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May 26, 2005
POT CONVICTION: Two men involved in the biggest marijuana bust
in Humboldt County's lush history of pot farming were sentenced
to prison last week in federal court in San Francisco, the U.S.
Attorney's Office said. Roy Bryan Mercer, 40, of Eureka and Dennis
Franklin Hunter, 32, of Nevada City will each serve six and a
half years in prison followed by five years of supervised release
for operating an indoor plantation in the Three Creeks area of
Berry Summit near Willow Creek. There were more than 12,000 marijuana
plants. Federal and local agents discovered the massive grow
in June 1998 but Mercer and Hunter fled into the surrounding
woods in the Six Rivers National Forest and were not apprehended
until 2002. In July 2003 both men pleaded guilty to one count
of conspiring to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants and one
count of conspiring to conduct illegal financial transactions
involving the sale of marijuana. A third defendant in the case,
Shaun Turner, 35, is a fugitive.
FLUORIDE FOES SUBMIT SIGNATURES:
An Arcata group that wants to put
an end to the city's fluoridation of its drinking water last
week submitted signed petitions aimed at putting the issue to
a vote. According to Alma McCall, Arcata's deputy city clerk,
the group -- known as "Arcata Citizens for Safe Drinking
Water" -- submitted more than 1,700 signatures to the city
on Wednesday. In order to qualify for the ballot, 1,234 of those
must be from valid, registered Arcata voters. McCall said Monday
that she has already begun the process of verifying the signatures,
promising only that the work would be complete before the June
18 deadline. A coalition of local dentists, medical providers
and child-care professionals has formed to oppose the measure.
ALL-STAR TREE SIT CASE
TO COURT: Sparks will fly in the
county Board of Supervisors' chambers Friday morning, as the
litigants in a massive tree-sitting lawsuit occupy the room for
a rare hearing. At 9 a.m., Freshwater tree-sitters known as Remedy,
Wren, Mystique, Annapurna, Amanita, Smokey and Luigi, many of
them acting as their own attorneys, will argue that Pacific Lumber
Co. and Schatz Tree Service committed a number of actionable
offenses against them -- including assault, battery, infliction
of emotional distress and kidnapping -- when the companies hauled
the activists from their trees in March 2003. Overseeing the
case will be the irascible Hon. Quentin L. Kopp, who will appear
as a visiting judge from San Mateo County. Kopp, of course, is
better known for the years he spent as a San Francisco supervisor,
a politically independent state senator and a sharp-tongued talk
show host on KGO radio. The treesitters' charges against the
company are cross-complaints in a larger civil suit brought by
Palco against these and other local activists for trespass and
conspiracy. The case is being tried in the supervisors' chambers
because it is expected to attract an unusual number of spectators.
AUGUST CASE STUMBLES TO
TRIAL: The trial of Fortuna City
Councilmember Debi August got off to a rocky start Monday, after
Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen filed a challenge against
Judge Christopher Wilson, who had been assigned the case. Stoen
later said that he challenged Wilson out of concern that his
previous run-ins with the judge during preliminary motions over
the DA's fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber Co. would bias
Wilson against his case. "I just want to make sure that
everyone feels that the case has been free of any bias,"
he said. The case was reassigned to Judge John Feeney, who then
threatened to recuse himself after Steven Schectman, a volunteer
DA deputy, appeared in court alongside Stoen. Feeney said that
he harbored a bias against Schectman. Schectman agreed not to
participate. Last week, Feeney dismissed three of the four counts
leveled at August, which dealt with failure to properly fill
out financial disclosure forms and disclosure of evidence from
the grand jury investigation of her. Feeney did, however, allow
the most serious count -- conflict of interest stemming from
her duties as a public official and a private real estate broker
-- to proceed. A state appeals court later declined to hear a
defense motion to quash the remaining count.
BEAR KILLED: A young black bear showed up on the west side of
Eureka Monday morning, rummaging through backyards and leading
the Eureka Police Department and deputies from the California
Department of Fish and Game through residential neighborhoods.
After a few hours, the bear was shot and killed.
MORRIS GRAVES LANDS GRANT:
The Humboldt Arts Council got word
last week the Morris Graves Museum, which it manages, had landed
a federal grant that will help the local institution's goals
of becoming a fully accredited arts museum. The grant, worth
approximately $7,800, will pay for two experts to come to town
and assess the state of the Morris Graves' collection and the
old Carnegie Library that houses it. This is a key step in receiving
accreditation from the American Association of Museums, which
allows museums to borrow work from one another or to host traveling
NEW AG COMISH: After a year-long vacancy, the Humboldt County
Agriculture Commissioner seat was filled this month. Heidi Wong,
who has served as Merced County's deputy agriculture commissioner
for the past eight years, will take over the Humboldt County
post in June. Officials said the task of hiring a new commissioner
was a difficult one because only 125 people in the state have
both an agriculture commissioner license and a county sealer
of weights and measures license, which are required for the job.
The agriculture commissioner is responsible for monitoring weights
and measures, enforcing package label laws, pest detection and
exclusion, pesticide use, and management of feral animal damage.
The Board of Supervisors approved a $700 per month pay increase
for the position to $7,021 monthly. Former county agriculture
commissioner John Falkenstrom retired in 2004 after 30 years
on the job. County Agricultural Inspector Paul Holzeberger has
served as the interim commissioner.
DELTA DENTAL GRANT: Though some kids might wince at the idea of visiting
the dentist, two area health centers are smiling now that they
will get extra funds to provide dental care to children from
low-income families. Delta Dental, California's largest dental
health plan, announced Monday that it will distribute $2.7 million
in state and federal funds to California clinics in geographically
remote areas -- Humboldt County is one of them -- and for kids
in special populations, like farm workers' children in the Central
Valley. Humboldt's Open Door Community Health Center will receive
$40,621 annually for the next two years to extend the hours of
its Saturday pediatric dental clinic at the Burre Dental Center
in Eureka, and Southern Trinity Health Services, which serves
some Humboldt County children, will receive $32,282 each year
to expand its mobile dental services. Sixteen health clinics
in California were chosen for funding.
The Journal's May
12 story on child poverty ("When ends don't meet")
reported incorrectly that the county mental health department
employs two child psychologists. Rather, the department employs
two child psychiatrists. The Journal regrets the error.
[The online version has been corrected.]
"By-the-wind sailors" blanket area beaches
For the past month, hoards of
tiny jellyfish-like creatures have blanketed the coast from Samoa
to Trinidad, lining the high tide mark in massive heaps of tiny,
squishy, translucent blue bodies.
The small visitors flood North
Coast beaches by the tens of thousands every year, leaving behind
the stench of mass-decomposition and piles of papery white exoskeletons
Though the scene is one of apparent
devastation, the annual beaching is a natural product of a colony
blown off course, biologists said.
Velella lata, commonly known
as "by-the-wind sailors," normally inhabit the surface
of the open ocean, but onshore winds in spring and early summer
often pitch thousands of the creatures onto beaches along the
The sailors, which grow to about
3 inches, use a series of sealed air chambers for buoyancy, and
sail great distances on the surface of the water using a triangular,
somewhat rigid sail held above their disc-like bodies.
"It's thought that these
organisms spend most of their life out on the North Pacific,"
said Milt Boyd, department chair of biological sciences at Humboldt
The sailors are stranded in
large numbers after they breed in early spring when plankton
are blooming. With the larval stage out to sea, mature and some
immature sailors wash ashore. Boyd said the creatures are usually
marooned after living their entire life cycle of several months.
Found worldwide in temperate
and tropical waters, by-the-wind sailors are a relative of the
deadly Portuguese man of war jellyfish, with one difference.
"Their sting is not harmful
to us, unlike the Portuguese man of war," said Sean Craig,
associate professor of biological sciences at Humboldt State.
The animals use their short tentacles to sting and subdue small
organisms like plankton and crustaceans. "But I wouldn't
want small children or dogs to eat a lot of them," Craig
While by-the-wind sailors resemble
jellyfish in structure, Craig said they are not classified as
a true jellyfish. The sailors are members of the Phylum Cnidaria
(animals armed with stinging cells), and share the same subgroup
as the man of war, hydrozoa. Closely related in other Cnidaria
subgroups are true jellyfish and sea anemones.
Hydrozoans have two life stages:
medusa, a free-swimming form, like pelagic jellyfish, and polyp,
an anchored, stationary form, like anemones. By-the-wind sailors,
however, are unique polyps, free-floating as adults on the open
Craig said the Pacific Ocean
sailors, commonly mistaken for their Atlantic relatives Velella
velella, travel in huge colonies, with each individual specialized
for feeding, breeding, catching prey and constructing the sail
that allows them to travel.
"In this kind of organism,
there's a kind of partition of different tasks," said Hal
Genger, Humboldt State oceanography lecturer. "A portion
is for feeding, a portion is for reproducing, a portion is for
"They can't control direction
at all," Genger continued. "They're victims of the
ocean and wind currents."
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