Sacramento just may be getting mixed messages from the North Coast when it comes to highway improvement.
When Caltrans officials came to town last month to present some ideas for highway improvement -- a freeway bypass of Eureka, a four-lanes bypass of Richardson Grove -- they received a lukewarm response from the audience.
Only five of the 40-plus attendees were in favor of the highway improvement projects outlined. Most of the speakers wanted to talk about other ideas such as a commuter rail line between Eureka and Arcata, and more bicycle paths. One speaker told Caltrans a highway improvement would be to build a large gate across Highway 101 at the south end of the county -- to keep people out.
Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin said Humboldt may want to look toward its southern neighbors to see what lack of good transportation planning could bring.
"They built the 101 freeway right through the center of Santa Rosa," she told the Journal earlier this week. As a result, it is heavily used by both through and local traffic. Traffic congestion there has worsened considerably in recent years for both the freeway and main arterial city streets and not just during rush hour.
In spite of the congestion, Sonoma County voters recently defeated a plan to widen the highway through Santa Rosa.
"Humboldt County may want to look at the experiences (there) and profit from them," she warned.
Business leaders have been pushing lately for some improvements, especially because of truck length restrictions. Trucks with trailers over 65 feet in length aren't allowed through narrow sections of Highway 101 in southern Humboldt such as Richardson Grove State Park. Some larger trucks must stop and reload cargo onto small trucks which are sometimes in limited supply.
Greg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, said that one thing truckers have on their side is experience in dealing with narrow highways.
"Transportation has always been a problem in Humboldt County," he said.
And there are many who say the isolation is a blessing.
"Maybe that saves us from too much growth pressure," Foster said.
Caltrans spokesperson John Williamson, who conducted the meeting March 21, said there are other highway problems facing the county. Traffic accidents on the stretch between Arcata and Eureka "have raised a red flag" with his department. And the 101 route through Eureka slows down through traffic, causes delays and adds congestion to local traffic, and increases safety concerns.
Caltrans proposed seven areas of improvement in the county that would upgrade Highway 101 to at least four lanes everywhere except for the 3.5-mile stretch along the edge of Big Lagoon south of Orick.
Only one of the seven projects is in the works: the interchange at Alton at Highway 36. An overpass will be built so that vehicles do not have to cross oncoming traffic lanes to turn left. The project is under environmental review.
The other six projects are only "candidates," Williamson said. Whether they are built or not depends a lot on whether residents want them.
Perhaps the proposal with a potential of the most controversy is the freeway bypass of Eureka. A similar plan was advanced in the 1960s. Caltrans purchased a number of properties along Sixth Street for a submerged freeway but the plan was later abandoned due to controversy.
And as Williamson discovered at the meeting, "There are some who live behind the Redwood Curtain and would like to keep it that way."
-- by Arno Holschuh
Bridging the divide
Another area of Humboldt County took a step closer to the high speed digital future with the recent announcement that a portion of Arcata will receive digital subscriber line (DSL) service.
Pacific Bell trunk and toll engineer David Edmunds explained, "DSL is designed to provide high-speed secure access to the Internet. In the initial deployment we use the copper line that is in place, the same line that comes into your home for your basic residential or business service."
PacBell guarantees a minimum download speed of 384 kilobytes per second, considerably faster than what you get with a standard analog phone line.
What the catch? The service is only available to those who live within three miles of the main distribution center at 13th and G streets. DSL is already available in Eureka, again with the three-mile radius provision.
"Eureka has had it for awhile," said Edmonds. "We're working on Fortuna and McKinleyville. As we get the infrastructure in place we'll begin to deploy it further out. For example, in Arcata we will be deploying fiber into the neighborhoods under what we call Project Pronto, a $6 billion project throughout the Southwestern Bell System."
Edmonds is currently at work on plans for a fiber optic link from McKinleyville to Trinidad and an expanded link from Arcata to Blue Lake. He estimates that within the next two years 96 percent of PacBell's customers will have access to some level of DSL service. Fiber optics will allow them to offer "enhanced DSL" providing speeds up to six megabytes per second.
"Enhanced DSL will not be just Internet access, it will support a full spectrum of digital services," said Edmonds.
The digital future will include movies on demand, video phones, and a shift in the music business as it becomes easier to download complete albums quickly.
While the local network is getting more complete, there is still a missing link: Humboldt County does not have a fiber optic line connecting us to the rest of the state. The region now relies on a microwave system, but that too could change with the implementation of a plan calling for the installation of a fiber optic cable along the renovated railroad line.
"We are close to completing negotiations on the right of way with the rail company. It's all part of bridging the digital divide," Edmonds concluded.
PL to purchase Eel River
The announcement last week by Pacific Lumber Co. of its intent to purchase Eel River Sawmills has produced more questions than answers, especially in its impact on the local economy.
"The sale would obviously add to our land base and give us more resources that we would be able to process," said PL spokesperson Mary Bullwinkle.
Eel River Sawmills owns 30,000 acres and has 375 employees. PL owns 235,000 acres and has 1,300 employed. So far, only a nonbinding letter of intent has been signed.
"When this acquisition has been completed in about two or three months, we should have a better idea of what the future will be," Bullwinkle added.
More than lemonade stands
The national economy today is stronger than it has been in decades. But do you ever wonder where the next wave of entrepreneurs is going to come from?
Quite possibly the North Coast.
College of the Redwoods is preparing to welcome more than 250 high school students May 5. These budding capitalists will be attending a Youth Entrepreneur's Conference, where they can hear about successful business practices from the source -- successful business people.
The keynote speaker will be Scott Holmgren, who works with the internet business eCapture, and specialized sessions with panels of local entrepreneurs will cover everything from timber to arts
A panel on high technology is being chaired by Chris Crawford of the Redwood Technology Consortium. Included are a variety of successful internet-related businesses located in the county.
Libby Maynard of the Ink People will chair a session on arts and culture and Julie Fulkerson, owner of Plaza Design and former county supervisor, is chairing the panel on service, retail and tourism.
Greg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, will head a panel on timber/agriculture and fisheries. Joining him will be Bob Laffranchi of Loleta Cheese Co., furniture maker Steven Emmes and others.
The manufacturing panel will include Maggie Banducci of Fire & Light and Yakima; Tom Hinz, Wallace & Hinz; Bill Wing, Wingboats; Vince Cellotto, Humboldt Brewery; and Heather Ross of Munki, Munki. Other food and beverage producers will gather on a separate panel chaired by Jeff Boyd of Taco Time.
The conference is being coordinated by the Humboldt County Office of Education, 445-7143.
A friend to feral cats
Feral cats have a hard life. These half-wild stray felines exist off what they scrounge or catch, do not recognize humans as friends or masters, and usually never receive medical care.
A new program being undertaken by the Arcata Animal Hospital looks to realistically deal with that situation. The purpose of the Feral Cat Altering Program isn't to find them homes, but rather to spay or neuter them in an effort to humanely reduce the long-term population.
Veterinarians, caregivers and others may bring feral cats to the hospital where they will be altered at no charge. They're given a rabies vaccination, and if the person who brought them in wants to pay for it, other vaccinations as well. They are then returned to their natural habitat -- be it backyard, alleyway or vacant lot.
Veterinarian Charlene Lea-Shouse said that it is impractical to try to place these cats in homes because "they've reverted back to a semi-wild state" and are "not necessarily amiable to human contact."
The program is funded through California Veterinary Medical Association by a grant from Maddie's Fund, a pet rescue foundation. Veterinarians are paid a small stipend for each operation, but there is no cost to the people bringing feral cats in.
Over 350 cats have been altered through the program so far, but many more remain and community involvement is encouraged. For information, call your local veterinarian.
A day of remembrance
Last week marked the anniversaries of three tragedies in recent American history -- Columbine, Waco and Oklahoma City -- all involving children. Next week, all children whose lives have been cut short by violence will be honored in ceremonies here and across the country.
On April 28 Humboldt County will fly the Children's Memorial Flag in recognition of Children's Memorial Day.
"It is a time to honor children and their memories, and to focus interagency efforts to increase safety for children," said Phillip Crandall, director of the Department of Social Services.
Crandall said that his department and other county agencies are trying to work together to improve conditions and reduce risks for the county's young. He said that even in the shadow of violence towards children, "it is important to look at large efforts to strengthen families rather than at specific instances of tragedy."
Cool stuff, overheated world
Feeling depressed about the greenhouse effect?
Check out a cool, new electric car. You can find them, as well as other earth-friendly goodies at the National Environmental Trust's "Pollution Solutions" tour, coming to Humboldt State University's main quad April 28.
The exhibit aims to reduce environmental despair by showcasing interesting new energy-efficient technologies and products.
Research shows that a majority of Americans are concerned about global warming and its potential consequences, but feel powerless to do anything about it.
The message of the exhibit, which is on a nationwide tour, is one of hope. Consumers can often make simple choices that in aggregate will reduce greenhouse gases and other environmental challenges.
For more information, call the Redwood Alliance at 822 7884.
Time to clean up
Eurekans -- armed with hand trowels, rakes and trash bags -- will take to the streets Saturday in an effort to clean up their city.
The event, from 9-11 a.m., is the kick-off to a month-long effort to beautify the city with a thorough spring cleaning. Individuals and groups are welcome to participate at any time during the month. Volunteers are needed to pick up trash, pull weeds.
More than 200 citizens volunteered at last year's event, sponsored by the Keep Eureka Beautiful Committee.
Studies show that communities that are kept clean and attractive enjoy more economic benefits and experience less crime. For more information, contract Mike Leggins, 442-4501, or the Eureka Chamber of Commerce.
Reuse, recycle, receive award
John McClurg is mostly concerned with quality. He said that while some customers value the fact that the glassware his company produces is made from recycled material, "We have to sell our product based on quality first."
The company, Fire and Light, was one of 11 businesses to receive a Humboldt County Waste Reduction Award last Saturday as part of the county's Waste Reduction Week.
Baby's Best Diaper Service won an award for providing an alternative to disposable diapers. Swanland's Camera and Redwoods United were decorated for their extensive recycling efforts.
Sharp Copier was honored for finding innovative ways to reduce the production of paper waste. Arcata High School won an award for its efforts to educate students about methods and the value of recycling. The Humboldt State University Campus Recycling Project's composting program netted an award, and the Arcata Community Recycling Center's do-it-yourself oil changer won for dealing with hazardous waste.
Whit McCleod Furniture, Paint On Sale, and Bayside Drywall all won awards for taking waste and turning it into a valuable product.
Fire and Light also produced the awards -- made of recycled glass, of course.
For more information, call 822 6918.