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Dec. 16, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Investigators raid pulp mill after complaint

AVA publisher pulls up Mendo roots

Regional Visitor Publications purchased


The Weekly Wrap

HERE WE GO AGAIN: If November's 10-candidate showdown for three Arcata City Council seats wasn't interesting enough the first time around, there are now seven people vying for one council vacancy. Not all of the contenders' nomination signatures were verified by the city clerk by press time, so here is the likely (yet technically unofficial) list of candidates: Greg Allen, 53, an ACLU attorney who ran in November's election; Nicholas Bravo, 30, a university student, also a repeat contender, notorious for his acrimonious outbursts at past debates; Keith Erickson, aka "Biome," age and occupation unknown at press time, can be seen picketing for various causes on the plaza; Andrew Lord, 31, an environmental analyst and consultant who had a brief run-in with the FBI last year when he and friends jokingly sketched nuclear reactors on a cocktail napkin at a brewery; Mary Scoggin, 42, a Humboldt State anthropology professor with a specialty in Chinese culture who headed a local disaster relief effort for Grenada citizens following Hurricane Ivan; Mark Wheetley, 45, a senior biologist and natural resources planner with California Fish and Game who has also worked for the Coastal Conservancy and coached the Eureka High girls' soccer team for four years; and Michael Winkler, 55, a research engineer with HSU's Schatz Energy Lab and Arcata Planning Commission member who began the sustainable agriculture apprenticeship program at the university. The special election for Elizabeth Conner's vacated council seat will be held on March 8.

BUSINESSMAN SENTENCED: John Jay Rist, owner of John's Auto Repair in Eureka, was sentenced to four years in state prison last week for bilking the U.S. Postal Service of $861,000 over a period of two years. According to the District Attorney's Office, Rist, 30, billed the post office's credit card account for goods and services that the agency had not ordered at least 87 times between August 2001 and October 2003. Because each fake bill was for less than $10,000, it took postal service auditors two years to figure out that they were being scammed.

VETS CENTER BACK IN COURT: A lawsuit seeking to prevent the transfer of the former Fireside Inn to the North Coast Veterans Resource Center by the city of Eureka is scheduled to be heard in Humboldt County Superior Court on Monday. Attorneys for Eureka businessman Don Davenport, who opposes the project, have argued that the city cannot transfer the title to the vets' center because city code requires that the new facility must serve "substantially the same purpose" as it did in the past. The proposed vets' center has already been the subject of another lawsuit, also by Davenport, that alleges the use as a center would not be allowed under the zoning. A trial was held Nov. 29; Judge Marilyn Miles is expected to issue a ruling on that case in the near future.

HELP PROTESTS TO STATE: Humboldt Economic and Land Plan (HELP), a pro-development group that has been critical of the county's land use policies, has filed a letter of complaint with a state agency over alleged shortcomings in recently adopted housing element of the general plan. The housing element gives state regulators an idea of the amount of land available for residential development, given current zoning regulations, in unincorporated areas. HELP believes that what the county has provided is not near enough to meet the likely demand for new homes. HELP's agent in Sacramento, land use consultant Kay Backer, said that she is scheduled to meet with officials at the state Department of Housing and Community Development sometime before Christmas to discuss the group's concerns. For instance: nearly 45 percent of the land identified for residential development is in the remote Shelter Cove area, which is unlikely to attract new developers. "It's just one example of where we don't think the county is being realistic," Backer said. Michael Richardson, a senior planner with the county Community Development Services Department, said that the housing element provides for 8,000 new housing units -- and that's with all physical constraints, such as unbuildable lots and areas with no water and sewer hook-ups, removed from the equation. Of those, about 3,500 are in the Shelter Cove area -- however, the state only requires the county to provide for some 2,000 new units between now and 2008.

LOLETA PLANT FINDS OPERATOR: The Loleta Community Services District has found an operator for its wastewater treatment plant -- after months of searching and a formal order from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. The new operator, Mario Palmero, is someone who moved into the area just recently and heard about the job through word of mouth, said Christopher Jones, general manager of the community services district. The water board had ordered the district to get an operator pronto; wastewater treatment plants need daily oversight to ensure that raw sewage is not dumped out of the plant, that chlorine levels are appropriate and that equipment is operating properly.

COMMITTEE POSTS FOR BERG, CHESBRO: Assemblymember Patty Berg of Eureka was reappointed chairwoman of the state Assembly's Aging and Long-Term Care Committee and state Sen. Wesley Chesbro will once again take the helm of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.

SUPES OK POT CLINIC: Driving from Willow Creek to Arcata for medical marijuana can be difficult. Luckily a new medical marijuana clinic and growing operation will open in Humboldt's high country for patients there. The go-ahead decision came from the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday, following the Humboldt Patient Resource Center's appeal of the planning commission's denial to license a new clinic. The Willow Creek facility will be open for business three days a week.

HAMBURG JAILED: Former North Coast Congressman Dan Hamburg was hauled off to an Ohio jail last week after attempting to deliver a letter detailing his concerns about voting irregularities in the recent presidential election to that state's elections chief. According to news reports, Hamburg asked to meet Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell at his office; when the secretary declined, Hamburg refused to leave. Police were called. Hamburg, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1992 to 1994, currently heads the nonprofit group Voices of the Environment. He is a prominent follower of Adi Da, an eccentric guru who owns land in Trinidad.

RETAIL STAGNANT, BOARD SAYS: Humboldt County's retail industry has essentially stagnated since 1978, growing little, if at all -- while the county's total workforce has grown by 15,000 over the same period of time. That's the paradoxical conclusion of a new report issued by the Workforce Investment Board, which will discuss the report's findings at its regular meeting on Friday, 8:30-9:30 a.m., at the Humboldt County Office of Education. HSU economics professor Steve Hackett and local businesswoman Julie Fulkerson, owner of Plaza Design, will be among the special guests invited to discuss the report.

CITIZEN ACADEMY IN FORTUNA: The Fortuna Police Department is hosting a six-week program to show residents the ropes of law enforcement. The FPD is taking applications for its Citizen Academy, which will meet one night a week through February. Residents will learn about community oriented policing, use of force and use of deadly force, gangs, self-defense, first-aid and crime prevention among other police work. Class size is limited. Call 725-7550 for further details.

MUSHROOM HUNTERS BEWARE: The onset of the rainy season means mushrooms are blooming, and the Humboldt County Health Department is reminding mushroom pickers that certain fungi can be deadly if eaten. In a press release, Public Health Officer Ann Lindsay warns gatherers not to overestimate their ability to discern between edible and poisonous mushrooms, even when using guidebooks. The health department suggests that an expert examine wild mushrooms first. Early signs of mushroom poisoning include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, and can result in liver damage or death. Anyone who suspects they have eaten bad mushrooms should call the 24-hour Poison Control Center at 1-800-8-POISON.

Investigators raid pulp mill after complaint


Nearly a dozen law enforcement and regulatory agencies descended upon the financially troubled Stockton Pacific Enterprises pulp mill early this month after a whistleblower alleged that the company regularly releases dangerous chemicals into Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

On the morning of Dec. 7, state, local and federal agents -- including representatives from the California Department of Fish and Game, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Humboldt County Sheriff's and District Attorney's Offices -- raided the mill, bearing a search warrant signed by Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson the previous Friday.

They took chemical samples at various sites around the mill, snapped photographs and seized paperwork and computers in an effort to seek evidence that would corroborate allegations of environmental crimes made by Dr. Teri Ard, a chemical engineer and former Stockton Pacific employee, according to records from the investigation.

Deputy District Attorney Paul Hagen, who is heading the case for the DA's office, declined to comment while charges were pending.

Court records show that in late October, Ard -- a 36-year-old Eureka resident who was hired less than a year ago to serve as the company's environmental manager -- told employees of the Regional Water Quality Control Board that Stockton Pacific routinely violated environmental regulations. She alleged that the mill's owners considered penalties for violating rules cheaper than fixing problems that resulted in pollution.

"She indicated that the pulp mill management is not concerned about violations and look at the fines as a cost of doing business," wrote agency staff members in a memorandum describing their conversation with Ard.

Specifically, Ard said that the company illegally disposed of "black liquor" -- a toxic by-product of the pulp-making process -- by dumping it into the mill's collection system, which discharges legally permitted waste into the ocean. In addition, she alleged that employees dumped spent chemicals into storm drains. On at least one occasion, she said, wastewater tainted by highly alkaline lime stores was allowed to spill into the bay.

Ard told water quality officials that pulp mill management attempted to cover up the alleged violations by cleaning up the mill before water quality inspectors were scheduled to visit the site. She said also that she was demoted after repeatedly bringing violations to the attention of the mill's ownership, and was eventually locked out of her office and barred from the company's computer system. She indicated she was taking vacation and was seeking other employment.

A copy of the Water Quality Control Board staff's memorandum was given to Lt. Jon Willcox, a law enforcement officer with the California Department of Fish and Game. On Nov. 2, Willcox and several members of the District Attorney's Office interviewed Ard in Eureka.

"During the course of the interview, [I] found Teri Ard to be intelligent, articulate and credible," Willcox wrote to Wilson in applying for the search warrant. "[I] did not sense that Dr. Ard was operating on any hidden agendas of any kind, nor providing us with information outlining specific alleged violations out of spite, vindictiveness, revenge or for personal gain."

Ard, who holds a bachelor's degree in pulp and paper science and a doctorate in chemical engineering, could not be reached for comment. Stockton Pacific CEO Stephen Fleischer did not return calls.

The joint investigation comes at a time when Stockton Pacific Enterprise's financial woes have been at the forefront of the news. In November, mill employees took a 15 percent pay cut in order to keep operations afloat while a buyer is sought. The company owes over $500,000 to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, and around $30 million on the loan that allowed the company to buy the mill in August 2003.

Company officials have said the mill will close if a buyer is not found by the end of the month.

AVA publisher pulls up Mendo roots


A pugnacious newspaper publisher who delighted and appalled North Coast readers for almost two decades has set up shop in Oregon.

Bruce Anderson, whose Anderson Valley Advertiser had a small but devoted readership in Humboldt County, began publishing AVA Oregon last month, after selling his Mendocino County paper and relocating to Eugene over the summer.

So far, the left-wing editor who happily skewered bureaucrats and "tofu totalitarians" in the local environmental movement seems right at home.

"If you think Arcata's a politically correct place, try Eugene," he said. "You have a lot of these associate professors -- like 35 years old. They're your multiculturalist and language police, but they totally miss the big picture," such as endemic poverty in the region.

Since taking over the Anderson Valley Advertiser in the mid-'80s, Anderson has attracted a national readership with his unique combination of scathing wit and muckracking reportage. At the same time, he frequently invoked the wrath of critics by stretching the boundaries of what many would consider acceptable newspaper content -- including publishing fictional interviews with former Congressman Doug Bosco and Earth First! activist Judi Bari, assuming that readers would take them as satire.

Anderson's reputation -- he is often portrayed as the last of the old-school American newspapermen -- has made his move north an attractive subject for feature writers at large papers. The AVA Oregon launch was greeted with profiles in the Oregonian, the Sacramento Bee and the New York Times. Anderson said that the trade magazine Editor and Publisher is scheduled to run a cover story on the new publication next month.

The new paper has enlisted a number of Beaver State writers, including the former director of sports information for the University of Oregon and several local free-lance journalists. Many of the columnists who wrote for the old AVA -- including Petrolia resident Alexander Cockburn and Anderson's son Zack, an experimental writer of fiction and sports commentary -- will continue to contribute.

So far, AVA Oregon has published stories about a fistfight between Bush and Kerry supporters in downtown Eugene during the run-up to the recent election, the alleged inanity of Oregon's native right-wing radio talk show hosts and Anderson's own travails in getting the paper up and running.

Some of the paper's content continues to touch on North Coast issues. In a caustic profile of political consultant Michael Grossman -- whose firm, the Seattle-based Fifty Plus One, produced television advertisements advocating the recall of District Attorney Paul Gallegos last spring -- reporter Hart Williams reveals that two of those ads won national awards from the American Association of Political Consultants.

Reached at his Eugene home last week, Williams -- who has written for the Oregonian, the Los Angeles Times and numerous other mainstream papers -- said that his weekly column in the new AVA is done for love, not money.

"I get to write the kind of journalistic pieces that always get quashed by editors at other publications," he said, adding that he heartily approved of the paper's motto, a saying that is attributed to publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer: "Newspapers should have no friends."

"That's the way it ought to be," he said "The Fourth Estate is supposed to keep tabs on these people."

But Anderson conceded that lack of friends could jeopardize AVA Oregon's chances of getting off the ground. Though he said the paper is carried by retail outlets in every part of Oregon and is selling fairly well, his current weekly circulation of around 1,000 will have to improve if the venture is to survive beyond January.

It appears that may be an uphill battle. In last week's issue, Anderson told readers of his frustrated attempts to get the paper into Portland's venerable Powell's Books. He capped the story with a fervent wish that the store be "eaten by"

Closer to home, Sundance Natural Foods -- a Eugene health-food store -- stopped carrying the paper last week, apparently after receiving complaints from its clientele. In an e-mail to Anderson, store owner Gavin McComas explained that the decision was literally based on his understanding of the principle of karma.

"I have the ultimate responsibility to decide what constitutes nourishment and what policies and practices express our sense of kinship with all sentient beings, in particular our customers, staff and vendors," McComas wrote.

Even though such reactions may spell trouble for the paper, Anderson seemed disinclined to tone things down in an effort to placate his potential distributors.

"Yes, I'm having trouble with the PC people -- these people that fancy themselves on the cutting edge of everything that is true in America," he said. "A bunch of adenoidal little assholes."

AVA Oregon can be found on the web at
The other Anderson Valley Advertiser, which was bought by Boonville resident
David Severn, can still be found at many local outlets in Arcata and Southern Humboldt.

Regional Visitor Publications purchased

AN OUT-OF-TOWN CORPORATION HAS BOUGHT A Eureka publishing company that specializes in promoting tourism on the North Coast and Oregon. Regional Visitor Publications, which puts out the Humboldt Visitor magazine, The Palette, a magazine featuring local art, and Humboldt Kids' Digest, was sold to CHC Corp., whose president, Gregg Gardiner, lives in Hawaii, and whose parent company, 101 Inc., is based in South Carolina. Regional Visitor Publications was created by Scott Ryan and Damon Maguire, former HSU students who have run the company for 22 years. Maguire, who plans to stay on with the company as a consultant, said that under the new company the tourism magazine will expand, and there will be more color pages in the upcoming edition of the Humboldt Visitor. "We are excited to pass the Visitor magazines on to CHC Corp.," Maguire said. "They are an established publishing company with lots of experience in tourism marketing. They will do a great job with the magazines and they have the ability to expand the network to other regions."


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