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Making things better

When the Environmental Protection Information Center challenged the design of a Target store proposed for the north end of Eureka late last year, the powers-that-be cried foul. EPIC, it was claimed, was venturing into a realm in which it had no business: a planned retail outlet within the city limits of Eureka.

That overlooked the fact that the store's location near Humboldt Bay placed it under the jurisdiction of a body with an environmental protection mandate, the California Coastal Commission.

In February, the commission upheld EPIC's appeal, ruling that the city had inadequately studied the project's potential environmental impacts. Of particular concern, the commission said, was the city's decision to allow the store to be located as close as 40 feet to the Eureka Slough, a biologically rich and fragile area that borders the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Rather than seeking a way out of the impasse, city officials merely changed their target, so to speak: now it was the commission that was improperly interfering with the city's business. Fortunately, officials with the Target Corp., anxious to move the project ahead, were of a more practical mind. They decided to shrink the size of the store a bit so that it would leave a vegetated buffer zone of sufficient width -- 100 feet -- to satisfy the commission.

That modification, along with rerouting a pedestrian path further from the slough and some other more minor changes, has been endorsed by commission staff (see story page 8) and will almost certainly be approved by the commission at its next meeting on April 9.

So Eureka is going to get a Target store after all, which we believe the majority of people want. And EPIC's challenge did not kill the project, the outcome predicted by those hoping to bully EPIC into withdrawing its challenge. Instead, lo-and-behold, the project has been improved. We think that's called a win-win, and the community has one of those pesky environmental groups to thank for it.

Speaking of environmental groups, there's another one that deserves praise, the Ecological Rights Foundation, which, like EPIC, is based in Garberville.

Three years ago, the group filed a lawsuit against Sierra Pacific Industries over its Arcata Mill near Manila. 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. That was a concern because Penta, as it's called, is usually associated with dioxin, one of the deadliest of all synthetic chemicals.

Alarm bells went off last spring when the Ecological Rights group, using its own funds, collected and analyzed shellfish near the plant and found low but still potentially hazardous levels of dioxin. 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.

State health officials are studying that issue and hopefully there will be more clarity soon. Meantime, the Ecological Rights group has scored a couple of impressive victories. Last fall, a federal magistrate judge upheld the group's main contention: that the Arcata Mill had been in chronic violation of the Clean Water Act for years. And last week this newspaper revealed another development: SPI's decision to settle the case for $1.2 million.

The agreement requires the company to clean up contaminated soils and groundwater at the mill. Depending on the results of a study of pollution levels in aquatic life in Mad River Slough, a popular fishing spot near the plant, the company may also be forced to dig up and haul away tons of contaminated sediment -- not just in the slough, but possibly out in Humboldt Bay. Additionally, almost half of the settlement -- $500,000 -- will go to the California Fish and Game Department for wetlands restoration and acquisition around Humboldt Bay.

Who says environmental groups are just troublemakers?



The shadow of war

We go about our daily lives in the shadow of this war that has already pitted friend against friend, family against family, if my e-mail this past week is any evidence.

"Don't be depressed," a good friend wrote. "There is more than one way to peace. The goal is to rid the Iraqi people of a cruel, despicable, murderous tyrant." Then she challenged: "Do you think this it really about oil? About imperialism?"

No, I answered. This war is not about something simple enough to fit on a placard. It is about something more visceral. The answer to what this war is about will come when historians more closely examine when Bush made the decision.

The seeds of this war were surely present before he took office. The U.S. will not be pushed around under this president. We will not be thought of as weak (think President Carter). Then came 9/11 -- on his watch. We were Goliath with a bloody nose. That is when Bush began this march to war, and Saddam allowing the U.N. inspectors back in, or crushing a few warheads -- or the fact that he was not even responsible for 9/11 -- wasn't going to stop Bush.

It is because of this fact -- that Bush made up his mind so long ago and kept it from the American people because we are apparently too stupid to know what's good for us -- that my initial reaction of sadness at the failure of diplomacy has turned to anger.

I am angry that Bush said he was working on a peaceful solution, a diplomatic solution, all these long months when he wasn't. I am angry about the $74 billion price tag for the war when we have a health-care system on the ropes, no prescription benefits for Medicare, no money for schools. I am angry because this country's basic principles, like due process and a Congress that is supposed to declare war, have been assaulted.

It's bad form right now to talk about Bush's failings, but forgive me for being impolite. He has eroded our civil liberties. He has intimidated the press. He has put the government in financial peril. He has done great damage to two political giants -- Colin Powell and Tony Blair. He has driven a wedge between the U.S. and Europe. He's made an enemy out of the United Nations. And now he is threatening world stability with the invasion of Iraq. Point any of this out in the wrong company and you're likely to be declared unpatriotic.

Here's another e-mail excerpt from a friend who has been temporarily living in London:

"The `war' has already been lost. It has been lost in regard to the deeply tarnished image of America as viewed by most of the rest of the world. It has been lost in regard to breeding even more hatred of America. It has been lost by unleashing the dogs of war around the world in such places as North Korea, India and Pakistan. It has been lost at home by the erosion and erasure of civil liberties and the censorship of free speech. It has been lost by actions of those who crushed Dixie Chicks CDs because one singer dared make anti-Bush comments. (Did this not remind you of the book-burning scene in Fahrenheit 451?)"

These are all the wounds of war from which we will not easily recover.



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