Oct. 17, 2002
Following a vocal outcry from community leaders and some arm-twisting from Rep. Mike Thompson, representatives for SBC Pacific Bell have put forward a proposal to set up an escrow account that would hold disputed access fees for the utility giant's stalled fiber-optic project.
Whether Caltrans, which has demanded $2 to $3 million in access fees, will sign the agreement remains to be seen.
The project, which would link Eureka with Ukiah, is considered critical by economic and education leaders in the Humboldt Bay region.
Upon acceptance of the offer and issuance of the necessary permits by Caltrans, Pacific Bell will promptly complete the remaining portions of the project, Melba Muscarolas, the company's regional president for external affairs, said earlier this week.
"Pacific Bell shares the frustration of North Coast residents who want access to high-speed telecommunications services," said Muscarolas. "We have invested heavily in both time and money in this construction project so we can provide broadband services. We hope the offer will be promptly accepted so that we can quickly deliver the services that customers want."
Previous reports indicate that completion of the 21-mile missing portion of the line will take three or four months.
Under the Pac Bell proposal, the access fees would be held in escrow by a neutral third party pending the outcome of litigation.
"Establishing an escrow fund has been raised by other parties in concept only; Pacific Bell is the first to present a tangible proposal to break the impasse and advance this project," Muscarolas claimed.
Dennis Trujillo, deputy director for external affairs for Caltrans, sees it differently. "This is a proposal that Caltrans has been pushing for some time," he said. "All along we've been trying to facilitate a way to get this much needed service delivered to the North Coast."
While the term "escrow account" was not used, in August Caltrans lawyer Ronald Beal told a Journal reporter, "They could've paid our fees under protest and then sued for reimbursement. That remedy has always been available." (See "Caltrans 1, PacBell 0" North Coast Journal Aug. 8.)
Trujillo said that Caltrans lawyers are still evaluating the escrow proposal, which he termed a "counter-offer."
The Pac Bell proposal is broken down into four elements. Trujillo said, "It appears that three of the four may be acceptable," to Caltrans.
While Trujillo declined to state which part of the agreement might be unacceptable, a potential sticking point is Clause B in the unsigned agreement, a provision under which Caltrans would agree to "waive federal and sovereign immunity defenses."
Sovereign immunity basically means that as a state agency Caltrans is immune from many lawsuits. It is unlikely that they will give up that immunity since the waiver could make it much easier for Pacific Bell to sue for damages, such as loss of revenue, after the case is decided in federal court.
-- Bob Doran
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
KRISTI WRIGLEY LOOKED DOWN AT THE narrow strip of black water running feebly between muddy banks and declared, "Look how wide the North Fork Elk is!" [photo below left]
It was a sardonic remark, but then Wrigley can be forgiven for feeling bitter. For years now she has been in a singularly unenviable position: She's the first downstream property owner from Pacific Lumber Co's. timberlands in the North Fork Elk River watershed, one of the most ferociously logged pieces of land on the planet.
She pointed to patches of orange algae lining the North Fork. "We never had this before except in back eddies," she said. Gesturing to a sharp bend in the river where fallen logs lie above still water, she said that in 1990 -- before the logging went crazy -- there was a pool 6 to 8 feet deep there, perfect for both swimmers and fish. Now, she said, it's 3 feet deep, if that.
"I saw one fish in the river this past year. In the [late 1980s] you could hear salmon coming up [the river]. You could hear them splashing."
A river damaged by logging is not as dramatic as a clearcut. To the uneducated eye, the section of the North Fork Elk that winds around the edge of Wrigley's 25-acre property merely looks unattractive. But in actuality the river is sick, and it is sick for the simple reason that it is buried under several feet of "fine sediment" -- call it mud -- washed down from the timberlands above.
The gravel bars, the riffles, everything that used to make the North Fork Elk a haven for fish and a source of clean water, is still there; it's just entombed, probably three to five feet below where Wrigley was standing.
She walked up out of the shaded river channel and into her sunlit apple orchard. Known for the intensity of her frustration with Pacific Lumber, she had an air of quiet satisfaction about her on this day, a gorgeous October morning late last week. No wonder. In her long fight with her corporate neighbor, her long battle for compensation and respect, her never-ending confrontation with Pacific Lumber's notorious owner, Texas financier Charles Hurwitz, she'd finally won a round.
She wasn't putting it that way. But the fact of the matter is that Pacific Lumber, a company with deep pockets and a battery of lawyers, chose last week to settle out of court with Wrigley and 21 other Elk River residents rather than risk a trial in Humboldt County Superior Court -- a trial that would have turned on the question of whether logging in the 1990s had caused flooding and damaged water supplies in the Elk River valley.
To be sure, the outcome of the trial was not a foregone conclusion. Pacific Lumber has long claimed, for example, that the erosion and flooding in the North Fork in recent years was due to past management practices and a series of rainy winters in the mid-1990s -- and not so much to contemporary logging.
Following the announcement, PL's San Francisco attorney Edgar Washburn told the press that "trials are always good to avoid. The resolution was one we think is very fair."
Eureka attorney Bill Bertain, who represented the residents, said, "My clients are satisfied with the terms of the settlement and they feel that their goals of obtaining justice here have been sufficiently achieved."
Wrigley, for her part, expressed relief that the ordeal of a trial, scheduled to begin Nov. 12 and expected to last as long as two months, had been avoided.
"It would have been very traumatic," said Wrigley, a graying woman in her mid-50s.
A cutting frenzy
The terms of the settlement have not been made public, but if the past is a guide the amount could be substantial. Thirty-three residents of the tiny town of Stafford received $3.3 million after a debris torrent roared out of Pacific Lumber timberlands and destroyed homes on New Year's Day 1997.
In the case of the Elk River residents, homes weren't ruined but drinking supplies were. What happened was a logging frenzy. From 1974 to 1987, the company logged an average of 72 acres per year of the 14,000-acre North Fork Elk River watershed. Over the next 10 years, from 1987 to 1997, the rate of logging jumped sevenfold -- to 504 acres per year. The increased cut produced a slew of violations of state logging regulations -- from 1990 to 1997, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), which regulates private lands logging in California, issued 64 violation notices to the company regarding its logging operations in the North Fork. The cutting triggered numerous landslides and debris flows that deposited massive amounts of sediment into the river and its tributaries. From 1994 to 1997, landslides in freshly cut areas of the watershed bled sediment into the North Fork at a rate 13 times greater than landslides in parts of the watersheds that hadn't seen cutting in 15 years or more. The total amount of sediment deposited in the river during that period was a whopping 84,000 cubic yards -- 95 percent of which came from harvested areas and logging roads.
The first sign that something was wrong with Wrigley's water, drawn directly from the North Fork, was that her mother thought the coffee tasted bad. Turns out it wasn't the coffee, it was the water, which Wrigley recalled tasted like dirt. Wrigley and her family soon noticed something else -- when they took showers, they didn't get clean. They got dirty because there was grit in the water.
Continuing to walk out into her orchard, Wrigley pointed out that many of the trees have yellow leaves, lichen on their limbs and small apples hanging from their branches. "Those trees are dying," she said.
Wrigley said that in the wet winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, floods washed across the orchard half-a-dozen times each season. "I can only remember it flooding three other times since 1950," said Wrigley, who grew up on the property.
Wrigley, who works for Caltrans, also runs the family apple business. She said the flooding has hurt her production. "In a bad year, we used to have 800 to 900 boxes of Waltanas [a local variety]," Wrigley said. "Last year [which was a bad year] we had 200 to 250 boxes." She said that in a good year, the orchard would produce 1,200 to 1,400 boxes. About 750 boxes is a good year now, Wrigley said.
Wrigley, who has not shied away from blasting Pacific Lumber in the past, directed most of her fire the other day at CDF, which she said has utterly failed to properly regulate the company. "They're simply an advocate of industry. They are not protecting the people or the state of California's interest in water quality."
When asked about the Elk River situation earlier this year, a CDF official said that the agency "has been caught in the middle" between the residents and the company.
What happens next in the North Fork Elk River is unclear. The Regional Water Quality Control Board is considering halting or limiting winter logging, which would certainly be welcome to Wrigley. But vigorous logging hasn't been curbed yet, as the frequent din of jake brakes from logging trucks above Wrigley's property makes clear. "That goes on from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.," Wrigley said.
The one thing that clearly could lead to a recovery of the North Fork Elk River watershed -- a limit on the annual cut -- seems at this point to be a distant goal. Leslie Reid, a U.S. Forest Service scientist with the Redwood Sciences Laboratory in Arcata, has calculated that to heal the watershed no more than 39 acres should be cut annually for the foreseeable future. The cut allowed by CDF in the North and South Fork Elk River watersheds, in comparison, is 600 acres per year.
Taking on a giant
None of that was ruining Wrigley's mood the other day. She expressed pride in the fact that she and the other property owners had had the fortitude to stand up to their corporate neighbor. "I walked up to a giant and kicked him in the shins," she said.
Brian Payton, who is running for the Eureka City Council, was arrested last Friday and charged with domestic abuse.
According to the Humboldt County Jail, Payton was still incarcerated as of press time -- late Tuesday. Bail has been set at $50,000.
There was tension in the air in Judge John Golden's packed courtroom Tuesday morning as the legal wrangling continued over a six-week-old court order that apparently tells Pacific Lumber Co. to halt its logging operations.
Speaking at a hearing in Humboldt County Superior Court in Eureka, lawyers with the Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center and the Sierra Club asked Judge Golden to "clarify" his order and require the company to "cease and desist" all timber harvesting.
The groups also argued that the judge's order means that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection should stop processing applications for new timber harvest plans.
The company has continued to log despite the judge's order, arguing that it only applies to future timber harvest plans, not already approved operations.
Lawyers with PL and CDF reiterated that point Tuesday. They also argued that once a timber harvest plan is approved it remains valid whether or not the permits that the approval was based on are rendered invalid. Once approved, logging becomes a "vested property right" that cannot be taken away, said Frank Bacik, attorney for PL.
"Previously approved plans stand alone. Once it has been fully granted it becomes an independent property right. It stands alone."
The controversy began in late August, when Judge Golden issued a "stay" on the company's logging after CDF -- which regulates private lands logging -- failed to turn over several hundred pages of documents and lost several others.
Golden's order said that "no party to this proceeding shall take any action whose validity depends on the validity of any said approvals."
All of the logging that Pacific Lumber does in Humboldt County is based on those approvals, so it's crystal clear in the minds of environmentalists, at least, that the company is on the wrong side of the law.
"The only issue before the court is does it have the authority to enforce its own orders," said Tim Needham, attorney for EPIC and the Sierra Club.
Judge Golden is expected to respond to the environmentalists' motion in writing. Meantime, he advised PL's lawyers to file an appeal.
Pacific Lumber Co. wants to delay a Nov. 7 public hearing before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on its controversial proposal for a quarry near Kneeland pending further design studies and alternatives.
The company has proposed removing 500,000 cubic yards of material over a 15-year period to be used for slope protection, jetty rock and crushed aggregate purposes.
The proposal has prompted vehement protests from Freshwater valley residents, who, among other things, fear that an increase in truck traffic could pose a hazard to children.
The company must obtain a series of permits before it can begin mining. A change in its proposal would entail modification of the draft environmental impact report followed by a new 45-day public comment period.
Eureka and Arcata bookstores will get some competition next year when Borders bookstore moves into Bayshore Mall.
Borders will take over half of the 50,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by JCPenney. The other half of the store will be occupied by Bed Bath & Beyond, a nationwide chain selling linens, bath accessories, home decoration and small appliances.
Remodeling of the space occupied by JCPenney, which has stood empty for 18 months, is currently underway.
Meantime, Longs Drug Store, which occupied a 16,000-square-foot location at the entrance to the mall, moved out on Sept. 26. The company opened a new store at Eureka Mall.
Susan Swanson, marketing director for Bayshore Mall, said it could take 18 months to find a replacement.
And the next mayor of Eureka is . . . Joel Agnew, according to Humguide.com.
The website, owned and operated by Morse Media of Eureka, has been running an unofficial poll of the mayoral candidates; Measure X, continuation of Eureka's 3 percent tax on utilities, cable television and phone service; and the 5th District supervisor candidates.
Before anyone gives too much credence to the poll's results, however, it should be known that anyone with Internet access can vote on the site. Humguide.com doesn't determine, for example, if "voters" live in Humboldt County or if they are of voting age.
Here are the results as of October 14:
Out of 481 votes cast in the mayor's race, Agnew received 212 (43 percent); T. Great Razooly, 134 (28 percent); Cherie Arkley, 94 (20 percent); Peter LaVallee, 22 (5 percent); Jack McKellar, 10 (2 percent); Mary Mahoney, 7 (1 percent); and Marshall Spalding 2 (.4 percent).
Out of 204 votes cast, 64 people (31 percent) voted yes for Measure X; and 140 (69 percent) voted no.
Jill Geist has a commanding lead over Ben Shepherd in the informal poll. Out of 77 votes cast, Geist received 65 (84 percent) while Shepherd received 12 (16 percent).
To cast your vote, go to www. humguide.com
Planning Commissioner Elizabeth Conner, who is running for Arcata City Council, has raised $2,040, the most of any of the six candidates.
Mayor Jim Test is right behind Conner, having raised $1,929 for his re-election bid. Former councilmember Carl Pellatz, meantime, has raised $1,118. David Meserve has brought in $920, while Cynthia Savage has drummed up $225.
As of Oct. 15, Dex Anderson had not yet filed his financial documents with the Arcata city clerk.
According to the State Fair Political Practices Commission, candidates can be fined $10 per day for every day they fail to file either a form 460, listing total campaign contributions in excess of $1,000, or form 470, listing total campaign contributions below $1,000. Candidates who raise no funds must also file a form 470 with the city clerk.
The top two vote-getters in the race will become council members.
In case you haven't had enough of the candidates, there are still opportunities to hear how they stand on the issues.
The Eureka Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring three candidate forums: Oct. 22, Ward 3 City Council candidates; Oct. 23, Wards 1 and 5 ; Oct. 30, mayoral candidates. All three events begin at 5:30 p.m. and are being held at the Wharfinger Building, Number 1 Marina Way.
The first of three forums for the 5th District Humboldt County Supervisors' race will be held Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m. at S&S Mobile Home Park, 1090 Murray Road, McKinleyville, in the Club House. The second will be held Oct. 23 at noon at the North Coast Inn, 4975 Valley West, Arcata. The third will be held Oct. 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Trinidad Town Hall, 409 Trinity St.
Additional forums include:
Oct. 18, Arcata City Council
race, KEET-TV, 7 to 8 p.m.
According to the Eureka Police Department, about 50 phony travelers checks, each with a $100 face value, have been passed in Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna and McKinleyville.
The name Lisa James appears on each of the 50 counterfeit notes recovered by police.
Merchants are reminded to scrutinize any travelers checks, ask for identification from the person writing the check and request a thumbprint. Merchants can also contact Master Card to verify if a check is fake.
New federal organic farming rules that go into effect next Monday won't make much of a difference in terms of the produce available to consumers, according to Arcata Co-op Produce Manager Joey Beasley.
"Many of our farms are already certified organic by a federally accredited certifier and we have other farms that are going through the process," Beasley said.
Under the new rules, the word "organic" will be reserved for foods that have met stringent U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for certification to receive the new "USDA Organic" label.
To qualify, farmers will have to verify that they do not use chemical herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, hormones, antibiotics and synthetic fertilizers. Genetic modification, irradiation and soil fertilization with raw sewage will also be disallowed.
Beasley said that for local farmers who don't want to go through the certification process there will be a "locally grown" label that describes their growing methods.
After an absence of several years, cruise ships will once again be seen in Humboldt Bay.
The 408-passenger Hapag-Lloyd's Europa is expected to arrive in Eureka May 11, 2003. Three months later, on Aug. 9, the 646 foot-long, 43,000- ton ResidenSea's World, is scheduled to slip into the harbor.
The last ship is a floating condominium with 88 suites and 12 decks. Its 200 passengers live there full time and there are 320 crew members to attend to their needs and run the ship.
The Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau has been working with Cruise the West, a regional group representing ports from San Diego to British Columbia that encourages smaller cruise ships sailing to Alaska to stop at West Coast ports.
Marc J. Sievers, a deputy director in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, is coming to town to hold a meeting on the Middle East. He will be speaking on "The U.S. and the Middle East: Elusive Quest for Peace" and fielding questions.
Sievers will be speaking on Thursday, Oct. 24 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Redwoods Forum Theatre on College of the Redwoods Eureka campus.
Sievers is a 21-year veteran of the foreign service who works in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and speaks Arabic, Hebrew and Turkish. He has worked in numerous bureaus including Hong Kong, Cairo, Rabat, Ankara, Riyadh, as well as numerous positions in Washington, D.C.
His appearance is sponsored by the State Department, Humboldt State University, College of the Redwoods, the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.
The Town Meeting is part of the State Department's attempt to strengthen dialogue between the American people and government decision- makers about U.S. foreign policy.
Southern Humboldt Area Rescue, an ambulance service, is closing at the end of this month due to low call volume, rising operation costs and low reimbursement rates.
City Ambulance service, which stopped serving Southern Humboldt County in 1998 for essentially the same reasons, will again service the area.
Last week's cover
story on Humboldt County's real estate market misstated the
name of a home building organization. The correct name is the
Northern California Association of Home Builders.
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