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January 26, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

They think they can
Railroad officials say they can bring trains back to Humboldt County

The final Salzman tally?
Fake letter campaign was more extensive than previously known


16 Questions for Teresa Strickland

The Weekly Wrap

TWO-WAY STREET: Fields Landing residents fed up with persistent truck traffic in their neighborhood have two seemingly disparate forces to blame for their troubles -- a logging business and state environmental agencies.

At a meeting facilitated by Supervisor Jimmy Smith last Thursday night, residents focused on the issue of truck traffic, though other issues plaguing the town were briefly mulled over, including drainage concerns and a broken levee that has been in disrepair for close to two years and awaiting a consultation from NOAA Fisheries. Residents of the small, unincorporated town on Humboldt Bay complained that big rigs from Stanwood "Woody" Murphy Jr.'s business, Humboldt Bay Forest Products, barrel through the neighborhood, down Railroad Avenue, all day and into the wee hours (often at unsafe speeds, neighbors claim), spewing dust, causing an unbearable clamor and destroying the road with potholes.

Murphy, whose family controlled Pacific Lumber pre-Maxxam, said he's open to alternative routes, namely building a road across wetland area his company owns. Part of the trouble is, the permitting process with oversight agencies like the California Coastal Commission and state Department of Fish and Game moves at a snail's pace. His company can't quit hauling product in the interim and Railroad Avenue is the only way to go. And even if the state agencies were to give Murphy the green light for a wetland road, the project might be too expensive to engineer.

Most in attendance appeared somewhat understanding of Murphy's plight, referring to the drawn-out permit process as "bureaucratic bullshit". But another vocal contingent, including Railroad Avenue resident Darrell Evenson, offered little sympathy, saying the company is bad for the neighborhood: No one wants to visit homes on his noisy street, the area is unsafe for kids, property values are affected, some have moved away in frustration and he's considering the same, Evenson said. In addition, his new pickup truck is eternally soiled from the big rigs that spray gravel, dirt and oily puddles onto his vehicle. "There ain't no car wash in Eureka will take it off," he explained.

The bottom line, from Murphy's point of view, was that industrial and commercial zoning allows his company the right to use that road, the county is responsible for repairs, and 50 employees depend on the well-being of his company, along with another 150 sawmill workers who supply the wood. "I don't want to be the problem, I want to be the solution," Murphy told the crowd of roughly 30 people. "I don't care about those jobs if it makes my life miserable," Evenson countered, exasperated. He continued with a half-apology to Murphy: "I'm not mad at you, personally. I'm mad at the problem, and right now, you own the problem."

On Tuesday morning, Supervisor Smith said that since the meeting, Murphy told his drivers to reduce their speed and is having traffic signs made to cite the rule.


NOT BANKRUPT YET: Maxxam, Inc., the parent company of Pacific Lumber, announced last Wednesday that thanks to a $2.3 million shuffle between its various corporate arms, the company was able to meet its $28 million payment to debtholders and to avoid a foreclosure on its Humboldt County timberlands.

In a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said that one of its subsidiaries -- "Maxxam Group Inc." -- would make an advance purchase of timber from another -- Scotia Pacific, the entity that holds title to the bulk of the company's land holdings in the county and carries the bulk of its debt.

The report carried the disclaimer now standard to Maxxam filings with the SEC: The cash-strapped Scotia Pacific may soon have to restructure its operations, institute more layoffs or even declare bankruptcy. But that day is not now. The company's next payment to debtholders will come due in July.


NOT MARBLEY ENOUGH? Commissioners in Coos County, Ore., filed a lawsuit last Thursday in U.S. District Court in Eugene against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding de-listing of the marbled murrelet -- a seabird that nests in old-growth trees in Oregon, Northern California and Washington. Coos County is contending that marbled murrelets in the United States have been incorrectly deemed distinct from their counterparts in Canada. The commissioners' goal, naturally, is to eliminate another pesky threatened-species obstacle to their constituents' log gathering on state and federal lands. And it isn't as if the F&WS is balking -- it already has proposed de-listing the murrelet under the federal Endangered Species Act, but the Coos commissioners want the Service to giddyup already. Closer to home, recall that the recent treesits down near Scotia were all about the murrelet.


OVERACHIEVERS: They only needed 4,389 signatures to get their initiative on the ballot but the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights threw in a few thousand more, showing any would-be, non-local, big-money corporations (and you know who you are, Maxxam and Walmart) who try to get all up in this county's elections that the HCCR is for real.

Last Thursday, coalition supporters, including elected officials like Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Board Member Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap (who's also the HCCR campaign manager) and District Attorney Paul Gallegos, congregated at the HumCo Elections Office in Eureka to rejoice in their successful petition drive, using volunteer labor to pull in 7,668 signatures from North Coasters. The petition signatures supporting the initiative -- known as the Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy -- must be verified by the Elections Office within the next 30 days to be qualified for the June 2006 election.


FIXIN' IT: On Tuesday evening, Jan. 31, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress. On Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 12:15 p.m., on the courthouse steps in Eureka, speakers will rally to lambaste that SOU. The speakers are pretty sure about that -- the lambasting part -- even though they don't know for certain what the President's going to talk about. Whatever he says, it'll probably need "adjusting" in light of the facts, said rally organizer Ellen Taylor Tuesday when we phoned her up.

"Let me just turn down Amy Goodman and I'll be right back," Taylor said after answering the phone. And then: "The theme of the rally is to discuss and interpret the State of the Union address and correct any misrepresentations he makes." Iraq's a likely theme, and the economy. "And right now he's on a stomp through Kansas talking about the National Security Agency ... whose intent has been to spy on U.S. citizens."

Alexander Cockburn, editor of the newsletter CounterPunch and a columnist for The Nation, is one of the speakers scheduled to respond at the rally to Bush's night-before address. "I imagine the headline will be `Bush claiming ongoing victory in Iraq,' upon which all the speakers will pour scorn," Cockburn said Tuesday. "I'll probably talk about the absolute hollowing out of the economy, and the fact that America's losing a staggering number of jobs."

Eureka resident Dave Cobb, Green candidate for President in 2004, also will speak, as will Arcata City Councilman Dave Meserve. "The only bad part about that is I'll have to listen to the address -- ha ha," was all Meserve had to say pre-address and pre-rally.

Oh, and Uncle Sam -- born a meatpacker in 1766-- will be there. "The historical Uncle Sam was Sam Wilson, who actually provided beef to U.S. fighters in the War of 1812," Taylor said.

And he's likely to deliver more beef, you know, but not the edible kind this time. So bring your lunch to the rally.


CORRECTION: An item in last week's "Weekly Wrap" incorrectly identified a spokesperson for the local Caltrans office. She is Ann Jones, not Ann White. The Journal regrets the error.



They think they can
Railroad officials say they can bring trains back to Humboldt County


T ormented by years of disaster and disappointment at the hands of Mother Nature and Father Government, the North Coast Railroad Authority has been hammered recently by a wave of bad press.

Last June, syndicated columnist Dan Walters attacked a funding bill for the railroad, calling the NCRA a "pretend railroad" and a "rathole" for public dollars. The bill was later vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Locally, many elected officials still support NCRA's quest to restore service on its 316-mile railroad (it's one topic the Arcata and Fortuna city councils agree on), but more and more influential citizens are calling for an end to what they consider a hopeless crusade. "Can you hear the whistle blowin'? We can't. And it seems increasingly likely we never will," opined the Times-Standard on Oct. 12.

"Sooner or later someone has to stand up and say 'the emperor has no clothes,'" wrote John Murray, former Humboldt County director of public works and chief administrative officer, in a scalding critique of the NCRA published in the Nov. 25 Eureka Reporter. "County supervisors from Humboldt and Mendocino counties and their staffs, during my county tenure, said the railroad is not worth spending monies on ... However, they will not say that in public."

But John Woolley, Humboldt County supervisor and NCRA board member, told me recently that the NCRA's plans were more realistic than many people realized. I was intrigued, and I felt an obligation to follow up and learn more, not so much because Woolley is a friend but because I'd played a role in the NCRA's public relations nightmare with a story last summer ("[T]rail," June 30, 2005) that quoted cycling advocates and transportation pros who doubt the railroad will ever run again and want the tracks around Humboldt Bay turned into a rail-trail.

Woolley set up a meeting for breakfast at a local café, where he quickly turned the discussion over to Dave Anderson from NCRA's engineering firm HNBT.

Anderson described a series of treks he and others took through the difficult Eel River canyon section in 2002. On the river's mainstem, east of the South Fork that Highway 101 follows, the canyon is riven by earthquake faults and splayed with enormous landslides. It is where a storm wrecked the railroad in 1998.

"I'm an engineer and I thought we could solve the problems with things like big retaining walls," he said. But a geotechnical specialist in the group said such structures would be overwhelmed when the unstable soil got saturated in heavy rains. He convinced the group to back another approach. "He said, 'We need to divert the water,'" recalled Anderson.

Whipping out a yellow pad, Anderson sketched a cross-section of railroad, showing how a trench filled with rocks on the upslope side of the track would catch subsurface water, then a drain pipe under the tracks would channel it to the river.

The trenches would need to be up to 20 feet deep to relieve the water pressure that caused landslides, said Anderson. But this strategy would cost only about one-fifth of the $600 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated it would cost to repair the canyon section, according to Anderson.

Storm damage would still occur, but according to Woolley, private contractors in the backcountry around Alderpoint and Blocksburg could be dispatched to fix problems. "Like hot-shot crews on fires," he said.

The rest of the conversation covered more familiar territory: NCRA's contention that a revived railroad will allow Humboldt Bay to become a shipping port for Asian imports; that highway taxes ought to be diverted to the railroad in the interest of getting trucks off Highway 101; that the state will eventually cough up a promised $42 million that has been held back because of budget deficits.

But the drainage system seemed pivotal, so I later phoned the oracular geotechnician.

"To make a long story short, there are some large landslides in there and a lot of small ones," said Dexter McCullough, head of railroad services for Shannon & Wilson, a geotechnical and environmental consulting outfit headquartered in Seattle. "Most of them can be corrected and will never be a problem again. The larger ones, with drainage improvements, will be much less of a problem."

McCullough says that the weather and topography in the Eel River Canyon are not unique for railroads, which often run on river banks to avoid steep grades. "There are lots of other places in the country which are quite similar, with operating railroads," he said. "Right now we're down doing stability work for Union Pacific in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Colorado ... on similar water-caused stability problems."

"Through drainage, we can really improve the conditions [in the Eel River Canyon]. It won't be real easy, but on the other hand it's all doable," said McCullough. "The river would benefit from all of this, too. Right now, it's just choked with debris from the landslides and flooding. ... With no maintenance and no improvements, the railroad itself is contributing to the debris problems."

McCullough's recommendations are included in the NCRA's voluminous capital assessment, which is an attachment to a document the NCRA issued last week: A request for proposals from private operators to run freight trains -- and maybe passenger trains -- on all or part of the line from Napa County to Humboldt Bay.

NCRA last advertised for a private operator in 1998, and back then the railroad industry showed little interest. Only two proposals were received, one from a company with no experience operating a railroad, the other from an entrepreneur who had failed at operating another railroad. The latter firm was chosen, but the contract was signed just weeks before the 1998 floods shut down the line.

NCRA officials say their prospects are better this time. "We can get it going," said Woolley. Which private entities come forward with a proposal this time, what their financing is, how capable and experienced they are -- not to mention what they think of the proposed geotechnical solutions in the Eel River canyon -- will be a key test of whether he's right.

The final Salzman tally?
Fake letter campaign was more extensive than previously known


P olitical consultant Richard Salzman may have used as many as 11 names of real and imaginary Humboldt County citi-zens in a years-long letter-writing campaign to local newspapers, according to police reports detailing the Trinidad Police Department's investigation of the case.

Among the other details given in the reports: that Salzman began sending letters-to-the-editor to area newspapers under false names as early as February 2002, that he appears to have disposed of one of his computers shortly after the details of his letter-writing activities hit the press, and that two Trinidad residents gave Salzman permission to open an e-mail account and send letters under their names.

The reports on the investigation were obtained by the Journal through a request under the California Public Records Act.

The TPD's investigation of the affair began in September, shortly after the Journal revealed that Salzman -- formerly the head of District Attorney Paul Gallegos' campaign committee and a visible political presence in any number of progressive causes -- had written a series of letters to this and other newspapers under fake names ("Web of lies," Sept. 1, 2005). On the heels of that story, the Eureka Reporter filed a complaint with TPD Chief Ken Thrailkill, who investigated the matter as a potential case of felony identity theft.

In the weeks that followed, Thrailkill obtained a search warrant and seized computers and other items -- including a file folder containing clipped-out letters published by area newspapers -- from Salzman's home. He also subpoenaed records from a number of Internet-related companies, including Yahoo!, Cox and InReach Internet.

The case was dropped in late December, after a prosecutor with the state Attorney General's office wrote Thrailkill that he did not believe Salzman could be convicted on the charges.

Citing advice from his attorney, Salzman declined to comment when reached at his home Friday.

In addition to the three names used by Salzman already reported in this newspaper -- R. Trent Williams, R. Johnson and Dick Wyatt -- the police reports cite eight other names that investigators believed he also used. They include two apparently fictitious people, Sara Salzman and George Foster; one deceased person, Eureka resident Patrice Sanderson; and five other individuals in the community: Jill Szczygiel, Jereme Stinespring, Claire Courtney, Marie Maloney and Naomi Steinberg. Some of these suspected names came from clip files taken during the search of Salzman's home, while others appeared after a computer forensic task force examined the contents of seized computers.

The reports indicate that Thrailkill contacted Szczygiel, a Trinidad resident, shortly after he found letters written under her name and that of her housemate, Stinespring, in Salzman's file cabinet. Szczygiel told Thrailkill that she gave Salzman permission to open an e-mail account under her name and Stinespring's, and to send letters to the editor under those names, according to the reports. Szczygiel said that Salzman had always e-mailed her the contents of a proposed letter for her approval before mailing it off to a newspaper.

The names of Claire Courtney, Marie Maloney and Naomi Steinberg were found on an old computer that apparently hadn't been used since September 2004. According to the forensic team's report, the computer's hard drive contained a letter to the Times-Standard dated May 12, 2003, and signed with Courtney's name. Other letters, written to "unknown newspapers," were signed with Maloney's and Steinberg's names. The report did not contain any other information that would shed light on whether Salzman had written and sent the letters to the newspapers himself.

Reached Monday, Courtney declined to comment on whether or not she had allowed Salzman to use her name.

"Any invasion of my privacy is a Constitutional invasion, and I don't have anything to say to anyone interested in this kind of journalism," she said.

Steinberg did not return a phone call seeking comment. A person answering the phone at Marie Maloney's phone number said that she had moved out of town.

The computer forensics report also notes that there appears to be a gap in the two computers that had been seized from Salzman's home, with the older one not used since September 2004 and the newer one used only after September 11, 2005. Recovered correspondence on the newer machine shows that on Sept. 11, 2005 -- shortly after the first story on the matter had appeared in the Journal, and immediately after it became public that Thraillkill was investigating the case -- Salzman wrote a supporter asking him to help find a new computer to buy or rent as soon as possible.

No computer or computers used by Salzman between September 2004 and September 2005 were found during the search.

As for the letters written under the names listed above, they run the gamut of topics Salzman had previously been identified with: support for Eureka Councilmember Chris Kerrigan and derision of his then-opponent, Rex Bohn; support for the Arcata City Council's various anti-war resolutions and scorn for Eureka businessman Rob Arkley, owner of the Eureka Reporter. In a letter in the Times-Standard dated Aug. 2, 2005, writer "George Foster" called into the tactics of the semi-anonymous group HELP, which is associated with Arkley and is critical of county land-use planning.

"Unless they are willing to be identified, they should not be given the respect of a legitimate organization and certainly not that of a community group," wrote "Foster."

The statement closely echoes a guest opinion piece Salzman later published in the Times-Standard on Dec. 17, 2004, under his own name. The piece, entitled "Taxpayers League should disclose finances," took that group to task for not disclosing who had funded their successful campaign against Measure L, a one-cent sales tax hike on the previous November's ballot.

"Whoever funded the campaign to defeat the funding for these services should come forward to take responsibility," Salzman wrote. "We believe that all citizens who seek to legitimately affect our political discourse should identify themselves openly."

The TPD investigation included two trips to the San Francisco Bay Area to deliver the impounded Salzman computers to the task force. In addition, the department ended up paying $220 each for three requests for computer records maintained by Yahoo!, the company that Salzman used to register e-mail accounts under the names of R. Trent Williams, Dick Wyatt, Jill Szczygiel and perhaps others.

Thrailkill said last week that his early estimate of time spent on the investigation -- 20 hours, as reported by the Times-Standard -- was simply an off-the-cuff, spot-of-the-moment guess, and conceded that the actual figure could be higher. However, he said, the case was approached simply as a matter of law enforcement, not politics.

"This case was handled just like any other investigation that is handled during the course of our daily casework," he said. "Yes, some trips had to be made to the Bay Area to deliver the forensic information and to do some interviews, but that's part of what we do."

In recent weeks, Salzman has reemerged from the months of silence that followed the publication of the Journal's original story. Earlier this month, he penned a guest editorial decrying the proposed Home Depot development in Eureka. He is serving as a publicist for the Westhaven Center for the Arts.



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