North Coast Journal




Some adept amateur detective work led to the July 31 rescue of Benson, the 6-foot teddy bear who was kidnapped from the Benbow Inn between the night of June 30 and the morning of July 2.

The furry one's disappearance was traumatic for staff and regulars at the Benbow, where Benson has been a fixture for more than 10 years.

"I discovered him missing the day I went to put his 4th of July costume on him," said Teresa Porter, co-owner of Benbow.

Porter and her staff strained to remember which guests from that period might be likely suspects.

"We looked at all the dinner tickets, and there were these two women whom we remembered as being particularly inebriated. ... The bartender had heard them say they lived in Arcata, so we looked them up in the phone book."

Benbow pianist Matthew Cook volunteered to visit the suspects. "I went by after work one night about midnight, and I left the news clipping (about Benson's disappearance) and a note that said, 'If you're done with him we'd like him back.'"

A woman called Cook the next morning. She had the bear and wanted to bring him home. "She said that she felt sorry about it the moment she woke up the next morning. She was thinking of sending him home by UPS but didn't want him to get wrecked."

Promising anonymity to the kidnappers, Cook received Benson the next morning, July 31, then drove him south to a joyous reunion at the inn.

Was Benson mistreated on his month-long stay in Arcata? Quite the contrary.

He came back wearing sunglasses, a Hawaiian silk shirt, a sticker that said, "Arcata: Land o' Great Babes," and a satisfied expression on his face.

According to Cook's wife, Diane, "If he were a smoker he would have been smoking."


Martin and Donna Gift, fourth-generation owners of a ranch near Kneeland, learned in June that the federal government had included their land in its designation of "critical habitat" for the threatened marbled murrelet.

"Recently, a part of our family ranch was taken by the federal government," wrote the Gifts in letters to the Humboldt Beacon, San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers.

"Although no murrelets have ever been found on our ranch, and most of the land ... is prairie, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided ... that the bird could not survive without our cow pasture and young trees."

With encouragement from Rep. Frank Riggs, they traveled to Washington to speak for legislation that Riggs proposed to remove private land from the critical habitat designation. That bill was narrowly defeated.

But what impact the Gifts will feel from the federal action is unclear.

The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that the Gift's property was included for two reasons:

Ä The Endangered Species Act mandates that "constituent elements" up to a half-mile away from primary habitat -- old redwoods, in the murrelet's case --Ýmust be included.

Ä The FWS cannot include only part of a parcel in its habitat designation but must follow legal property boundaries, thereby including some land that is not, in fact, inhabited by the murrelet.

Furthermore, the Service maintains that the critical habitat designation affects only federal land or private landowners receiving federal funds. The Gifts would face restrictions "only if the bird were located on their land," said Ken Hoffman, USFWS spokesman. "And that prohibition has existed since the bird was listed."

The Gifts could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Riggs maintained that the Gifts' ranch may indeed lose value because of the habitat mapping. "We've seen examples from all over the country where people were assured repeatedly that critical habitat designation would in no way impact them, only to find later that there was a really significant devaluation of their land," said Beau Phillips.



Many Humboldt County school districts will reduce the size of primary grade classes this year to 20 or fewer students. While smaller classes have been on the wish lists of parents and teachers for many years, it took an offer of state money -- $650 per student -- to accomplish it.

Eureka, Arcata and McKinleyville have opted to reduce class sizes, according to a report in the Times-Standard. Others plan to follow suit. "Most school districts in the county are looking seriously at reducing class sizes," said Janet Frost of the County Office of Education.

"For some, however, it won't be a practical consideration this year," said Frost. "Let's say they have only 25 students in first grade. To get down to 20, they'd have to make two classes of 12 and 13 and hire a new teacher. The new funding wouldn't cover that cost."



It's a long ride, but it's the only ride.

That's the way many Southern Humboldters feel about the Humboldt Transit Authority bus that makes morning and evening runs between Garberville and Rio Dell (where they can transfer to ride as far as Trinidad). Nearly 400 residents have signed a petition asking the Board of Supervisors to save the route, which the Public Works Department wants to eliminate because fare revenues pay for less than 25 percent of the route's cost.

If the county bus goes, a $30 Greyhound ride will be the only transit option for those in Southern Humboldt. And the schedule isn't exactly convenient.

"The best you can do on Greyhound without spending the night in Eureka is to leave at 3:45 in the morning and conclude your business by 10:30 a.m. in order to catch the bus back to Garberville," said Marling McReynolds of the Southern Humboldt Resource Center.

McReynolds also said that some people rely on the bus for commuting between Southern Humboldt towns.



Louisiana Pacific Corp. had two reported pollution incidents this summer.

On June 18, 1,000 gallons of pulp-making chemicals were released from the Samoa mill into the ocean after a fork lift bumped the valve on a two-inch line. It was closed after four minutes.

On Aug. 9, Eureka residents complained about a foul odor so intense it caused eye irritation and nausea. The source was wastewater full of odorous wood compounds left over from pulp processing. Normally processed in an airtight system the "foul condensate" wasn't spilled but merely opened to the air for a short time.

According to Kirk Girard, environmental manager, the company has invested $8 million over two years in "hardware and processes" that prevent such releases "when running correctly."

"The most significant environmental problems occur when something doesn't go as planned," he said.



The electricity blackout that hit scattered areas of the Western United States on Aug. 10 was caused by reduced power outputs from Columbia River dams and power line problems in Oregon that weren't reported quickly enough.

So testified utility executives at an Aug. 21 Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco.

While "new procedures" are developed to avert similar blackouts, several local companies expect periodic shutdowns of their electricity to continue.

But then, they asked for it.

Simpson Timber, Blue Lake Forest Products and other large North Coast companies have special contracts with Pacific Gas & Electric in which the utility can interrupt their electricity.

"We have an agreement that says they will curtail their power so we can deliver the power to our other customers," said Bill Roake, PG&E spokesman. "It typically happens on very hot weather days when there is a high demand."

The calls from PG&E usually come in the morning, and the plants are shut down and workers sent home by 12:30 or 1 p.m., according to Bruce Taylor Sr., head of Blue Lake Forest Products, who recalls at least 4 shutdowns in July and August.

In exchange for the inconvenience and costs, the "interruptible" customers pay lower rates, which Taylor and PG&E declined to quantify.



On Eureka's waterfront one major revitalization project is set to go and two others await funding.

The City of Eureka plans to build a dock and work area for commercial fishing boats at the foot of C Street beginning next spring. The 40-foot-wide concrete dock will give fishermen a large, consistently available dock space to unload fish and service boats.

The design was recently modified for handicapped accessibility; cost is estimated to be $2 million, which will be funded from the Tidelands Trust Fund, U.S. Housing and Urban Development and revenue from the city's redevelopment projects.

Just to the west of this site, the 50-year-old small boat basin awaits a $7 million rehab to create berths for 144 vessels.

"We're just around the corner from getting $3.9 million from the federal Economic Development Administration and $2.75 million as a loan from the California Department of Boating and Waterways," said David Hull, director of the Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District. While both agencies have given preliminary approval, Hull said final decisions are expected this month.

In the Bay's "outer reach" and entrance channels, a deepening project to make the harbor safer for large ships may begin soon. Rep. Frank Riggs secured $3.1 million of the project's $10 million cost in legislation passed by the House, but the Senate's version of the bill contained no funding. Riggs sits on the conference committee that will negotiate differences in the bills.



McKinleyville residents are moving closer to their dream of creating a new library and a beefed-up police presence.

The McKinleyville Community Services District has borrowed $589,000 in bonds and expects to begin construction at the Pierson Park site in December. Humboldt County cooperated by selling to the MCSD county land for half the appraised value. After construction is complete, the county will operate and equip the library.

On an adjacent site, the MCSD will build a law enforcement facility for county sheriff's deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and county probation and child welfare services.

The Mad River Rotary Club is making an ambitious commitment to fund and construct the $150,000 law enforcement facility, with labor by teenaged trainees from the McKinleyville High Regional Occupational Program.



EarthFirst! calls it a "logging assault." Pacific Lumber Co. says it will be an "extremely light touch."

By any name, it begins Sept. 15 when marbled murrelet nesting season ends and PALCO starts to harvest downed redwoods in the Headwaters Grove.

EarthFirst! staged protests and civil disobedience several times in August, and on Sept. 15 it will join with other groups in the Headwaters Coordinating Council to stage legal and illegal protests near PALCO's Yager Creek Gate in Carlotta. Organizers hope to exceed last year's turnout in which 264 people were arrested and between 1,000 and 2,000 joined a rally against Headwaters logging.

PALCO defends its "salvage logging" activities, which are exempted from the usual state forest practice rules.

"There will be no new truck or cat roads, it will be done only outside of the nesting season of the marbled murrelet ... and we won't damage standing trees," said Tom Herman, resource manager.

But PALCO's opponents contend that even such low-intensity timber management will harm Headwaters.

"If you're skidding out trees, it will disturb habitat on the ground for tailed frogs, olympic salamanders and other ancient forest species," said Tracy Katelman of the Trees Foundation in Garberville.

Aside from the protest, activists are seeking tougher forestry rules that will make it harder to do salvage logging in old growth forests. The issue will be raised before the state Board of Forestry Sept. 9 in South Lake Tahoe.

Also coming to a head in September are the negotiations between the U.S. Department of the Interior and Maxxam (owner of PALCO). The federal judge hearing PALCO's suit against the government gave both parties until mid-month to work out a deal. PALCO claims the government has unreasonably restricted its rights to make economic use of its property, claiming $500 million in damages.



Arcata will build a 30-unit low-income apartment building for seniors on Union Street near the Humboldt State University campus. The $2.1 million project will be funded with a $1 million state grant, $567,000 from the Arcata Community Development Agency and private lenders, according to a Times-Standard story.


Ultrapower 3, the Blue Lake electric producer that failed earlier this summer to gain city approval for its tire-burning plan, has indicated it will seek city permission to burn waste paper along with its traditional fuel of wood waste from sawmills.

Adopting a more active community relations strategy, the company said it will meet with residents prior to seeking permits.



A locally produced news show is among the many radio programs that became available to Humboldt Bay area residents last month as KMUD-FM increased the power of its Kneeland transmitter from 87 to 1,250 watts. The station also adjusted its frequency from 88.5 to 88.3 to avoid interfering with other broadcasters.

The 24-hour radio station is run by non-profit Redwood Community Radio in Garberville. Like KHSU at 90.5 FM, most of KMUD's on-air broadcasters are volunteers.

Some changes are in the works as well on the commercial radio dial. KGOE, an all-talk station from San Francisco, is now broadcast locally on 1480 AM. On KGOE's old 105.5 FM frequency, North Country Communications launched light rock station KKHB. The company also operates country station KRED.



Household hazardous waste can now be safely disposed of two days a month at Humboldt County's newly opened facility south of Eureka.

Call 441-2005 for an appointment and information on what chemicals are accepted; business-owners call (800) 419-2783.



Humboldt County's college-bound seniors scored considerably higher than their fellow students throughout California and the nation in the latest round of SAT testing.

They averaged 1065 points for the combined verbal and mathematics portions of the exam, 59 points higher than the state's average of 1006 and the national average of 1013.

Local students scored an average of 531 on the verbal portion of the test, 36 points higher than California's average score of 495 and the national average of 505. On the mathematics portion of the exam, local students scored 534, 23 points higher than the state's 511. The national average was 508. (The top score possible is 800 in each category.)

This past year, 551 county students -- 55 percent of all graduating seniors -- took the test. Statewide, 45 percent of the seniors take the test and nationally, that figure is 41 percent.

This year's scores are the first to be reported on the SAT's recentered score scale, designed to raise the average score back to 500 and make the scores more statistically sound.

Nationwide college-bound seniors have nearly achieved the average math score of students in the early 1970s, however verbal scores still lag behind. Female students on the whole still score significantly lower in the math portion of the exam.

Two major changes were made in the SAT in recent years. The name was changed from Scholastic Aptitude Test to Scholastic Assessment Test and it was modified to emphasize reading comprehension and math problem solving over multiple choice. Calculators are now permitted.

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