North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

March 27, 2003

Feeling Belgian

The games real lumberjacks play

Scare tactics

SPI settles suit

$9 million and counting

CR budget update

Caltrans: no distractions

Open meeting violations?

Billboards decry use
of Indian images


Feeling Belgian


AS CHANCE WOULD HAVE IT, I WAS IN BRUSSELS WHEN THE WAR started. As a first attempt was made to "decapitate" Iraq with the aid of bunker-busting bombs, I was eating cheese croquettes and talking national security as part of a conference organized by the Fulbright commission.

It was surreal. We were in the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the most powerful military alliance in the world. But little was said about Iraq -- France, Belgium and Germany had resisted any attempts to draw the alliance into the conflict.

Very noble, but also very boring. Who wants to hear about Romania's future in NATO when Americans are getting ready to cross the border into Iraq? In my distraction, I perused a list of the conference's participants. To my surprise, I saw a Humboldt connection: JeDon Emenhiser.

Professor Emenhiser standing in front of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe buildingEmenhiser [photo at right], a professor of political science at Humboldt State, is teaching American Studies on a Fulbright to Belgium for the next four months. The tall gentleman's dignified air is softened by a habit of smiling and winking; he looks like the perfect professor, a combination of rarified intellectualism and silly fun. When I told him I had written for the North Coast Journal for two years, he grabbed me under the arm and grinned; it was the warmest reception I have ever received for my work at the Journal. His wife, he added, is a faithful reader and misses it now that she's on the Continent.

We sat next to each other on the bus to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) and had the conversation that has become obligatory for "expats" these days: Have you had problems with anti-Americanism?

Emenhiser sat back in his seat and thought before answering. "Well, I can't think of any incident where there's been a personal confrontation," he said carefully. He said that Ireland, where he spent last semester, was more friendly, but beyond that he hadn't had any trouble.

It surprised me. Almost every American living in Europe has some tale of hostility to tell these days, and most Belgians are very much against the war. My latest experience was having the man next to me in a bar shout slurred expletives about "the Americans," which immediately made me regret that I had bought a round of tequila for his table 10 minutes earlier. We were even warned by an American embassy representative upon our arrival in Belgium to be "inconspicuous." Most of us laughed at this warning, because we can't speak French. It's hard to be inconspicuous ordering mussels in sign language.

Emenhiser's relaxed attitude towards anti-Americanism has its roots in his personal past. This is not the first time he's been abroad teaching; he has gone overseas multiple times since he began his academic career in the early `60s. His first overseas stint was in Vietnam, where he learned what civil disorder and an unpopular war really meant.

"It was difficult to teach because of the unrest," he said. "There was the troop build-up, for one. When we arrived, there were 20,000 military advisers. When we left, there were 200,000 fighters on the ground. The prime minister of Vietnam changed four times that year, and the National Assembly was dissolved."

His students -- his window to public opinion in any country he teaches in -- were conscientious and tried to remain concentrated on their work. "They were serious," he said. But there were occasions when politics did intrude.

"One time I had a woman burst into the middle of class to ask if she could address the students. I looked at the class to see what they wanted to do, and they nodded. She started yelling that the students should go on strike in protest of the arrest of a dissident.

"The students didn't want to," Emenhiser went on, "but the woman became very `convincing'" -- read threatening. It was a time when politically motivated violence was widespread, and reprisals for failing to show the sufficient amount of solidarity weren't unusual.

"The students were intimidated. I suggested continuing the instruction at my home, but they thought that would be too dangerous."

And what of his current students -- what do they show him about how Belgians are responding to the war?

"They are perplexed," he said. Looking at the situation from the outside, they cannot understand why there was such a rush to war.

"Belgian students are rational," he said, and the facts didn't seem to add up in their accounting. During a teleconference with American students he had organized, the Belgians kept on responding to the impassioned pleas of the Americans with cool European logic.

"I was proud of them," he said, "for being able to support their position without thumping on the table, like the Americans do sometimes."

We got back to the hotel and everyone went back to their rooms to watch the news. Listening to the moderators on MSNBC talk with visible excitement about our superweapons, I got the feeling that at least some of my countrymen are irrationally gleeful about the prospect of exercising our military supremacy.

And I suddenly felt very, very Belgian.

The games real lumberjacks play

story & photos by ANDREW EDWARDS

Little Bill Miller, who is anything but, stood, his feet braced in the mud, a double-bladed ax gripped in both hands in front of him. He lined up the target, a large circular segment of log painted with concentric rings. He lowered the ax, swinging it back and forth, testing the balance. Then he drew it back up over his right shoulder and let fly, the ax whipping through the air to land with a solid "thunk" in the center of the target. Bullseye.

The double buck, single buck, hot saw, stock saw, choker race, log roll and the ax throw -- what Miller was doing -- were all on display last week at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds. It was the first professional lumberjack competition that Humboldt County had seen in four years.

Len Nielson"I thought it went great," said Len Nielson, Pacific Lumber Co. forester by day and coach of the Humboldt State University logging sports team by night. [photo at left] Nielson, who put the whole thing together, wasn't completely satisfied, however. "We could have had a better crowd," he said.

Small groups of spectators lined the fence across from the competition all day last Friday, but few ventured any closer to the action.

The field of competition was a muddy, log-strewn field in the center of the Redwood Acres racetrack. In one corner was a tarp-lined tank with rolling logs. Four massive fir trunks doubled as an obstacle course and a base for the chainsaw logging competitions.

Men, and a few women, scurried from event to event, doubling as timers and judges, tossing out criticism and advice.

This was a professional show, where each individual event promised prizes ranging from $80 for first down to $10 for fifth, and the pros were out. Former world champions Mike Forrester, Jim Taylor, Rolin Eslinger, and Miller (who's ostensibly retired) were on hand, driving in from the heart of logging country, the Pacific Northwest.

These men spend all summer going from logging show to logging show, and even travel the world displaying their finesse with a chainsaw or ax.

Miller's wife, Bonni, was once co-world champion with him in the Jack-and-Jill (a competition where a man and woman, often husband and wife, use a hand saw to rip through a log).

Bonni told of a trip to Indonesia (a big logging area) to compete in the Highland Games, a competition in traditional Scottish sports that features some lumberjack elements. The competition there, apparently, is the largest anywhere outside of Scotland. She said people were shocked when they saw the 6'5" Miller on the street, treating him like a circus attraction.

"They just couldn't believe the size of him," Miller said, describing the Indonesian reaction. "It was rather funny."

Other competitors told of trips to Spain, Australia, New Zealand and all over the United States for competitions.

"You can travel all over the world doing this," Miller said.

two men sawing logThe Millers' son Robin, in his early twenties, is continuing the family tradition. Which isn't unusual; many lumberjacks today are competing in sports that their fathers and grandfathers competed in. As Nielson pointed out, lumberjack families are just like that.

"My daughter got her first metal ax when she turned 3. She chops," he said. His daughter is now 4 years old. "In lumberjack families it's not `lets go get the football,' it's `grab the ax and let's go play.'"

Nielson, like many of the other young competitors, got his start on a college team. The HSU team he coaches has 23 members of both genders. They're looked at a little differently than the ones who come up out of logging families, "the college kids" they're called, but are soon assimilated in the family atmosphere of the lumberjack circuit.

Some of the competitions, such as ax throwing and log rolling, are no longer considered useful in the modern world of mechanized logging, but many of them still are. Chokers, long steel cables used in the choker race competitions, are still set to drag logs out of the forest. Hand saws, like the ones used in double buck and single buck competitions, are still used in federal forests where chainsaws are prohibited. And the chainsaw, of course, never fell out of fashion.

At the end of more than two hours of competition the show closed up with prize envelopes handed out to the winners. The pros walked away with most of the money, though for many it didn't even come close to their expenses for coming to the show. But, with the lumberjack show season not really kicking off till June, this was just a warm up, and a chance to see old friends from the tour.

"The pros came and they've said they're gonna come back next year," Nielson said, looking tired after a day of judging the events and shouting out start times. "We're all real energetic people; we always have a good time."

The next chance to see a (nonprofessional) logging competition is on April 26, 2003 at Fort Humboldt Days in Eureka.

Scare tactics


At least three times now, the Pacific Lumber Co. has threatened to sue Humboldt County for legal fees and damages if District Attorney Paul Gallegos goes ahead with a lawsuit charging the timber concern with fraud.

The first time was at the March 11 Board of Supervisors meeting, when Ukiah-based PL lawyer Jared Carter talked ominously of the consequences of a "malicious prosecution." In a letter last week, Edgar Washburn, a San Francisco-based attorney who does work for PL, bluntly warned Gallegos the company would sue if the suit isn't withdrawn. Finally, in this week's Arcata Eye, PL communications director Jim Branham was quoted as saying, "We will consider all our legal options, and they could well include recovering our costs."

The warnings have all been accompanied by claims that Gallegos' suit has no legal merit and that it contains significant factual errors. And they have had an impact.

After Carter spoke at the March 11 meeting, more than one supervisor voiced concern that the DA's suit was exposing the county to a potentially dangerous liability. Concern about liability, along with doubts about the merits of the suit, were two major reasons the board rejected Gallegos' request to bring in a San Francisco Bay Area law firm with expertise in corporate fraud to help him litigate the case.

Additionally, the liability issue has been brandished as proof that Gallegos' suit is reckless by leaders of a fledgling movement to recall Gallegos. The movement is being headed up by Robin Arkley, father of businessman Rob Arkley and the former owner of Blue Lake Forest Products.

As worrisome as it may sound to some, it turns out that all this sword-rattling probably doesn't signify much.

According to David LaBahn, interim executive director of the California District Attorneys Association, it is common for a defendant to file a motion for dismissal on the grounds that the case against it has no merit. It is also common for a defendant to claim that it is the victim of a malicious prosecution.

What is not common -- indeed, what is almost unheard of -- is for a defendant to successfully countersue a district attorney for malicious prosecution and obtain monetary damages.

"It's often threatened but very rarely if ever" is a malicious prosecution motion granted, LaBahn said in a telephone interview last week from his Sacramento office.

The reason, he explained, is that district attorneys are shielded from damages liability; if they weren't, it would seriously weaken their ability to prosecute cases on behalf of the public.

"As long as we are acting within the course and scope of our duties we have absolute immunity," La Bahn said. Absent clear proof that a district attorney is intent on, as LaBahn put it, "screwing up someone's life," a DA does not need to worry about getting financially penalized for doing his or her job.

Which explains why Gallegos seems completely unfazed by PL's threats. "We're solid on what we have. Our decisions are driven by evidence and law," Gallegos said this week.

In an interview with the Journal 10 days ago, Gallegos suggested he might launch a counter-attack of his own. He said that PL may have made a mistake in making public a March 10 letter from Washburn to Carter, the PL lawyer.

The letter, a "preliminary assessment" of Gallegos' case, was made available to the supervisors apparently to persuade them to reject Gallegos' bid to bring in an outside law firm. But Gallegos said that in making the letter public, Pacific Lumber's lawyers may have inadvertently waived attorney-client privilege.

If a judge were to see it that way, it could be a boon to Gallegos' case. "There might be all sorts of interesting materials that we normally wouldn't have access to," Gallegos said.

"It would be kind of a shame for them," Gallegos went on, "but our job if they've opened the door is to walk in."

SPI settles suit

Sierra Pacific Industries has agreed to a $1.2 million settlement that requires it to clean up contaminated soils and groundwater at its Arcata Mill, located near Manila.

The agreement also requires the company to study the levels of pollution in sediment and aquatic life in the Mad River Slough, a popular fishing and crabbing spot immediately adjacent to the plant.

If those studies show that pollution from the mill poses a risk to human health, wildlife and the environment, then the company must undertake a more extensive cleanup -- one that could mean digging up and hauling away tons of contaminated sediment in the slough and even out in Humboldt Bay.

"Hopefully, this will ultimately help put people at ease about eating fish and shellfish from Humboldt Bay," said Jim Lamport of the Ecological Rights Foundation, a Garberville group.

David Dun, a Eureka lawyer representing SPI, said that even before the settlement agreement it was "a foregone conclusion" that some level of cleanup would need to be conducted at the mill site.

The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed three years ago by the Ecological Rights group. The suit spurred the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to more vigorously regulate the mill, site of a groundwater plume contaminated with high levels of a now banned wood treatment chemical called pentachlorophenol.

Penta, as its called, is usually associated with dioxin, one of the deadliest of all man-made chemicals.

Last spring the Ecological Rights group found low but still potentially hazardous levels of dioxin in shellfish near the plant. Later tests conducted by an SPI consultant found dioxin in commercial oysters out in the bay, but there is disagreement about whether those levels pose a health hazard.

In October federal magistrate Judge Maria Elena James of San Francisco ruled that the Arcata Mill had been in chronic violation of the Clean Water Act for several years.

Almost half of the settlement -- $500,000 -- will go toward the California Fish and Game Department for wetlands restoration and acquisition in Humboldt Bay. The remainder will go to the Ecological Rights group.

Fred Evenson, a lawyer for the group, said the money would be used in part to conduct "confirmation sampling" to ensure the accuracy of SPI's environmental and health study.

-- reported by Keith Easthouse

$9 million and counting

The news was grim at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday: At least an $8.6 million, or 14 percent, hit straight to the gut of the county's general fund.

The reason for the budget shortfall is that money left over from last year that helped balance the budget has all but dried up. In addition, the county is paying more for insurance and retirement funds and just basic operating materials than ever before.

"Costs are just going up," said County Administrative Officer Loretta Nickolaus.

And that might not be the half of it. Due to the uncertainty inherent in the legislative process, cuts resulting from the California's massive budget crunch have yet to be factored in.

"I can't overestimate the magnitude of the budget uncertainty we're facing," Assistant County Administrative Officer Karen Suiker told the board.

CR budget update

Gov. Gray Davis signed a mid-year budget cut bill last week that was not quite as draconian as has been expected, at least for some.

The cuts, which total $161 million, include $711,000 from this year's College of the Redwoods budget. CR officials had feared the reduction would be $900,000.

"We are pleased that we now know exactly what reduction we are dealing with," said CR President Casey Crabill. "However, the message delivered to community colleges is that next year's budget problem will be even more severe than this year's."

CR will be forced to offer fewer class sections next year and fewer summer offerings. Students are encouraged to register early.

Still undecided is the matter of tuition, which almost certainly will rise from the current $11 per unit.

Spokesman Paul DeMark said it may go up in stages, possibly to $15 or $17 a unit by spring of next year.

Caltrans: no distractions

Caltrans' practice of allowing the American flag to be draped from freeway overpasses means that anti-war and even anti-timber banners must be allowed too. It's all or nothing, ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week in the case of Brown v. California Department of Transportation.

The result of the decision is nothing: all signs and banners and even roadside memorials to car accident victims will be promptly removed, said Rick Knapp, Caltrans district director in Eureka.

There was a period of time following the Sept. 11 attacks that local Caltrans' officials and others throughout the state left flags flying on freeway overpasses. Anti-timber signs and other spontaneous expressions were promptly removed.

"That's when the controversy arose," Knapp said.

On Nov. 27, 2001, two women in Santa Cruz, concerned over the public's apparent failure to question the prospect of going to war, hung an anti-war message adjacent to a flag on Highway 17. When it was removed, they sued and last week their claim was upheld.

"It's a safety issue, a distraction for motorists," Knapp said.

Open meeting violations?

Was the principal of Ferndale Elementary School terminated for performance or financial reasons?

If the answer is financial, the school board on March 7 may have violated the state's open meeting laws, known as the Brown Act, when it voted not to renew Principal Kathleen Tyzzer's four-year contract.

The Brown Act allows personnel matters to be debated behind closed doors but strictly limits discussion to performance reviews, discipline or dismissal. Budgetary issues must be discussed in open session.

At a contentious public meeting five days later, Tyzzer resigned rather than accept the termination. The board voted 4-1 to accept her resignation, with board member Don Becker dissenting.

Becker, who had missed the March 7 closed session, reminded his fellow board members about the outcome of a previous Brown Act encounter. The board was sued by former District Superintendent Carl Del Grande after it terminated his contract. The board paid Del Grande $60,000 to settle the case before trial.

It turns out the board also voted to reduce the teaching staff by 2.6 in the closed session, another action that Becker said should have taken place in an open meeting.

Becker resigned from the board following the meeting and later told the Ferndale Enterprise he believes the reason for not renewing Tyzzer's contract was the financial distress of the district. Tyzzer's contract with benefits is costing the district $91,000 per year.

Billboards decry use of Indian images

Billboard design with Geronimo, American Spirit and Noble cigarette packages: "Stop the sale of our image. Don't buy the lie"A state education campaign aimed at American Indians has funded two local billboards urging consumers to "Stop the sale of our image: Don't buy the lie" about the use of Indian imagery on cigarettes.

The identical billboards, located in Arcata on southbound Highway 101 and in Eureka on the east side of 101 south of Hawthorne Street, were placed early this month by the state American Indian Tobacco Education Network with funds from Prop. 99, the tobacco tax initiative.

The billboards take aim at brands of cigarettes that use pictures of American Indians on their packaging.

"The objective is to reduce the types of public displays that use American Indian imagery to market and sell products," said Claradina Toya, health education specialist with the education network, which is based in Sacramento. "The tobacco industry is profiting by exploiting our symbols and our practices. The misconception is that American Indian people are profiting from these (products).

"It's also giving the misconception that it's OK to smoke if Indians use (tobacco) in ceremonies," Toya said.

Two out of five American Indian people die of tobacco abuse, she added.

Humboldt is one of three targeted counties for the billboard campaign, Toya said. It and the others, San Diego and Alameda (in the San Francisco Bay area), were chosen based in part on the size of their American Indian populations.



North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.