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Sept. 11, 2003
JAIL SUICIDE A 23-year-old inmate facing two felony marijuana
charges used his own bed sheets to hang himself in the Humboldt
County Jail on Monday, officials reported. The body of Ambuis
Singh Bhadouria was found in his cell at about 9 a.m., some
20 minutes after he was last seen alive. He was arrested in Arcata
Sept. 3, the Sheriff's Office reported. Bhadouria had an Arcata
address because he was living in a motel here, but Coroner Frank
Jager said he is still trying to locate the man's family.
Anyone with information is asked to call the coroner's office
FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN
... A freak summer lightning
storm blew through the county, with several bolts reaching
down to tinder-dry forest and sparking a multitude of tiny to
mid-sized wildfires. The California Department of Forestry
reported a total of 54 wildfires sparked by the storm, most of
them easily contained. But with personnel spread so thin, several
of the blazes raged out of control, including one near Honeydew
and one in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Over 700 acres
were lost before this week's rains brought some relief... Thirteen
small fires broke out on Redwood National Park lands near
Orick, but park officials looked on the bright side, saying that
a modest amount of burned land could be a boon for the local
marbled murrelet and spotted owl populations.
GIDDY-UP ... The District Attorney's office charged Tatia
A. Hill, owner of Fortuna's TJ's Western Wear, with laundering
over $106,000 in illegal marijuana money. According to
the DA, Hill allegedly used growers' money to buy wholesale equestrian
accessories, which were then sold in the store or handed
over to the growers. Hill could be looking at a maximum sentence
of five years, eight months... Meanwhile, "soft-on-crime"
DA Paul Gallegos announced that Eureka stick-up man Robert
Powell could be getting up to15 years following his
guilty plea for the armed robbery of a gas station last April.
Powell was only 17 when he did the deed, but the fact that he
ordered the station attendant out of the building at gunpoint
meant an additional charge for false imprisonment.
PL REMOVES TREE
SUPPLIES Treesitters in the Van
Duzen watershed watched Friday as Pacific Lumber climbers
removed their platforms, gear and food from the longstanding
treesit in "Aradia," a 200-foot redwood on what has
become known as "Gypsy Mountain" near Grizzly
Creek State Park. The tree has been occupied nonstop since January
2002, activists say. The three treesitters stayed in the tree
with the help of volunteer supporters, who sent new supplies
SOHUM BUSTS Two men were arrested in separate raids on pot-growing
operations in Southern Humboldt. On Monday, Sheriff's deputies
removed 862 plants from a residence in the Island Mountain area,
arresting John Larue Oberdorf, 31, at the scene. On Sept. 4,
Jeffrey Kondos, 36, was arrested at a home in the China Creek
area of Ettersburg, where deputies seized 686 plants.
PEPPER SPRAY TO
SF A federal appeals court has
ruled that the retrial of the civil rights case brought by logging
protesters who were pepper-sprayed by Humboldt County law enforcement
should take place in San Francisco. The often left-leaning 9
th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled Sept. 2 that U.S.
District Judge Vaughn Walker should be removed from the case
because of "an appearance of an absence of impartiality."
DEAD BIRD ALERT Humboldt County officials are urging residents
to report any dead crows or raptors, the species most likely
to die from the West Nile virus. The virus hasn't hit Humboldt
yet, said Brent Whitener, the county's "bug man and rat
boy," but if we start seeing a lot of these birds, human
cases could follow in about six weeks. The number to call: 1-877-WNV-BIRD.
THEN AGAIN. .. Last week, we reported that a Fortuna man was
stabbed by a group of men in blue bandanas. The Fortuna Police
Department sent out a subsequent press release, saying that,
in fact, the conflict was not gang-related.
Helicopter works on Samoa Peninsula
A "SKYCRANE" helicopter hauls
away a 40-year-old electrical tower
Tuesday to make way for a line of 28 new towers, to be installed
coming weeks along the Samoa Peninsula.
PG&E says the old towers have become corroded and damaged
by salt and storms.
Photo by Hank Sims
regs in the pipeline
Miners upset, enviros say restrictions watered down for political
As Humboldt County's gravel
mining season approaches, the perennial tensions between miners
and regulatory agencies are flaring up all over again.
This due to a report issued
late last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
Fisheries division (NOAA Fisheries). The report, called a "biological
opinion," raises questions about the effect of the most
frequently used method of gravel mining in the county -- a procedure
known as "bar skimming" -- on federally protected salmon
and steelhead habitat.
For small, independent miners
like Charles Hansen of Fortuna, that could foretell expensive
retooling of his procedures, and it makes him despair over the
entire regulatory process.
"The way it looks to me,
with these agencies they all want to be king of the hill,"
he said. "It's a power struggle. One agency will make a
new regulation just so they can take control of the whole deal."
Built up each year when rains
wash rock and sediment into watersheds, gravel bars are exposed
to the air when the river level falls during the summer. "Bar
skimming" involves the removal of the top layer of material
from the bars, most often using heavy machinery. The biological
opinion states that bar skimming may, in certain locales, end
up making a river wider, shallower and more difficult for spawning
salmon to navigate. It blames bar skimming for degradation of
salmon habitat near the mouth of the Van Duzen River, where it
empties into the Eel, and suggests that its use should be discouraged
in most situations.
The opinion recommends instead
that regulatory agencies, including the California Coastal Commission,
the Army Corps of Engineers and the local County of Humboldt
Extraction Review Team (CHERT), give priority to lesser-used
alternative methods. These include "dry trenching,"
in which lateral slices of gravel are extracted from a bar, and
"horseshoe-shaped extraction," in which a notch is
cut out of a bar's downstream end.
The new policy will receive
its first test at the Coastal Commission meeting this Friday
(Sept. 12) at the Eureka Inn. Coastal Commission staff will recommend
that an operation run by Fortuna residents Leland Rock and Charles
Dwelley at the mouth of the Van Duzen be prohibited from skimming.
Depending on how NOAA Fisheries
proceeds, this could be the first step in a comprehensive overhaul
of the way gravel is mined from Humboldt County rivers.
Earlier this year, the agency
released a draft version of the report that would have banned
skimming altogether -- eliciting howls of protest from gravel
operators. The operators, charging that NOAA had not taken into
account comprehensive data that had been gathered near mining
sites, succeeded in getting the agency to soften its stance on
skimming, at least for the time being. The data, which the agency
said had not been provided to it, is now being reviewed.
But Peter Galvin of the Environmental
Protection Information Center charged that the softer version
that was eventually released late last month was the result of
political pressure from the industry.
has changed from a few months ago," he said. "It's
very disturbing that once again, big money from industry groups
has been able to step into a scientific decision-making process
and make it purely political."
Regardless of the effect of
the NOAA Fisheries' studies on future gravel seasons, the biological
opinion has already had an impact on this year's: The season
is starting much later than usual, as operators and regulatory
agencies have been waiting for the opinion to be completed. Partly
because of this, one of the six mining applications on the Coastal
Commission's schedule -- from Humboldt County's Department of
Public Works -- will be withdrawn, according to Public Works
Director Allen Campbell.
"Our problem was that the
time got so narrow that for us to go in there and get anything,
we'd have to pull everyone off everything else we're doing,"
Campbell said. He added that the county currently had a year's
worth of gravel -- used primarily to build and maintain roads
-- on hand.
Robert Brown of the private
planning firm Streamline Consultants, which is representing two
of the operators with applications before the Coastal Commission,
said that this year's drawn-out process could turn Humboldt County
-- reportedly one of the West Coast's biggest exporters of gravel
-- into an importer, at least temporarily.
"The last couple of years
the season has been shortened because of the snowy plover,"
he said. "This year, with the late permitting, it will be
even shorter. Next spring, there could be some economic impacts
-- a shortage of aggregate in this county."
Brown said that his clients,
Mercer-Fraser and Mallard Pond/Drake Materials, still hoped to
get a good six to eight weeks of work done this season, but the
amount of time they would have would depend on when salmon start
their yearly run up the Eel. When the fall rains begin in earnest,
rivers start to rise, the fish begin to head upstream and mining
And Hansen, eager to get to
work, is more than a little peeved that the season could be delayed
by what turned out to be an inconclusive report.
"We ask whether we do any
harm, they say we don't know yet," he said. "The river
is filled in with gravel. The best thing to do is take some out
Growers weather a bad year
Fruit farmers across the county
are struggling to ride out a terrible year they blame on capricious
"It's the worst year I've
had," said Clayton McIntosh, who runs the 12-acre McIntosh
Farm in Willow Creek, which grows organic peaches, pears, chestnuts,
persimmons, grapes, melons, tomatoes and other fruit.
"The sweet cherry crop
was about a 95 percent failure. Peaches were probably a 50 percent
crop. A lot of the fruit trees did not have anything on them."
"That long period of rain
in April, that was one thing," McIntosh said. "Then
an extreme heat wave followed by really cold. That was what the
summer was all about -- it was either 105 or 85."
Other farmers had similar stories.
"We were doing good until
that rain hit [in early August], and when that hit, it spread
rot throughout our crop," said Josh Young of Young's Orchard,
a peach farm in Willow Creek. Ripe peaches that get moisture
on them can rot within hours, farmers said.
The wet spring put a damper
on the apple crop, said Clif Clendenen of Clendenen's in Fortuna.
"The early apples [Gravensteins] were severely impacted
-- we got only a fraction of a normal crop." And the hot,
dry weather that followed provided the perfect conditions for
pests, he said.
McIntosh remained philosophical
about the loss. He has had to raise prices on tomatoes, from
$1.50 to $2 a pound, and some of his farmers' market customers
have been disappointed that certain products haven't been there.
But there's not much he can do.
"Last season was wonderful,
perfect in every way," he said. "So this year we're
paying for it."
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