North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

Dec. 19, 2002

Tough financial times at St. Luke Manor

Waterworld: An odyssey through the Eel River lowlands

When the president calls

Rent runs into the Redwood Curtain

Elections chief out

Panel restricts OHVs

Farmer urged to not settle

The twister that wasn't

Spoiled weekend

Internet companies sold

New ICU finished

Time for good-byes

Chamber head leaving

Mushroomers beware

Starting fresh


Tough financial times at St. Luke Manor

by Geoff S. Fein

St. Luke Manor, the only not-for-profit nursing home in Humboldt County, needs between $500,000 and $700,000 over the next year to help it stay in operation.

The money, which the Fortuna-based facility is seeking through a fund-raising effort, is needed to offset shrinking Medicare payments and the rising cost of workers' compensation and liability insurance.

"Right now we are pretty much attempting to do a major campaign to compensate for the federal and state losses," said Robert Stauff, executive director of Lutheran Home for the Aging of Humboldt County, the parent company of St. Luke Manor.

The Board of Directors of the Lutheran Home for the Aging of Humboldt County will conduct a grassroots campaign and reach out to prominent residents to help raise the funds, Stauff said.

Because insurance payments are billed on a monthly basis, the organization has 12 months to raise the money.

The financial troubles have already led to layoffs of some workers and an across-the-board pay cut.

There are four other nursing homes in the county, all SunBridge facilities owned by the Sun Healthcare Group, Inc. [A Nov. 9, 2000 North Coast Journal cover story, "Nursing Home Neglect," reported that state inspectors had cited the SunBridge facilities for deficiencies in the quality of care provided by these homes.]

A turning point for St. Luke Manor came in 1997. Medicare and Medicaid repayments up until then were cost-based -- facilities were repaid for the cost of providing service. But that year the federal government went to a prospective payment program, a more complex way to determine what to reimburse, Stauff said.

Under the new format the government pays in advance for services provided by facilities. St. Luke Manor's staff must provide the federal government with resident assessments. The data is used to determine which of 44 payment categories a resident falls under.

The change in Medicare policy has adversely affected nursing facilities. For example, if a resident is admitted to St. Luke Manor due to a hip fracture and is also under care for cancer, St. Luke Manor is only paid for care of the hip fracture. The government won't pay for the additional care related to the cancer, Stauff said.

"[St. Luke Manor] would eat that cost," he said.

According to a study by the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) -- a professional organization of long-term not-for-profit facilities -- Medicaid paid $14 less per day than the cost to care for a resident.

"For St. Luke Manor, the gap is $24 less per [resident per] day, or $665,760 per year in unsubsidized health care costs," Stauff said.

The federal government also cut $1.4 billion nationwide in nursing home payments in October. That resulted in a $109,500 loss in revenue for St. Luke Manor, Stauff added.

Dick Hackett, president of the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Home for the Aging of Humboldt County, said in a press release that St. Luke Manor requires an additional $70,000 a month just to cover its increased insurance premiums.

The 104-bed facility has also seen its workers' compensation rates increase by 100 percent in the past year, Stauff said.

"It's a double whammy," Stauff said.

Workers' compensation is a state-run program that covers employees who are injured on the job (St. Luke Manor has 150 employees). Liability insurance protects St. Luke Manor in case a resident is injured on the facility's grounds.

Stauff said the increase in liability insurance is due in part to 9/11. Liability insurance rates skyrocketed after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Another factor in rising insurance costs can be attributed to liability lawsuits, medical malpractice and personal injury suits that have wreaked havoc on long-term care facilities.

Large jury awards have led insurance companies to increase premiums to health care providers.

In an attempt to ease the financial strain on facilities like St. Luke Manor, Congress is considering capping medical liability awards, Stauff said.

While Stauff is turning to the community for help, St. Luke Manor will continue to control costs wherever it can, he said.

Ten workers have been laid off, but no nurses. The layoffs were in housekeeping and laundry services, Stauff said.

St. Luke Manor has 11 licensed nurses and 13 registered nurses who administer medications and do clinical assessments. There are 55 certified nursing assistants who provide about 90 percent of the direct care of residents, Stauff said. They handle all of a resident's basic needs, such as bathing, dressing and dining.

St. Luke Manor also initiated an across-the-board pay cut of about $1 an hour to its employees. But no matter how bad things might get, the company will never change its not-for-profit status; it can't because of its affiliation with the Lutheran Church. A benefit to being not-for-profit, Stauff said, is that not-for-profits provide more hands-on nursing care. For-profits have to show earnings for their shareholders, he explained.

"[We] still have to show a net gain, but it's reinvested in the facility," Stauff said.

Whether St. Luke Manor's financial situation could result in the facility closing is unknown. Stauff said he couldn't predict that. But the facility does have some assets (such as an apartment complex) that if need be, could be sold off as a last resort to help raise funds, Stauff added.

"We do have some assets at our disposal, but we don't want to divest," he said.

If St. Luke Manor were to close, it could have a large impact on Humboldt County. St. Luke Manor has 104 beds, of which 102, on average, are filled.

"If we closed our doors there would be a tremendous gap in service," Stauff said.

Waterworld: An odyssey through the Eel River lowlands

story & photos by ANDREW EDWARDSphoto of stranded cows

I WAS HANGING OUT THE WINDOW OF A SEMI, snapping pictures of the wake trailing behind us, when I realized what a strange situation I was in. Surrounding the huge diesel Freightliner was what under any other circumstances would have been described as a lake.

Stretching out in every direction, the muddy brown water was crosshatched with the tops of fading fence lines and studded with farmhouses and barns rising out of the turbid depths like rudderless ships lost at sea.

[Right, farm animals surrounded by Lake Loleta. Below, a truck slogs down Cannibal Island Road.]

This was the Loleta bphoto of pickup in flood watersottoms on Monday afternoon.

Two weeks ago the North Coast was in the midst of one of the driest falls on record. Rainfall was somewhere near 25 percent of normal, and it was unseasonably warm, breaking record highs in some areas.

Across the Pacific, though, trouble was brewing. On Dec. 8, super-typhoon Pongsona slammed ashore on the U.S. territory of Guam. Meteorologists had predicted it would swing north and miss the island entirely, but, no such luck. Guam was pounded with over 160-mph winds and 25-foot surf from the class-five storm, the most severe category. Damage was catastrophic.

After wreaking that bit of havoc, Pongsona chugged north into the Westerlies, a west-running air current that spans the Pacific. These lofty winds broke up the massive storm into a series of smaller but still potent disturbances. Swooping pell-mell across thousands of miles of ocean, the whole violent commotion ended up slamming ashore again -- this time half way around the world in, you guessed it, Northern California.

After a weekend of drenching rain, which almost stranded me in Ferndale after I visited a friend of mine Saturday night, I headed out Monday morning to document the damage photo journalistically. By then the bulk of the storm had swept eastward, but the waters of the Eel were still rising and the overcast skies were still releasing moisture, though intermittently.

I drove into Loleta around 11, just in time to see a PG&E line crew working on a power line brought down by a falling limb the night before.

With Eel River Drive blocked, they suggested I try Cannibal Island Road instead.

"You'll really get some good shots out there," said Brian Southworth, a grizzled PG&E gas line worker from McKinleyville who was helping the out-of-town crew with of lineman Mike Hansen

Down the road, after hydroplaning through a couple of "puddles" that were a little deeper than I had imagined, I came to a place where the road just ran out. Where there had been a concrete road surface and fields there was only water stretching out to a farmhouse that had water lapping against its front porch.

A couple of pickup trucks, lights blazing, came roaring by spitting water from their wheel wells as they churned up the road, hauling trailers full of lowing cattle. I had heard on the radio earlier that farmers were advised to move their cattle to high ground; apparently that was what I was seeing.

[Mike Hansen, of Georgia, repairing power lines in Loleta.]

I drove on until the water grew so murky that I couldn't see the road underneath the driver's side door, and decided it was time to turn back. I didn't trust my knowledge of the road well enough to turn around, so I backed my 1981 Toyota pick-up the hundred yards to solid ground and headed landward.

As I drove back to Fernbridge, a large white pickup, one of the ones that had roared by earlier, waved me over to the side.

Inside were Bobby Niles and Vince Hackett of Niles Ranch out in the bottoms; they wondered if I might want to take a ride out in their semi to check out the flooding first-hand.

And that's how I ended up in the cab of the S.S. Freightliner, mucking its way -- Hackett at the wheel -- across the soggy dairy bottom lands west of Loleta.

The storm, while not even close to the worst in memory (the catastrophic flood of 1964), was far from normal. According to the National Weather Service, rain of the intensity of Saturday's downpour only comes about once a decade. It would have produced more severe flooding were it not for the fact that when it hit the rivers were extremely low due to prolonged drought.

On the coast, record-setting amounts of rain -- just under 8 inches in Eureka over the weekend -- singlehandedly brought the area out of near- drought conditions. In the interior of southern Humboldt things were far worse, with Hophoto of Vince Hackettneydew recording nearly 28 inches of rain, 10 inches of that in a single day.

Hackett is a young man, maybe late 20s, early 30s, with a Fu-Manchu mustachephoto of truck wake and a ready laugh. He started telling me about the farms we were passing, whose cows were whose, whose truck that was stalled out in the middle of the road. The Niles', the Renners, the Hansens, the Rochas, all were big dairy names. I asked him if people were worried about their houses out there in Lake Loleta.

[Vince Hackett, above, and the wake of his Freightliner, photo at right.]

"No, only thing everybody's worried about is their cattle right now," he said. It makes sense. A single good dairy cow is worth around $1,500, with beef cattle coming in at between $600 and $900.

We passed islands of high ground where cattle had been placed in corrals, on built-up mounds of earth, kind of like old medieval fortresses surrounded by a moat.

We passed two dogs standing wet in the middle of sunken driveways, staring as we passed as if they wondered where all the dry ground was going.

We came to a point where we could see that even the fence line of the road had disappeared into the rising water. We stopped. Three cows and a scruffy black calf were stranded on a knoll next to a collapsed barn. The engine on our huge diesel backfired as we came to a stop, startling the cows and sending them plunging into the water. The calf followed, leapinphoto of deer in flood watersg in the wake of the adults, finally making it across the submerged road to the higher ground of a farm on the other side.

We turned around and headed off down a side road toward Cock Robin Island to see the river.

We saw it as we drove out of the water up the ramp to the one-lane bridge to the island. It was huge, turgid, churning, laden with debris. As I scrambled up and down the bridge taking pictures I saw several large logs bob to the surface and slam into the pilings.

As we continued to the island, we saw more wildlife than cattle. Hundreds of deer were clumped together in herds on pockets of high ground. We saw one beautiful 2-year-old buck walking alone through a flooded thicket, maybe 12 feet away. Too bad it isn't hunting season, Hackett remarked, with genuine appreciation.

[A deer makes its way through the flood waters. Below, Fernbridge reachphoto of Fernbridgees flood stage.]

On our way back from the island we paused on the bridge; Hackett had noticed something out to the west. Surf, pounding a couple miles away, seemed to be crashing higher than a nearby barn.

"That is the most insane natural thing I have ever seen," I remarked. I crawled out the window to snap a picture. Suddenly, with a rush of blood to my legs and an odd tingling feeling at the base of my neck, the power of the scene hit me. Surf was towering in the distance; the Eel was battering the bridge we were on; nature was overwhelmingly in control.

"I think we better get out of here," I said, and Hackett started up the truck.

We drove back down the clogged road, following the fence lines. The water had risen visibly. Hackett told me that if the water got much higher, semis wouldn't be able to transport empty milk trucks to the dairies because they would float in the water. The way to avoid that, he said, is to fill them up with water beforehand for ballast.

When we got back, Niles was standing at the door of his milking shed with some other ranch workers.

I thanked them for the ride and headed back to my pickup.

The river crested at around 25 feet, well over flood stage, but not catastrophically.

"We're happy we get a break now, with the water going down," Hackett said, when reached by phone Tuesday morning.

With more storms threatening for this weekend, we'll see how big of a break it is.

When the president calls


It's not often you get a call from the President seeking your opinion on a matter of international significance.

Last Thursday the pphoto of Santiago Cruzhone rang in the Eureka offices of Santiago Cruz [photo at left], editor of the North Coast's Spanish-language newspaper, El Heraldo. After Cruz was put on hold for 35 minutes, Mexican President Vicente Fox came on the line and the two men chatted about issues regarding Mexican nationals living in the U.S. That three-minute conversation was incorporated into Fox's weekly radio broadcast Saturday throughout Mexico.

"It was a very big honor to be asked my opinion," Cruz told the Journal Tuesday.

The main subject of the radio program was the controversial new Mexican identification cards. Fox is urging all Mexican nationals to get the new high-tech card to ease travel between the two countries, especially since 9/11. They replace the old laminated photo cards that were easily duplicated and were not accepted as valid identification by other countries. The Mexican government is hopeful the cards will serve as valid identification no matter where in the world Mexicans travel or work.

Cruz, who received the very first card issued in California in April in a ceremony at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco, told Fox the cards have benefits other than travel for Mexicans in California.

"Many of the local banks [in Humboldt] now accept them. Mexicans can open checking or savings accounts and they can use the service to send money back to Mexico," Cruz said.

They also could come in handy for identification purposes if a Mexican is stopped by the police.

"It gives law enforcement an opportunity to identify Hispanics. Police spend a lot of time doing the checking now," he added, and Mexicans without valid identification are often detained unnecessarily.

The size of a regular VISA or Mastercard, the cards are meant to be carried at all times by Mexicans outside their own country. They are not meant to replace passports, visas and proper work permits.

So why is the card controversial?

Because the Mexican government issues them to all Mexican citizens with birth certificates and official documents such as driver's license or school IDs regardless of their citizenship status. In the U.S. that includes Mexicans in the country legally and those without U.S. visas or work documents.

"People worry that this will give undocumented workers legal status" if California and other states recognize the new card, Cruz said. "But that's not the purpose. It is so we can identify ourselves as Mexicans when we go to the bank here, or back to Mexico, or to the Mexican consulate to request assistance."

About 1 million cards have already been issued to the estimated 8.5 million Mexicans in the U.S. Some California counties have already officially recognized the cards.

"San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Orange County . . . but not Humboldt -- not yet."

Cruz said there is another good reason for the card -- a psychological one.

"It gives us an identity. When we are in our own country, we don't have to prove we are Mexican. But here it is different. This card is a way of being supported by our government. It's a security."

Cruz said his brief talk with President Fox was very emotional for him personally. "He asked where I was from. I told him Eureka."

Later Fox's staff called to thank Cruz for his participation. They told him when Fox got off the telephone with Cruz he asked, "A donde esta Eureka?"

Rent runs into the Redwood Curtain


WHEN THE PRODUCTION CREW FOR THE musical Rent arrived in Arcata last Tuesday for a three-show run at Humboldt State University, they had a lot less gear than was expected.

Typically the traveling version of the show looks and sounds just like the New York production. That's because four semi-trucks haul an elaborate set, lights and sound system from one venue to the next.

After performing last week in Santa Cruz, the Rent convoy headed north. "Our first truck was stopped [around Laytonville] because it was too long," said Melissa Chacon, the show's production stage manager.

The company's 72-foot long trucks were pulled over by the California Highway Patrol because they exceeded the length limit on combination vehicles: 65 feet for the section of Highway 101 north of Leggett. They could go no further.

The incident was one more example of the price to be paid for living behind the proverbial "Redwood Curtain."

According to Mike Cipriano, information officer for the Highway Patrol, there is no legal way to enter Humboldt County with any combination vehicle longer than 65 feet; that includes truck-trailer rigs and recreational vehicles towing cars or boats.

He said that the section of two-lane highway that runs through Richardson's Grove State Park is too narrow, as are areas near Confusion Hill and another section between Garberville and Leggett. That is prone to rock slides.

"And you can't get off I-5 on to [Hwy.] 299," he continued, because of sharp turns on that route over Bighorn Summit and Oregon Mountain. Nor can you drive longer trucks south from Crescent City on Hwy. 101, or on Highways 199 or 36.

With the production crew stuck in Laytonville, Roy Furshpan, director of CenterArts, who brought Rent to town, was faced with a difficult decision -- pull together a complicated production on the fly with limited resources, or cancel three eagerly awaited performances. He chose to fall back on the old adage, "the show must go on."

A local company with a shorter cab was called in, one of the three trailers was hitched to it, and the northward journey was resumed, albeit in reduced form. "The truck that made it had all of our props and our costumes," explained Chacon. "[But] we did not have the set, we didn't have our sound equipment and we didn't have our lighting equipment."

CenterArts staff quickly put together a simplified lighting design utilizing the Van Duzer system. The sound equipment was more problematic -- every character in the show uses a wireless headset microphone and there is typically a live band on stage to back up the singers. Because they did not have their state-of-the-art sound system with elaborate headset monitors for the band, the musicians had to be placed in a room off-stage.

Most of the action takes place using tables and chairs that were on the prop truck. CenterArts came up with a makeshift scaffolding to approximate the rest of the set.

Chacon saw the challenges as a return to the show's roots. "Like any Broadway show, Rent started out with a bare minimum," she said. "A lot of shows start in workshop form then get huge with automation and all sorts of complicated stuff. Rent never really got to that. It isn't necessary to tell the story.

"What I explained to the actors was, without our set and the lighting cues to throw focus and create the moods, it falls on the actors, it's extra work that they need to do. I think they did a great job working together dealing with the elements they had to deal with."



Target EIR approved

After more than two hours of public comment and debate, the Eureka City Council unanimously approved a new 136,000-square-foot Target store to be built on the former Montgomery Wards property. The council voted 5 to 0 Tuesday night to finalize the Target environmental impact report and to give the Minnesota-based company its coastal development permit.

Some residents said they were concerned Target would impact local retailers and create a traffic nightmare on the north end of Eureka. But council members said they felt assured that traffic mitigations would work to ease any congestion that occurs around the new store.

John Dewes, senior site development manager for Target, said the traffic improvements planned for V Street, 4th and 3rd streets will actually reduce the amount of time drivers have to wait at traffic lights by almost a full minute.

Councilman Chris Kerrigan said the city has the responsibility to look out for the economic health and well-being of Eureka.

Dewes said the new store will hire between 150 and 200 employees, with about a third of those in full-time positions. But Dewes could not say how many of those full-time jobs would be in management.

Since 2000 Target has bought up 35 Montgomery Wards stores. Target has converted 29 of those stores so far to Target stores. The stores were purchased through federal bankruptcy court.

-- City Councilwoman Virginia Bass Jackson was elected by her colleagues to become vice-mayor. She will fill in for Mayor Peter La Vallee when he is out of town or unable to attend the council meeting. Ironically, Bass Jackson defeated La Vallee in 2000 for a seat on the City Council.

-- The Eureka Fire Department will get a grant to purchase 44 Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses and to start a respiratory protection program consisting of annual physical exams including heart testing of all fire department personnel. The grant as approved totals $173,117 with the Federal Emergency Management Agency funding 90 percent. The City of Eureka will provide the remaining $17,311.

-- Humboldt County and the Sequoia Humane Society reached an agreement on an 18-month extension to continue providing animal services in the county. Humboldt County and City of Eureka officials are working on plans for a new shelter facility. The county will pay $35,412 a month for animal services. The county will incur an additional cost to create one full-time animal control position. The costs are expected to be shared among the county and the cities of Arcata, Blue Lake and Eureka.

A new shelter is in the early planning stages. The county is looking to build a new animal care facility in Eureka off of Hilfiker Lane behind Pierson Building Center. Preliminary cost for a new animal shelter is $1.5 million. Concerns were raised, however, that the proposed site may be contaminated by oil.

-- Humboldt County Community Services Director Kirk Girard laid out the first plans for the Headwaters Fund policy manuals. The proposal establishes several funding opportunities for non-profits, governments and businesses.

The Grant Fund will offer three awards worth a combined total of $400,000 a year for specific projects. The Headwaters Fund Board would determine an annual theme for the grant. The grant would require a 50 percent match for project implementation and a 25 percent match of planning and assistance projects. The supervisors could also allocate mini-grants worth a combined total of $10,000 to help fund certain projects immediately.

The second grant -- the Community Investment Fund -- will be a combination of loans and grants with matches of between 50 and 75 percent.

The Headwaters Board is not expected to be named until late January. The grant programs won't be implemented until at least late February.

Elections chief out

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Humboldt County Clerk and Recorder Carolyn Crnich adding registrar of voters to her title.

The supervisors' action means current county elections official and County Administrative Services director Lindsey McWilliams is out of a job.

The supervisors also approved appointing Kim Kerr, deputy county administrative officer, to head up the newly created General Services department. That department will oversee administrative services (which handles real property, building maintenance and purchasing) and risk management.

McWilliams was elected Humboldt County Clerk in 1990. In 1996 he became Administrative Services director and the elective position of county clerk was eliminated. He has been at the helm of the county elections office for 11 years.

McWilliams said he learned he was out of a job last Wednesday. The whole thing has been a surprise to him, he said.

As he was packing his belongings Tuesday morning, McWilliams said the county had not given him any reason for the change.

"I had no performance evaluation, nothing," he said.

Humboldt County Administrative Officer Loretta Nickolaus said she recommended the elections department get a "face lift."

"This election went pretty well, but previous [elections] had some glitches," she told the supervisors.

Nickolaus said the reshuffling is an attempt to streamline county costs in the upcoming budget year.

"We are trying to brace ourselves for tough times," she told the supervisors. She said Kerr's position as deputy county administrator will not be filled. That move is expected to save the county $70,000 annually.

McWilliams said he hasn't spoken with any of the supervisors since learning he'd be out of a job.

"There doesn't seem to be much point [to it]," he said.

Supervisor John Woolley said he could not discuss the issue because it's a personnel matter.

But Woolley did say during Tuesday's meeting that it "does make sense for the county recorder to take on elections."

"I want to make sure that Lindsey's [McWilliams] hard work and talent are still available to the county," Woolley said.

Supervisor Paul Kirk said placing elections under the Recorder's office will give the county a better shot at running elections. By cross training the Recorder's staff it will increase the size of the elections staff, he said.

The new General Services Department will employ 62 county workers who will transfer in from their current offices.

Crinch is expected to receive a 10 percent salary increase raising her salary from $75,000 to just over $82,000. Kerr will be paid $80,500 in the new job.

Panel restricts OHVs

The California Coastal Commission has taken a stand against a federal agency's plan to allow year-round off-road vehicle use on the South Spit of Humboldt Bay.

In an 8-3 vote at a meeting last week in San Francisco, the commission determined that off-road vehicle use could not occur on the spit's "wave slope" (the area touched by tides) during the nesting season of the snowy plover, which runs from March 1 through Sept. 30. The plover, a federally protected shore bird, nests in open, sandy areas just beyond the reach of the sea.

It's not clear what impact the commission's action will have on a management plan for the spit crafted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which administers the narrow strip of land between the bay and the Pacific.

While federal law required the BLM to submit the plan for the commission's approval, it's possible the agency can simply ignore the commission's determination. In that event, according to a coastal commission employee, the commission might have no recourse but to sue.

In addition to allowing OHV use year-round, the BLM's management plan calls for a variety of improvements, including enhancing plover habitat and public access.

Farmer urged to not settle

Thirty-one Humboldt County health practitioners have signed a letter urging outgoing District Attorney Terry Farmer to delay settling liability claims against Sierra Pacific Industries until health studies pertaining to its Arcata mill are completed.

The letter was made public at a press conference in Eureka held by Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. The studies, by the California Department of Health Services, are assessing the health risk of eating shellfish and fish tainted with dioxin from waters in the vicinity of the mill.

Farmer, in a telephone interview, denied that he is rushing to settle with the company before he leaves office next month.

"The most important priority is that the case either proceed or be resolved as is appropriate. Whether it's done during my term is less important than that the appropriate resolution happen."

Farmer said that the potential violations at the plant include both civil and criminal penalties.

Concerns about the mill, long known to harbor contamination, were sharpened earlier this year after potentially hazardous levels of dioxin were found in shellfish near the plant. Additional tests found concentrations of dioxin in commercial oysters out in the bay.

In addition to the District Attorney's office and Sierra Pacific, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Fish and Game Department have been involved in the talks. Notably absent has been the Ecological Rights Foundation, an environmental organization whose two-year-old lawsuit against the company prodded the water board into more closely regulating the mill.

The group recently won a legal victory when a federal magistrate judge ruled that Sierra Pacific's Arcata mill has been in violation of the Clean Water Act since 1995.

The absence of environmentalists in the talks has led to fears that a deal favorable to the timber company is in the works.

When asked why environmentalists are not at the table, Farmer said "the input of all essential parties will be listened to."

The twister that wasn't

New Ferndale Mayor Frank Taubitz had spent the weekend surveying the damage, including a downed telephone poll that was rumored to have been smashed by a tornado.

Tornado? Yes they do happen here, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nancy Kaytis-Slocum.

Around 10 a.m. Saturday an area of intense turbulence was detected off Cape Mendocino. A warning went out that a tornado was on the way, its projected path up the Eel River Valley. The twister was never visually confirmed on land, however. The power pole was more likely downed by normal high winds.

Taubitz said he was glad he had nothing catastrophic to report when reached by phone on Monday. He added that a multimillion dollar creek restoration project had performed beautifully. Francis Creek, which has a history of flooding downtown during major rain events, stayed obediently within its banks during this one.

In other Ferndale news, authorities suspect downed power lines were the culprit in a fire that took out a vacant house Sunday night. Firefighters said the storm was a mixed blessing: wind fueled the fire, but the rain helped contain and extinguish it.

Spoiled weekend

Things were heating up at the Arcata Co-op last weekend when power outages caused freezers to go out, causing an estimated $40,000 in damages.

The power went out in the storm early Saturday morning causing the store to close, and stay closed, until 10 a.m. the next day.

The Co-op was not prepared for the length of the power outage -- over 24 hours -- and had a backup generator only strong enough to run lights and registers.

That level of backup is pretty standard in the industry. Calls to Safeway and Wildberries in Arcata confirmed that generators large enough to run the refrigeration system were uncommon.

New Co-op general manager Len Mayer said in a phone interview that previously the cost of a more powerful backup generator was prohibitively expensive, but with this weekend's losses management may reconsider.

"It didn't make sense [previously] because in the past the longest power outages had been two or three hours, at least in anybody's memory," Mayer said.

He said he recognized that in an area as isolated as Humboldt, it made sense to at least have enough back-up power to keep one walk-in freezer going. Until that is available, however, he said other backup options are under consideration, such as refrigerated trucks

The Co-op called up local non-profits including the Arcata Endeavor and Humboldt Women for Shelter to donate the food it couldn't keep.

According to Mayer, the $40,000 loss is less than 1 percent of the store's yearly gross revenues of $16 million.

Also, insurance is expected to pick up at least some of the tab.

Internet companies sold

Two local Internet companies, Northcoast Internet and Tidepool Internet, have been sold.

Northcoast Internet's parent company, Internet Ventures Inc., is consolidating its markets.

The two companies were sold to InReach Internet, a Stockton, Calif.-based Internet Service Provider (ISP). InReach Internet provides Internet service to remote areas like Yreka and Yosemite.

Northcoast Internet and Tidepool Internet have a combined subscriber list of about 4,000, said Barry Klein, manager of both companies.

Northcoast Internet, the first ISP in Humboldt County, has been around since 1994; Tidepool Internet is 5 years old.

Even though both companies are handing off service to another ISP, subscribers will be able to continue using their own e-mail and web addresses.

InReach Internet can be reached at 1-888-467-3224 or at

New ICU finished

The long-awaited intensive care unit at Mad River Community Hospital has finally opened its doors to patients. The hospital had been working for nearly two years on the project.

The Arcata hospital spent $400,000 transforming its ICU unit into a new six-bed facility.

The new ICU has updated equipment, such as an advanced heating and air conditioning system. Included in the new ICU will be two isolation rooms for patients with contagious diseases.

The hospital has also repositioned the nurses station to reduce noise for patients. New emergency call buttons have been built in the ICU's monitoring system. Supplies have also been moved closer to patient areas and the new ICU unit allows for better patient visibility.

Originally the plan was for a quick remodeling of the ICU; however as the project was redesigned, state agencies entered the picture to oversee the work. The state's involvement expanded the time frame of the project from four months to two years, according to hospital administrators.

Time for good-byes

At its last meeting of the year, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors said good-bye to one of its own along with several long-time county employees.

Fifth District Supervisor Paul Kirk, a supervisor since 1994, will officially leave office in January. He and his wife will be moving to Siskiyou County.

He acknowledged staff and his colleagues for working through tough budget issues. That team spirit will be needed as the county works on future budgets, Kirk said.

District Attorney Terry Farmer was also recognized for his 20 years as the county DA. Farmer, who is married to Supervisor Bonnie Neely, said he wanted to thank the voters of Humboldt County for electing him five times to run the District Attorney's office.

"I love this job, it's been a good gig," Farmer said. "It's tough to leave something you enjoy so much."

Farmer lost in his reelection bid against Eureka attorney Paul Gallegos.

Although there has been speculation as to Farmer's next job, he said he would have more to say by the end of the week.

Neil Prince, county auditor-controller, retired after 29 years on the job. He was appointed to the position on November 1, 1973.

Michael Giacone will fill the remainder of Prince's term, which ends in January.

Humboldt County Sheriff Deputy William K. Porter retired after 28 years in law enforcement, which included work as a bomb technician for the sheriff's department.

Lieutenant Ronnie Dale Lee retired after 29 years in law enforcement. He began his career as a deputy marshall with the Humboldt County Marshall's Office, in 1973. He was promoted to Marshall in 1979 and served in that capacity until December 1998.

The Marshall's office, which has been incorporated into the Sheriff's Department, used to be in charge of court security.

Chamber head leaving

Marlene Stuart, executive director of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce for more than a year, announced her resignation last week.

She said the job demanded too great a time requirement. She will leave the post on Dec. 27.

Mushroomers beware

Mushroom collectors, especially amateurs, are being warned by the Humboldt County Health Department to be cautious when gathering wild mushrooms. Many poisonous varieties of mushrooms resemble edible versions.

People should not eat wild mushrooms until a mushroom expert has examined them and determined they are safe to eat, said Dr. Ann Lindsay, county health officer.

Eating poisonous mushrooms can cause cramping, abdominal pains, vomiting, diarrhea, liver damage and death.

Anyone who experiences illness after eating wild mushrooms should call the California Poison Control System (800)-876-4766.

Starting fresh

Fourteen of 37 graduates of the College of the Redwoods Police Academy have been hired by law enforcement agencies in California, with 10 finding work in Humboldt County.

The Humboldt County Sheriff hired three of the graduates: Patrick Bishop, Todd Fulton and Andrew Russell Wahlund.

The Eureka Police Department hired two graduates: Louis Altic and Jen McCollum. The Fortuna Police Department also hired two and the Trinidad Police hired one.

Humboldt State University hired one graduate and another will work for the Humboldt County Special Investigations Unit on welfare and fraud cases.


The city of Eureka halted tree-cutting on a project to install a new elevated water tank on Dec. 6, one day after a North Coast Journal story about the project came out (see "Get ready for the twin tanks," Dec. 5). A subsequent article in last week's issue wrongly stated that the cutting was proceeding.


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