Humboldt County Environmental Health officials tried for five years to force a local petroleum dealer to comply with the state underground tank law.

But it took a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general to force owner William R. Johnson to achieve that goal.

Last month Johnson was fined $600,000 for refusing to register and monitor fuel tanks despite a plea for leniency by county supervisors.

Johnson was accused of violating state health and safety codes by refusing to properly register and monitor underground fuel tanks. The company owns 43 underground storage tanks from McKinleyville to Fortuna, seven of which were said to leak and potentially contaminate groundwater.

Attorney General Dan Lundgren announced the settlement of the 2-year-old lawsuit last month -- nine months after the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors attempted to intervene.

"We are appreciative of the Department of Justice's effort in bringing Big Oil and Tire into compliance," supervisors wrote in a Feb. 25 letter. "We are also concerned that the agreed on settlement in this case not jeopardize the solvency of this company that is 30 percent owned by its employees. ... As you may know, Humboldt County is a depressed rural county with a high unemployment rate."

The letter asked that the attorney general reach a settlement "in line with penalties assessed by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board for similar violations."

However, according to a supervising engineer with the RWQCB's Santa Rosa office, the board is not involved with fines for companies failing to comply with state regulations on monitoring or registering underground fuel storage tanks. The board's responsibilities lie with fines related to clean-up.

The company has now obtained the required permits and improved its system for tank monitoring, said Jim Clark, acting director of environmental health. As part of the settlement, the Blue Lake company will pay for projects to restock fish and restore an Arcata-area creek draining into Humboldt Bay.

The county began notifying those with underground tanks of new state requirements requiring registration in 1987. Big Oil and Tire eventually registered most of their tanks, Clark said, but some were found that the owners didn't know about.

"The practice was years ago, if the tank leaked you simply covered it up and put in a new one, (but) you lose track of where tanks were," Clark said.

As to Big Oil and Tire, inspectors found a number of problems in operation of the company's stations including testing of the underground tanks for leaks, failing to report leaks and slow clean-up efforts when there was an unauthorized release, Clark said.

Some of the company's violations did not actually involve leaks but arose from neglecting to maintain systems that would detect leaks.


Dennis Lewis wants to keep his job.

The Humboldt County sheriff, who came to office in 1994 after defeating four-term incumbent Dave Renner, announced last month that he would be seeking a second term.

The declaration came in the midst of continuing controversy over the use of pepper spray on nonviolent demonstrators protesting the Headwaters Forest agreement. The agreement to purchase the 3,000-acre grove and about 4,500 surrounding acres was signed by President Clinton in November.

Lewis, along with Eureka Police Chief Arnie Millsap, has been named in a federal lawsuit alleging that the civil rights of the protesters were violated.

Lewis spent more than 25 years as an investigator for the Humboldt County District Attorney's office prior to seeking the county's top law enforcement slot.


Ferndale sculptor Hobart Brown has severed ties with the nonprofit Kinetic Art Foundation, which has run the world-renowned race since 1995.

Brown, who claims to be the owner of the kinetic art form of racing, has hired a Zenia-area group to stage the three-day event. It's a move that has some racers upset and sponsors pulling out support.

Syndey Woodson Munguia, director of the race and the Kinetic Art Foundation, said the group wasn't able to offer enough money to Brown. Brown owns the common copyright on racing art vehicles. But, Woodson said, such activity has been around for about 120 years and has been popular in England.

The switch has prompted two financial supporters, Calistoga and Yakima, to pull out as sponsors, Munguia said.

"The bottom line is we want to make sure people know the KAF is not responsible or liable for the event this year," she said.

Al Krause, who has competed in the three-day, cross-country race for the past 23 years, is worried that the race's organization will take a step backward.

"There's a lot of people who are disappointed in the change of management," Krause said.

Brown confirmed that he had decided to contract with another group to run the race and the decision meant the loss of at least one sponsor. The decision, he said, was based in part of philosophical differences.

"They excluded a lot of things I think were important in the race -- the Rutabaga contest, the loser's award, things like that," Brown said.

The loser's award is particularly important, Brown said. "It's all right to be the winner but losing is okay and it's an integral part of the race."

The sculptor said he was confident that the Kettenpom-based group California Backwoods can organize the race and that other sponsors will emerge. Either way, he said, the race will go on.

"We're not angry with the Kinetic Art Foundation. They did a lot of things I did like," Brown said.

For the first time in several years, Brown is building a new entry for the race, the Hobartron Exotic Intergalactic Gravity Bender.


A Petaluma Valley Hospital administrator will take over as the president and CEO of the St. Joseph Health System.

Neil Martin spent 11 years at the Sonoma County hospital, where he held the positions of chief financial officer, chief operating officer and, for the past six years, president and CEO.

"We are very excited and pleased that Neil has chosen to join the St. Joseph Health System-Humboldt County team," said John Gierek Sr., president of the hospital board of trustees.

Martin takes over the top administrative job vacated when former CEO Paul Chodkowski resigned to accept a position at a hospital in his hometown of Schenectady, N.Y.


Louisiana-Pacific Corp. announced the temporary layoff of about 225 pulp mill employees effective four days before Christmas. A weak pulp market led to the decision to temporarily shutdown operations at the Samoa mill, company officials said.

Typically, L-P closes the mill over the Christmas holiday for maintenance. This year, however, a warehouse full of ready-to-go pulp and a shortage of buyers prompted the temporary shutdown.

Operations are expected to restart by Jan. 5.


Owners of the historical Hartsook Inn south of Garberville may be looking to the forest to stave off bankruptcy.

A plan to log the 37-acre parcel adjacent to Richardson Grove State Park includes falling the "Hartsook Giant," a statuesque and ancient redwood measuring 19 feet in diameter. Save the Redwoods League is hoping to negotiate purchasing at least a portion of the Inn's holdings including the "Giant" but negotiations were still ongoing as of Dec. 21.

Representatives of Woodland Valley Ranch Co., which owns the Inn, say timber harvest revenues are necessary to clear the business' debt and begin operating in the black.

The Hartsook Inn is squarely situated in southern Humboldt County's history. San Francisco photographer Fred Hartsook built the first Inn in the early 1920s. Soon the shaded retreat became a popular resting spot for those arduous enough to take on the then-primitive Highway 101 north.


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