July 7, 2005
STOEN TO LEAVE DA OFFICE: Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen, the veteran Mendocino County prosecutor who DA Paul Gallegos hired to be his No. 2 in the office, announced last week that he would be leaving his job effective this Friday. He said that Mendocino County DA Norm Vroman had offered him his old job as that county's top white-collar crimes prosecutor a few weeks ago, and he thought that the time was ripe to take it. "It's because I'm a political liability to Paul," Stoen said from his office last week. "It's not justified, but it's real. Basically, the Peoples Temple past gets tagged on to my name every time I do something someone disagrees with." In the '70s, Stoen was attorney and advisor to cult leader Jim Jones, as well as a high-ranking member of his Peoples Temple church (see "Standing in the Shadows of Jonestown," July 31, 2003). Stoen said that local detractors never chose to look at the other side of the story -- the fact that he broke with the church and engaged in a desperate battle to draw the attention of U.S. officials to the dire situation of Temple members at Jonestown, the cult's commune in the South American nation of Guyana. In November 1978, over 900 people died in a mass suicide/murder at Jonestown, including Stoen's son, John Victor. Stoen made his name in Humboldt County as a prosecutor in a number of high-profile, politically charged cases -- including those against former Eureka Inn owner John Biord, Fortuna City Councilmember Debi August and, most prominently, the civil suit against the Pacific Lumber Co. (see this week's cover story.) But throughout his time here, there was nearly always something interesting coming from him, often unrelated to his official duties. In the last election cycle, he made an aborted run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate; despite withdrawing from the race a little over 24 hours after he entered it, he ended up finishing fifth in a field of 11 candidates, with 124,940 votes. Stoen said last week he was looking forward to getting back to Mendocino County and working for Vroman, who he said was "his own man," like Gallegos. He has no regrets about his time in Humboldt County, he said. "I would do everything like I did," he said, "I think, when the smoke clears in a couple of years -- five years -- people will say, hey, he did something really constructive for the county."
EVERGREEN GETS MORE TIME: After an all-day hearing that saw attendees booted from one venue to another as the day wore thin, the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District Hearing Board agreed to extend Evergreen Pulp, Inc.'s variance until Dec. 31. The pulp mill has been operating under a variance since it discovered it wasn't meeting emissions standards. It fixed one problem, but asked for more time to deal with the smelt dissolver scrubber, from which excess emissions have been spewing. Under the extended variance, the mill will be allowed to emit about 40 more tons of particulates than emissions standards allow, providing Evergreen meets a number of conditions designed to finally clean up the scrubber and bring the mill into compliance. Not all of the district's requests were met, however. "We were disappointed in the hearing board's decision not to require [Evergreen] to reimburse the district for the cost incurred in evaluating their proposal," said Lawrence Odle, the district's air pollution control officer. The evaluation cost the district $60,000. "We also were disappointed the board didn't require in-stack monitoring." Odle is peeved at how long Evergreen has drawn out the situation, especially since the mill has been in violation of emissions standards for years. Evergreen had to have known that a new scrubber was recommended by its own staff, said Odle. "When that pulp mill was bought, they bought the whole show, and that included the employees' knowledge," he said "The employees knew this mill was in violation. They knew they needed an additional scrubber. And that in itself is astonishing."
PRIEST ABUSE CASES REACHING CLOSURE: The Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Diocese reached a $7.3 million settlement last week that closes eight of nine lawsuits filed against it between 2002 and 2003 on behalf of victims of child sex abuse by three of the diocese's priests, according to a report in the June 30 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Adding that amount to past settlements, the diocese has now paid $19.2 million over the past four decades to victims of sex abuse by priests. In all, the diocese reports that 16 of its priests were accused of abusing 59 children during that period. Two of the recently settled cases involved former Humboldt County priest Gary Timmons. As reported in past North Coast Journal coverage of the cases, Timmons was convicted of molesting boys at Camp St. Michael, which he founded in 1964, in northern Mendocino County. He also was accused in 1996 of molesting a Humboldt County boy while he served as a priest at St. Bernard's parish in Eureka. Timmons served four years of an eight-year sentence. He now lives in Sacramento, according to the Megan's Law website (www.meganslaw.ca.gov), which tracks registered sex offenders. The last of the nine cases also involved Timmons. It may go to trial, according to comments made by the alleged victim's attorney, Katherine Freberg, to the Press-Democrat.
LAKE COUNTY SPURNS BERG, CHESBRO: Lake County has officially lost its confidence in local-grown state legislators Patty Berg and Wes Chesbro, and last week sent miffed letters to the two telling them so. On June 28, the Lake County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 (a fifth supervisor was not at the meeting) to write a letter of "no confidence" to Sen. Chesbro (D-Arcata) and Assemblywoman Berg (D-Eureka) for their roles leading to the passage of Senate Bill 1049. The bill caused a 418 percent increase in the fee the county must pay to the state Division of Safety of Dams. "In return for the State's mandatory fee of $10,810, we receive two safety inspections per year," reads the supervisors' no-confidence letter, sent June 29 to Chesbro and Berg. (Lake County Assistant Clerk to the Board Georgine Hunt faxed the letter to the Journal.) "It places a significant burden on our small Flood Zone District, which must pay this fee. This District receives only $14,000 per year in property tax revenue and it's a disgrace that most of this revenue must now be used to pay the state fee, leaving almost no funding for the actual operation of these important facilities." The board chastises Berg for voting repeatedly for the bill, and Chesbro for not voting against it (he didn't vote on it at all, in the end).
BIG WATER SHOES TO FILL: The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District is searching for a new board director to take the place of Division 3 Director Lloyd Hecathorn, who died last week at St. Joseph's Hospital. Whoever applies for the position will not only be responsible for helping shape the Humboldt Bay region's water future -- not a sexy job, but essential -- but will have to step into the shoes of a man who served for almost half the lifetime of the 50-year-old district. Hecathorn, 84, served 24 and a half years, longer than any other director, during a time that saw the construction of a $10.5 million turbidity reduction facility in Eureka (dedicated two years ago to Hecathorn), a domestic water storage facility in Korblex, an industrial water diversion facility in Essex, and a hydroelectric plant at Ruth Lake, not to mention a myriad policy decisions, occasional leaks and, of course, the infamous Mad River water bag scheme. Harold Hunt, who served 12 years on the district before losing in last year's election to Randy Turner, says the most important role of the district in all that time was "paying the bills and keeping everybody happy." Hecathorn was good at that, he says. "Lloyd always had the best interest of the end user at heart," Hunt says. "He was very well liked. He'd been in business here, and he knew what it was like to meet payroll." Meeting payroll became a hot issue when one of the two pulp mills on Samoa closed. Up until then, 80 percent of the cost of running the district's water system was funded by industrial customers. That dropped to 45 percent with the mill's closure. Other users' rates rose. And the biggest, costliest issue facing the new director and cohorts will be maintaining the 50-year-old water system, says water district business analyst John Palmquist. So, it's a serious job. But who knows? Maybe the Mad River water bags scheme will resurface to spice things up. "Lloyd? Oh, he couldn't stand the thought of" bagged Mad River water floating south to quench other cities' thirst, says Hunt. "There's no way in hell we would've approved it. You'd have a war up here." The new director will join two other newcomers, elected last November, and two relative old-timers who've served since 1993 and 1995.
CORRECTIONS: Through no fault of the writer or the subject, Timber Heritage Association President Marcus Brown was mistakenly identified as "president of the North Coast Railroad Authority" in a photo caption in last week's cover story, "[t]rail" (June 30). Also, reader "Tugboat Annie" notes that the device referred to as a "winch" in "Port of Call" (June 23) is, in fact, a capstan. [corrected in the online version] The Journal regrets the errors.
story & photo by HELEN SANDERSON
AT A "WALKABILITY AUDIT" IN MANILA LAST WEEK, hosted by the Humboldt Partnership for Active Living (HumPAL), Manila residents, health advocates and local officials discussed what is preventing people from strolling the streets of their neighborhood.
In spite of the natural beauty that saturates the town, Manila is not a welcoming bastion for walkers -- there are no sidewalks and no bike lanes, loose dogs, flooded roadways, blind turns and a maze of dead ends that thwart non-motorized fun. But chief among the problems plaguing pedestrians is State Route 255, a two-lane, 55 mph highway that bisects the 1,000-person town from east to west, separating the dunes from the park, the community center from the market, neighbor from neighbor.
"Unless their environment is inviting, people have a hard time integrating physical activity into their daily routine," said Jen Rice, natural resources services project coordinator for the Redwood Community Action Agency, the umbrella agency and fiscal sponsor for HumPAL.
Part of the problem, aside from a perceived lack of time and laziness (which people admitted to in a survey), is that Humboldt County, being large and sparsely populated, is, in many ways, better suited for driving than walking or bicycling. On top of that, each town -- particularly the unincorporated ones like Manila -- has unique hurdles hampering the path to fitness friendliness. HumPAL's function is to assist communities in prioritizing repairs and to help local governments pursue grant funding for the fixes.
In small ways, Manilans have tried over the years to make a less-than-ideal situation more pleasant for pedestrians. Joy Dellas, a Manila Community Services District member and artist, has painted signs imploring motorists to "Slow Down in Our Town." To create a grassy sidewalk, one resident reliably mows a long, shoulderless stretch of Peninsula Drive, which runs parallel and cuts perpendicular to 255.
But so far, no amount of grassroots endeavoring has made the dash across the highway, where an average of 5,400 vehicles travel daily, any less frightening.
"It's scary to walk around here," said Salena Kahle, an 18-year Manila resident and member of the Traffic Safety Committee. "We haven't had a death yet and hopefully it won't take that to make changes."
The number of accidents on the road is too low -- six collisions a year on average and 2.5 injuries -- to justify changing the speed limit, unlike the accident-burdened, seven-mile stretch of Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata that was ramped down from 65 mph to 50 mph in 2002.
But while the slower speeds reduced the accident rate on the safety corridor it simultaneously made the alternative route through Manila more dangerous. Within six months of the safety corridor's opening, State Route 255 saw a 30 percent swell in traffic, according to CalTrans. Accidents have risen too, from an annual average of 4.2 collisions to six.
Shortly after Highway 101 reduced its speed limit, the Humboldt County Association of Governments hired Santa Rosa firm Whitlock and Weinberger Transportation Inc. to look into the hazards on 255 and suggest improvements in a report called the Manila Community Traffic Safety Plan.
Phase II of the four-phase draft plan was initiated last month. The report notes that while the Manila highway does not fall within the accident rate parameters that merit a speed limit restriction, there is a "flexibility" provision where roads that have unique circumstances can qualify for a speed adjustment. Other recommendations made for quelling traffic include refuge medians for pedestrians, roundabouts and a gateway monument to remind motorists that they are driving through a neighborhood, not just zipping down another highway. Of the rejected traffic control possibilities were lighted signals and all-way stops, which could worsen traffic problems.
But while these projects look nice on paper, the chance that they will take shape anytime soon is slim, as the state faces a backlog of transportation work amid a budget shortfall.
"There won't be money available to implement those things for quite a long time,' said Dellas. "We are saying, `Just lower the speed limit.' It would be the simplest and least expensive way to solve our the problems."
by HEIDI WALTERS
CONSERVATIONISTS MAY HAVE HACKED A SIGNIFICANT cut into the Bush Administration's controversial Healthy Forests Initiative last week when a judge granted their request to stop (for now) the Forest Service from logging old growth trees in the Six Rivers National Forest that burned during the 2004 Sims fire.
Yes, spotted owls had something to do with it. That, and the Forest Service's dismissal of new evidence that shows that old growth forests might retain critical habitat value even after they've burned.
"The Forest Service got their biologist to say the burned forest is not one the owls can use," said Scott Greacen of the Environmental Protection Information Center. EPIC is one of several groups suing the Forest Service over the proposed Sims Fire salvage sale, saying it violates the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws. "So, they said there would be no significant impact. But there's a fairly significant chunk of evidence that shows spotted owls do use burned forests, even severely burned forests. They hunt in them, because there's a lot of life in them."
The Sims fire burned 4,039 acres of public and private forest. Six Rivers Forest Supervisor Jeff Walter in May approved the helicopter logging of 6.1 million board feet of timber from 169 acres of the burned forest in Humboldt County, including 124 acres within the Grouse Creek Late Successional Reserve and 57 acres of critical spotted owl habitat. Walter used a "categorical exclusion" rule under the Healthy Forests Initiative that allows up to 250 acres of burned forest to be logged and a half a mile of road to be built without environmental assessment, as long as no protected species are harmed. Walter's May 17 decision memo authorizing the salvage sale cited a need to "accelerate the development ... of old-growth conditions by setting the stage for reforestation of salvaged areas," and to "capture economic value" of salvaged trees.
The salvage sale went up for bid, and although the high bidder -- Sierra Pacific Industries, at $661,791 -- was identified, the bid has not been granted yet.
The conservation groups blasted the Forest Service decision. They pointed to a recent Oregon State University study of the Timbered Rock wildfire burn in Oregon, in which researchers tracked five spotted owls and observed them using the burned trees. They also noted University of Washington old-growth expert Jerry Franklin's work on the Biscuit Fire recovery project, in Oregon. The 2002 Biscuit Fire burned mostly in late-successional reserves, areas set aside by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan as refugia for old-growth-dependent species such as the northern spotted owl. In his report on that project, Franklin wrote that these reserves were "designed to accommodate large, intense natural disturbances and allow for natural recovery processes." He said spotted owls depend on forest prey that live in snags and downed trees, and that "salvage of large snags and logs is absolutely antithetical to rapid recovery of late-successional forest habitat."
The groups noted that the area to be logged also contains critical habitat for two other species that, like the northern spotted owl, are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act: the coho salmon and the marbled murrelet. "And there's another species, the black-headed woodpecker, that seems to depend on burned forests," said Greacen.
The Forest Service's decision to log ignored the new evidence of the spotted owls' use of burned forests, said U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, in San Francisco. She found the evidence compelling enough to stop the salvage sale so she could study the case more closely. She also was unmoved by the Forest Service's plea for haste to allay financial loss from the declining value of the burned timber.
"On balance," wrote Illston in her June 27 order, "the Court finds that plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable harm if the Court does not grant the motion for a preliminary injunction, based on the environmental value of the trees subject to logging and the irreversible nature of logging. Additionally, [the Forest Service]'s only harm is economic, which has been found to be of significantly less importance than environmental harm when courts determine irreparable harm."
If the judge later decides to permanently ban the proposed salvage, it will mark the first time old-growth salvage logging has been stopped since passage of the Healthy Forests Initiative in 2002. Greacen said he hopes such a decision would lead to an overhaul of the initiative itself.
"One of the things the Healthy Forests Initiative did was set up a series of regulatory loopholes [called categorical exclusions] under NEPA" that exclude certain projects from environmental review, Greacen said. The Forest Service already had some exclusionary leeway under previous law -- "like, to repaint the bathroom at the ranger station," says Greacen. But the Healthy Forests Initiative was passed amid a climate of fear following a storm of wildfires in the summer of 2002, blamed on years of fire suppression. It made it easier to log burned old-growth trees without public scrutiny first.
"It's a big loophole they've created, and they're inviting the Forest Service to drive as many logging trucks through it as they can," said Greacen. The particular category the Forest Service used to exclude the Sims salvage sale from environmental review is particularly egregious, he said. "This whole idea that you can presumably log 250 acres of burned forest without environmental effects -- we think that's too broad," said Greacen. "What we would really like is that the judge is going to say, `This whole category is a problem.'"
If the category isn't changed, said Greacen, old growth forests could be in danger of "death by a thousand cuts."
"String `em together -- over the next 20 years, there are going to be fires in late-successional old growth," he said. "And what's going to happen to all that old growth" if it can be logged? Worst case scenario? "The effect of salvage would be to create more plantations" which lack the biodiversity of old growth, Greacen said. "If you get more public forests into plantations, they won't be locked up in habitat."
Because the case is in litigation, Six Rivers National Forest officials declined to comment for this story.
Comments? Write a letter!
© Copyright 2005, North Coast Journal, Inc.