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May 20, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Klamath whistleblower resigns
The triggering incident was a state project at the Mouth of the Eel River

H  U  M  B  O  L  D  T    P  E  O  P  L  E 

A harrowing first job
Beginnings can be tough. Ask Pastor Tim Doty.

Bridgeville sold -- at last
Southern California buyer envisions turning town into resort

Bold bid
Blue Lake Rancheria competing for KVIQ


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

RECALL TANKING? Proponents of the efforts to recall three Rio Dell City Council members turned in their petitions on Friday, and a rough count would seem to indicate that the recall would fail to make the ballot. Organizers needed to gather 401 valid signatures from city residents to place a recall of each of the council members -- Bud Leonard, Mike Dunker and Mayor Jay Parrish -- on the ballot. City Manager Eli Neff said Monday that organizers turned in about 430 signatures for each of the targeted candidates, but that the city had collected around 35 statements from residents who had signed recall petitions but later wished to have their names removed. Both the petitions and the withdrawal forms were handed over to the county elections office on Monday. The county elections staff will check the validity of the signatures and should have the final results in the next couple of weeks.

DEATH ON THE TRINITY: Anthony Ramirez, a 27-year-old McKinleyville man, drowned May 14 after strong spring flows swept him down the Trinity River near Willow Creek. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office said that sometime before 1 p.m., Ramirez went into the river in an attempt to save his dog, which had been trapped in an eddy at the confluence of the Trinity and Tish Tang Creek. But the current proved too strong for Ramirez, who himself became entangled in the eddy. The Hoopa Valley Tribal Police discovered his body downstream shortly afterward. (The dog survived.) Swimmers should be reminded that these types of accidents occur all too frequently on the Trinity, especially in the early summer. The river's current is surprisingly powerful, and even very strong swimmers can be caught by it. Ramirez is survived by his fiancée and three children.

BACK IN LIMBO: A Lake County property manager's bid to buy the shuttered Eureka Inn fell apart last week. In a letter to members of the press last month, Myron Meek of Middletown revealed that he and his son had reached a deal with the Cleveland-based Park Corp. to purchase the Inn, and had gone so far as to enter into escrow on the property. However, during several fact-finding trips in the last few weeks -- during which they "crawled under the building and through the attics" -- the Meeks became aware of the magnitude of the building's widely reported infrastructure problems. "With heavy hearts, on May 12 we issued a notice of termination of the contract to the Park Corporation requesting either an extension of the study period or a price reduction," Meek wrote. "[The] Park Corp. rejected both options and did not offer an alternate." Bob Miller, co-owner of Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove Inn, is still waiting in the wings, but he's standing firm on his offer for the inn. For now, it appears that the Park Corp.'s Ray Park continues to find that offer -- the amount of which has not been disclosed -- unacceptable. "He hasn't returned my calls, so I assume he has someone else interested," Miller said. "If he feels like returning my phone calls, I'd be more than happy to talk with him about it."

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: Rumor has it that there's no love lost between Richard Salzman, capo of the Friends of Paul Gallegos, and 4th District Supervisor Bonnie Neely, whose husband, Terry Farmer, served as district attorney for 20 years before Gallegos came along. Yet it seems there is one thing they can agree on: Chris Kerrigan. In what is shaping up to be the fall's hottest local political contest, Kerrigan, the 24-year-old one-term incumbent on the Eureka City Council, is marshaling the troops for his reelection campaign, and both Salzman and Neely have thrown their support behind him. Reached Monday, Kerrigan said that his campaign is still getting organized, although several people -- "probably dozens" -- have volunteered to help, Salzman among them. And the candidate said that he is hoping that Neely, who has already given Kerrigan her endorsement, will serve on his campaign's steering committee. Rex Bohn, operations manager at Renner Petroleum and a member of the board of directors of the Ninth Agricultural District, which manages Redwood Acres, announced last week that he would challenge Kerrigan for the seat.

FIGHTING BACK: On Tuesday, an attorney representing Fortuna Councilmember Deborah August filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss charges of corruption brought against his client by the Humboldt County Grand Jury and the District Attorney's Office. Outside the courtroom, attorney Bill Bragg hinted that the charges against his client were baseless, and may stem from bad blood left over from the recent recall attempt against DA Paul Gallegos, which August supported. He handed out a press release that stated as much: "In this case, those that disagree with Ms. August's positions have hijacked the grand jury for political purposes," it read. But Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen said the grand jury requested a legal opinion from his office, and that "if the grand jury requests it, we have to prosecute." August was accused last week of improperly representing a land developer before Fortuna's Planning Commission in a matter she stood to profit on. If found guilty, she would be removed from office. Superior Court Judge J. Michael Brown is scheduled to rule on August's motion to dismiss on June 8.

STEAMED: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is calling for further congressional investigation of secret chemical and biological weapons tests that were performed on U.S. soldiers during the Cold War. Thompson this week said he would introduce legislation that would set up a panel of independent investigators to ensure that information regarding all chemical and biological tests are brought to light. Thompson's announcement comes in the wake of a General Accounting Office report which found that the Defense Department has not adequately researched all the testing that was done.

BUM RAP: It now appears that a Web site featuring photographs of gun-toting Eureka youths with apparent "gang" connections may not be so sinister as it first seemed. Last week, the Eureka Police Department served search warrants on five Eureka homes after a citizen brought the site to their attention. During the search, police discovered the weapons used in the photographs, but all the guns belonged to an adult and may have been legal. According to Deputy District Attorney Wes Keat, the adult said that he loaned the guns to the teenagers for the photo shoot. Keat added that upon further examination, it looked as if the kids staged the photographs simply "for the effect of looking tough, so they could find some girlfriends." There may also be an innocent explanation for a section of the site devoted to "bum hunting." Internet searches on the phrase reveal it to be a common way of denoting a quasi-anthropological interest in the lives and culture of the homeless. The Web site has been pulled down, and no charges have yet been filed in the matter.

DIRECT FLIGHTS TO LA?: It would be another tear in the redwood curtain, and that would suit local officials just fine. Early next year, if a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration materializes, the Arcata/Eureka Airport will begin offering direct flights to Los Angeles via Redding. Currently the 16 percent of local air travelers who head down to Southern California must go via San Francisco, then change planes and deal with the usual crowds and delays. "It would really improve the situation if they could get a direct flight down there," said Allen Campbell, the county's public works director, who oversees the airport. The flights would be offered on 70-passenger Q400 planes through Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines. In a splendid example of corporate welfare, the $500,000 grant from the FAA, designed to promote air service to small communities, would help Horizon with marketing and publicity for the first year of the new route. If profitable, the flights would continue, Campbell said.

MANILA FIRE: A Manila house was destroyed by fire Saturday night after a fire hydrant meant to ensure against such a catastrophe failed to operate. The fire, which left residents Zach and Shannon Anderson and their three children without a home, was presumably started by a candle left burning after the family went to bed. The Arcata Fire District, aided by firefighters from around Humboldt Bay, responded to the scene shortly after 11:30 p.m., but found upon arrival that the only hydrant within reach was dry. The Manila Community Services District is charged with maintaining the hydrants; MCSD General Manager Judy Hollifield said Tuesday that the hydrant in question was scheduled for replacement at the time of the fire.

WOOLLEY ON THE MEND: Humboldt County Supervisor John Woolley is recovering nicely after being plagued by a kidney stone last week. Woolley, 60, was in San Rafael last Friday for a meeting of the California Coastal Commission, on which he serves as a commissioner, when he began suffering severe pain. Hotel staff took him to the emergency room at Marin General Hospital, and after passing the stone and resting for a few hours, he got back in his car and drove home, missing the last day of the three-day meeting.

Klamath whistleblower resigns
The triggering incident was a state project at the Mouth of the Eel River


Mike Kelly, the federal biologist who filed a whistleblower complaint in the wake of the massive fish kill that hit the Klamath River in September 2002, has resigned his position with NOAA-fisheries, formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The last straw for Kelly, whose final day on the job was Friday, was a supervisor's decision to not back up his conclusion that a proposed state Fish and Game Department project near the mouth of the Eel River would pose an unacceptable threat to Chinook salmon, a federal "threatened" species.

"I expected I would be asked to change my conclusion. Or that [John Lecky, Kelly's superior] would change it. So my best guess of where this was going was a really bad place, just like with the Klamath.

"I didn't want to have to be in a position to blow the whistle again, or fight internally again," added Kelly, who works out of NOAA-fisheries Arcata office. "So I decided to resign, to avoid a situation where I may be asked to do something illegal."

A colleague said that Kelly's decision has been "devastating" for his co-workers. "He was one of the office leaders and someone who always tried to look at things as the glass is half full. Mike's leaving is a direct result of his not being able to look at the glass as being half full anymore."

The confrontation with Lecky was eerily similar to the one Kelly had with Lecky in the spring of 2002. Back then Lecky overrode Kelly's opposition to a plan being pushed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that called for increasing deliveries to upstream farmers and reducing flows on the Klamath River.

Within months of the lower flows, 33,000 fish went belly up on the Klamath. Two reports done after the kill, one of the biggest on record, one by Fish and Game and another by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, vindicated Kelly's position by concluding that reduced water levels played a key role in the disaster.

Nonetheless, his whistleblower complaint was rejected in March 2003 by the Office of Special Counsel, which said that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that NOAA-fisheries had violated the Endangered Species Act in approving the lower flows, or that it had been responsible, in whole or in part, for the fish kill.

Lecky, reached by telephone Tuesday, said, "I don't know why Mike resigned. He didn't talk to me about it."

Regarding the Eel River project, Lecky said, "We were in the middle of a consultation [with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the Fish and Game project]. It's not a done deal."

The project, at Fish and Game's Eel River Wildlife Management Area, calls for restoration of a failed levee, a job that Fish and Game cannot undertake until it receives a permit from the Corps. If the repair work is done, it would convert 120 acres of estuarine habitat that is subject to regular tidal flows, and is vital rearing habitat for young salmon, into a freshwater pond more suited for waterfowl -- and waterfowl hunters.

Kelly, who wrote a draft "biological opinion" on the project, said that given the sad state of the Eel River estuary -- Fish and Game's own biologists have estimated that only 10 percent of the original salt marsh area that surrounded the estuary is left -- and the imperiled state of Chinook salmon, down to an estimated 10 percent of its original abundance, signing off on the project is simply not an option.

"Due to this project, it's clear the survival of the fish will be lower," Kelly said on Tuesday. "There really is no room to decrease the numbers of fish from what they are now."

Another federal biologist who asked to not be identified complained that the project, which has the support of County Supervisor Jimmy Smith, would mainly benefit duck hunters by concentrating ducks in a relatively small area. "Nobody's livelihood is at stake here. We're talking maybe a couple of dozen hunters at most, whereas a helluva lot of people are dependent on healthy fisheries."

Karen Kovacs, senior biological supervisor with Fish and Game and the project leader, said the project would benefit a variety of creatures in addition to waterfowl.

She also said that restoring saltwater habitat is "a noble cause," but that the entire Eel River ecosystem has been so profoundly changed over the past 150 years that trying to bring back pre-settlement conditions is unrealistic.

"We need to broaden our perspective," Kovacs said.

Humboldt State University professor Bill Trush said the project would exacerbate the fundamental problem in the Eel River estuary -- a lack of tidal energy. He said he couldn't say which was more important: "waterfowl goals, or keeping a tidal wedge going in that estuary.

"But I can say that we won't really restore fish in the Eel until the estuary is healthy and that won't happen until the tidal prism is working again."

As for Kelly, he said he's not sure what he'll do next, although private consulting is a distinct possibility. He said he's aware that quitting might send the wrong message to other federal scientists who feel their work is getting steamrolled by political considerations. But he said that given Lecky's decision to once again not back him up, he had no choice.

"I've drawn bad cards during my years as a federal employee," Kelly said. "I don't feel like I've been able to use my scientific education and skills and abilities to do anything productive for fish."

H  U  M  B  O  L  D  T    P  E  O  P  L  E 

A harrowing first job
Beginnings can be tough. Ask Pastor Tim Doty.


Tim Doty, the pastor at Arcata's First Presbyterian church since 1999, has never forgotten his opening assignment upon leaving seminary: A three-year stint beginning in 1976 at a small -- make that tiny -- church in Kake, Alaska.

An isolated community on Alaska's panhandle, 100 miles south of the state capitol of Juneau, Kake seemed to Doty, a native of Texas, like it was more or less the end of the earth. With a cold climate, and surrounded by a virtually impenetrable rain forest, the place posed a test for even the hardiest souls. Add in the fact that its inhabitants, some 640 Native Americans, suffered from high rates of alcoholism and domestic abuse, and a 50 percent unemployment rate due to declining logging and fishing industries, and Doty found himself with a very steep mountain to climb.

His congregation was small, 12 Native Americans and three whites. The church had been closed for 15 years. And Doty was young, only 26.

While he may have felt for a time as if he had no business being there, he gradually came to see the fundamental reason the Native American population was in such deep trouble. The Tlinkit people had always been a communal society whose members were organized in large house clans. With the coming of the European settlement in the 19th century, that extended family began to break down -- to the point that by the time Doty arrived on the scene, "no one knew how to raise their kids."

Doty said he dealt with three deaths during his time in Kake: a child who was killed after a babysitter was playing with a gun; a man who went out in a skiff and never came back; and a suicide.

How was Doty supposed to help the community through such awful things? Perhaps without even realizing it, he did something very wise. He didn't try to be something he wasn't.

"I'm kind of an intuitive preacher," Doty said recently. "I tried a lot of cross-cultural stuff. I did story-telling."

Slowly, the Native Americans responded. He was invited to be a volunteer fireman and, eventually, he received a rare honor for a white man: He was adopted into one of the clans.

"As a white person, it can take years to get accepted," Doty said.

Now 54, and by all signs quite satisfied with being a Presbyterian pastor in Humboldt, Doty can look back with a measure of equanimity, even satisfaction, on his experience in Kake. But the memory can still provoke a shudder.

"When I was there, I used to say, `Lord, take me out of this place.'"

The Arcata First Presbyterian Church is holding its "First Annual 11th & G Celebration" this Sunday at 5 p.m. Food and fine wines will be on hand, as will local musicians. Among the featured events will be a silent auction. The purpose of the gathering is to raise funds -- church officials say about $10,000 is needed -- to shore up the Craftsmen-influenced church, designed by architect Franklin Georgeson and built by contractor Nelson B. Johansen. The structure was completed in 1916. For more information about Sunday's event, call 822-1321.

Bridgeville sold -- at last
Southern California buyer envisions turning town into resort


A Southern California man has bought the town of Bridgeville for $700,000, nearly a year and a half after the tiny Highway 36 burg was the subject of a bidding frenzy on eBay that ended up going nowhere.

The sale, scheduled to close escrow May 18, came in below the list price of $850,000 and significantly lower than the $1.78 million "winning bid" on the online auction service in late December 2002.

"It was a price that the seller was satisfied with, just to, basically, get it over with," said Denise Stuart of California Real Estate in Eureka. "I think it was a fair price for everybody. [The buyer] got a pretty good deal on it, but he's also going to have to put quite a bit of money into the town to get it up and running again."

The new owner is Bruce Krall, a financial advisor from Laguna Hills, in Orange County.

Krall said his plans are "very fluid" right now, but his hopes for the town include a small resort or retreat center for educational seminars or arts festivals. If the resort idea is successful, he may eventually put in other things, like a new store, restaurant, even art galleries.

"I have some ideas, but certainly I want to fix it up and make it nice," he said Tuesday. "I'd like to attract some people out there who'd like to be out in the country a small population of people who want to do some creative stuff out there."

But first, he said, he'll spend part of the summer just cleaning things up.

"Obviously the town is in a terrible condition. There are old mobile homes, dilapidated, that need to be yanked out of there, that kind of stuff."

Previous owner Elizabeth Lapple, an antique dealer now living in Fortuna, had inherited the town from her mother, also named Elizabeth. The elder Lapple had bought the property in 1972, then sold it to a religious group from Fremont in 1977 when she fell ill with breast cancer, Stuart said. The group couldn't make the payments, and the Lapples foreclosed on the property.

The 82-acre town includes four cabins, eight houses, a post office leased by the U.S. Postal Service, a machine shop, a defunct restaurant that "needs to be torn down," a cemetery and a few Quonset huts, Stuart said.

It also needs a new well and water system, and that's one of the first things the new owner will have to tackle, Stuart said. "It's just an ancient system."

The news of the town's sale was welcomed by local residents.

"Everybody's excited about it," said local artist Michael Guerriero. "We're anticipating something to happen. It's been sort of not happening for so long, it's good to see something moving along and the prospect of a new owner who will put some investment into the buildings there. It can't be bad."


Jan. 2, 2003: IN THE NEWS: Timing is everything: Media frenzy fuels the selling of Bridgeville on Ebay

Feb. 20, 2003: CArlotta goes up on eBay

April 24, 2003: IN THE NEWS: No buyers for Bridgeville, Carlotta

Dec. 18, 2003: IN THE NEWS: Bridgeville saga continues

Bold bid
Blue Lake Rancheria competing for KVIQ


The Blue Lake Rancheria is trying to block a $2 million deal to sell local CBS affiliate KVIQ-TV to Sainte Partners II of Modesto, owners of station KBVU-TV (Fox 29), in the hopes of acquiring the station itself.

In a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission, which must approve all transfers of broadcasting licenses, the rancheria argued that the commission should not grant Sainte Partners a waiver allowing them to operate two stations in the Humboldt County market.

The petition, written by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Goldberg, Godles, Wiener & Wright, also asserts that the rancheria -- which owns the Blue Lake Casino, Mainstay Business Solutions and several smaller businesses -- would make an excellent station operator.

"Blue Lake... has the resources and desire to transform KVIQ-TV into a first-rate facility," the petition states.

FCC rules allow a single company to own two television broadcasters in small markets only if one or the other can be deemed a "failing station" prior to their merger. In their application, Sainte Partners and Ackerley Media Group, Inc. -- a division of Clear Channel Communications and current owner of KVIQ -- wrote that both that station and Fox 29 are operating in the red, with combined losses of around $350,000 in 2003. They asserted that a merger between the stations would give both a chance to become economically viable.

Sainte Partners added that if the FCC were not to approve the merger, there would be a "substantial likelihood" that Fox 29 would have to cease local operations and become a satellite rebroadcaster of Chico's Fox affiliate.

But in its FCC filing, the Blue Lake Rancheria said that a merger would not be in the public's best interest, as it would decrease the county's media diversity. In addition, the rancheria charged that the two companies did not provide enough financial information to conclusively demonstrate that the stations are failing.

Eric Ramos, president of business operations for the rancheria, said Tuesday that he had "plenty to say" about the tribe's bid for the station, but was under instruction from his attorneys not to speak to the media until the FCC makes a decision on the petition. Ramos said that he expects a decision in the next few weeks.

In the last year, the Blue Lake Rancheria has diversified its business activities with large -- and sometimes controversial -- ventures, including a temp service intended to skirt workers' compensation insurance regulations. (See "Turf Battle," Journal, Dec. 18, 2003.)

Don Smullin, general manager of Fox 29 and a second-generation Humboldt County broadcaster, said that his company had the experience necessary to turn the station around.

"We feel that we are time-proven as local broadcasters able to operate the station," Smullin said.

Both Sainte Partners and the rancheria have promised to produce a local nightly news program on KVIQ if they are allowed to purchase the station. Currently, only NBC affiliate KIEM has a local news program.



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