North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

Sept. 11, 2003


Helicopter works on Samoa Peninsula

Gravel regs in the pipeline
Miners upset, enviros say restrictions
watered down for political reasons

Fruitless in Humboldt
Growers weather a bad year



JAIL SUICIDE A 23-year-old inmate facing two felony marijuana charges used his own bed sheets to hang himself in the Humboldt County Jail on Monday, officials reported. The body of Ambuis Singh Bhadouria was found in his cell at about 9 a.m., some 20 minutes after he was last seen alive. He was arrested in Arcata Sept. 3, the Sheriff's Office reported. Bhadouria had an Arcata address because he was living in a motel here, but Coroner Frank Jager said he is still trying to locate the man's family. Anyone with information is asked to call the coroner's office at 445-7242.

FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN ... A freak summer lightning storm blew through the county, with several bolts reaching down to tinder-dry forest and sparking a multitude of tiny to mid-sized wildfires. The California Department of Forestry reported a total of 54 wildfires sparked by the storm, most of them easily contained. But with personnel spread so thin, several of the blazes raged out of control, including one near Honeydew and one in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Over 700 acres were lost before this week's rains brought some relief... Thirteen small fires broke out on Redwood National Park lands near Orick, but park officials looked on the bright side, saying that a modest amount of burned land could be a boon for the local marbled murrelet and spotted owl populations.

GIDDY-UP ... The District Attorney's office charged Tatia A. Hill, owner of Fortuna's TJ's Western Wear, with laundering over $106,000 in illegal marijuana money. According to the DA, Hill allegedly used growers' money to buy wholesale equestrian accessories, which were then sold in the store or handed over to the growers. Hill could be looking at a maximum sentence of five years, eight months... Meanwhile, "soft-on-crime" DA Paul Gallegos announced that Eureka stick-up man Robert Powell could be getting up to15 years following his guilty plea for the armed robbery of a gas station last April. Powell was only 17 when he did the deed, but the fact that he ordered the station attendant out of the building at gunpoint meant an additional charge for false imprisonment.

PL REMOVES TREE SUPPLIES Treesitters in the Van Duzen watershed watched Friday as Pacific Lumber climbers removed their platforms, gear and food from the longstanding treesit in "Aradia," a 200-foot redwood on what has become known as "Gypsy Mountain" near Grizzly Creek State Park. The tree has been occupied nonstop since January 2002, activists say. The three treesitters stayed in the tree with the help of volunteer supporters, who sent new supplies back up.

SOHUM BUSTS Two men were arrested in separate raids on pot-growing operations in Southern Humboldt. On Monday, Sheriff's deputies removed 862 plants from a residence in the Island Mountain area, arresting John Larue Oberdorf, 31, at the scene. On Sept. 4, Jeffrey Kondos, 36, was arrested at a home in the China Creek area of Ettersburg, where deputies seized 686 plants.

PEPPER SPRAY TO SF A federal appeals court has ruled that the retrial of the civil rights case brought by logging protesters who were pepper-sprayed by Humboldt County law enforcement should take place in San Francisco. The often left-leaning 9 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled Sept. 2 that U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker should be removed from the case because of "an appearance of an absence of impartiality."

DEAD BIRD ALERT Humboldt County officials are urging residents to report any dead crows or raptors, the species most likely to die from the West Nile virus. The virus hasn't hit Humboldt yet, said Brent Whitener, the county's "bug man and rat boy," but if we start seeing a lot of these birds, human cases could follow in about six weeks. The number to call: 1-877-WNV-BIRD.

THEN AGAIN. .. Last week, we reported that a Fortuna man was stabbed by a group of men in blue bandanas. The Fortuna Police Department sent out a subsequent press release, saying that, in fact, the conflict was not gang-related.

Helicopter towing top of electric tower near Samoa mill, workers in foreground
Helicopter works on Samoa Peninsula

A "SKYCRANE" helicopter hauls away a 40-year-old electrical tower
Tuesday to make way for a line of 28 new towers, to be installed in
coming weeks along the Samoa Peninsula.
PG&E says the old towers have become corroded and damaged by salt and storms.
Photo by Hank Sims

Gravel regs in the pipeline
Miners upset, enviros say restrictions watered down for political reasons


As Humboldt County's gravel mining season approaches, the perennial tensions between miners and regulatory agencies are flaring up all over again.

This due to a report issued late last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries division (NOAA Fisheries). The report, called a "biological opinion," raises questions about the effect of the most frequently used method of gravel mining in the county -- a procedure known as "bar skimming" -- on federally protected salmon and steelhead habitat.

For small, independent miners like Charles Hansen of Fortuna, that could foretell expensive retooling of his procedures, and it makes him despair over the entire regulatory process.

"The way it looks to me, with these agencies they all want to be king of the hill," he said. "It's a power struggle. One agency will make a new regulation just so they can take control of the whole deal."

Built up each year when rains wash rock and sediment into watersheds, gravel bars are exposed to the air when the river level falls during the summer. "Bar skimming" involves the removal of the top layer of material from the bars, most often using heavy machinery. The biological opinion states that bar skimming may, in certain locales, end up making a river wider, shallower and more difficult for spawning salmon to navigate. It blames bar skimming for degradation of salmon habitat near the mouth of the Van Duzen River, where it empties into the Eel, and suggests that its use should be discouraged in most situations.

The opinion recommends instead that regulatory agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and the local County of Humboldt Extraction Review Team (CHERT), give priority to lesser-used alternative methods. These include "dry trenching," in which lateral slices of gravel are extracted from a bar, and "horseshoe-shaped extraction," in which a notch is cut out of a bar's downstream end.

The new policy will receive its first test at the Coastal Commission meeting this Friday (Sept. 12) at the Eureka Inn. Coastal Commission staff will recommend that an operation run by Fortuna residents Leland Rock and Charles Dwelley at the mouth of the Van Duzen be prohibited from skimming.

Depending on how NOAA Fisheries proceeds, this could be the first step in a comprehensive overhaul of the way gravel is mined from Humboldt County rivers.

Earlier this year, the agency released a draft version of the report that would have banned skimming altogether -- eliciting howls of protest from gravel operators. The operators, charging that NOAA had not taken into account comprehensive data that had been gathered near mining sites, succeeded in getting the agency to soften its stance on skimming, at least for the time being. The data, which the agency said had not been provided to it, is now being reviewed.

But Peter Galvin of the Environmental Protection Information Center charged that the softer version that was eventually released late last month was the result of political pressure from the industry.

"Biologically, nothing has changed from a few months ago," he said. "It's very disturbing that once again, big money from industry groups has been able to step into a scientific decision-making process and make it purely political."

Regardless of the effect of the NOAA Fisheries' studies on future gravel seasons, the biological opinion has already had an impact on this year's: The season is starting much later than usual, as operators and regulatory agencies have been waiting for the opinion to be completed. Partly because of this, one of the six mining applications on the Coastal Commission's schedule -- from Humboldt County's Department of Public Works -- will be withdrawn, according to Public Works Director Allen Campbell.

"Our problem was that the time got so narrow that for us to go in there and get anything, we'd have to pull everyone off everything else we're doing," Campbell said. He added that the county currently had a year's worth of gravel -- used primarily to build and maintain roads -- on hand.

Robert Brown of the private planning firm Streamline Consultants, which is representing two of the operators with applications before the Coastal Commission, said that this year's drawn-out process could turn Humboldt County -- reportedly one of the West Coast's biggest exporters of gravel -- into an importer, at least temporarily.

"The last couple of years the season has been shortened because of the snowy plover," he said. "This year, with the late permitting, it will be even shorter. Next spring, there could be some economic impacts -- a shortage of aggregate in this county."

Brown said that his clients, Mercer-Fraser and Mallard Pond/Drake Materials, still hoped to get a good six to eight weeks of work done this season, but the amount of time they would have would depend on when salmon start their yearly run up the Eel. When the fall rains begin in earnest, rivers start to rise, the fish begin to head upstream and mining must cease.

And Hansen, eager to get to work, is more than a little peeved that the season could be delayed by what turned out to be an inconclusive report.

"We ask whether we do any harm, they say we don't know yet," he said. "The river is filled in with gravel. The best thing to do is take some out of there."

Fruitless in Humboldt
Growers weather a bad year


Fruit farmers across the county are struggling to ride out a terrible year they blame on capricious weather.

"It's the worst year I've had," said Clayton McIntosh, who runs the 12-acre McIntosh Farm in Willow Creek, which grows organic peaches, pears, chestnuts, persimmons, grapes, melons, tomatoes and other fruit.

"The sweet cherry crop was about a 95 percent failure. Peaches were probably a 50 percent crop. A lot of the fruit trees did not have anything on them."

The culprit?

"That long period of rain in April, that was one thing," McIntosh said. "Then an extreme heat wave followed by really cold. That was what the summer was all about -- it was either 105 or 85."

Other farmers had similar stories.

"We were doing good until that rain hit [in early August], and when that hit, it spread rot throughout our crop," said Josh Young of Young's Orchard, a peach farm in Willow Creek. Ripe peaches that get moisture on them can rot within hours, farmers said.

The wet spring put a damper on the apple crop, said Clif Clendenen of Clendenen's in Fortuna. "The early apples [Gravensteins] were severely impacted -- we got only a fraction of a normal crop." And the hot, dry weather that followed provided the perfect conditions for pests, he said.

McIntosh remained philosophical about the loss. He has had to raise prices on tomatoes, from $1.50 to $2 a pound, and some of his farmers' market customers have been disappointed that certain products haven't been there. But there's not much he can do.

"Last season was wonderful, perfect in every way," he said. "So this year we're paying for it."



North Coast Journal Weekly

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