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Feb. 10, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Environmental scourge of 'diesel dope'
KMUD forum seeks to educate public

City Council spars over appointment

The Weekly Wrap

ARCATA TO LAX: Perhaps the redwood-guarded North Coast won't seem so remote come springtime when direct flights to Los Angeles International Airport take off from the Arcata/Eureka Airport. Twice daily, beginning April 25, Horizon Air -- a sister of Alaska Airlines -- will make the one-hour and 40-minute hop to SoCal in 70-passenger Q400 planes, bypassing its competitor's stop in San Francisco (though some LAX flights will go through Redding). Through June 10, special deals for the 1,200-mile round-trip flight will cost $140. After that, County Public Works Director Allen Campbell said that "hopefully it will create a little competition and all the flights will come down [in price]." The Federal Aviation Administration fronted a $500,000 grant to Horizon Air to start the ACV to LAX service, with the Eureka City Council and Redwood Region Economic Development Commission pitching in $5,000 each.

COUNTY CONSIDERS ETHICS CODE: The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors took its first look at a proposed new code of ethics for elected officials and county employees Tuesday. In a discussion of the proposed code, which was drafted by Supervisors John Woolley and Bonnie Neely, Board Chair Roger Rodoni repeated his assertion that codes of ethics, lacking the force of law, were "not worth the paper they're written on." The board voted 4-1, with Rodoni dissenting, to ask the county counsel to more clearly define terms used in the proposed code. Last year, the Humboldt County Grand Jury asked the county and other local government bodies to look at adopting ethical codes, and cited Rodoni's lease of land from Pacific Lumber as one example of public concern over conflicts of interest among local elected officials.

FORMER COUNTY JUDGE DIES: Former Humboldt County judge and community benefactor Charles "Chuck" M. Thomas died Feb. 1, shortly after moving to his new home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He was 92. Born in Oregon, Thomas worked for a short time as a sawmill owner in Whitethorn in the early 1950s, then passed the California Bar exam in 1957 and practiced law in Eureka and Garberville before becoming Justice Court Judge in Garberville in 1962. Toward the end of his second six-year term, charges that Thomas was lenient on SoHum pot growers spurred a recall effort against him that failed. Soon after, he was elected to the Humboldt County Superior Court, and retired in 1980. Perhaps best known for his social commitments, Thomas was recognized by the Board of Supervisors and the Eureka Rotary Club last year for his longtime service on behalf of an array of community organizations, including his work establishing the Area Agency on Aging. Thomas is survived by his daughter Rosie Pitlock, of Eureka, his son Charles "Chip" Thomas of San Miguel de Allende, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Verda, died in November 2003. At his request, no service was held. Memorial gifts can be made to the Angel Fund through the Humboldt Area Foundation.

LOCAL IRAQ NATIVE REJOICES: McKinleyville resident Haider Ajina, a native of Baghdad, didn't have his paperwork together in time to vote in last month's first-ever Iraqi elections, but that didn't temper his excitement about the country's historic experiment with democracy. "It was phenomenal," he said. "I spoke to my 84-year-old grandma, and she and all my uncles and aunties were very excited about voting." Iraq allows for dual citizenship; Ajina, who came to the United States in 1982 and became a U.S. citizen 20 years later, hopes to reclaim his Iraqi citizenship in time to vote in a referendum on the country's new constitution scheduled for October.

HSU PROF PROFILED: This week's issue of the New Yorker features a profile of Humboldt State botany professor Steve Sillett, whose research on the biology of forest canopies is renowned in scientific circles. For the article, writer and avid tree-climber Richard Preston -- author of The Hot Zone, a best-selling book on the Ebola virus -- followed Sillett up to the tops of redwoods to report on his discoveries. The issue -- a special edition marking the 80th anniversary of the distinguished magazine -- should appear in local stores sometime next week.

GO TOO FAST, FLIP YOUR CAR: A 16-year-old boy escaped with no injuries after his 1993 Toyota Supra flipped onto its top shortly before 9 a.m. Feb. 3 on Myrtle Avenue in Eureka. Thomas Francis Krenek, 16, of Eureka was driving south around a curve not far from Three Corners when he lost control of the car, ran off the road, overcorrected and rolled over on the dirt embankment, the California Highway Patrol reported. Krenek was going "too fast for conditions" on the dewy road, the CHP said, but was wearing his seatbelt and was uninjured. Another crash, later that morning on Myrtle, also resulted in no injuries.

CORRECTION: Last week's cover story, "The Honeymoon's Over," misidentified an Humboldt State University award given to David Hankin. He was the university's 1999 "Scholar of the Year," not the "Professor of the Year." The Journal regrets the error.
[The online version has been corrected.]

Environmental scourge of 'diesel dope'
KMUD forum seeks to educate public


Marijuana cultivation has been a widely accepted part of the rural Humboldt economy for years. But the practice has gotten a black eye for one of its lesser-known impacts: the environmental mess caused by diesel fuel and motor oil spills.

"Indoor marijuana cultivation is not environmentally friendly," said Humboldt County Sheriff's Sgt. Wayne Hanson, head of the Drug Enforcement Unit. That doesn't surprise him. "If you're committing felonies, why do you care?"

Indoor growing requires a source of electricity for the lights, and -- in rural areas off the grid -- that power is supplied most often by diesel generators. While such generators can be run responsibly, the pot growers too often rig them with questionable wiring and install no containment tank around them in case of spills.

The results can be disastrous.

"If [diesel is] not properly contained and stored in a safe place, it can have harmful environmental impacts, affect aquatic species and affect public health," said Melissa Martel, senior hazardous materials specialist with the Humboldt County Environmental Health Division. "It's definitely a concern for us."

In an effort to educate the public about the problem, Beginnings Inc. in Briceland has organized a radio call-in forum, scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11, on KMUD 91.1 FM, 88.3 FM in Northern Humboldt.

It's a touchy subject in an area where a look-the-other-way attitude prevails when it comes to pot.

Peter Ryce, executive director of Beginnings, said the forum's organizers are not condemning marijuana growers. "I don't know who they are. I don't really care. I just don't want them polluting my environment, my watershed."

"What we're going to try to do is come up with a range of solutions: how to install a generator safely, how to deal with your diesel containment. That might encourage people to take steps on their own to alleviate the problem."

Large-scale pot growing started to move indoors after the state's CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) helicopters buzzed rural parts of the county en masse beginning in 1983, finding huge outdoor weed plantations.

Growing indoors not only gives cover to the illegal activity, it also increases its potential profit: Indoor pot farms can produce three or four crops every year, Hanson said. Humboldt County now ranks No. 1 in the state in marijuana seizures from indoor grows: 40 percent of all indoor seizures come from here, he said.

The diesel generators supplying power for the 1,000-watt grow lights can be as big as a small pickup truck. They are sometimes buried underground, which can be a fire hazard, or rigged with plastic water tubing instead of proper fuel lines. They are often placed in dubious locations, such as right beside creek beds -- greatly increasing the potential for contaminated water -- because the depth and the surrounding trees help to muffle the machines' drone. Some growers even use water tanks to store the diesel fuel, officials said.

One of the reasons people are talking more about the issue lately may be because the smaller, mom and pop pot growers don't want law enforcement sniffing around, said Larry Bruckenstein, the warden in the Garberville office of the state Department of Fish and Game, who has responded to a number of diesel spills affecting streams.

"If you've got a little grow going in," he said, "the last thing you need is the cops showing up in the area."

City Council spars over appointment


The effort to name a new member to the Eureka Planning Commission is no closer to resolution after last week's 3-2 Eureka City Council vote rejecting Mayor Peter La Vallee's second nominee to the seat.

At its regular meeting, the council rejected the nomination of Robert Fasic, a former attorney with a specialty in land-use issues and current owner of southern Humboldt's Heartwood Institute. Councilmembers Chris Kerrigan and Mary Beth Wolford voted to approve Fasic.

In December, the council turned down La Vallee's first choice for the position -- Xandra Manns, a retired urban planning professional who worked in the Bay Area. On that occasion, a majority of the council sided with Councilmember Mike Jones, who expressed concern that Manns -- a member of the Green Party -- was politically not a good fit for the commission.

At last Tuesday's meeting, Councilmember Jeff Leonard laid blame for the politicization of the normally nonpartisan position at the feet of the mayor, and decried the effect the brouhaha was having on the council and the community.

"I'm worried that this council that we're going to have a split down the middle -- the same kind of split you see in Sacramento, the same kind of split you see nationally -- where people don't talk issues any more, they don't share ideas," Leonard said at the meeting. "They just count up the number of players on their team."

In a follow-up discussion, Leonard accused La Vallee of trying to "bully" the council and decried La Vallee's guest editorial in the Times-Standard the previous weekend. The editorial accused local developers of organizing an effort to keep La Vallee's appointments off the commission and called upon citizens to support his choices.

Leonard said that although he thought Fasic a qualified candidate, the political atmosphere was now such that he could not in good conscience support his appointment.

La Vallee countered that he was not to blame for "politicizing" the appointment process, as his nominees were being rejected for something other than their professional qualifications.

"I have offered this council two candidates who I think clearly have the skills," he said.

In previous interviews, La Vallee said that Jones and Leonard -- who together form a council subcommittee that reviews La Vallee's appointments -- indicated that they would have preferred to see developer Steve Strombeck named to the commission. The Eureka Reporter, a newspaper owned by local businessman Rob Arkley, editorialized in favor of Strombeck last month. Strombeck withdrew his name from consideration last week.

Despite Leonard's wishes, there are indications that partisan politics stand to increasingly become part of the debate. The executive board of the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee will discuss whether the organization should take a position on the standoff at its meeting Tuesday.

Committee Chair Patrick Riggs said Monday that he didn't follow the arguments against approving Fasic put forth by Leonard -- a fellow Democrat -- and wondered how Leonard's actions would tone down the "politicization" of the office.

"I don't understand why voting to reject the mayor's candidates would solve that," Riggs said.

One current member of the Planning Commission who wished not to be named said that while the city council standoff was disturbing, it had no effect on the commission's regular business. Outgoing Commissioner David Edmonds has agreed to continue serving until a new member is appointed.


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