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September 2, 1999


A flight to remember

Wal-Mart 'no longer interested'

Spray victims appeal

Sisters to the rescue?

Beware of fire hazards

Employment ups and downs

What comes around

A flight to remember

Two weeks after the flight Elsie George can even recall her seat number 3C.

When the 59-year-old Fieldbrook woman took off on a United Express flight from Arcata-Eureka Airport in McKinleyville to San Francisco Aug. 20, she had no idea the 30-seat shuttle hopper may have hit a deer on the runway until the plane circled the Bay Area airport.

"Never in all my years have I had this happen," George said.

Other passengers on board the 7:30 a.m.-scheduled flight told her they felt the plane tip sideways when it departed the North Coast airport late about 10 a.m., she said. But George was occupied and enjoyed the ride until around 11:15 a.m., when the plane circled over the Bay Area airport and the flight attendant emerged from the cockpit.

The attendant told the passengers the plane may have hit a deer during its take-off and the crew is "not sure if it damaged a wheel." For the next 10 minutes, she instructed the passengers to practice assuming the crash-landing position and that she would let them know when, George recalled.

Soon thereafter the attendant repeatedly told the passengers to place their heads between their knees. "She never stopped yelling that," said George, and she became frightened.

Her fright was fleeting though as the plane landed without incident. George said the landing was no "bumpier than usual" and everyone on board applauded.

Several crash units rushed the plane and the ground crew asked if she was OK. George commended the crew for doing everything by the book.

A local supervisor working the United Express counter Tuesday and the day of the incident said a county aviation worker drove up and down the runway to check for "deer parts" and found nothing.

"The pilot was concerned the landing gear was damaged," said Jackie, who declined to give her last name because "it's against company policy."

Phone calls to SkyWest Airlines officials were unreturned.

Deer on the runway has been a controversial issue in the past. There was a confirmed deer hit on Murray Field a few years ago.

California Fish and Game Capt. Steve Conger said he has recommended Humboldt County erect fences around the local runways to keep the deer off. County officials wanted depredation permits to allow hunters to kill the animals.

Conger said he would like to see the county request grant funds from the Federal Aviation Administration for the fences because Fish and Game doesn't issue depredation permits unless property is destroyed.

County Aviation officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Wal-Mart 'no longer interested'

Since Eureka's defeat of Measure J, which would have rezoned land to accommodate Wal-Mart, what's next for the balloon tract?

Some business leaders think Wal-Mart will abandon its efforts to build on the waterfront parcel in Old Town and may look for property elsewhere including the current property owner Union Pacific Railroad.

Rick Gooch, Union Pacific's director of special properties who negotiated the deal with the international retail giant, said debriefings with Wal-Mart officials have led him to believe the retailer will pull out.

"Wal-Mart has indicated they are no longer interested anymore," Gooch said. "We believe the transaction has come to an end."

Nothing is in writing and phone calls to Wal-Mart officials were unreturned. Escrow had been set to close next month.

Union Pacific will start to look at other suitors for the railroad yard that was once a hub for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Union Pacific will continue with clean-up efforts as planned.

"We thought we had the right answer for the property. Apparently the local electorate felt otherwise," Gooch said. "We view the election and the results of the election to be an indicator of what the city would allow."

Meanwhile, the No on Measure J supporters were still rejoicing. In the unofficial tally as of Tuesday, Eureka voters cast 4,015 no votes, 2,605 yes votes 61-39 percent margin, according to the county elections office.

"The citizens of Eureka know a bad deal when they see one," said Humboldt County Supervisor Bonnie Neely, who helped lead the no campaign to victory. Neely said she's proud of the voters in her district who have a "true link" to the area's coastal influence. The No camp focused much of its energy to free up the site for port development.

If Wal-Mart still wants to build on the 30-acre site, it would have to convince the city to amend its local coastal plan which would have to be approved by the Coastal Commission in addition to obtaining numerous city permits. The current LCP calls for public facilities on the property, not retail.

"I'm glad we have (the Coastal Commission) as a safety net," Neely said.

Spray victims appeal

A case that gained national media attention last year, the use of pepper spray on chained, anti-logging protesters by Humboldt County deputies, has been appealed.

Attorneys for the nine Earth First! activists who claimed their constitutional rights were violated when officers swabbed their eyes with the chemical agent filed the civil motion for unspecified damages with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in August.

No trial date has been set.

A year ago, a hung jury ended the nine-day trial in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Judge Vaughn Walker declared a mistrial and dismissed the case against Humboldt County deputies and Eureka police for their alleged use of excessive force on "passive" protestors.

The jury viewed videotapes of the fall 1997 incidents that occurred in offices of former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, Pacific Lumber Co. headquarters in Scotia and at a remote logging site called Bear Creek. During the protests, officers forced demonstrators to remove their arms from the so-called "black bears," metal tubular devices that lock into place.

A video clip showing officers swabbing the eyes of screaming protesters was televised for days on newscasts around the world in November 1997. The video prompted piles of hate mail and telephone calls from outside the county condemning the action by law enforcement. The local community was split in its reaction. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote that the incidents were "unfortunate, unnecessary and unhelpful."

If the protestors win their appeal, the case will be sent back to the federal district court for a second trial.

"This case basically gets us back to our starting point," said Berkeley plaintiff attorney Brendan Cummings, who's working with Mark Hughes of Earthlaw, an environmental law firm based in Denver.

The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten in on the act, too, Hughes said Monday. The civil rights group will be advising the court as an advocate against law enforcement's use of pepper spray as wrong in acts of civil disobedience.

The county's lead attorney, Nancy Delaney, said local officers "acted appropriately" and with safety in mind. The use of oleoresin capsicum (OC or pepper spray) on gauze over the eyelids has become an acceptable standard in the handling of such incidents by the state agency that sets the guidelines the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training. POST adopted its guidelines after the three Humboldt County incidents. Local officers used Q-tips to apply the chemical.

The defense contends the protestors "experienced temporary pain," the legal briefs state, but "no injury has ever been documented as a result of this method." Pepper spray is an "organic" substance. Moreover, the use of a chemical agent is preferable to a saw as suggested by law enforcement's special services team "to reduce the risk of injury."

Sisters to the rescue?

Following a string of costly lawsuits and money mishaps cutting into St. Bernard school subsidies and other programs, the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa is seeking outside financial support. And those with strong ties to the North Coast Catholic community are listening.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange are planning to make a donation out of its ministry fund to help offset the $656,000 in lost subsidies St. Bernard will not receive from the diocese this year.

In 1912 the Sisters opened the elementary school, which is losing $156,000. In 1953 they started the high school, which will not receive $500,000 in previously promised subsidies.

"We would like to do something to help. We don't want to neglect the St. Bernard community," Sister Nancy O'Connor said Tuesday upon her return from Eureka the day before. She believes the 220 Sisters will be receptive to the idea, when she takes it before the leadership council in Orange Friday.

One week ago Monsignor John Brenkle, the diocese's acting finance officer, broke the news to the school district which is starting classes next week. School officials called a meeting with parents Monday night to share the news.

Layoffs seem inevitable across all programs in the diocese that has 47 churches and 14 schools from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, Brenkle confirmed Monday.

Brenkle did promise school officials that he'd work on tapping into other outside sources and turned to the community, including businesses, for help.

"The community has to rise to the occasion," he said, and the Sisters' interest is timely.

"They founded our schools and obviously that's the reason for their support," school district spokeswoman Leigh Pierre-Oetker said, adding she's much more optimistic than she was Friday.

"These schools will go on. We've gone through consolidation, losing our administrator and our school still rallies," Pierre-Oetker said. Former Principal Jeff Jacobs resigned over allegations that he misrepresented his credentials. A disgruntled parent discovered the discrepancy after he refused to reassign a popular, long-time elementary school teacher.

The district plans to open the schools this year as planned, despite the schools' financial picture.

"The situation is critical up there," Brenkle said. He attributed St. Bernard's fiscal woes to "gross mismanagement" and "broken promises" by the former management of the 140,000-member diocese. But he said the St. Bernard School District isn't alone. The diocese itself has to make some major fund-raising efforts to "cover lawsuits that have impacted the diocese tremendously," he said.

The most prominent involves an alleged sex scandal between a Ukiah priest and the Santa Rosa diocese's Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, who later resigned amid controversy.

Beware of fire hazards

As fires rage across California and a popular camping holiday approaches, Six Rivers National Forest officials are trying to douse a high fire hazard with their own set of precautions.

The U.S. Forest Service has restricted operating an internal combustion engine off-road, using explosives, welding and building campfires outside developed sites.

Those who use gas stoves or lanterns need a campfire permit. Also punishable by law is smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle, developed site or in an area at least three feet from flammable material, the agency said in an issued statement.

The maximum penalty for violations is $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization and may include six months in jail.

It is actually Mother Nature that may turn out to be the Forest Service's worst enemy. Lightning has long been the No. 1 cause of wildfires.

Thunderstorms in Northern California ignited a cluster of fires in neighboring Trinity County last week. One of them, the Onion Fire, has scorched thousands of acres on Big Mountain in the China Creek and Big Creek watersheds east of Denny.

Forest Service officials have set up a command post in Big Bar and, with heavy firefighting equipment on the roads, would like to advise motorists out for the long holiday weekend to drive with extra caution.

The federal agency is also limiting the length of stay to 30 days for campers who dwell outside designated sites. A ranger in the Mad River district, in particular, has noticed an increase in the number of long-term camps in popular areas. Violators are subject to up to $500 in fines or six months in jail or both. The Forest Service may also impound vehicles at these illegal sites.

Employment ups and downs

Humboldt County employment in the services sector, which includes retail employment, dropped in July to 40,900 jobs, down 2.6 percent from the previous month, according to the state Employment Development Department. However manufacturing employment increased slightly, picking up 100 jobs in the same period. Manufacturing accounts for 6,500 jobs.

EDD contributes statistics to a monthly economic index gathered by Humboldt State University Professor Steven Hackett and Assistant Deborah Keeth.

What comes around

Some North Coast and state agencies have joined together in an effort to boost import and export opportunities for local businesses.

Led by the Arcata Economic Development Corp., the partnership is providing free, one-on-one export/import planning and technical assistance to businesses in Humboldt and neighboring counties interested in foreign expansion.

Jim Kimbrell, executive director of AEDC, said the response so far from the community has been positive.

"We sent out surveys and within two days we received 26 leads from promising local businesses," Kimbrell said. "It's given us a lot of work to do, but we're quite excited about the prospects."

The surveys are part of an evaluation process in which the needs and goals of clients are analyzed, and the kind of assistance the partnership can provide is determined.

The surveys covered a four-county area. Any operation that has the capacity for significant export or import business may receive assistance.

He listed a food works incubator manufacturer, a couple of breweries and garment and textile industries as potential suitors.

"We have a tremendous host of quality products in our area," Kimbrell said. "The problem is that few of the industries are marketing those products outside of our area."

"It's not that (local businesses) don't recognize the value of what they can do. For the most part, it's because business owners are concerned first with the day-to-day operations of the company," Kimbrell said. "We want to show locals how easy it can be, and that there's a huge interest in the goods and services our area has to offer."

Agencies in the assistance program include the University Center for Economic Development (CSU Chico), the Center for International Trade Development, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration and the Northcoast Small Business Development Center.

Businesses interested in learning more about the Export/Import Technical Assistance Program may contact Kimbrell at 822-4616, Ext. 215.

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