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August 4, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

A careful walk in the woods with PALCO

Reggae moves upriver


The Weekly Wrap

FORTUNA MAYOR TOM COOKE DIES SUDDENLY: Fortuna Mayor and longtime public official Tom Cooke died last weekend while visiting family in Santa Cruz. Cooke, 52, who was known for his careful and judicious dealings in local affairs, died in his sleep at his brother's home, where he stayed overnight on his way back from a California League of Cities meeting in Monterey. The cause of Cooke's death was unknown at press time, but he was reported to have had heart problems in the past. Before he began his stint on the City Council in 2000, Cooke was the general manager of the Humboldt Community Services District and had worked for more than 20 years for the Fortuna Public Works Department. On Tuesday evening, the Humboldt Community Services District Board held a meeting to discuss how to fill Cooke's position. The city of Fortuna has 30 days to decide whether to appoint a new council member or to hold a special election for the vacant seat. Cooke is survived by his wife, Cynthia, and his son, Garet. A memorial service has not yet been scheduled.

PALCO FLOATS DEBT PLAN: The Pacific Lumber Co. has been struggling to keep its business afloat since the beginning of the year. One of the options it has toyed with is letting its subsidiary, Scotia Pacific -- the legal entity that holds all of the company's land, some 220,000 acres, as well as its $700 million in debt -- slide into bankruptcy. Earlier in the year, the Los Angeles Times story reported that company officials had met with Gov. Schwarzenegger's staff to outline what they thought such a bankruptcy would look like. ScoPac's debt holders would likely take over the timber lands, the company reportedly said, and according to its legal analysis the new owners of the land would not be bound by any environmental agreements the company had previously made, such as ScoPac's Habitat Conservation Plan. But on Monday, the company announced that it had hatched a plan that would just stop short of that. Under the terms of the proposed deal, current holders of ScoPac debt would take a 90 percent ownership stake in the company in exchange for assuming an additional $300 million in debt. Maxxam, corporate parent of Pacific Lumber, would retain a 10 percent stake in the company and continue to own the Pacific Lumber milling operation in Scotia. ScoPac's debtors must approve the deal, a process that could take several months, according to Tuesday's San Francisco Chronicle report.

GET LOST, POMBO: Lost Coast, that is, heh heh. And it's true: Wilderness proponents, trying to get the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act passed, would dearly like to see U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, chair of the House Resources Committee, finally "get" what the Lost Coast is all about. "It's the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the United States," says Dave Reckess, of the California Wilderness Coalition. It would be "a crown jewel of the wilderness system," says the Bush administration. Also called the King Range, and one element of the proposed wilderness act, the Lost Coast is a sudden pristine cast of turquoise water and bright sand that appears before you after you've wound through the redwoods west of Ferndale and topped a grassy hill. It stretches from Shelter Cove to the mouth of the Mattole. Much of the thick, wild forestland in between the coast and the inland towns of Humboldt and Mendocino counties is also part of the King Range National Conservation Area. Under the wilderness bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and California Democrats Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, 41,000-plus acres of that will be designated wilderness, which means it'll be protected from development and vehicular onslaught. The bill also would designate 85,000 acres of wilderness in the Six Rivers National Forest, 110,000 acres in the Mendocino National Forest and 80,000 acres under BLM stewardship, and designate as wild and scenic 21 miles of the Black Butte River, a tributary of the Eel. Last year, Pombo canned a similar bill. But the bill has broad support. It has passed the Senate. It has many Republicans on board. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger likes it. But Pombo, who didn't return our phone call, is a question. In last Sunday's editorial, the Sacramento Bee said Pombo may not be able to get away with sideswiping the bill this time -- too many people watching him. The Bee, saying it had heard Pombo may wait until October to make his decision, implored: "If Pombo has extra concerns, he should articulate them and bring everyone together to resolve them. The Lost Coast is too important to become a lost opportunity."

RIVER TRAGEDY: We love our rivers. We fight for them, insist on enough water flowing through them to sustain the fish that use them like an umbilical to the sea. In the summer we worship their cool, swift waters and deep pools, and paddle and float to our heart's content. But sometimes we have to turn away, aghast at their power to claim lives at random -- on beautiful summer days, when the only prescription is for fun and coolness. On Monday, a 24-year-old pregnant woman, Celia Pulino of Ferndale, drowned in the Eel River at Federation Grove, where the Eel and the South Fork of the Eel come together. "She couldn't swim," said Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager. "She was just wading in the water where it's shallow, and then she dropped off suddenly in the deep part and drowned." Last weekend, 14-year-old Abby Mohon drowned in the Trinity River, when the inner tube she was in flipped and her ankle became ensnared in a half-submerged tree. She was unable to break free, and the swift current pulled her under, said Jager. It took nearby boaters, struggling against the same swift current, 30 minutes to pull her from under the water. Her drowning was the second tragedy to hit the Mohon family, of Willow Creek, in less than a year -- Abby was the younger sister of Amanda Mohon, a soldier who was severely injured last December in a bombing in Mosul, Iraq, and returned home to Willow Creek in February. There have been more river drownings: On the afternoon of July 11, 3-year-old Melhavon "Ellie" Bigovitch, of Hoopa, disappeared in the Trinity while his family was on the shore; his body was later found in the river near where he'd gone missing. And on July 13, a young man from Korea drowned while swimming in the Eel River with a friend he was visiting at Alderpoint. "They spent the day working on his friend's deck," said Jager, "and then they decided to go for a swim." Another swimmer died this year in the Trinity River in Trinity County. "All of these could have been prevented had they been wearing life jackets," Jager said. Many businesses loan life jackets, for the day or weekend at no cost, including: Tsunami Surf & Sport in Shelter Cove and Garberville, K'ima:w Medical Center in Hoopa, the Tsewenaldin Inn in Hoopa and Bob's Shopping Center in Willow Creek.

CLUB WEST OUT, INDIGO IN: Sure, it may have been sparsely attended, and the clientele at times were, well, queer, but Club West -- and in particular its Sunday night Club Triangle for "alternative lifestyles" (i.e. gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and their friends) -- was the perennial and lone hangout for gays over 18 years old. The Eureka dance club, which also hosted regular hip hop and '80s nights and occasional live shows, was recently taken over by local racecar driver Geoff Brandon from long-time owner Courtney Roberts. Prior to Club West's last weekend hurrah, Roberts said Friday that while tears have been shed in the process of relinquishing his establishment, which he is leasing to Brandon, he is enthused by the new owner's plans to spruce up the joint: "I'm seeing the furniture that he's putting in, the new flooring and the lighting and the sound -- it's going to be really hot." And while the new club will certainly have a gay-sounding name -- "Indigo" -- there are no plans for a straight-ahead, alternative lifestyle night. Still, Roberts said that as far as he knows, the GLBT crowd plans to keep showing up Sundays. But those under 21 are hereby disinvited. Sorry, kids: In the past Club West had run-ins with the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control, and the new owner has made it clear that he would prefer to bypass that hassle. While the new digs get redesigned Roberts said he will look into a new business venture in Scottsdale, Ariz.: "I've been looking into doing a possible franchise with [nutritional supplement retailer] GNC. I'm looking more in that direction rather than being in the entertainment industry," Roberts said.

CORRECTION: In last week's story, "Big Lagoon Rancheria's casino dream awakens," we incorrectly attributed the comment that the casino will make the 18 members of the Big Lagoon Rancheria "instant millionaires" to Tom Shields, spokesperson for BarWest. Actually, it was city of Barstow spokesperson John Rader who said that. The article also incorrectly stated that the Los Coyotes Tribe has a state gaming compact, when in fact it and the Big Lagoon tribe are still waiting for their compacts to be signed by the governor. Also, Shields says the Los Coyotes tribe has 300 members, not 130. Finally, Big Lagoon Rancheria Chairman Virgil Moorehead clears up his comment about the Chemehuevi not having a compact: "They do have a compact, but it is not for Barstow."
[The online version has been corrected.]

A careful walk in the woods with PALCO


[Man looking out over forest, and wearing t-shirt reading "California Regional Water Quality Control Board, North Coast Region"]Deep in the forest was a pretty tableau: Several dozen people lounging in the ferny duff, amid the tall trees and towering crisscrossed wooden pillars of an old railroad trestle, eating lunch from boxes. In the middle of the scene languished a tea-colored puddle in a muddy gulch called Bridge Creek. Along one bank of the creek, two gentlemen reclined against a log listening to the conversations around them and playing cribbage, the little tan board set on the brown earth, the cards in their relaxed hands flashing bright spots of color. A conversational murmur and the occasional titter or guffaw barely rippled the peaceful silence. One half-expected everyone to drop amiably into a nap, slip into the past, safe from the pressing inland summer heat just beyond the trees.

But this was no ordinary picnic, the amiability was hard-won and the heat did press in -- the heat of ire between neighbors, geologists, activists, state officials and the Pacific Lumber Co, some of them embroiled in lawsuits. This was the mid-day break during last Friday's tour of the Freshwater Creek and Elk River watersheds, attended by about 80 people packed onto two buses. The tour was put on by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, in coordination with Palco, which owns nearly 80 percent of the two watersheds, so board members could see in person the land subject to its staff's draft "watershed-wide waste discharge requirements."

The watershed-wide waste discharge requirements are aimed at alleviating "nuisance floods" and reducing the sediment load in channels, problems residents started complaining about in 1997, said water board engineer Adona White. The WWWDRs propose significantly reducing logging in the watersheds and recommend against reducing buffer zones around streams. Palco's not too excited about the WWWDRs and, in fact, preempted the state tour two days earlier with a press conference in which it dissed the state's sweeping watershed-wide, model-based approach to controlling runoff and landslides.

Palco prefers site-specific engineering fixes at three flood-prone areas -- raising the roads, for instance, and clearing debris from channels -- which it believes will alleviate flooding much more quickly and efficiently than the state's long-term approach. Palco blames the excess sediment on earlier, poorly built roads and "legacy" logging, as well as historically landslide-prone areas, and not on current logging practices.

Nevertheless, the opponents "agreed not to point fingers" on the tour, said one water board staffer on the bus in-between stops.

The first stop was along the frequently flooded Howard Heights Road in the Freshwater Creek watershed. White said the road now floods two and a half times a year; the historical record doesn't go back far enough to say what normal flooding is, she said. Many residents, however, say the creek has changed dramatically and flooding has increased. Palco partly blames non-native blackberry brambles for trapping sediment, narrowing streambeds and promoting flooding. Some residents agree with Palco.

But Freshwater resident Alan Cook said logging "is a major contributor to the sediment." He said he's happy that Palco is examining engineering solutions downstream at the flood-prone sites, "but they will be buried by sediment" unless the problems upstream are dealt with. "As far as those blackberries -- those blackberries are not pulling soil off the upper watershed. That's a preposterous suggestion," Cook said. Mark Lovelace, head of the Humboldt Watershed Council, added: "It should be very clear that the vegetation in the channel is an effect of the sedimentation coming down, not the cause of the sedimentation."

Resident Cletus Isbell said that "every year, the flood gets higher and higher," and in 2002 the water invaded his house.

The tour visited sites where Palco has logged under different guidelines over the years, from early forest practice rules to its interim habitat conservation plan guidelines. Under the conservation plan, Palco is required to "storm proof" 75 miles of road per year, at a cost of $34,000 per mile, said Palco forester Adrian Miller.

Scientists pointed out a major landslide area where about 1,600 cubic yards of sediment slid in 2002, mostly into the North Fork of the Elk River. There had been tractor-guided logging above the slide, but no actual road, and Palco geologist John Oswald said "landslides have been going on for thousands of years here." White said it is "very difficult to make associations between landslides and harvesting," which is why her staff favors the watershed-wide approach of looking at overall patterns of harvesting and landslides "as opposed to site-specific problems."

The tour also went to Elk River resident Kristi Wrigley's apple orchard, where her family has farmed since 1903 -- and there the civility almost ended. Atop high ground, where her house sits, looking down on the sickly apple trees heavily draped in lichen, their trunks choked in deep silt, Wrigley described her trouble over the past eight years. That lichen, for instance: "Lichen will monopolize a tree that is stressed," she said. She blames the intensified logging upstream between 1985 and 1995, and subsequent flooding in the 1990s. The farm is in a flood plain, certainly, tucked in a big U-shaped bend of the north Fork Elk River -- that's what makes it fertile. But she said flooding used to only get to the first two trees. "Now the whole orchard is inundated," she said. Water quality also has declined, she said, and she's given up on maintaining the high deer fence and bear gate. She took the crowd down to a brown creek trickling alongside the hill. She said it used to be rocky-bottomed and clear. "We're pro-logging, we grew up logging, but it's just intensified over time," she said.

Jim Holdner, one of her downstream neighbors, challenged Wrigley's memories of better times. "I grew up near here, and I distinctly remember your deer fence had holes in it," he said. "We used to fish all the way up the river -- and, yes, we stole some of your apples." He said he remembered the stream near her house being muddy, and only becoming graveled and clear above her property.

"Well, that's a nice memory hang onto it," Wrigley said. "But I'm closer to the land here, and I have more knowledge."

And then the tour went on to another site. Palco scientists said they don't dispute there's a sedimentation problem. But what's causing it, and what to do about it -- that's the subject of the current debate. At the end of the tour as the buses rolled to a stop at Freshwater School, one woman exhaled abruptly and declared, "Well, that was a civilized day."

The water board has extended the public comment period on the watershed-wide waste discharge requirements. Comments are now due Aug. 8. Public hearings will be held in September.

Meanwhile, there are the battles to get back to. Palco last month sued the state water board over its June 16 decision that stopped logging in the Freshwater Creek and Elk River watersheds. The state board's ruling -- spurred by a petition from the Humboldt Watershed Council -- negated the regional water board's previous decision to allow Palco to harvest trees in the watershed before completion of the WWWDRs addressing cumulative impacts. Palco had said it needed to cut trees in order to pay off escalating debts -- or else declare bankruptcy (and possibly wreak havoc on the county's economy). And, the day before the friendly tour, the Environmental Protection Information Center announced its attorney would appear in Humboldt County Superior Court the next day to appeal Palco's appeal.

Reggae moves upriver


[Aerial photo of French's Camp, Dimmick Ranch and Cook's Valley]This weekend as thousands of music fans descend on Piercy for the 22nd annual Reggae on the River, the festival's organizers, the Mateel Community Center and People Productions, are eager to assure them that Reggae on the River will be back next year -- new and improved -- at a slightly different location on the same river.

"A lot of people think this is the last Reggae on the River. It definitely is not," said Carol Bruno of People Productions in a call from her Redway office. The doubts arose earlier this year after there was a breakdown in negotiations with Pat Arthur, owner of French's Camp, the site of Reggae since Bruno and friends put on the first concert in 1984. (See "Reggae: The last year at French's Camp?" April 14)

When Arthur balked at an extended contract for use of the property, only agreeing to a one-year lease, festival organizers began a search for a new site. It turned out they didn't have to look too far. Last week People Productions announced that they have signed a 10-year agreement for use of the Dimmick Ranch, upriver from French's Camp, as Reggae's future home.

"It's a beautiful site," said Bruno. "You go to the South Beach swimming hole and look across the river, that's where it is. It fronts on the river all the way around. It felt like the best choice. It's right next door; it's in an area we know."

The changes in the concert's future came amid changes at People Productions. Bruno's former partner Paul "P.B." Bassis left the company last year to form Infinite Entertainment. "Infinite as in anything's possible," explained Bassis, who represented Tom Dimmick in lease negotiations.

"The beauty of it is, this is the same place, right around the bend in the river from where Reggae has always been," said Bassis, touting the benefits of the move. "It's pretty isolated with mountains on one side, the highway on the other. There are almost no residences anywhere near it. It's really an ideal location."

Bassis also noted that site access will be easier, since the ranch is on the west side of the river. The French's Camp location requires annual installation of a bridge across the Eel River, a process that was delayed this year due to late spring rains.

The first move in the long-term plan is already in place. This year Reggae added new wooded camping sites and parking in an area known as Cook's Valley on property owned by Keith Bowman next to the Dimmick Ranch. The additional space, with room for 2,500 campers and 1,000 autos, will bring in new revenue (fees for Cook's Valley are $100 per car, $300 per RV). It also allowed concert organizers to sell more tickets this year.

While attendance is between 11,000 and 12,000, only 9,000 tickets were sold this year, up from 8,500 last year. (The volunteer nature of event operations accounts for the number of comp admissions.)

"Parking is the limiting factor," said Bassis, noting that negotiations for future use of French's Camp for parking and camping are near conclusion. "It's everyone's hope that we can continue to work with the Arthur family to be able to incorporate their property and blend these properties together," he added.

If all goes as planned, the result will be a concert complex with three times as much room as French's Camp and the potential for greater attendance. And, Bassis confirmed, the new lease does not rule out additional concerts on the new site, although at this point, "there are no definite plans," for other concerts or specifics on how next year's Reggae will utilize the new site.

Bruno was just as indefinite about plans for the future. "We haven't worked out all the details yet. First we have to finish producing this year's festival, then we'll start working on the next one."

[Aerial photo courtesy of People Productions]


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