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Nov. 18, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Too much water?
Future of supply depends on fate of pulp mill, new board members


The Weekly Wrap
Was that really Paul Lubitz, CEO of Arcata jewelry manufacturer Holly Yashi, selling his quality bracelets and earrings on the QVC shopping network late last month? It was! A few months after roving QVC scouting teams spotted Holly Yashi products in a New England store, the network successfully recruited Lubitz to sell directly to their hordes of viewers/customers. "The big eye-opener was the size of their market," Lubitz said last week. "In the 48 minutes I was on, they moved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stuff." Lubitz, who is planning future appearances next year, said that actors from the Humboldt Light Opera helped him refine his pitch before he went on the air. Jacqueline Debets, the county's economic development coordinator, was pleased to hear about Lubitz's experience. "It sounds like a great way for a seasoned company like Holly Yashi to overcome our remoteness and reach markets," she said Tuesday. It turns out that Debets has some first-hand experience with the shopping network -- for the last seven years, her aunt, Denie Schach of Eureka, has been pitching her "Hairdini" styling products over QVC. Schach, who moved to Humboldt County in 2002, said Tuesday that Holly Yashi and QVC were a perfect fit. "QVC is known for their jewelry," she said. "I'm really not surprised Holly Yashi did well, as beautiful and unique as their products are. I think it's awesome."

The Pacific Lumber Co. was scheduled to dedicate on Wednesday its new $25 million high-tech sawmill in Scotia, which the company says is "the first new full-service sawmill built in Northern California since the mid-1970s." Spokeswoman Erin Dunn said the new mill was part of the company's "revitalizing Scotia" effort, and was built to handle second-growth logs of up to 24 inches in diameter -- smaller than the old-growth logs that the company's Carlotta mill was built for. In turn, the Carlotta mill will close, and its workers are invited to apply for jobs at the new mill. Dunn said the number of jobs was "about the same," but a story in Timber West, a logging and sawmills journal, said 119 workers at the Carlotta mill will be given notices and 90 will be hired at Scotia.

Salmon-watchers on the Klamath River last week sounded the alarm -- the fall chinook run appears to have bottomed out this year. Nat Pennington of the Salmon River Restoration Council, a nonprofit organization that monitors stocks on the Klamath and its tributaries, said that the group and its affiliates have so far found only 57 carcasses of fish that had completed the run and spawned -- a record low, with three-quarters of the season gone. This year's fall run is the first to be affected by the 2002 Klamath fish kill (the current spawners were that year's babies), when some 64,000 salmon died after being trapped downstream.

Eureka's David Cobb, the 2004 Green Party presidential candidate, issued a press release last week stating that he and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik will demand a recount of votes in Ohio. The campaigns jointly raised around $150,000 in a few days to pay a fee for the recount, which can only be demanded by candidates who appeared on the state's ballot or registered write-in candidates. "The grassroots support for the recount has been astounding," said Blair Bobier, the Cobb campaign's media director.

Assemblymember Patty Berg will co-chair two hearings next year aimed at crafting legislation that will give Californians the right to physician-assisted suicide, the Sacramento Bee reported on Sunday. Currently, only Oregon has a law guaranteeing its citizens the right to end their own lives if they are suffering from terminal diseases. The constitutionality of the Oregon law is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

A shark attack off the Samoa Peninsula last week has left a surfer with more than 50 stitches in his legs and arms. Brian Kang, 38, an Arcata geographic information systems specialist, was surfing with friends off the North Jetty around 1 p.m. on Nov. 18 at a spot called Bunkers, when a shark knocked him off his board and bit his leg. Kang, who was farther from shore than any other surfer at that time, said that he then pushed the shark's head away and had his hand bitten. "It came at me from my left side, and I saw this big thrashing of water and then it let go of me. Its nose was right there and I pushed it. I could feel it the whole time on my feet and my knees," Kang said. He then paddled back to shore, where an ambulance brought him to St. Joseph Hospital. The shark severed a tendon on Kang's left knee, which doctors told him will take about six weeks to heal.

So far, three people have taken out forms to run for Elizabeth Connor's vacated seat on the Arcata City Council, according to City Hall staff, who would not name names. Completed forms for the position are due Dec. 10 at 5 p.m.

Thieves have made away with 1,200 gallons of gas from Renner Petroleum stations in McKinleyville, Eureka and Fortuna within the last two months, Eureka police said. Renner gas cards that had pin numbers attached were stolen from cars at businesses in Eureka and Arcata and used to fill four vehicles on numerous occasions, including one day when a suspect filled multiple 55-gallon drums with gasoline. Eureka resident Ruben Anthony Peredia, 28, is wanted in connection with the pump pilfering; his 2000 Chevy Suburban was recovered by police on Oct. 24 and is suspected to be among the gratis gas guzzling vehicles. Police are also looking for the owner of a light blue, two-door 1998 Ford Explorer. EPD recommends that people who keep their gas cards in their cars not keep their pin number in the car as well. Anyone with information is urged to call EPD Detective Curtis Honeycutt at 441-4317.

A Humboldt State team that designed a minefield-clearing robot took home a $50,000 first prize in the international Intel Environment Award competition last week. Kenneth Owens, a mathematics professor, and Paul Burgess, a graduate student, built the robot by hooking lots of advanced computer technologies to a Bobcat tractor; the tractor can now drive itself around areas seeded with landmines, clearing the field and making it safe for humans. Before joining HSU, Owens was a robotics engineer for NASA.

Holiday merry-makers wishing to cut their own wild Christmas trees may now do so -- the Six Rivers National Forest announced last week that tree permits are available for $10. Permits are issued at Six Rivers' headquarters near the Bayshore Mall in Eureka or at ranger stations in Willow Creek, Gasquet, Bridgeville and Orleans. Call 442-1721 for more information. One tree per household.

The Carter House Inn's Restaurant 301 recently received its seventh straight "Grand Award" from Wine Spectator magazine, the bible of the bibulous set. According to the magazine, the Grand Award is intended to recognize restaurants that have "a passionate, uncompromising devotion to the quality of their wine programs." Only 88 restaurants throughout the world were selected for the award, which is the highest honor the magazine offers.

Too much water?
Future of supply depends on fate of pulp mill, new board members


Anyone who pays for water in the greater Eureka area knows that their bills have taken a precipitous jump in recent weeks. The reason?

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Executive Director Carol Rische doesn't want to say we have too much water, exactly, but "we have infrastructure and capacity well above what we're currently supplying," she said. When the costs are born by fewer users, each pays more.

Two factors could make the situation even more pressing: the fate of the financially strapped Stockton Pacific Enterprises pulp mill, a mega water user that could shut down by the end of the year, and a possible shift on the board toward a more cautious approach to outside water buyers.

"We've got to come up with something," Rische said. "The alternative is the community's rates are going to skyrocket yet again."

In 1962, the water district built the Matthews Dam to ensure a stable water supply for Humboldt County and pave the way for large industrial users like pulp mills and power plants. The dam created Ruth Lake, the 48,000-acre-foot reservoir of Mad River water in Trinity County.

In the heyday of pulp, there were two mills on the Samoa Peninsula, whose combined operations used 40 million to 50 million gallons of water a day, Rische said. All other users combined use 10 million a day. Then the Simpson pulp mill shut down in 1993, and its contract with the water district expired in 1999.

Now, the remaining mill faces a $30 million debt -- at 17 percent interest -- and will either change ownership or shut its doors by the end of the year, said CEO Steve Fleischer. If the mill closes, the water district must find other users, or pass the costs on to its 80,000 other customers, located from Fieldbrook in the north down to south of Eureka.

The situation is so dire at the pulp mill that all of its 162 employees agreed to take a 15 percent pay cut through the end of the year.

"We're hanging on because our employees, our vendors, our constituents, have banded together to make cost concessions that mean we're alive," Fleischer said. But, he added, "this company will not survive with $30 million of debt at 17 percent."

What would save it is a management-led buyout, in which current managers would go in with other investors, or a sale to an outside buyer. A Chinese company was scheduled to tour the plant late this week, and a third potential buyer came forward on Tuesday, Fleischer said. He declined to give details about the suitors.

What about other customers? Environmental groups in Humboldt County were up in arms last year when Alaska businessman Ric Davidge floated a proposal to buy Mad River water from the district and ship it south in gigantic bags.

Activists raised a big red flag on the idea, arguing that the rules of NAFTA could kick in if we start selling our water.

Under NAFTA, you cannot be exclusive about whom you trade with, said incoming water board member Kaitlyn Sopoci-Belknap. The district could be forced to "sell our water to the highest bidder and possibly lose your control over it. That's not an environmental issue. It's a local control issue."

Sopoci-Belknap apparently beat longtime incumbent Vern Cooney in the Nov. 2 election, though the final tally was still close at press time. Another newcomer to the board, fisheries biologist Randy Turner, said he was "still in the learning phase" on the issue of outside water buyers. The board members will take office in January.

Sopoci-Belknap said the board needs to be "incredibly cautious" when considering outside bidders for our water. She suggested the district remove from its Web site the "We Have Water For Your Business!" invitation that boasts of its 20 million gallon-per-day surplus.

"I think it's not in our best interest having a big announcement on our Web site saying, `We will sell you water,'" she said.

But Rische said the board may have few options. The only other industry that would use anywhere near as much water as a pulp mill is a power plant, she said. Manufacturers that need to be close to a port might locate here, but even those would use a miniscule amount of water in comparison.

To help keep the pulp mill running, the water district agreed last year to slash its bill. But municipal customers paid big-time -- their share of the costs of running the system went from 37 percent to 55 percent.

If the pulp mill closes, the district could save money by dismantling its huge industrial infrastructure: the pipes, pumps and motors of which the pulp mill is the sole remaining user, Rische said. But that would mean closing the door to any new potential industries that might need that water.

"Do we continue to maintain [that infrastructure] for the potential benefit to a new customer, or are we going to put it to bed?" Rische said.




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