North Coast Journal



Driving Deaths Up

Statewide figures are dropping, but the number of drunken driving deaths on the North Coast is soaring.

Seven people died in vehicle accidents caused by alcohol use in 1993. For 1994, that number jumped to 17, a 142 percent increase. At the state level, the number of alcohol-related deaths dropped 5.2 percent, from 1993's high of 1,569 to 1,488 deaths last year.

"We're going the other direction here," said Traffic Officer Jerry Renner, of California Highway Patrol's Humboldt Division.

"All I can think is that we have a few more people moving in here," Renner said.

The local division office is a "little down" on personnel, Renner said, but a typical shift has four to seven CHP cars cruising between the Del Norte County line and Garberville.

A statewide report comparing the number of driving-under-the-influence arrests showed DUI arrests in Humboldt County were down from 1,534 in 1992 to 1,258 in 1993. The 1994 statistics weren't available.


Protections Perused

Plans to protect the tiny snowy plover from dogs, human feet and off-road vehicles will be discussed June 14 and 15 at the Eureka Inn.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to install fences and signs in late spring on the dunes of three local beaches. The bird lays its speckled eggs in vulnerable spots on the ground. Disturbances have caused plover populations to plummet in the last 40 years.

The 4-inch tall bird attempts to lay its eggs on parts of the Stone Lagoon and Big Lagoon spits, and around the Eel River estuary. Previously common along the Samoa peninsula, heavy dune traffic has displaced plovers.

Officials say the nest sites can be protected because they aren't on the hard wave slope, areas used by fishermen and other beach-goers.

A recent meeting in Orick showed heavy local opposition, including a 3,000-signature petition protesting plover protection. Fishermen fear restrictions on vehicle traffic won't stop with the plover's fore dune habitat, and will spread to cover more of the beach.


Child Deaths/Abuse Up

County leaders agreed last month to spend $200,000 to beef up protection services for abused children.

The money was in response to reports that about 250 cases of alleged child abuse are not reviewed each year. The reason: staff shortages in the Social Services Department.

Ironically, the Board of Supervisors cut about $200,000 from Child Welfare Services just two years ago in an effort to balance the budget.

The Child Welfare League of America Inc. is in town reviewing local child protective services. The supervisors hired the group, at a cost of about $200,000, after the Humboldt County Grand Jury said local children are at "risk of dying" due to failures in agency responses.

There are more than 5,000 children abused each year in Humboldt County. The majority are categorized as "neglected." Of the 500 children who are sexually abused each year, a "large number" of those are still living with or near the abuser, according to Michael Petit, CWLA official.

Another report found that Humboldt County's infants are dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at double the state rate. Local officials blamed the high rate on a large number of mothers who smoke cigarettes.


Pl Logging Ok'd

A restraining order was to expire May 31, setting the stage for Pacific Lumber Co. to begin salvage logging as early as June 1 in the Headwaters Forest, home to several threatened species.

Environmentalists tried to halt the logging, but were defeated last month when a visiting judge ruled in favor of the timber company. The state Board of Forestry had approved the company's request for a salvage exemption, allowing the removal of "dead, dying or diseased" timber without the restrictions of some timber harvest rules.

An appeal is expected to be filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center.

In other news, PL reopened its old-growth mill after a two-week closure, the first of its kind in decades.

Citing better weather, PL President John Campbell called 105 employees back to work. In closing the mill April 17, Campbell blamed weather, regulatory pressures and the temporary restraining order.


Big Tree Girdled

Rumors are rampant over the girdling of a huge redwood in Lady Bird Johnson Grove near Orick last month.

The tree is public property, one of the hundreds of old-growth trees within the Redwood National Forest.

Some tie the tragic vandalism, chain saw cuts deep into the sides of the 1,000-year-old tree, to militia elements upset at the federal government in general, angry beach-goers upset at the federal government's calls for protection of snowy plover habitat on North Coast beaches and even retaliation for a recent drunken-driving incident where two men, one a park employee, were killed. The driver has been charged with murder.

The girdled tree may not survive the cuts, which were below the bark layer and into the life-giving cambium cells.


Jacks Miss Top Spot

Hopes were high that top-ranked Humboldt State women's softball team would take the national championship this year, but it was not to be.

Placing third in the nation out of 194 teams, the 'Jacks lost their last two games in late May. This was the second year HSU had a chance at the top spot. Last year the team finished second in the nation.

HSU shortstop Apple Gomez was named as first team All-American last month. "She's basically the best player in the country," HSU athletics spokesman Dan Pambianco said.


Construction Stalls

The county's fastest growing region - McKinleyville - is now under a building moratorium due to an overloaded sewer system.

Bruce Buel, manager of the McKin-leyville Community Services District said the district must find a solution before time and space run out. As of May 15, waste water could no longer be disposed of in the Mad River.

There isn't enough farm land under contract right now to spray treated sewage, and district plans to install a spray system at the airport is running into resistance. Some residents took the issue to the California Coastal Commission, which will decide in mid-June whether to allow the district to proceed.

The district board will meet June 7 to consider alternative disposal sites, such as nearby agricultural lands, if the CCC denies the district a permit for the airport.

Residents have been divided for years over the rapid building pace and its impact on area creeks and open spaces.

The current system, installed little more than a decade ago, was supposed to handle McKinleyville's growth for at least another decade.

"No matter how deep we trench and replace gravel, the ponds handle less than 50 percent of the design expectation," said Bruce Buel, MCSD manager.

District leaders have mentioned closing the area's largest recreation area, Hiller Park, if need be and spraying the sewage on that acreage.



It's Fish Vs. Wine

A power play is in the works over Eel River water, but many predict Humboldt County will come out better off in the end.

Declining salmon populations may be the impetus that allows more water to flow down the Eel. Currently, only 10 percent of the river's natural flow makes it to the mouth near Ferndale. The rest is diverted to the Russian River and on to vineyards and residences in Sonoma County.

Regulators are now saying that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. must spend $25 million to add fish screens and earthquake-safe structures to its hydroelectric dam project on the upper reaches of the Eel.

PG&E at first balked and considered selling the project to groups in Sonoma County. Recently, PG&E announced it may keep the Potter Valley dam/plant if Sonoma County water users cough up $3 million a year. The agricultural users and others using Eel water via the Russian River have done so at little or no cost since the project began in 1906.

State and federal regulators have said that in either case more water will need to be left in the Eel River for fish habitat.

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