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June 10, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Fluoride flap
Some want voters to decide what goes into Arcata's drinking water

Visioning Humboldt Bay
With Calpine a fading memory, 150 gather to discuss the future


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

HANGIN' IN: A group of three treesitters remains in the Freshwater area, and pockets of protesters there and in the Mattole are continuing to fight what they describe as Pacific Lumber Co.'s unsustainable logging practices. A 20-year-old protester calling himself "Willow" said via cell phone that he has lived for seven months in "Jerry," the Freshwater tree made famous by its yearlong occupation by Jeny Card, aka Remedy. "It's wonderful up here, it's very sunny," said the Santa Rosa native, who dropped out of HSU to live in the tree. "All the branches got cut off, but there's so much new growth. He's kind of aerodynamic now." Willow said he was prepared to descend from the tree if the state Legislature passes the Heritage Tree Preservation Act, SB 754, which would ban the harvest of California's last remaining old growth redwood, Port Orford and Douglas fir trees. The measure has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee on Monday. Pacific Lumber spokesperson Erin Dunn said the company does not comment on what its plans are for the treesitters.

GETTING WARMER: As if the beleaguered fish species of the Klamath River basin don't have enough problems what with low water flows, rising water temperatures and increased incidence of disease, they're facing one more menacing trend: global warming. Speaking at a symposium on the Klamath basin being held at HSU this week, Peter Moyle, a University of California, Davis, fish biology professor and one of the authors of an influential report on the state of the Klamath put out by the National Research Council, said that climate change predictions indicate that average air temperatures in California will increase by a few degrees over the next 50 years, and that "that will translate into warmer water temperatures" in the Klamath. If that occurs, temperature-sensitive coho salmon, a federally protected species, are unlikely to survive, and other species will be negatively impacted, Moyle said. One solution he offered was to restore the flows of the Klamath's four main tributaries: the Trinity, Shasta, Scott and Salmon rivers -- much of the water in these rivers currently goes toward irrigation.

ANIMAL SHELTER CONCERNS: This Thursday 5th District Humboldt County Supervisor Jill Geist and other county officials will meet with animal rescue groups to hear their concerns about the new animal shelter in McKinleyville -- the completion of which has been delayed. The project was originally slated to be finished by the end of June -- coinciding with the expiration of the county's contract with the Sequoia Humane Society -- but it now appears the 13,000-square-foot building won't be finished until the end of October. The public works department said that the contractor, Danco Builders, is pushing to finish the east wing of the shelter by July 7, where pets will be temporarily housed. During the first week of July, the county plans to create a small, fenced-off area near the construction site where cats and dogs will be kept in kennels. Animal rescue groups, including K-9 Angels, are particularly concerned about the Fourth of July holiday, typically a time when animals get spooked by loud fireworks and run away from their owners. (Last year, the Sequoia Humane Society took in 26 animals -- most of them dogs -- on July 5.) County animal control workers say that, given the situation with the shelter, they will attempt to locate the owners of lost or abandoned animals as soon as they are picked up instead of housing them overnight.

THE $792,000 QUESTION: In light of the county budget crisis, the Humboldt County Taxpayers League recommended Tuesday that the Board of Supervisors eliminate $792,000 in annual bonuses paid to more than 200 managers in the county's various departments. After hearing the league's presentation, Supervisor John Woolley appeared dubious, saying that the bonuses -- known as "annual benefit allowances" or "deferred compensation" -- have helped the county "keep a great workforce together" over the years. League president Leo Sears acknowledged that the issue was complex, but he urged the county to take it seriously. Sears said that he has watched county government for 35 years and has noticed a disturbing pattern in years of budget crisis: "Every time the cuts come they come from the bottom, not from the top," he said. The board, which last week initiated layoffs of 14 county employees, voted to study the issue further.

COUGAR SIGHTINGS: There were two sightings of a mountain lion on the outskirts of Fortuna's Rohner Park last week, prompting the Fortuna Police Department to issue a warning to the public. Sgt. Kurt Bialous said Monday that it's not uncommon for the big cats to find their way into the town around this time of year, as they must circle their territory during the summer to find new prey. Though the cats have attacked people in other areas of the state, there's no history of attacks in Fortuna, Bialous said: "With ours, they're usually on the move. They don't seem interested in sticking around." Rohner Park remains open, but people are urged to stay alert and keep their children close. Sightings of the lion should be reported to the FPD at 725-7550.

NUKE PLANT UPDATE: Pacific Gas and Electric is providing details on its plan to more securely store the 390 highly radioactive spent fuel rods located at the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant. On Tuesday, plant manager Roy Willis gave the Board of Supervisors a presentation on the utility's plan to "dry cask" the fuel rods at the plant. Dry casking involves putting the rods into metal cylinders, then storing them in concrete silos at the plant site. Because of the long permitting process required for nuclear-related facilities, construction of the silos is not slated to begin until 2007. In the meantime, PG&E is planning a media campaign that will include television ads, an Internet site and a series of public forums -- including one this Saturday at Eureka's Wharfinger Building, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Humboldt Bay is apparently on track to become the first nuclear power plant ever dismantled in the United States -- and nuclear activists are gratified. "They're doing what we'd like them to do, for the most part," said Michael Welch of the Arcata-based energy watchdog Redwood Alliance.

A REPRIEVE: Local tourist promotional agencies breathed a small sigh of relief last week, after the county Board of Supervisors scaled back threatened cuts to their budgets. In total, the board allotted some $80,000 of its 2004-05 budget for promotional grants to the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chambers of Commerce in the "gateway" communities of Garberville, Orick and Willow Creek. Don Leonard, the bureau's executive director, said that his agency will use its $40,000 grant -- down from $80,000 last year -- to keep the Humboldt County Film Commission alive while it seeks support from other quarters. But the visitors bureau will have to cut back its advertising in regional and national magazines and newspapers, Leonard said -- a painful option, given that local hotel occupancy rates were up 5 percent in 2003, the highest increase of any county in the state. "This is the perfect time to be advertising our benefits," he said. "When times are tough, we should not cut our advertising budget. But I don't see what choices we're going to have."

TWO BODIES FOUND: Excessive alcohol intake may have been a factor in the death of two men whose bodies were found recently, the coroner's office said. Troy Lee McClatchey, 40, of Rio Dell, was found on Friday near Blue Slide Road. The second man, a 51-year-old whose name was being withheld pending notification of family, was discovered Monday in his homeless camp under the Samoa Bridge on the west side of Woodley Island, said Deputy Coroner Charlie Van Buskirk.

HSU CLOSED IN HONOR OF REAGAN: Humboldt State University and the rest of the CSU system will be closed on Friday in honor of former president and California governor Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday. College of the Redwoods will remain open.

Fluoride flap
Some want voters to decide what goes into Arcata's drinking water


To supporters, it is one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century. To opponents, it is a sinister threat lurking in the very water we drink.

Fluoride -- and whether the city of Arcata should keep using it -- may become the subject of a ballot measure, since the City Council dodged a decision on the isssue last week.

Noel Hilliard, one of the residents who spoke against fluoride, said he was scheduled to meet with other anti-fluoride residents Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of getting the matter on the November or March ballot.

A group of those concerned about the possible health and environmental dangers of fluoride had asked the council to repeal a 1956 ordinance calling for its addition to the city's water system. Arcatans have been ingesting fluoride ever since, and the medical and dental establishment staunchly affirms its safety and effectiveness, particularly in reducing tooth decay in low-income children.

Hilliard and his wife, Janene, owners of Lamps by Hilliard in Arcata, said they were worried about studies that showed a link between fluoride and various diseases, such as osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and cancer.

"We're erring in the wrong direction here," Noel Hilliard said. "We need to play it safe. I'm scared to death that we're going to be possibly affecting the health of my kids."

Fluoride has become a hot-button issue in communities across the country. Though California law requires the fluoridation of communities with 10,000 or more water hook-ups, some cities have rebelled, either taking fluoride out of systems that had it or banning its use. In the past several years, the cities of Modesto, Redding, Santa Cruz and Watsonville have rejected water fluoridation.

In Humboldt County, most residents go without fluoridated water; it is provided only in Arcata (including Jacoby Creek), within the city limits of Eureka, and in the communities of Hoopa and Scotia. Nationally, California lags behind the rest of the country; 69 percent of the U.S. population receives fluoridated water, but less than 30 percent of Californians do, according to the national Centers for Disease Control.

Dentists and doctors overwhelmingly support the use of fluoride, arguing that its opponents use lies and misrepresentation to curry fear among educated residents.

The contention that all of Europe has banned fluoride, for instance, is "absolutely false," said Dr. Steven Schonfeld, a Eureka dentist. Some communities there have elected to put fluoride in table salt instead of their water systems, and others have community water systems that are not large enough to be able to use fluoride cost-effectively, he said. Fluoride opponents also use questionable scientific studies to sow doubt among residents, when a mountain of research supports its use in water, said Schonfeld, who was a professor of periodontics, microbiology and cariology (the study of tooth decay) at the University of Southern California before moving to Humboldt County.

"It's just unfortunate that a lot of well-meaning people in our community have just accepted this stuff," he said.

Perhaps the most common assertion by the anti-fluoride activists is that the addition of the compound to our water constitutes "mass medication" and takes the choice away from individuals.

"I'm looking for something that gives people options," said Hilliard. "We all have ample supplies of fluoride you can get over the counter or from a prescription."

Arcata resident Kathy Marshall also spoke out against fluoridated water.

"The people in favor of it cite a lot of scientific studies that seem to refute the health concerns of those who are against the fluoridation of water. But the scientific community also cited research that said that DDT was safe," she said, emphasizing that her comments were personal and did not pertain to her position on the Northern Humboldt Union High School board. "Sometimes, I feel that when there are questions, it's better to be cautious."

But taking the fluoride out of Arcata's water will mean that poor children will suffer, said Dr. Howard Hunt, an orthodontist who works with the county's oral health task force and estimates that half of Humboldt children never see a dentist.

"These are the kids who don't get the same opportunities as my kids or your kids," he said. "The people who suffer are our community's most vulnerable. They need all the help they can get."

As for the anti-fluoride activists, "They need to think of what's best for people other than themselves," Hunt said.

CLARIFICATION, June 17: In the above story, the action of the City Council was mischaracterized. The question before the council was whether it should consider removing fluoride from the city's water. Since a majority on the council favored continued fluoridation, no vote was necessary.

Visioning Humboldt Bay
With Calpine a fading memory, 150 gather to discuss the future


Speaking before about 150 people gathered at the Adorni Center Monday, Eureka City Council member Jeff Leonard made what seemed like a debatable statement -- one that he quickly qualified.

"We all want to see some kind of development of Humboldt Bay," Leonard said. "What I mean by that is that we all have in mind something for Humboldt Bay that is not happening today but could be happening tomorrow."

Leonard made the opening remarks at a brainstorming session dubbed "Generating ideas for Humboldt Bay." The sponsor of the three-hour "community forum," the first hour of which was largely taken up by the scarfing of oysters barbecued by Coast Seafoods, was The Humboldt Bay Stewards.

The group is an outgrowth of the Humboldt Bay Watershed Advisory Committee, a collection of timber, fishing, agricultural, environmental and government interests that focuses on the watersheds feeding into the bay. Once members decided the bay itself needed attention, the stewards came into existence, explained Maggy Herbelin, one of the group's leaders.

The forum, if nothing else, was timely. With the decision in March by Calpine, a San Jose energy company, to withdraw its plan to build a liquefied natural gas complex on the Samoa Peninsula, the bay's future is up in the air like never before. The fundamental question, as the forum made clear, is whether to encourage "heavy" industrial projects like Calpine's, or to take a less orthodox path emphasizing conservation.

Herbelin, speaking after Leonard, made reference to the staggering number of plans -- 16 in all -- that pertain in one way or another to the bay, as well as to the differing concepts people have about what should and should not take place in its vicinity. "We need to dialogue amongst ourselves for a better understanding for how these various ideas fit together," Herbelin said.

In attendance at the meeting were a few elected officials, including county supervisors John Woolley and Jimmy Smith, as well as at least one high-ranking municipal staffer, Eureka City Manager David Tyson. Noticeably absent were the five publicly elected commissioners serving on the one body most responsible for the bay: The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

While there wasn't much discussion about the the commissioners Monday night, their lack of attendance was sort of like the elephant in the living room. During a break, Mike Buettner, a member of the Stewards, said that the group "is not trying to compete" with the district, which has put forward a "revitalization plan" for the bay. At the same time, he suggested that one reason for the meeting was to give the public a chance to broach ideas that are not necessarily looked upon with favor by the district, which has a history of favoring development over conservation of the bay. "The harbor district holds public meetings, but they are not necessarily very encouraging of the public," Buettner said.

David Elsebusch, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last fall to unseat longtime commissioner Charles Ollivier, said, in response to a reporter's question that the commissioners are out of touch with the public, most glaringly in that not one of them adequately represents conservation interests.

Conservation concerns were certainly on display Monday night. Fisheries biologist Pat Higgins said during the part of the meeting devoted to audience input that more should be done to turn the bay into an "ecotourism" destination, while another speaker called for a resurrection of a dormant plan to build a network of hiking and biking trails around the bay. One of the speakers, Mark Wheetley, of the California Fish and Game Department, raised something that had been briefly looked into by the watershed advisory council: designating the bay, or at least portions of it, as a "Natural Estuary Research Reserve." Such a step could make available money for scientific research and would be in accord with the most dramatic change that has taken place in and around the bay over the past 30 years, Wheetley said: the increase in public open space.

Conservation didn't ring everyone's bell. Kaye Strickland of Citizens for Port Development told the audience that a top priority should be the "need to bring in good economic development, jobs that will last.

"We need to create sustainable, living wage jobs," she added. "That's my mantra."

Bob Borck of the Humboldt-Del Norte Building Trades Association also called for more conventional forms of development. Saying he'd looked up the word "port" in the dictionary, he said it meant "a place near the ocean used for the movement of goods and materials.

"To me, it's simple," he said. "We need to revitalize and reuse our industrial lands" around the bay.

That provoked concern from another member of the audience, who said that the numerous "brownfield" sites around the bay should be cleared of pollution before any new industrial enterprise is approved.

For the most part, though, this meeting was marked by consensus, not confrontation. Rudy Ramp, a retiree who lives in Arcata, said that there's a need for a written vision statement about what the community wants to see happen with the bay, "so that a company like Calpine doesn't come in here and waste their time."

But when talking to a reporter afterward, he wondered how easy it would be to put such a statement together. "Maybe there are people not here tonight who have different visions," Ramp said.




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