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June 22, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

Stuck in dry dock
fixes for the troubled Klamath River fishery move slowly, slowly

THE BEAUTIFUL TIE: The first round of the World Cup will wrap up this week, and the United States' place in the second round in precarious at best. Barring a tough victory over World Cup rookie-country Ghana on Thursday, coupled with an Italian win over the Czechs, the U.S. will probably have to wait until 2010 in South Africa to prove they can play "the beautiful game." If you spent any time watching ESPN over the last two months, though, you may have been persuaded to believe that the U.S. were among the top-tier teams who could bring home the most lusted-for trophy in the world. Turns out that while we're no longer soccer laughing-stocks, the best football we play is still on the gridiron.

But that hasn't deterred the growing population of American soccer fans from showing their support. The first U.S. game to be broadcast at a reasonable hour on the West Coast (noon) coincided with the Oyster Festival in Arcata. As if a midday soccer game wasn't reason enough to get drunk, the combined Oyster Fest made it a license to get loaded. By the time I wandered into The Sidelines on the plaza a few minutes before kickoff of the U.S.-Italy game, the place was already filled with faded football fans. Pitchers were gleefully passed around as Sidelines staff attempted to squeeze the last bit of profit out of their alcohol coffers before they're forced to stop serving drinks this week (their license has been suspended for 30 days starting Thursday, though they will continue to stay open and show Cup games on their dual plasma screens). For a nation full of fair-weather soccer fans, the standing-room-only crowd was able to muster some legitimate displays of passionate enthusiasm, hanging on every U.S. pass and threatening cross through the penalty box. When the U.S. finally did score, the bar erupted into deafening burst of excitement, followed by nervous giggles when replays showed Italy actually scored on itself.

For a change of venue (and to find a seat), I ventured over to Humboldt Brews to catch the second half. I couldn't find a seat, but I did find a similarly sized crowd, composed of more serious soccer fans (decked out in a variety of soccer jerseys) and fewer scenesters. The vibe was not quite as jubilant, but all eyes were fixated on the plasma screen. Plus the U.S. had just been awarded two ridiculous red cards and were playing undermanned, so the nervousness was palpable as the game remained deadlocked at 1-1. Shouts of "Have it!" (soccer-speak for "take a shot!") erupted whenever the U.S. approached Italy's goal. The game ended in a well-earned draw, much to the dismay of grumbling supporters. A tie in a sporting event is just so ... un-American.

I also stopped by Jalisco Café in Eureka the day before to catch the Mexico-Angola match, which also ended in a tie. I was surprised at how few supporters were there to watch the game. Of course, it was the middle of a weekday. The waiter at Jalisco assured me that they do get reasonable crowds from time to time. But word on the street is that many Mexicans are frustrated with their underachieving national squad. At least they've won a game.

— Luke T. Johnson


BALLOON TRACK TOXIC TERRAIN: On Monday, Citizens for Real Economic Growth held a community forum on the chemical-laden Balloon Track entitled "Solutions to Toxics." The discussion turned from pollution to politics as Chris Kerrigan, Eureka City Council's lonely liberal, invoked the 100-or-so attendees to vote in November for candidates that are more like himself. Thus far the young councilman has been the council's sole dissenter to Rob and Cherie Arkley's proposals to build a Home Depot — among other stores and offices — on the blighted waterfront property. The couple plans to buy the 32-acre site from Union Pacific Railroad, cap the polluted soil with concrete and start building a mixed-use complex to be called the Marina Center. Kerrigan said Eureka should take a cue from the efforts of municipalities like Sacramento and Truckee, where the governments solicited ideas from residents on how best to develop their wasted switching yards before breaking ground.

On Tuesday, Larry Glass, a CREG member and Eureka business owner, said that while toxics have remained a key issue for Eureka residents, it's not actually the foremost reason some residents disapprove of the Marina Center. "The number one concern of everybody, and this is even the people who think Home Depot is the best thing since sliced bread, is the way the public was shut out of the process," he said. "The next is that this fat cat corporation [Union Pacific] has done nothing to clean it up and that city government has never prompted them to clean it up."

— Helen Sanderson



PALCO RELIEF: As first reported by John Driscoll in the Times-Standard last week, a trio of guys based in Colorado Springs, Colo., have bought an unspecified number of acres from Scotia Pacific, the subsidiary of Pacific Lumber Co. that owns most of its trees, for around $7.95 million. Palco/Scotia had announced it would sell pieces of its 220,000 acreage — some ranch lands, non-resource lands, timberlands. And it had been rumored for some time that a Colorado firm was readying to relieve Scotia P. of some of that land (which in turn would produce cash to relieve Palco of some of its considerable debt, or at least help it pay the next $26 million interest installment on that debt).

Resource Land Holdings's partners — Joseph Leininger (who started the company in 1998), James Geisz and Aaron Patsch — were all on the road Tuesday and unreachable, so we don't know yet what they plan to do with the properties. On their website they describe their mission — acquisitions — as seeking "land-based investments in undercapitalized asset classes" with a focus on "agriculture, timber, quarry and other resource properties." They've previously gobbled up acres of apple trees in Washington State.

During "depressed economic cycles," says RLH, when the local guys can't quite reach for that capital, RLH steps in "as a source of opportunistic capital, frequently investing alongside local partners and entrepreneurs."

— Heidi Walters


BIG TREE HUG: Pacific Lumber and some local forest activists, entangled in the case Pacific Lumber Co. v. Remedy et al. and associated cross-complaints since 2003, have agreed to settle instead of going to trial. Palco had accused the treesitters of trespassing following a series of sits in the spring of 2003. Five treesitters filed cross complaints against Palco and treesit extractor Eric Schatz, alleging a number of things, including assault, negligence, forcible entry and battery.

Jeny Card — whose forest name is Remedy — dropped her cross-complaint earlier this year, but she was still facing Palco's charges and the potential of having to pay the company's legal fees and costs if she lost. Now she and Palco have settled, and they'll manage their own expenses. The other remaining cross-complainants have also settled. Only one defendant, Kim Starr (not a treesitter, but an activist associated with those events and others), has not settled and still faces Palco's charges.

Last week, in an e-mail noting the settlements, Schatz' attorney Andy Stunich said the treesitters "knew they would lose at trial," which had been set to begin June 19.

"It is too bad that the protesters wasted so much in the way of Sheriff Department resources and judicial resources," wrote Stunich. "However, at least they are not going to waste jurors' time with an unnecessary trial. That they dismissed their cases speaks volumes about the lack of merit of their cases."

Daniel Kosmal, who represented two other treesitters who had filed cross-complaints against Schatz and Palco — Kristi Sanchez and Scott Petersen — said this Tuesday that both sides agreed that they would not reveal the terms of the settlement, except for one: that in the future, Pacific Lumber would give treesitters 10 days notice before removing them.

The 10-day notice, he admitted, doesn't change things too much on the ground (or up in the tree) — there could still be these standoffs in the future. It just establishes the law more clearly and "buys everyone a little breathing time." During that time, the treesitter can go to court and try to obtain a preliminary injunction against the company, if the company "hasn't gone through the proper legal channels."

So why settle? Did the treesitters' case lack merit? "Absolutely not," said Kosmal. The case just had too much gray area, he said, that involved the tricky realm of squatters' law. "Both the company and my clients decided that this agreement was a step forward."

— Heidi Walters



Stuck in dry dock
Fixes for the troubled Klamath River fishery move slowly, slowly


If this were an ordinary year, right about now Dave Bitts would be out in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere to the west of San Francisco, catching the Chinook salmon that give him his living. He would be bringing Klamath River fish back home, providing Humboldt County with one of its favorite foods, and he'd be at it for most of the summer.

That's in an ordinary year. On Tuesday morning, Bitts was down at the dry dock in Fields Landing. His boat, Elmarue, was up on blocks at one side of the lot. Four or five other trawlers were propped up around the yard — quite a lot, especially for this time of year. Like Bitts, their owners were making the best of a bad situation. None of them would have much of a season this year. Even when they do put to the sea, later this summer, they'll be struggling to make a profit — in addition to a sharply increased limits on their catch, they have to contend with skyrocketing fuel prices. In the meanwhile, Bitts and his colleagues worked on their boats.

Back in April, the Pacific Fishery Management Council — an advisory body charged with managing fish stocks on the West Coast — voted to all but cancel the 2006 salmon season. The U.S. Department of Commerce affirmed the decision shortly after. The reason: The population of adult Chinook expected to return to the Klamath in the fall was at a desperate low, and the future of the Klamath fishery — one of the most productive on the West Coast not long ago — appeared to be in grave danger.

For Bitts, a 58-year-old grey-bearded veteran of the trade, the closure of the season was a disappointment, but it wasn't that big of a surprise. He's watched Klamath stocks of Chinook and coho salmon dwindle over the last few years, in response to disease, low flows and poor water quality. Nowadays, he's one of the many West Coast fishermen who have had to learn to navigate state and federal bureaucracy like they do the waters of their home ports. On Tuesday morning, Bitts wore a T-shirt from the Northcoast Environmental Center and a baseball cap from Pierson's Building Center — a hybrid red-state/blue-state getup not uncommon to local commercial fishermen.

While he tinkered around with the Elmarue, checking out a new propeller and testing his hull for leaks, Bitts spoke about the news from Sacramento a couple of weeks ago — the notice that Gov. Arnold Schwarzegger had declared a natural disaster in response to the severely curtailed salmon season, which qualifies fishermen for emergency loans. Bitts understood the reasoning, he said, but the fact of the matter was that in itself, the governor's decision wouldn't help matters much. Who's going to borrow money at a time like this?

"The declaration of a disaster is a key, because it cleans to way for federal action," he said. "Their offer of loans is more problematic. What we want is some assurance that there will be a salmon fishery in the future."

The "federal action" Bitts referred to was a concerted effort on the part of members of Congress representing the coastal regions of California and Oregon — the commercial fishermen most affected by the Klamath River's suffering fishery — to find money not only to give some assistance to fishermen and related industries this year, but to fund some serious, long-term fixes to the complicated problems on the Klamath, a river that upstream farmers, hydropower companies and coastal fishermen all have a stake in. (See the Journal's Aug. 25, 2005 cover story, "Klamath Doldrums," for more background on the problems on the river.)

Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon threatened to block passage of a bill pertaining to the management of the nation's fishing stocks unless a provision to the bill was added that would make West Coast salmon fishermen eligible for disaster relief funds. The provision was added, and the bill passed the Senate on Tuesday. Perhaps more importantly, the version of the bill passed Tuesday gives the Dept. of Commerce a hard deadline — about six months from now — to prepare and deliver a long-delayed recovery plan for the Klamath. The department had been ordered to write and implement such a plan previously, but to date it has shown little interest in getting the thing done.

Next up is the more difficult factor in the equation — getting the federal government to actually set aside funds. Currently, Rep. Mike Thompson, the North Coast's delegate in the House of Representatives, is pushing for $80 million to provide immediate assistance for fishing industries and $40 million more to fund whatever work the Dept. of Commerce's recovery plan identifies as most necessary to restore the health of the river, and to bring back the fish. Matt Gerein, Thompson's press secretary, said Tuesday that though Thompson's bill seems to be stalled for the moment, he believes that it will move forward. "Right now the bill still remains in committee, but Congressman Thompson is looking at avenues of getting it through," Gerein said. Specifically, he said, the congressman is trying to get Klamath funds attached to one of the other appropriation bills that will be working their way through Congress in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, many fish advocates are decrying what they call a lack of leadership exhibited by the federal agencies charged with maintaining the health of the river, and ensuring that the salmon population remains viable. In the fall of 2002, around 65,000 adult salmon were killed in a massive die-off on the river because of diseases exacerbated by poor water quality conditions, a story that made national news and galvanized fishing interests; since that time, according to many, federal regulators have been unwilling to take decisive action to improve Klamath water quality and insure a sufficient supply of water from the upstream Klamath Project, a federal irrigation system in southern Oregon and northeasten California that supplies farmers with Klamath water.

"They've not been helpful in this whole process," said Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith of NOAA Fisheries, the branch of the Dept. of Commerce that was charged with developing a recovery plan for the Klamath. Smith, a former fisherman who has been involved in negotiations over the removal of several hydropower plans on the river, said that the agencies' feet-dragging on the issue of recovery has been unconscionable. "They need to come up with some plans," he said.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the San Francisco-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, echoed Smith's sentiments, and added that the many restoration plans underway on several of the Klamath tributaries would not amount to much if the problems on the main stem are not dealt with — and he warned that his association and others will be ready to intensify their efforts in the legal arena if regulatory agencies do not show more interest in bringing back the fish.

"There's lots of small projects that are going on, many of them good ones, but there's no big plan," he said. "Moreover, there are no contingency plans — there's no contingency plan for what happens if there's another disease outbreak, there's no contingency plan for what happens if there's another dry year. But we're not going to sit by and let our industry die. If they're so incompetent and indifferent, we're going to have to step to the plate, and they're going to have to get the hell out of the way."



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