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Dec. 18, 2003

The Weekly Wrap

Bridgeville saga continues
Town back on the market

Winners, losers in school fund reshuffle

The next Freshwater fight
Cutting in relatively pristing area could begin Jan. 1



A BUYOUT OF PL? It's nothing more than talk, at this point. But environmental activists and others are looking into the feasibility -- or lack thereof -- of what might be called the ultimate solution: Buying the Pacific Lumber Co. Jan Kraepelien, formerly of KEET-TV and long involved in the never-ending local timber wars, confirmed Tuesday that he had broached the idea with the Redwood Forest Foundation, a Mendocino County non-profit that uses tax-exempt bonds to purchase industrial timberlands. (The group was involved in the unsuccessful effort to purchase commercial timberlands in the Mendocino region owned by Louisiana-Pacific; the company sold its holdings instead to the Gap.) Kathy Moxon, chief administrative officer of the Humboldt Area Foundation, and a member of RFF's board of directors, said that so far she hasn't done much more than put out some feelers to other board members to gauge their level of interest. Stay tuned.

DA RACE SHAPES UP: It appears that recall proponents found their candidate this week, after Gloria Albin Sheets of Eureka -- a former county prosecutor under DA Terry Farmer -- took out papers to run as a replacement for DA Paul Gallegos. Recall spokesman Rick Brazeau told the press that Sheets represented a "breath of fresh air." Sheets did not return calls Monday or Tuesday. On Friday, Arcata attorney Steven Schectman entered the race as a pro-Gallegos, "No on the Recall/Yes on Schectman" candidate. The attorney, who has specialized in civil law, is best known locally as a thorn in the side of Pacific Lumber. He represented residents of Stafford whose homes were destroyed by a debris torrent from PL timberlands in 1997; he also obtained a settlement from the company on behalf of the family of forest activist David "Gypsy" Chain, who was crushed by a falling redwood in 1998.

FORE! A Trinity County man touched off a minor panic at the airport on Saturday, after baggage screeners discovered an explosive device in his luggage. Arriving at the scene, the Sheriff's Office's explosives technician discovered that the suspected bomb was, in fact, a cannon-like device designed to shoot golf balls long distances -- a "hobby" he apparently intended to practice on his vacation, according Sheriff's Office spokesperson Brenda Gainey. The device, which was charged with gunpowder, was rendered harmless. The man, whose name was not released, was allowed to board his flight, sans cannon -- calls from the Sheriff's Office to the FBI resulted in his being picked up and questioned when he arrived in Miami that night. The feds have apparently declined to press charges, but Gainey said the case might be prosecuted locally.

CRASH KILLS THREE TEENS: Rain and unsafe speed were blamed for the deaths of three Humboldt County girls on Saturday. Shortly before noon, Charles Meeks, 20, of Eureka, was driving a 1987 Sterling south on Highway 101 near Westhaven Drive when he lost control of the car, drove down an embankment and slammed into a tree on the west side of the highway, the California Highway Patrol reported. Kandie Marie Charest, 17, and Melinda Steele-Charest, 15, sisters who were both from McKinleyville, were riding in the back seat, as was Alicia Silva, 16, of Trinidad. All three were pronounced dead at the scene. Meeks, who was driving close to 75 miles per hour, was transported to St. Joseph Hospital with moderate injuries; he has not been arrested. Josh Keyes, 21, of McKinleyville, was riding in the passenger seat and went to Mad River Hospital with moderate injuries. The CHP did not immediately have information on whether the girls, McKinleyville High students, were wearing seat belts.

MISSING WOMAN: The Sheriff's Posse -- a group of volunteers trained in search and rescue operations -- combed a section of Bayside Road on Saturday, hoping to turn up any signs or clues in the disappearance of 63-year-old Joan Taylor, who has been missing since Nov. 25. Taylor, a Bayside resident, was last seen walking down the road that evening, carrying branches of holly in her hands. Sadly, the Posse came up empty. Taylor is 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs 135 lbs., has blue eyes and blonde hair, and was wearing dark green rain gear and silver boots. Anyone who may have information on her whereabouts is urged to call the Sheriff's Office at 445-7251.

THE STERNS FILE: "We're making a pretty strict policy of not talking to the press about personnel matters." So said Kathy Simon, co-executive director of the Coalition for Essential Schools, when asked about John Sterns. Last week, local media flooded the organization with phone calls after discovering that the former Humboldt State University administrator had secured new employment with the Oakland-based non-profit as its fund-raising director. Within a day or so, reporters were told that Sterns was no longer employed there. Simon's refusal to discuss the issue leaves aficionados of the Sterns scandal scratching their heads. Could he really not have told his new employers that he was convicted on multiple felony charges for embezzlement and falsification of accounts at HSU? And how could CES officials not have known? (A simple Google search would have told them plenty.) Or did CES know about all this, and Sterns' departure was unrelated? John Sterns -- riddle, mystery, enigma. To be continued.

DAY USE ONLY FOR FRESHWATER SPIT: Freshwater Lagoon Spit will be converted to a day-use-only facility as of Jan. 12, Redwood National Park Superintendent Bill Pierce announced. The change was prompted by safety and environmental issues, and comes after a five-year review process, said Chief Ranger Scott Wanek. The problems: RV parking was too close to the highway; dune vegetation was being trampled; campers were dumping their RV waste tanks where they parked; private RV lots complained that the public area posed unfair competition; and tourists complained about the "visual impact" of the recreational vehicles. "When folks came over the hill, it was basically this wall of RVs parked end to end," Wanek said. "It definitely obscured the view of the ocean there." But you can't satisfy everyone. Residents and business owners in Orick are concerned that closure of the overnight parking area will mean that travelers will be less likely to stop there for gas, food and supplies.

HUMBOLDT BANCORP GROWING: Shareholders have approved Humboldt Bancorp's $80 million acquisition of California Independent Bancorp. California Independent is the holding company for Feather River State Bank, based in Yuba City. About 10 Eureka employees will lose their jobs by March as a result, but have been encouraged to apply for other openings as they come up, said Humboldt Bancorp Chief Financial Officer Pat Rusnak. Humboldt Bancorp offers business and consumer banking services at the 19 locations of its principal subsidiary, Humboldt Bank. The transaction is expected to close Jan. 6.

Bridgeville saga continues
Town back on the market


The much-publicized "sale" of the town of Bridgeville last December to an online buyer went nowhere. But as of Saturday, the town is on the market again for what its agent called a "very realistic price."

"We're not putting it on eBay again," said Denise Stuart of California Real Estate. "It was such a fiasco."

Bridgeville's listing in the online auction service last year generated international media attention, with stories in everything from the Los Angeles Times to The New York Times to the Sydney Morning Herald, as well as National Public Radio, the BBC and the Today Show. And the holiday publicity -- which began with a slow-news-day story from the Associated Press on Christmas Eve -- ignited a 249-bid auction fury until bidding closed at $1.78 million on Dec. 27, far above the minimum bid of $775,000.

"Once AP got a hold of it, then all the newspapers got on the bandwagon," Stuart said. "It just kind of snowballed. The thing with auctions is, when somebody thinks that a lot of other people want the same item, it can just go into a bidding frenzy, and that's what happened."

But, while agents continued to insist that the deal was on, the buyers never materialized. "The first guy backed out within 24 hours. It was buyers' frenzy, then buyers' remorse immediately afterwards. It would have been really hard to justify that price, unless somebody just had money to burn," Stuart said.

Stuart said she listed Bridgeville on the real estate multiple listings service at $850,000, "which is a very realistic price. It's at fair market value. So hopefully it goes this time and someone can put some money into it and get it going again."

Since listing it Saturday, "I've already got a couple different agents calling about it," she said.

Bridgeville is owned by antique dealer Elizabeth Lapple, whose mother, also Elizabeth, bought it in 1972. The family sold it to a religious group from Fremont in 1977, but the group, who planned on building a Christian senior citizens' trailer park, fell behind in its mortgage payments. After another church group came in and failed to shore up the finances, the Lapples foreclosed on the property.

Lapple herself doesn't live there anymore; she bought a home in Fortuna.

The tiny town on Highway 36, population about 20, includes nine parcels, with four cabins, eight houses, the post office, a machine shop, a restaurant, a cemetery and a few Quonset huts. But the town has seen better days; several of the buildings are uninhabitable, and the machine shop and restaurant are not currently operating.

The eBay listing itself cautioned buyers, "Many of the structures included with the town could be described as fixer-uppers, so be prepared to do a lot of work to get the town into sparkling condition."

Stuart insisted that a new buyer could turn the place around.

"There are not a whole lot of restrictions of what people could do. I just heard several really neat ideas that would really benefit the community." One possibility: "a really neat trailer park or RV park."

Michael Guerriero, a Bridgeville artist, said a new buyer might do what the current owners haven't. "I don't think they have any interest in starting up any business in town," he said. But he and other townspeople were skeptical from the start about the eBay sale when they saw the glowing description. "It was a little bit ridiculous when we started looking at the [online] ad and comparing it to the town itself. It cast doubt on that sale."

Meanwhile, would-be sellers of other towns continue to use eBay to list their properties, and a recent eBay television ad includes towns among the many things one can market there. This week, the burgs of Tortilla Flat, Ariz., and Monse, Wash., are being advertised on the online service. Several others -- such as Carlotta, Platina (in Shasta County), and Danville, Nev., have come and gone on eBay -- with the same result as Bridgeville. The San Bernardino County town of Amboy, located on old Route 66, may have found a buyer, said its agent. But not through its eBay listing.

Stuart, the real estate agent handling the Bridgeville offering, said the decision to avoid eBay this time around is definite. "Elizabeth [Lapple] and I both talked about it, and neither of us wanted to go that route again. We're just gonna give it a try locally."

Winners, losers in school fund reshuffle


Cuddeback, Fieldbrook, Green Point and Kneeland -- four tiny, relatively poor school districts in Humboldt County -- have lost most, if not all, of their Title I funding, a program aimed at helping children in families living below the federal poverty level.

Other districts, such as Freshwater, Fortuna Union and Scotia Union elementary schools, saw their own Title I funds unexpectedly double or triple. Fortuna will receive $336,000, up from $126,000 last year.

The reshuffling of Title I money -- typically used for hiring additional teachers and classroom aides -- was based on the 2000 U.S. Census and other data analyzed by the state. Some administrators are calling that information faulty.

"The data is vastly inaccurate," said Catherine Stone, superintendent of Fieldbrook Elementary. "My district has been given a poverty rate of 4.3 percent -- lower than some districts in Mill Valley (Marin County) or Beverly Hills."

For the last 10 years, Fieldbrook's federal poverty rate was 40 percent. School officials, counting on $47,000 from Title I funds, were stunned when notified in late September that amount was reduced to $5,586. Title I monies will be reduced further next year and eliminated by year four.

"We have 30 percent of our kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. It's a much better indicator of poverty," Stone said.

Cuddeback Superintendent Thom McMahon said 55 percent of his 125 students are on free or reduced-price lunches, based on federal standards, yet his Title I funding went from $29,500 down to $4,000.

Overall, half of the districts in California are getting more money and half are getting less. For most, funding is within 20 percent of what was received last year, according to a memo from William Meyer of the California Department of Education.

Meyer told Stone her school just happened to be one where new data and entitlement calculations resulted in "tremendous change."

"While free and reduced priced meals eligibility is an indicator of poverty, it is not a determining factor," Meyer said. Instead, the census determines the number of poor children living within a district's boundaries. Statewide, over 55 percent of the children who are eligible for free and reduced priced meals are above the federal poverty line.

"Unfortunately, the state adopted a model that attempts to look at the economy of the community rather than the poverty level of those children in the school," said Garry Eagles, Humboldt County superintendent of schools.

Eagles suggested using Aid to Families with Dependent Children criteria or some tailored approach to determine a fair allocation of funds for needy children.

"Whenever money is reallocated, there are always going to be winners and losers, but we need to look at whether children in need have been placed at a greater disadvantage," Eagles said.

"There isn't much hope for this year. It appears to be mainly small school districts and we are encouraging them to work through their small school district association."

In the meantime, Cuddeback and other districts were forced to cut their budgets less than three months into the new year.

"We had to eliminate a half-time teaching position to keep our basic programs intact," said McMahon, who says his job title at Cuddeback is superintendent/principal/janitor. "This all happened after we had our budgets adopted and the school year had begun."

Both McMahon and Stone blamed faulty census data, where rural census workers are allowed to leave forms behind when residents are not home.

Stone, who taught in Marin County before being named superintendent of Fieldbrook, said she has been working with area legislators but sees no remedy in sight.

"We lost 9 percent of our budget for the year," she said.

The next Freshwater fight
Cutting in relatively pristing area could begin Jan. 1


The hundreds of Coho salmon currently making their way up Freshwater Creek are mostly headed for one spot: a 3-mile, thickly forested stretch in the upper portion of the watershed that still has good gravel for the fish to spawn in.

Virtually everywhere else in the basin spawning gravels are buried under layers of silt, primarily due to intensive logging by the Pacific Lumber Co. over the past 15 years. Only in the upper mainstem, which hasn't seen serious logging in decades, do conditions approximate those that used to prevail throughout the 19,000-acre watershed east of Eureka prior to the advent of logging more than 100 years ago.

"It is the least managed part of the watershed. It is still relatively intact," said Humboldt State University fisheries professor Terry Roelofs, who owns a home bordering the area.

Not that it's virgin old growth on a par with the Headwaters Forest. Instead, it's 60- to 80-year-old second growth, with trees as large as 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Nice, but scenery is not its prime value; aquatic habitat is. No less than 70 percent of the fish that leave the Freshwater basin and head out into the ocean come from this single area, according to Roelofs.

This fish nursery may soon become a good deal less hospitable to salmon as Pacific Lumber is poised to begin large-scale logging. Almost 5 miles of logging roads have already been punched into the area, and the company has received permission from the California Department of Forestry to log close to 300 acres of the upper watershed in the upcoming year, or about 10 percent of it. Cutting could begin as soon as Jan. 1.

Clark Fenton of Salmon Forever, a local nonprofit which operates a state-of-the-art sediment-monitoring gauge on Roelof's property, said the logging would lead to a rise in the volume of sediment in Upper Freshwater Creek. He also said it would increase "chronic turbidity," the period of time in which a waterway is clouded with silt.

As good as the habitat is in the upper basin, Fenton said the creek is already "at the edge" in terms of sediment loads. In other words, erosion -- probably from landslides and roads in the surrounding uplands -- has clouded the creek to the point where young salmon may already be having difficulty seeing their dinner. (They subsist largely on bugs.)

The implication was clear: In terms of the fish, additional erosion from the pending logging could push them over a threshold.

The notion that the upcoming logging would seriously degrade habitat in Upper Freshwater was challenged by Erin Dunn, PL's communications manager. She said that whatever damage occurs from harvesting would be minimized by California's strict logging regulations. "We follow the strictest guidelines in the nation," Dunn said.

The mood among forest activists is grim. Well-known tree-sitter Remedy, aka Jeny Card, asserted boldly that "no logging should occur on the upper mainstem, period."

But she expressed despair about how to stop PL, especially given the ultimate failure of tree-sitters to halt logging in the Greenwood Heights area of Freshwater last spring.

"I have an impending feeling of doom. Every single day I'm asking people, `What are we going to do?'"

Card said there are no plans as of yet to stage tree-sits in upper Freshwater, which would be more difficult to access than Greenwood Heights.

Mark Lovelace of the Humboldt Watershed Council said there does not appear to be any "obvious procedural way" to stop the logging, although he did not rule out a last-minute legal challenge. There has even been talk of purchasing the area from PL.

While Lovelace said "there may be more empowerment" in recent actions taken by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board "than anyone is aware of," it does not appear that the board has any intention -- and may simply not have the ability -- to curb logging that has already been approved.

As for Roelofs, he pointed out that Freshwater has been intensively studied in recent years by fisheries scientists -- to the point that it has become something of a giant outdoor laboratory. He said such research would not have been possible without cooperation from Pacific Lumber, which owns about three-quarters of the basin.

Roelofs said Upper Freshwater, because it has only been lightly logged, serves as a "control" -- a baseline against which conditions elsewhere in the basin can be measured. That makes it particularly valuable from a scientific perspective, he said, although he added that worthwhile research could still be conducted in the watershed even if its upper portions end up as extensively logged as the rest of it.

Lovelace acknowledged the scientific work in Freshwater, and said that PL's own scientists have made valuable contributions.

"But any good science that is done by their people is wasted because they are ignoring the one overarching issue -- rate of harvest.

"No matter how good the science is, you can't mitigate an atom bomb," Lovelace added.



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