June 15, 2000
The staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees dams, is recommending a 15 percent reduction in the amount of water diverted from the Eel River to the Russian River into Mendocino and Sonoma counties.
The action last week was a victory for farmers and other water users in the south and a blow to environmental and fishery groups in Humboldt County battling for more water for the troubled Eel.
The energy commission staff recommendations are not consistent with recommendations made by the scientific staff of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Two years ago the fisheries service had endorsed a state and federal plan calling for the 15 percent reduction, but in January a letter was released saying the cutback wasn't enough to protect Eel River salmon, which are on the federal endangered species list.
That touched off a brief political firestorm. At the request of grape growers, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the Clinton administration to intervene and in February Gov. Gray Davis publicly backed the Russian River water users, calling the National Marine Fisheries Service to task for changing its position.
Friends of the Eel and others groups advocating less water diversion denounced the recommendations, which will be subject to public hearings before the commission can act.
Frank Egger, a Marin County resident and director of Friends of the Eel, is quoted in Saturday's Santa Rosa Press Democrat as saying, "The last thing we want to do is litigate a state or federal agency, but if in fact they're not doing their job, someone will have to do it."
The plan by Eureka City Councilwoman Cherie Arkley and husband Rob Arkley was to give the city of Eureka $2 million to buy the controversial old railroad yard -- a vacant and contaminated 30-acre parcel known as the balloon tract that was the center of controversy last year in Wal-Mart's failed attempt to locate a store there. In addition, the Arkleys offered another $1 million toward toxic cleanup --few strings attached: Eleven acres were to be used for light industrial use and the rest for parking and a waterfront park, the Arkleys requested.
Citing an obvious conflict, Cherie Arkley excused herself from discussion of the agenda item last Tuesday and after two hours of public debate, a motion was made by Councilmember Connie Miller to accept the Arkleys' gift.
The motion died for lack of a second from Councilmembers Jack McKellar, Maxine Hunter Meeks and the recuperating Jim Gupton, who made a surprise appearance against the advice of his physician.
"I didn't vote against it. I just didn't second it," McKellar told the Journal later. "I think we should have an itemized list of all the costs before we vote."
McKellar said he was being cautious because of two previous city projects. The Adorni Center cost more than originally planned because of toxic cleanup and an industrial parcel on Hilfiker "ended up with four acres" available for development instead of 14 acres as originally estimated.
Larry Henderson, a private planner who says he has financial backers ready to bid on the balloon tract -- albeit at a lesser price -- had urged the council not to buy the parcel "as is" and called for all cleanup costs to be identified before entering escrow.
"He's crazy," said Rob Arkley, who owns Security National Partners, a company that buys and leases commercial property throughout the U.S. "It's like a termite inspection. You don't do due diligence (investigation of potential liabilities) on commercial property until you're in escrow, until you have an agreement. You're wasting your money."
Cherie Arkley said she "was flabbergasted" the offer was turned down.
Miller agreed. "I just couldn't believe it," she said.
Hunter Meeks and Gupton did not return calls.
(For related commentary, see EDITORIAL)
Bill O'Neil, owner of Arcata Readi-Mix, may find that the price of mining gravel has gone up significantly this year -- at least if you choose not to follow the rules.
O'Neil, who has consistently had problems with the regulatory system he is required by law to work under, was found guilty last week on two misdemeanor charges relating to his gravel mining operations.
He had been charged with unlawfully changing the shape of the river bed and not adequately documenting the results of his mining operations. He was convicted on two counts of failure to provide reports called "post-operational cross-sections" to the California Department of Fish and Game. A third count of failure to provide a cross-section was dismissed, and he was acquitted on the charge that he had substantially changed the river bed.
The convictions carry a penalty of up to $5,400 in fines and a maximum of six months in jail.
"We got two important guilty verdicts," said Paul Hagen, who prosecuted the case for the district attorney's office.
O'Neil has fought with the County's Extraction Review Team (CHERT) since the agency's creation in 1992. He has alternately tried to change the composition of the staff of the review team or replace the body with another regulatory scheme entirely. His resistance to CHERT's regulatory authority has in the recent past included actions like his refusing to pay for CHERT's inspections of his mining operations.
Hagen said that the jury trial verdicts were "important for CHERT to be able to do their work. These laws are designed to protect our rivers, to protect our environment. The message is that people who violate the law face prosecution."
"To be three days late with your paperwork is not that big of a crime," said Terri Brandstetter, who handles the environmental paperwork for Arcata Readi-Mix.
When The Redwood Acres Fair opens Wednesday there won't be any Hanks in the show ring, but they'll be around. Alicia Hanks, left, fourth generation cattle rancher, is livestock supervisor for the fair with her mother, Sandra Hanks (right), as her assistant. Alicia's great-grandfather arrived in San Francisco in 1916 from Denmark, migrated to Arcata three years later and began raising cattle. His son, Lee Laursen, took over and also began showing livestock at Redwood Acres. Sandra followed in his footsteps as did Alicia and her brother, Fred. Alicia not only participated throughout high school as a member of Future Farmers of America, she did rodeo. "I roped cows, did goat tying and team roping." For all of the above activities and more, see the complete fair schedule.
Rural Access, a call-in radio show dealing with health issues, will air on public radio station KHSU June 21. The inaugural show will discuss drug abuse in general and specifically Humboldt County's growing methamphetamine problem.
"We know that methamphetamines is a growing problem in Humboldt County," said public health officer Dr. Ann Lindsay, who will be taking part in the show. She pointed out that while only 61 people were admitted to county drug treatment programs for methamphetamine addiction in 1991, last year there were 412 admissions with methamphetamines as the primary drug.
The radio show should help to "encourage broader participation in this issue," Lindsay said.
The show will be broadcast on the third Wednesday of every month at 8 p.m. KHSU broadcasts at 90.5 FM in Arcata, 89.1 FM in Ferndale and 89.3 FM in Garberville. It can also be heard in Crescent City/Brookings over KHSR, 91.9 FM.
The first segment of Rural Access will be broadcast from the Garberville Veteran's Memorial Building, but there are plans to change the location from month to month. To submit questions or comments during the show call 826-4805. For more information call 826-4807.
Recent raises in interest rates may be hitting the local manufacturing sector especially hard, according to the May Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates half a percent since the beginning of the year in an attempt to cool off a potentially overheating economy.
Nationally, the economy seems to have shrugged off the rate hikes.
"It appears that with the continued high rate of consumer spending and home sales, so far there hasn't been a tremendous impact from the interest rates," said Debbie Keeth, managing director for the Index.
The local economy may feel the bite sooner and with greater intensity, however. Normally, interest rates hit consumer retail spending, the housing market and investment spending.
"In this region," Keeth said, "we have the added impact of the manufacturing sector."
Humboldt County manufacturing consists mainly of lumber industries, which in turn rely on the construction industry. Construction is normally financed through loans, which are made more expensive when interest rates increase. In short, the demand for local manufactured products is much more sharply affected by interest rates than on average.
"We're going to have a double impact here," Keeth said. The effects are already showing. Local manufacturing in May was 4.6 percent less than in 1999, 4.2 percent less than in 1998 and 11 percent less than in 1997.
The drop-off in orders for future manufacturing is even more dramatic. May's orders were 23.6 percent less than last year and 39.7 percent less than in 1998.
There was one spot of good news in the report. Claims for unemployment insurance, which the index uses to track the number of newly unemployed, were at the lowest level in May since the Index has been keeping track. They were down a whopping 23.6 percent from April and 39.7 percent less than this time last year.
Statistics from the state's Employment Development Department show that unemployment in Humboldt County at 6.1 percent -- its lowest rate on record during the month of May.
"It is good news in that it seems like almost everybody who wants to work can get a job," Keeth said. But she added that the low unemployment numbers do not say anything about what kind of jobs people have and whether they are earning a living wage.
"Looking at just the unemployment index doesn't differentiate between the types of jobs. It shouldn't be taken as the ultimate indicator."
Out of her tree and very much in the media spotlight, local celebrity Julia Butterfly Hill will be the subject of an hour-long documentary on public television this week.
"Butterfly," part of the series P.O.V. (Point of View), sets Hill's now famous drama in a biographical context and seeks to address aspects of her story otherwise underreported -- like how it feels to be put under the microscope of the media and the myriad of different opinions and emotions evoked in local residents by the young idealist from Arkansas.
"Butterfly" will air on public television affiliate KEET June 20 at 10 p.m.
For $15 you can meet Rep. Mike Thompson, state Sen. Wesley Chesbro and Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin -- and get some fine barbecued chicken to boot.
The Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee's annual "Chicken by the Sea" barbecue and fundraiser is June 24 at the Samoa Women's Club.
Call 476-8833 for more information.
Proposed changes in the rules governing the King Range National Conservation Area could mean backpackers hiking the Lost Coast will have to pay fees and Mattole Valley residents who linger after watching the sunset could be subject to arrest.
The new rules would limit the number of people who can use a camping site, institute a $2 per day fee for the backpacker's parking lot and a $5 per night camping fee at two campgrounds that are currently free.
Daniel E. Averill of the Arcata field office of the Bureau of Land Management said the proposal is a response to perceived problems with the use of Mattole and Honeydew Creek campgrounds and the parking area at Black Sands Beach.
"We're trying to limit the campground occupancy to two vehicles and eight persons per site. The use of the area was getting to the point where they were packing 16 people per site, up to 150 people in the campground area. It just doesn't support that," he said in a phone interview.
According to Averill, the party problem is particularly acute over holidays like the Fourth of July when the crowds have grown to as many as 300 people. Limiting beach use to daytime would end the beach parties.
Under the new rules the Black Sands Beach Recreation Site would be limited to day use or overnight parking for the backcountry trailhead. Anyone found on the beach from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before dawn could be punished by a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to one year.
Petrolia resident Seth Zuckerman opposes the imposition of fees and the limit to the use of the beach. "Public land is there for the public to use," he said in a telephone interview. He sees the rules change as an overreaction, one that casts a net that will catch innocent people.
"If there is a problem with these parties, with noise and underage drinking, there are other ways to deal with them," he said. "The beach has been a commons for a long time, long before the BLM came here. I don't want to see it turned into a pay-per-view recreation zone."
Zuckerman posted a copy of the rules at the Petrolia General Store along with a petition and soon found that many of his neighbors share his opinions.
Averill said that the BLM held public forums and one public meeting in Petrolia before the rules were posted. "We tried to go to the community with an outreach type program saying here's where the problem is, here's what we think the solution could be. Obviously there are some people who don't agree and we're hearing from them."
The proposed changes were listed in the Federal Register May 25. The 30-day public comment period ends June 24. Address all comments to BLM, 1695 Heindon Rd., Arcata, CA. 95521.
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