June 8, 2006
Over at Gallegos HQ, upstairs at the Lost Coast Brewery, it was clear that there was some trepidation over those last few ballots. Overall, though, the mood was one of jubilation. When the first round of precinct results were announced at 9 p.m., the crowd broke out in cheers. It was an upbeat, high-energy atmosphere. Pitchers of beer were being passed around, and a table full of cake was ready to refresh party-goers. By press time, everyone was a bit uncertain, and anxious for completion. As midnight approached, the potential that the election could go the other way seemed unlikely, but still it loomed.
Right: Paul Gallegos and onlookers.
The other three races on the local ballot were close enough to call by the time the Journal went to press. In the race for the county supervisor from the Fifth District — a region that encompasses McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Willow Creek, Trinidad and the northern parts of the county — incumbent Jill Geist beat back her three challengers to take over 50 percent of the vote and avoid a runoff in the fall.
Geist's colleague Bonnie Neely wasn't so lucky. Neely, who for 20 years has represented the Fourth District — Samoa, Fairhaven and most of Eureka — was standing at around 44 percent of the vote total at 11 p.m. The results means that Neely will face a run-off against the second-place finisher, former Eureka Mayor Nancy Flemming. Third-place finisher Richard Marks, a progressive Democrat, held solid at around 25 percent of the vote, a surprisingly strong finish for a candidate fighting against Neely and Flemming's high name recognition.
Measure T, the closely watched initiative that seeks to ban non-local corporations from donating to local political campaigns, was an easy winner on Tuesday, with around 55 percent of Humboldt County voters approving the initiative. Shortly after 10 p.m., Chris Crawford, spokesman for the No on T campaign, conceded defeat, warning listeners of KHUM radio that the county would likely be headed for a tough and expensive court fight. "It's going to be challenged by someone, and when it does, it's going to be a very hard battle to defend T," he said. Meanwhile, at the Lost Coast Brewery, where the T supporters shared quarters with Gallegos, backers of the initiative were ecstatic.
LOST COAST IDYLL: A mirage-like, menacing horde of what looked like spear-wielding ruffians marched in a phalanx up the beach, shattering our dream of peaceful isolation. We were defenseless — shoes off, pants rolled up, crumbs still falling from our lips as we lunched atop a giant driftwood tree. "Do we wait till they overtake us, or hurry ahead?" asked our leader. We brushed the black pebbly sand from our toes, threw on our shoes and socks, shouldered our daypacks and hurried ahead.
We'd just walked a gentle, dream-like four miles down from the mountain top — through a sea of Douglas firs, tall grasses and red-trunked madrones, past drippy springs and clattery brooks, noting every dangle-headed columbine, foxgloves and late-blooming purple iris — to Black Sands Beach on the Lost Coast. We'd heard the thrush's ethereal trill, a robin's chatter, a few yacking jays; the sun mostly shone through a pale threat of clouds; and about midway between ridgeline and ocean we'd stopped to hear the slow, deep-voiced whomp whomp whomp whomp of a male blue grouse inflating his air sacks to woo the girls. Every few yards a sugary sweetness assailed our noses: those orange-flowered shrubs? That pale-flowered tree? The tiny wild strawberry plants already sporting red berries? At one point our leader, Dave Reckess of the California Wilderness Coalition, looked up and said, "Red-tailed hawk." It swooped low over us then outward to catch a current. "That's good luck."
Oh, sure, there were tiny flickers of doom: that seemingly fresh gash across the sodden earth of the trail, one of the myriad earthquake faults in the King Range; that snorting in the brush that Reckess said was a black bear; and his grim little tale of how the Douglas fir cone got its furry spurs. A long time ago, when the little mice scurried in to eat the nuts from Droopy Doug's cones (the tree's soft-needled limbs droop), they'd always leave a few nuts in the cone so the forest could regenerate. "But then along came Coyote, the Trickster, and he said, `Ah, why don't you eat them all? That's what I'd do!'" said Reckess. So the impressionable little mice decided they'd do just that. "But the tree got wind of their plan, and made a magic cone. So, the day came when the nuts were ripe, and the mice swarmed the magic cone — which swallowed them all up. And that's why to this day, on the Doug fir's cone, you can see their little hind feet and tails sticking out."
But none of that pierced our idyll. By the time we descended from the woods and ran over the black sand, crossing a yellow line of stinking kelp and rotting starfish, to plunge our feet into the surf, we were in some kind of coastal enchantment. But then came that horde. We tried to out-hike it, but the sand dragged at our feet.
Turns out, they were high school boys and girls from Marin County who'd been out in the wilds for a week. The last four days they'd hiked along the beach, on the Lost Coast Trail from the mouth of the Mattole River to Shelter Cove. They had that end-of-the-trail complexity in their semi-wild, tanned faces: You could tell they'd been happily stargazing and listening to waves and the swish of sand underfoot for days, but that the last interminable two miles were the only thing between them and a plate of greasy junk food and a soda.
"I'll trade packs with you," said one deceptively tired boy as he zoomed slowly past under an 80-pound pack.
"You guys see any animals out there?" I asked, keeping safely out of pack-swapping reach.
"We saw a lion track," he said. "And lots of raccoons. A raccoon stole a guy's chocolate one night."
And then our parties gradually drifted apart again, the backpackers falling back to study a boulder on the beach, and us resuming our forward slog. Where we'd met, the waves lapped up and retreated, repeatedly, stirring up the black pebbles and depositing more froth, bubbles, stranded sea palms and dying starfish.
The Lost Coast is included in the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, a bill before Congress that proposes to protect more than 300,000 acres of North Coast mountains and beach as wilderness. Last year the Senate passed the act. This year the bill could go before the House. Info: www.californiawild.org.
— Heidi Walters
SHORELINE PROJECT: Security National plans to unveil its Shoreline Project later this month. That's the long-awaited plan for the 50-some acres along the north end of Eureka's waterfront, where the one-acre Blue Ox school sits amid a sea of wetlands/tidelands and undeveloped ground. Clean Up Eureka LLP, a group controlled by SN's Rob Arkley, bought the acreage, including the Blue Ox site (which will have to move somewhere else, possibly Samoa) almost two years ago. There's been talk of it being developed into a mix of low-income residential and some mixed office/retail.
On Tuesday, spokesperson Brian Morrissey filled in some details, while noting that things could change. "It's going to be primarily residential in nature ... with reasonably affordable houses for working families," he said. Of the 50 acres, 17 would remain tidelands and wetlands, he said. On the remaining 33 acres, 11 would be transformed into developed park space, and the rest would contain a mostly residential mix with an office building and maybe some convenience store-type retail. Morrissey said the tentative plan is for 34 single-family homes, 68 town houses, four apartments over commercial buildings, a 62-spot RV park and possibly a restaurant. And, SN plans to build a trail to connect with the trail segment behind Target on one end of the property, and with the boardwalk on the other end. "I think this continues to show Rob and Cherie Arkley's commitment to reasonably priced workforce housing in Eureka, and to economic development," Morrissey said.
— Heidi Walters
IMPEACHMENT, AGAIN: Humboldt County lefties are once again testing national political waters, this time from the central committee of Humboldt County's Democratic Party. The committee recently passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "for their unconstitutional wiretapping of American citizens," according to a press release dated June 4. The resolution was "overwhelmingly approved" by members of the committee on March 21 and subsequently mailed to each member of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Diane Feinstein, who sits on the committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, who does not. Last year, the Arcata City Council voted 3-2 for a resolution demanding the impeachment or resignation of Bush and Cheney.
The California Democratic Party has sent a similar letter calling for an investigation into several alleged constitutional violations, but local Democratic Committee member Nancie Four Waters feels a mere investigation does not go far enough. She and her fellow committee members believe the NSA wiretapping program warrants impeachment. She said Humboldt's Democratic committee moved very quickly to get their resolution sent out because they wanted to add their voice to the mix of those in Washington calling for censure back in March. "We wanted to make sure our letter was sent to the Judiciary Committee," she said. She feels impeachment should be a no-brainer: "We looked up several other impeachment reasons and chose to focus on [illegal wiretapping], because it's very black and white. The violation is egregious and the president publicly admitted what he was doing. That in and of itself should be enough. There's no fudge room."
Four Waters said that the resolution for impeachment has not gotten a lot of support from national lawmakers, though Sen. Boxer expressed her support for censure and investigation of the president. Sen. Feinstein gave what Four Waters called "a politically appropriate response," but fell well short of full support. Congressman Mike Thompson has not responded to the resolution and could not be reached for comment.
Kay Peake, a volunteer at Republican headquarters in Eureka, had not heard about the recent resolution by Tuesday, but said she is not surprised. "It's nothing new," she said. "This is just a political statement to undermine our president. I think he's doing a fine job and he needs support from members of every party, especially in this time of war."
— Luke T. Johnson
BAD MEDICINE: In 2001, several cows from a herd that was to be auctioned off in Fortuna mysteriously died, even after they were given an antibiotic to cure a common bacterial infection. The remaining cattle were given a different medicine, and survived. At the time, Lee Mora, the Fortuna auction yard operator, chalked it up to one of the sad realities of the business, calling it a "trying period" for his company.
But years later Mora learned that his cattle died as the result of a business scheme. In 2004, a Federal Department of Agriculture investigator came to the Humboldt Auction Yard to check out the invoices for those antibiotics from 2001. He discovered that the drugs were counterfeit. "Until then, we didn't suspect; we didn't know," Mora said. "We lived through it and went to the next business day."
Now, three employees of an animal pharmaceutical company are facing felony charges in U.S. District Court for allegedly conspiring to smuggle adulterated and misbranded medicine in from Mexicali, Mexico. The defendants are Harold Desjardins, Jim Mann and Marilyn Bracy, employees of Veterinary Pharmaceuticals Inc. (VPI) in Hanford, Calif. The fake drugs were sold as FDA-approved medicine to unsuspecting cattlemen in the U.S. between 1998 and 2006, according to a May 18 news release from the U.S. Attorney Eastern District of California.
Mora confirmed Tuesday that 20 to 30 of his cattle died and that he later learned that the fake antibiotic, which he thought to be Nuflor, actually contained little or no active ingredient. The incident cost Mora's company approximately $15,000. But beyond the damage inflicted on his wallet, Mora said, his trust in business relationships has had the most lasting effect. "This is an industry that operates on trust," Mora said, "and when trust is breached it causes a very serious ripple on all of us." In late May the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted they each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The next hearing is set for June 12. Assistant U.S Attorney Mark Cullers, who is prosecuting the case in Fresno, said Tuesday that a trial may be months away yet.
— Helen Sanderson
NEW INTELLIGENCE: It is to be hoped that no one was too thrown by an item in last week's calendar section ("It's The Bomb"), a write-up on an upcoming air show at the Eureka/Arcata Airport in McKinleyville. Though the story ran in last week's issue, the show — which will feature two World War II bombers, available for tours and rides — takes place this weekend.
As it happened, though, the error in timing had at least one happy consequence. Last week we were unable to contact the Journal's special consultant on World War II-era aircraft — 1st Lt. Lawrence "Grandpa" Hales of Redlands, Calif. — as he was taking his nap at the time. This week we were luckier. Tanned, rested and ready for duty, Hales was able to offer North Coast readers his unqualified recommendations for enjoying the experience.
His first piece of advice — perhaps his only one, really — is that show-goers may take a peek at the B-24 ("The Liberator") if they must, but should by all means concentrate the bulk of their attention on the glorious B-17 ("The Flying Fortress"). "It was a great airplane," Hales said. "It didn't carry as many bombs as the B-24, but flying a B-17? There's nothing like it."
In fact, the B-24 not only carried a greater payload, but had a significantly greater range as well, making it the bomber of choice in the wide-open spaces of the Pacific Theater. But try telling that to Hales, who between 1944 and 1945 flew 35 missions for the 381st Bomb Group out of Ridgewell, England, in his aircraft of choice. Yes, the B-24 might get you there, he argued, but which plane was more likely to get you back? "B-17s hang in there," he said. "A B-17 pilot would swear by a B-17, and swear at a B-24. That's one way to put it."
But aborted missions shouldn't be much of a concern this weekend, unless someone mounts ack-ack guns in the hills above McKinleyville. Plane rides are a tax-deductible $425 each — call the Collings Foundation at (978) 562-9182 for reservations — and walk-through tours of the planes are $8 for adults, $4 for children under 12. The planes will be here all weekend: Friday, 3:30-6:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
— Hank Sims
CORRECTION: The Summer Activities for Kids calendar in last week's issue incorrectly listed the prices for some of the Natural History Museum's activities. "Bats, Birds & Bugs," "Fun With Flowers," "World of Water" and "Marsh Explorers" each listed the price for 6-8 year-olds as $70, $80 for non-members. The price for this age group is actually $80, $90 for non-members. Visit the museum's website at www.humboldt.edu/~natmus for complete information. We apologize for the error.
by HANK SIMS
The last decade hasn't been kind to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, that publicly owned stretch of track that should theoretically link Humboldt County to the Bay Area and to the interstate rail system.
It's been a good eight years since the North Coast Railroad Authority, the public agency that manages the line, has been able to bring any trains into Humboldt County. In fact, apart from a few months of operation at the very southern end, it's been that long since it's run any trains at all. In the meantime, powerful North Coast storms have caused untold damage to the precarious tracks, bridges and tunnels perched above the remote middle fork of the Eel River between Scotia and Willits. That section of line, built into one of the most geologically unstable areas of the continental United States, has been called the most expensive stretch of track in the country to maintain. All the while, the forest products industry — once the railroad's bread-and-butter has continued to decline, with numerous major mills shutting their doors. (For a primer on the history of the Northwestern Pacific, see the Journal's "Going Nowhere," May 29, 2003).
In recent months, though, there's been a buzz of activity centered around the moribund line. For years, many people — including most of the county's elected officials — have been trumpeting the railroad, together with a revitalized Port of Humboldt, as the one surefire silver bullet that could boost the county's economy and provide high-paying blue-collar jobs for laid off millworkers. And lately, boosters have been walking around with an extra spring in their step. For the first time in a very long while, things are looking their way.
In the first place, the NCRA has chosen a new operator — a company that will run the trains on the line, assuming it is reopened. The company is the newly formed NWP, Inc., a consortium whose members have experience in investment consultations and resource extraction. In a press release issued last week, Humboldt County Supervisor John Woolley, a member of the NCRA's board of directors, cited the selection of a new train operator, which will pay operating fees to the authority, as an important step in getting the train back on track. "We have selected an operator, we have secured the support of the California Transportation Commission (CTC), repairs will begin this summer, and things are coming together slowly but surely," he said.
But more fundamentally, NCRA directors and staff, as well as railroad boosters in general, believe that the line is on the verge of solving the key problem that has plagued the railroad since the decline of the timber industry: If we do fix the railroad, what can we haul with it? Where will the money come from? The answers, from the railroad's point of view, are detailed in a paper written CTC — a "strategic plan and progress report" — dated February 23 and posted to the NCRA web site only recently. And though there hasn't been much public discussion of the NCRA's plan to date, that is rapidly changing.
"There's the sound of this huge steamroller coming," said Nadananda, executive director of the Friends of the Eel, on Tuesday. "And it's the sound of railroad developers and money, and they're bringing it on really fast."
What has Nadananda and other environmental activists concerned, in particular, are the two main sources of funding outlined in the paper. First, the new train operators propose to open and greatly expand a long-dormant gravel quarry halfway down the Eel River Canyon, behind Island Mountain, in Trinity County. One of the partners in NWP, Inc. — Evergreen Natural Resources, of Oroville, Calif. — is in the process of applying for a permit from Trinity County that would allow it to mine up to 4 million cubic yards of gravel per year, which would make the operation one of the largest, if not the largest, gravel mines in Northern California. As explained in the NCRA's progress report, that quantity of gravel translates to 40,000 rail cars full of gravel every year —- an average of 110 cars per day.
The other main source of projected revenue for the line would come from a staggering expansion of the shipping industry on Humboldt Bay. The report projects that the development of port facilities to move containerized cargo (goods package in the truck-sized "container" boxes, which have long been the standard in international freight) could result in up to 1,000 containers being shipped down the railroad line each day. That would mean up to 20 trains per day coming and going through Eureka and Arcata, each towing 50 or so flat cars.
John Williams, one of the partners in NWP, Inc., said Monday that the new company was excited about both opportunities, but that the gravel business is much closer to becoming reality, as it would not require that the NCRA open nearly as much of the troublesome Eel River section of the line to become operational. He said that the market for quality gravel, which the Island Mountain quarry would provide in great quantity, is very favorable for sellers right now.
"`There's no sure thing until you have trains operating, but we think the probability of the aggregate moving is very high," Williams said. "We think there's a great need for it in the marketplace, and we think this is a source of supply that's close to the market."
But for Nadananda, the quarry and the associated resumption of rail service are a potential disaster for the Eel, which has already lost a good deal of its historic salmon runs due to siltation and the diversion of its water to the Russian River.
"What they're pushing, and what the question now is, is the Eel River to be further degraded with resource extract practices, or are we going to be able to restore the river and get the fish back?" she said. She noted that several other groups have laid a numbers of claims to gravel that would be extracted directly from the river, and that those claims could be activated if the railroad were to provide a method of shipping it, leading to an industrialization of the river.
She said that her organization, Friends of the Eel, is currently preparing to meet with other environmental groups and interested parties to discuss the project and to formulate a strategy for countering it. She said that her biggest concern, right now, is that applicant Evergreen Natural Resources should be required to fund a complete environmental impact report on the project.
Larry Layton, Trinity County's chief administrative officer, said Tuesday that his staff have notified Evergreen that the county would like to see it fund an EIR before the county gives consent to the project, and will in all likelihood require it to do so — an unusual step in sleepy Trinity County, he said.
"We don't require an EIR for most projects, but we don't usually have projects this big," he said, adding that the county usually doesn't like to add additional costs to potential developments. "It's fairly expensive — for [the gravel] project, I've heard a figure of a million dollars or so."
Meanwhile, the great expansion of shipping on Humboldt Bay envisioned in the NCRA's report is also raising eyebrows, although the potential date for the initiation of a shipping plan on Humboldt Bay is much further off. For shipping of goods to begin, not only would the railroad authority have to open the entire length of the troublesome track, but tens of millions of dollars would need to be invested to expand and upgrade the Port of Humboldt's facilities to handle container shipping. After that, the port would have to attract customers to the remote bay.
Maggie Herbelin, the coordinator of the Humboldt Bay Stewards and a former candidate for the board of directors of the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, said Tuesday that earlier in the day she had met with fellow members of the Bay Stewards about the projections released by the NCRA, and that the group — which strives to be non-partisan and informational — would likely hold a workshop on the plan in the coming months.
Herbelin said that not enough thought or discussion had gone into the question of whether or not a greatly ramped-up shipping industry would really be in the county's best interests. She cited pollution, noise, light and the traffic congestion from 20 trains per day as questions that needed to be studied in greater depth before the county and the Port of Humboldt commit to a plan.
"I'm skeptical — I'll put it that way — that this is the direction we want to go in," she said. "And that's the thing I think needs to be raised. With the Marina Center being proposed, I'm wondering whether we want that much industry on the bay. I'm kind of wondering — what are we looking at here? Do we want to pile industry on top of our housing?"
Though the numbers projected for both the gravel and the shipping plans may seem unduly optimistic, given the current, dilapidated state of both the railroad and the port, NCRA Executive Director Mitch Stogner insisted on Monday that they were, in fact, viable.
"The projections are just that — projections," he said. "I think the projections we make are the based on the best facts we have at the moment. There are some imponderables there, but I think they're realistic."
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