Dec. 9, 2004
A PLUS FOR LNG
TERMINALS?: A little-noticed provision
in the federal year-end spending bill, sent by Congress to President
Bush on Monday night, says that federal regulators -- and not
the states -- should decide where liquefied natural gas terminals
are built, according to a Dec. 3 story in the Los Angeles
Times. The Times says the provision was apparently
aimed at California, and quotes Carl W. Wood, a member of the
California Public Utilities Commission, as saying the language
"shows a complete contempt for the people of California
and their representatives." The provision declares that
the facilities "need one clear process for review, approval
and siting decisions," which reflects the Bush administration's
intent to increase energy supplies, the article says. The bill
would appear to make it easier for companies to set up LNG facilities,
as San Jose-based Calpine Corp. looked into doing on the Samoa
by JIM HIGHT
IT WAS JUST AFTER DAWN WHEN THE DAIRYMAN milked the last cow. Sweaty and tired from three hours of heavy labor, he led his 160 Holsteins back out to pasture, where they'd graze until the afternoon milking.
He said he didn't mind the hard work and the long, strange hours. "I get the satisfaction of knowing that I'm working hard and supporting a family in agriculture," he said. What wore him out was the financial stress. The prices he received were low, while his costs kept rising. He worried about the future of the dairy, which had been in his wife's family for 80 years.
That morning occurred about five years ago, and this dairy farm, like a handful of others on the North Coast, went under in 2002 during a long slump in raw milk prices.
The survivors have lately enjoyed higher prices, but prices are expected to decline next year, too soon to relieve the dairies' chronic economic distress. Faced with mounting debt and declining profits, dairy operators look for ways to control or reduce their costs. And, as Journal readers know, some dairies have begun planting genetically engineered Roundup Ready corn to save money on the herbicides and diesel fuel they'd otherwise use in spraying and tilling their fields to control weeds. The biotech corn variety also produces higher yields per acre.
For an individual dairy owner, planting this crop, already in widespread use around the world, can make a lot of sense, as much sense as it makes for a PC user to upgrade to Windows XP. But in planting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on local dairy ranches, these farmers may be inadvertently downloading an economic virus that could damage the local industry's market position as a supplier of natural products. The market risks are so serious that members of one local dairy association say they will probably seek a ban on GMO planting by members.
While the typical California dairy is a large, polluting industrial facility that confines cows 24/7, the North Coast's 100 dairies keep their cows grazing on pastures most of the time, like herbivores were meant to do. Their fields are also friendly to birds and wildlife. Additionally, all North Coast dairies have sworn off the controversial growth hormone rBST.
These characteristics have become selling points for Humboldt Creamery, Loleta Cheese Co. and Rumiano Cheese Co., the three dairy processors that buy raw milk from dairies in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
By differentiating many of their products as "natural," "pasture-based" and "rBST-free," the processors have been able to gain loyal consumers in California, Oregon and elsewhere. These attributes have also helped them obtain contracts to supply other manufacturers.
One manufacturer supplied by Humboldt Creamery, San Francisco-based Double Rainbow, highlights North Coast dairies on its cartons: "Their natural environment enables us to provide you with the finest ice cream possible."
Consumers drawn to such claims are a minority of buyers, but they make up a large portion of the people who buy products made with North Coast dairy milk, local industry sources say.
And while opinion polls show that most Americans support genetic engineering in agriculture, these natural-food consumers tend to be viscerally opposed to GMOs.
After the news broke about Roundup Ready corn growing on local dairies, a prominent organic farming educator declared in a letter to the Times-Standard that she would no longer buy Humboldt Creamery milk. Other local consumers will probably follow suit, and word could spread quickly via the Internet, potentially affecting the everyday buying decisions of thousands of consumers and the annual purchase contracts of several manufacturers like Double Rainbow.
People in the dairy community have told me that they see both sides of the issue. On one hand, they respect the rights of other farmers to use whatever growing methods they deem most effective.
But they also think that the GMO issue has real potential to damage their collective market position.
I've also learned that the Humboldt Creamery cooperative -- which incorporates about two-thirds of local dairies -- will probably consider whether to ban GMO planting by its members because of the potential impacts on its market. The dairies that supply Rumiano and Loleta, although not a cooperative, may consider a ban as well.
Such a policy would follow the successful precedent set when the dairies and processors became rBST-free in the 1990s. Given the risks involved, enacting a collective ban on planting GMOs may be the best course for the industry to take.
For the farmers who have planted biotech corn, however, abandoning a technology they've found useful and cost-effective would certainly be tough to swallow.
Perhaps anti-GMO activists could make the medicine go down more easily by reaching out to these and other dairy operators, acknowledging the economic pressures that have led farmers to plant biotech corn, and offering something in the way of compensation for returning to conventional seeds.
They could promise to organize a campaign urging local consumers to choose North Coast dairy products over competing brands. They could also use their activist networks and media contacts to generate statewide and national news coverage of a voluntarily adopted policy against GMO planting in the North Coast milk producing areas. That would boost the profile of the North Coast dairy industry in wider markets.
Such a collaborative strategy could achieve results much sooner than another anti-GMO ballot measure, which is many months, if not a year or more, away.
Furthermore, it's not clear that a county measure to ban GMOs would survive a lawsuit by farmers intent on resisting such a prohibition.
In the three California counties that have passed GMO bans, Mendocino, Marin and Trinity, as well as the city of Arcata, there were no GMO crops when the measures were passed.
In Humboldt County there are several hundred acres planted by seven or eight dairy operators and at least one commercial forage supplier. If an anti-GMO measure passes here, these farmers may be able to make a legal case that the county has no right to circumvent the federal regulations that have allowed GMOs in agriculture.
If, on the other hand, the dairies' cooperative and commercial partners adopted a voluntary ban, they would probably have to go along grudgingly.
Whatever becomes of a second anti-GMO ballot measure, a voluntary ban on GMO crops supported by the dairy industry and local consumers and activists would be a win-win for the North Coast.
In addition to being a former Journal staff writer, Jim Hight has written for Capital Press, a weekly farming trade publication, and authored special reports on local agriculture for farm associations and public-interest groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by HANK SIMS
A move by some national retail chains to ban the annual Salvation Army bellringers from their store entrances may be paradoxically boosting the drive's efforts in Humboldt County.
Capt. Ramón Ocaño, pastor of the Salvation Army's Eureka Corps, said that locally, nearly two dozen locations have offered to host the bellringing Salvation Army volunteers that last year raised $58,000 for local charitable programs.
"So many more places stepped up this year," he said. "Last year we only had 14 or 15 spots."
Ocaño said that some of that increase was due to local business owners calling up and requesting that the Salvation Army post bellringers at their locations this year -- some of them after hearing about the Target Corp.'s decision not to let the Salvation Army use its sites this year. The ban has received a good deal of attention in the national press.
[Photo at right:
Mary Barber, owner of Eureka's Grocery Outlet, said that she was moved to ask the Salvation Army to use her store for the kettle drive after becoming angered when she saw a television news story on Target's ban.
"I called up the captain and said, `I have a brand-new store. Send them here,'" she said.
Barber said that she felt that supporting organizations like the Salvation Army was an important part of doing business in a community that must struggle to address problems like homelessness and poverty.
"I have 10 brothers and sisters," she said. "I didn't grow up a rich person, and I'm still not a rich person, but we've been very blessed. It absolutely amazes me how much the community supports us, and I think you need to give back."
Target isn't the only large chain to have banned the bellringers from their premises. Locally, both Costco and WinCo have long followed corporate policies that prohibit solicitation at their stores. Mervyn's (which was once owned by Target) announced earlier this year that it, too, would ban the Salvation Army, but the chain quickly reversed itself when the decision received bad press.
Safeway still allows the Salvation Army to use their stores for the drive, but has placed some restrictions on the hours and number of days that bellringers may work.
Ocaño said that many large retail chains work out deals with the Salvation Army's national headquarters before the Christmas shopping season begins. He added that he bears no ill will toward local store managers whose hands are tied by their bosses.
"If it was up to them, I think they'd have done it," he said. "It's a small town, and we like to take care of each other."
A member of the management team at the Target store in Eureka said that she could not comment on the issue, adding that she had been directed to refer all queries on the subject to the chain's corporate headquarters. The company stated in a press release that it felt it unfair to allow the Salvation Army to ask for donations at its stores while banning other charitable groups.
Ocaño said that all money raised locally during the kettle drive stays local. It is used to fund programs such as meals for seniors and after-schools activities for youth. In addition, he said, the Eureka Corps was hoping to retire some $450,000 in debt it had accumulated in recent years due to sluggish thrift-store sales.
by BOB DORAN
That's how Hugo Papstein, head of the local radio group Eureka Broadcasting, described Auction No. 37, the first open auction of FM broadcast frequencies held by the Federal Communications Commission since 1997. That's when Congress mandated the use of a competitive bidding process for commercial broadcast station licensing.
The bidding battle for FM broadcast construction permits, potentially new radio stations, ran through most of the month of November, putting 288 "vacant FM allotments" on the block. Those were basically unused FM frequencies, many of them in rural portions of western states.
Among them was permit FM026, a license to build a radio station in Blue Lake.
Before it was over the bidding for FM026 soared to more than $1 million, but by the time the auction ended on Nov. 23, after 62 rounds of bidding, that high bid had been withdrawn, and the local frequency was one of 30 nationwide that went unsold.
Bidding for the Blue Lake frequency began at $90,000, which instantly made it "just too much" for Pat Christensen of Redwood Broadcasting, formerly known as Miller Broadcasting, who saw "no economic justification for the bid," he said.
Christensen was one of 456 initial applicants for the auction and the only other local radio station owner beside Eureka Broadcasting who showed interest in the local frequency. Papstein was among 40 bidders who felt that FM026 was worth at least $90 grand. In fact, at one point early on in the proceedings, Eureka Broadcasting bid $398,000 for the frequency.
"It wasn't worth more than that to me," said Papstein after a company called Bigglesworth Broadcasting upped the bid to $478,000.
A few rounds later the bid for FM026 had doubled; by round 19, two firms were dueling with Radioactive LLC's $933,000 bid in round 21, topped by College Creek Broadcasting Inc., which bid over a million -- only to withdraw its bid 10 rounds later.
Prior to 1997, radio frequencies were not sold. They were awarded to those who showed they could best serve the community. That has changed.
"We are in new territory with this groundbreaking auction, introducing new owners into the radio market and bringing increased diversity through new FM radio stations to cities and towns that have not had their own local stations," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a press release.
"By placing small businesses on equal footing with other bidders at the auction stage, our policies ensure that more owners have the opportunity to become pioneers in the dynamic media marketplace," Powell said.
While it's true that a number of smaller companies came away with new stations, the overall results seem to paint a different picture regarding "equal footing." As the auction drew to a close, the 288 qualified bidders had been whittled down to 110 "players" as an FCC spokesman described them, with relatively small companies like Eureka Broadcasting falling by the wayside.
At the end of the auction, with winning bidders due to submit payments of $147.4 million, over half of the money bid is promised by just five major players, who between them accounted for $91 million in bids.
"Some of the frequencies went for way over what was anticipated," said Papstein, who saw the whole process as "crazy" in that, "the auction took an unusual form. I've never heard of an auction that doesn't go to the high bidder."
If the highest bid is withdrawn, only active bidders -- those who had not dropped out of the bidding for one or more of the 288 licenses up for grabs -- could continue to bid. But in the case of the Blue Lake frequency, the high rollers weren't interested.
What happens next with the unsold frequencies? Lauren Patrich from the FCC Wireless Department explained, "They are still in our inventory. We will sell them eventually," adding that another FM construction permit auction "could happen as early as next year."
by HANK SIMS
Arcata artist Duane Flatmo rode a custom back-steering cycle onto the Tonight Show stage wearing one of his big-head Cubist masks last Wednesday night. He serenaded Jay Leno with a flamenco number on his guitar, effortlessly reproducing the rapid-fire strum of the genre's masters with the assistance of an electric mixer.
Then he took a bow and was officially named "The Most Interesting Person in California" -- the fourth person crowned in a 50-state search that the show is undertaking in cooperation with shock comedian Tom Green for American's weirdest and wackiest.
During the show, Green -- who is visiting each of the states in alphabetical order -- explained to Leno the rationale for focusing on Humboldt County in the California segment.
"There's a lot of weird people in Los Angeles -- we thought that would be too easy," he said. "So we went up to Eureka, California, and met some more weird people there."
Flatmo's live appearance was preceded by a short video of Green visiting with other local residents who were vying for the award. Ornithologist Rob Hewitt took Green on an owl-hooting expedition, allowing Green to indulge in some of his trademark animal humor. Eureka resident Bob Brown cooked up some garden snails for the comedian in his kitchen and explained the best way to prepare banana slugs for the table. Scott Cocking twirled a ball of fire tied to the end of a long rope at the Old Town Gazebo, briefly catching Green's leg on fire when he attempted to skip over it.
The show's crew visited "Willow" -- the tree-sitter formerly known as "Whisper" -- in his perch in an old-growth redwood near Greenwood Heights Road. The occasion marked the second time this year that a comedian has teased the tree-sitter on national television. In the spring, Sascha Baron Cohen of "Da Ali G Show" upbraided Willow and Earth First! activist "Shunka" for the "crap songs" associated with the movement.
Both comedians took the opportunity to muse about better uses to which the tree could be put, riling the activists in the process. Cohen fantasized about a "hot tub full of honeys"; the usually dependable Green could only come up with "a redwood deck."
Though the cast of characters featured on the segment no doubt caused much of the nation to scratch its head, at least one local was nonplussed. "It's just the people you meet every day," she said.
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