August 9, 2001
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has decided to ask for a scientific review of policy in the Klamath basin, according to Associated Press reports.
Irrigators who receive water from the Klamath system had most of their supply shut off by the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this year in order to protect three species of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act (See Journal cover story, July 26).
Farmers and their supporters have long argued that the suckerfish who live in Upper Klamath Lake do not need as much water as they're getting. The National Academy of Sciences has now been asked to investigate the biological opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that set minimum water levels for the lake.
Also factoring into the bureau's decision to withhold irrigation waters were threatened Klamath coho salmon. Thousands of the fish died last year from diseases linked to high water temperatures -- a symptom of a water-starved river system.
No word has yet been issued on whether the biological opinion on salmon is being reviewed.
Farmers initially responded to the shutoff by breaking into the bureau's facilities and illegally opening headgates, allowing water into the irrigation system. Secretary Norton decided July 24 to allow some additional water into the irrigation system, claiming that summer storms had contributed enough water to allow for limited releases to farmers.
Troubled fish processor Eureka Fisheries announced last week that it will be selling many of its facilities to an Oregon competitor.
Eureka Fisheries owns fish-processing plants along the coast from Neah Bay, Wash., to Fort Bragg, as well as connected businesses like Eureka Ice and Cold Storage. Many of those facilities, as well as the Seafood Grotto restaurant in Eureka, will be sold to the Pacific Seafood Group, based in Portland, Ore.
Peter Hall, president and general manager of Eureka Fisheries, said the precise terms of the sale are unclear and that negotiations continue.
The sale comes less than a month after Eureka Fisheries announced it was suspending operations at its fish processing plants, laying off more than 100 employees.
Under the terms of the sale, Eureka Seafoods might retain some facilities, but Hall said the firm will no longer operate as a fish processor.
When the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced last fall it would hold hearings on alleged damage caused by the Pacific Lumber Co. logging in five Humboldt County watersheds, many residents rejoiced.
The timber giant protested claiming that since it already operates under strict environmental protections, hearings could increase licensing requirements and further curtail harvesting activities.
It now appears that PL has won this round. While the water board has taken no official action, staff now concede hearings on the health of Jordan, Bear, Stitz, Elk and Freshwater watersheds are unlikely.
"We're not planning to have hearings on the five watersheds," said Frank Reichmuth, senior water resource control engineer for the board, in a telephone interview from Santa Rosa. Board members appear to be looking for options to address the issue of timber harvesting and water quality short of official hearings, he added.
"That's an outrage," said Ken Miller, litigation coordinator for the Humboldt Watershed Council. "We spent thousands of dollars and weeks of our time preparing documents for those hearings."
While the failure to hold hearings angers Miller, he said it isn't a surprise. Originally scheduled for last November, the hearings were postponed several times. They were last scheduled for February but postponed again due to scheduling conflicts.
Asked who is to blame for the cancellation, Miller had a ready answer: Daniel Crowley, chairman of the water board, who is "abusing his authority by not protecting water quality," Miller said.
Crowley, appointed by the governor in December 1999, is a partner in the Santa Rosa law firm Lanahan and Reilley along with former Congressman Doug Bosco. Bosco has been a consultant for Pacific Lumber in the past.
"There's no secret about where Crowley's bias is," Miller said. "He's a disgrace to government."
(Neither Crowley nor Bosco returned calls for this report.)
Reichmuth said that the water board still plans to address the concerns of residents about harvesting -- just not through public hearings. Those hearings were based on studying the watersheds as a whole and the board has shown more of an interest in looking at smaller units of land. He suggested that monitoring programs might be used to study the effects of specific timber harvest plans.
That amounts to "replacing something substantive and protective [the hearings] with political bullshit," Miller replied.
In April 2000 the council filed a petition that focused on just two watersheds. When that petition was rejected in early July, the council wrote to the state water board asking for help. The state board has agreed to consider the petition.
For its part, PL feels vindicated by the news. Company spokesperson Mary Bullwinkel said PL "had not been notified" that the regional board is not planning to hold these hearings.
"But if in fact that is the case, we are pleased." she said. "We felt the hearings were not necessary or supported by science."
Humboldt State University released the results of an investigation into embezzlement and fraud by a former member of the administration Aug. 1.
According to the report, John Sterns, who until March was HSU's executive director of University Advancement and in charge of all fund-raising, took between $60,000 and $70,000 from the university during his three-year tenure. He pocketed the money by exaggerating or inventing expenses.
The report also alleges Sterns reported fictional donations to the university, inflating fundraising figures by $15 million.
The results of the investigation, conducted by an auditor from the California State University office in Long Beach, are available online at www.calstate.edu/audit/SpecialInvestigations.shtml.
The Pacific Lumber Co. of Scotia announced Aug. 3 that it will be curtailing operations at its Carlotta Mill and laying off or firing at least 70 workers. While the move is likely temporary and some operations will continue at the site, the mill itself is now quiet.
It is the second mill PL has taken offline since the beginning of the year.
The shutdown is due to an inadequate supply of timber, said Jim Branham, director of government relations for the company. He said that the habitat conservation plan under which PL operates has hamstrung the company.
"The rate we've been harvesting since the HCP is about half of what it was before," Branham said. He said it was the company's hope that further study would allow for more harvesting.
The 1999 Headwaters Agreement stipulated that PL operate under its current harvesting guidelines until watershed analyses could be completed on the land it was harvesting. Future management strategies were to be based on those analyses. The first such analysis was completed for the Freshwater watershed earlier this year.
Company CEO and President John Campbell placed the blame for the layoffs at the feet of environmental groups, specifically EarthFirst and the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville. The groups are trying to "shut down our company and ultimately an industry" through lawsuits and protests, Campbell said in a statement.
That statement is "a desperate attempt to hide the truth," said Cynthia Elkins, EPIC's program director. She said the real culprit was PL's rate of harvest, which she said was not sustainable. There isn't any PL land currently closed by court injunction, she added.
In May of this year operations at PL's old-growth redwood mill were stopped in a move many saw as symptomatic of the end of harvesting the ancient trees. By contrast, the Carlotta plant processes smaller second-growth redwood.
Seventy workers are being laid off at the Carlotta mill. Some will relocated to another of PL's mills, but they still represent a net job loss, Branham said, as they will displace other workers on the basis of seniority.
The mill may be reopened this fall, Branham said. Several timber harvest plans have recently been approved and a supply of logs might be secured.
"We will revisit our situation in a couple of months," he said.
The city of Trinidad hired long-time Humboldt County law enforcement member Floyd Stokes as chief of police Aug. 1, filling a position that had been vacant for over a year.
Stokes has plenty of experience with small-town policing: He has served as the chief of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department and the Blue Lake Police Department.
But one officer isn't enough for Trinidad, said mayor Dean Heyenga. The town has to have at least one other officer to relieve Stokes, he said. What remains unclear is how the city will pay for the additional officer, as Trinidad's budget already shows a deficit.
Heyenga said the first year of an additional officer's salary would be covered by a state grant. During that time the city would have to "come up with a plan that reduces expenses and increases revenue."
Unemployment is up, the number of new jobs being created is down, and consumer debt is growing -- but Humboldt County may yet bounce back, according to the latest Humboldt State University Index of Economic Activity.
Despite a bleak overall economic environment, several factors seem to point to the possibility of an upturn in the Humboldt economy. The retail, home sales and hospitality sectors all continued strong performances during June, the most recent month for which information was available. In addition, the timber industry completed its first two consecutive months of growth in almost a year.
That growth is likely due to a "booming" national new-home construction sector, said John Manning, managing director of the ongoing HSU project which produces the Index.
"Most of the lumber produced in Humboldt County leaves the area," he said, making the timber industry dependent on nationwide trends in new home sales. When lots of people are building -- as now -- Humboldt benefits. The June report does not take into account the recent curtailing of operations at Pacific Lumber's Carlotta plant. (See related news item.)
Existing home sales in Humboldt also remained vigorous, rising 7.2 percent during June. That month 134 units were sold -- more than 80 percent more than during the same month just five years ago.
Manning said the health of the home sales sector is probably due to people moving from the Bay Area, a trend that started as home prices there rose during the dot-com boom. That has benefits for those who already own homes in Humboldt, Manning said.
"Local homeowners will see the value of their homes rise, so their equity is going up," Manning said. The bad news is that, as the value of homes rise, so does the rent that tenants will have to pay to stay in them.
"Affordable housing for working people is becoming less and less of a real thing," Manning said.
As the energy crisis continues in California, Humboldters can say they are doing their part. According to the index, the average Humboldt resident is using 17.7 percent less electricity and 39.1 percent less natural gas than last year.
Activity in the retail sector remained high during June. While that's good for the owners and workers involved in the retail industry, Manning said it was problematic when juxtaposed with the higher unemployment rate. Humboldt County lost 100 jobs in June and the unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent.
"You would think people would stop buying as much" when they lost their jobs, Manning said. The fact that they haven't -- retail sales are more than 4 percent higher than last year at this time -- suggests they may be buying on credit. That's a concern because those debts will have to be paid off sometime.
In the meantime Humboldt County is left "hoping for the best and expecting the worst," Manning said.
"I wouldn't ever try to tell someone that shopping at a chain is wrong," said Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the Boulder Independent Business Alliance in Boulder, Colo. That said, Milchen sees it as his mission to educate people about why "community prosperity will be promoted when people spend money at their local businesses."
Milchen, along with his partner Jennifer Rockne, will be spreading his gospel Aug. 13 at the D Street Neighborhood Center, Arcata's old Community Center at 14th and D streets. Milchen and Rockne will discuss how to keep jobs in the community, how the multiplier effect increases local prosperity and how to form a Humboldt Independent Business Alliance.
See this week's calendar for details or call 822-4208 for more information.
The Northcoast Environmental Center, destroyed along with two other buildings in a July 25 fire in downtown Arcata, has reopened.
The NEC's temporary home is a building on the corner of 6th and H streets in Arcata. What to call that building is the subject of some debate -- while NEC manager Connie Stewart called the building "the former Angelo's pizza shop," it may be better known to some as the former Humboldt Cannabis Center.
Stewart said the staff was thankful for all the help they had received and are still receiving. She asked that people who want to help rebuild the NEC's extensive archive wait until a permanent location is found to donate materials.
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© Copyright 2001, North Coast Journal, Inc.