North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

March 15, 2001

Dump those road projects?

Fire management plan eyed

Woman of achievement

Pot busts in SoHum

Medigap insurance available

Credit union's 50th

Foodworks center sold

Dump those road projects?

California Department of Transportation officials are dusting off three expensive plans to bypass the narrow twisting section of U.S. Highway 101 in Richardson's Grove State Park. They will present ideas and take public comment at a meeting in Eureka March 20 from 4:30-7 p.m. at the Wharfinger Building at the Eureka Public Marina.

But don't expect groundbreaking any time soon.

"We have a certain number of projects that are `shell' projects. They're on the books but not funded," said Caltrans spokesman Friday Ululani.

"Our intent is that if the projects are not feasible due to cost and large environment impacts, maybe they should be dropped. At that point, we can go back and look at the underlying issues and see other ways we can address them," he said.

Those issues may include straightening some curves to accommodate large interstate trucks and the new, larger tour buses, and increasing bicycle and pedestrian safety.

All three options involve constructing a four-lane bypass on the east side of the river and one of those options involves building a mile-long tunnel. The projects range from $100 million for the least expensive alternative to $500 million for the tunnel proposal.

Also on the agenda for discussion are plans to upgrade a section from Leggett to Confusion Hill in northern Mendocino to four lanes.

For more information, call Caltrans at 441-5793.

That same evening at 6:30, a meeting will be held at the Eureka City Hall Council Chambers to discuss the South Broadway Congestion Relief Project, a city project designed to alleviate traffic on Broadway.

Fire management plan eyed

Six Rivers National Forest is hosting a series of meetings to present its draft fire management plan. The plan includes wildland fire suppression strategies, wildland fire use and fuel management options.

The meetings are March 21 at the Orleans Ranger Station, March 22 at the Veteran's Hall in Gasquet, March 27 at the Six Rivers National Forest Supervisors Office in Eureka and March 28 at the Trinity Valley School in Willow Creek. All meetings are from 7-9 p.m. A meeting at the Ruth Lake Community Services District is tentatively scheduled for March 29.

The meetings outside Eureka will focus on the local ranger districts. The meeting in Eureka will address all four districts.

Woman of achievement

Blanche Blankenship of Orick was honored Tuesday by the Humboldt County Commission on the Status of Women as its 2001 Woman of Achievement.

In 1939 Blankenship was one of the first Yurok women to graduate from college and she was the first woman president of the Humboldt County Farm Bureau.

The award, presented at the meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, is part of the national Women's History Month theme, "Celebrating Women of Courage and Vision."

Pot busts in SoHum

"They're still counting up the plants, but we're at over 25,000 at this point," said Humboldt County Sheriff Dennis Lewis, following a bust of indoor marijuana cultivation facilities in southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino March 5.

A total of 11 buildings were raided, three in Humboldt and eight in Mendocino. Evidence found at the site led to at least one additional raid in Humboldt County.

It did not appear that the 11 sites were part of the same operation, said Jocelyn Barnes, public information officer for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which oversaw the operation.

"They were connected by location and the method of using commercial buildings to grow," Barnes said.

There has been a shift to indoor marijuana cultivation as a result of increasing law enforcement efforts against outdoor marijuana gardens, Lewis said.

Three years ago a similar operation in the Three Creeks drainage near Berry Summit was raided revealing a massive indoor plantation inside a shell of a house. The structure had painstakingly been made to look as if a family lived there -- including flowers in the window and on a deck and children's toys strewn on the lawn.

Indoor grows bring a new wave of environmental problems with them. Diesel generators used to power grow lights often leak fuel or oil into the groundwater. At one of the sites in the March 5 raids, three 500-gallon water tanks were being used to store diesel fuel. The plastic tanks are susceptible to the disintegration by the diesel and could have ruptured, Lewis said.


Medigap insurance available

According to a new state law, people who are under 65 and on Medicare -- usually disabled -- are now eligible for "Medigap" insurance plans that provide supplemental insurance. The law stipulates that insurance providers must sell such policies to disabled individuals, regardless of their state of health.

"Prior to this bill, these people didn't have any guaranteed rights," said Sally Cater, a counselor with the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program. Seniors on Medicare already have similar privileges, Cater said, and this law "is a major step toward giving disabled people on Medicare the same coverage."

Open enrollment ends March 30. For more information call HICAP at 443-9747.

Credit union's 50th

Bill Jackson, founder of the Jackson and Eklund Accountancy Corp. and a Humboldt State University professor emeritus, will be honored Thursday by the California State and Federal Employees Credit Union No. 20.

The credit union is celebrating 50 years in operation and honoring Jackson, its No. 1 member. Jackson helped found the financial institution and also served as its first board president.

There will be a cake and coffee reception at 10 a.m. Wabash and E streets in Eureka March 15.

Foodworks center sold

The Arcata Economic Development Corp. is negotiating the sale of the Foodworks Culinary Center to the city of Arcata. The center has successfully served as an incubator for up to 40 small food producers including the Tofu Shop, Smoky Jim's Barbeque Sauce and others over the last 10 years. But the center continues to lose money.

"We looked at the long-term history of the business and recognized we had already put $600,000 into the project, and there was a continuing annual subsidy we were spending," said Jim Kimbrell, executive director of the AEDC. The AEDC board decided it couldn't continue the support and began to look for buyers.

The subsidy comes primarily in the form of artificially cheap rent. Foodworks provided a space for new culinary enterprises that included a kitchen approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the chance for communication with other food businesses. Kimbrell said the businesses that use Foodworks' professional-grade culinary workspace pay about 55 cents a square foot while the market value of that space is more than $1 per square foot.

The primary mission of AEDC is to provide low-interest loans to starting and growing businesses. The interest paid on those loans provides a revenue stream. Outright subsidies, Kimbrell said, were never part of the AEDC plan for Foodworks.

In 1990, when the project was first conceptualized, cooperative ownership was emerging as a viable business model due to the success of the North Coast Co-Op.

"The original plan was that within five years of the program's start, the three to five members of the initial group would grow large and financially secure enough to purchase the building from us and run it as a cooperative."

When the first two businesses strong enough to carry the project -- Fish Brothers and Tomaso's -- decided they'd rather move out on their own and find new space, the center's underlying philosophy underwent a fundamental change. It became what Kimbrell called a "graduating incubator," where businesses would be allotted about four years to grow to a point that they could survive on their own.

Mayor Connie Stewart said, "The city should do whatever it has to make the center economically viable," including financial support. ... There's 63 jobs there now. Jim estimated it was bringing $3 million to $4 million a year in income, and Lord knows how much money and how many jobs it has created."

City staff is working on a reasonable scenario for the city's ownership of the facility. Options include grant funding or using low-interest redevelopment funds to continue operations.

-- reported by Arno Holschuh and Judy Hodgson


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