lying areas will be given by either radio emergency messages or sheriff's patrol units.
Residents are advised to pack an emergency kit that includes three days of food, medical supplies and a radio.
It happens once in a blue moon.
At 8:07 a.m. Jan. 31, a blue moon will appear full in the Humboldt County sky the second full moon of the month following Jan. 2's.
This month's rare astronomical appearance also marks the first in two months this year in which double full moons grace the sky. The second set is expected March 2 and 31.
"This year, for moons, it's real unusual," said Paul Domanchuk, a local astronomy club member and optometrist.
The annual double take happens every 19 years, every three years when it happens in one month out of the year, the vision expert confirmed.
But don't let the name fool you. A so-called blue moon isn't any bluer than other moons, he said. Granted, it may appear strange, especially when rising, according to an astronomical calendar from the physics department of Furman University. The Greenville, South Carolina college coordinates the calendar with the nation's astronomical league.
But if the full moon is unusually colored, red is the color of choice, as when it sits low in the sky or when eclipsed, the calendar report adds.
Simply put, a blue moon represents a name for a moon that occurs twice in the same month. The last time it happened was July 1996. The next time will hit the horizon Nov. 2001.
"It's just a manufactured thing by humans (to call it blue)," Domanchuk said.
The local astronomer equated the whimsical folklore with the pet names given to each month of the year.
They include: the old moon in January; the snow moon in February; the sap, crow or lenten moon in March; the grass or egg moon in April; the planting or milk moon in May; the rose, flower or strawberry moon in June; the thunder or hay moon in July; the green corn or grain moon in August; the fruit or the well-known harvest moon in September; the hunter's moon in October; the frosty or beaver moon in November; and the moon before Yule, as in Christmas, in December.
To see for yourself, the Astro