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Dec. 23, 2004
TO SELL: The Fairhaven Power Co.
-- a subsidiary of Eel River Sawmills that operates an 18-megawatt
biomass plant on the Samoa Peninsula -- could be in new hands
as early as next week. The buyer is the San Diego-based company
DG Power Solutions, which operates a number of small power plants
around the country. Reached at his office Tuesday, company president
Steve Mueller said that Fairhaven, which burns about 250,000
tons of wood waste per year to generate electricity, was a perfect
fit for his company. "It is exactly the market we're in,"
he said. "We are probably at this moment one of the largest
cogeneration and renewable energy operators in the country."
Mueller said that his company might also explore avenues to increase
Fairhaven's output, possibly by adding wind or wave generators
at the site. He said that DG Power Solutions also is looking
at other small Northern California plants, and if those deals
are successful, the company would likely establish a regional
headquarters in Eureka. Mueller said that there would be no changes
in staffing at the plant, which employs about 20 people. Eel
River Sawmills CEO Dennis Scott could not be reached for comment
SAFEWAY, RITE-AID WORKERS
SIGN CONTRACTS: The imminent threat of a strike at Safeway stores
was averted last weekend as union representatives reached a tentative
agreement with company management during marathon negotiations.
Union officials reported Monday that the agreement satisfies
union demands on wages and health insurance. Safeway employees
had threatened to go on strike on Monday if terms could not be
reached. Meanwhile, employees of Rite-Aid, which operates three
drug stores in Humboldt County, ratified a new three-year contract
with the chain on Dec. 15. Workers at both chains are represented
by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 588.
ANOTHER RAILROAD SETBACK: The North
Coast Railroad Authority has filed a lawsuit against a company
that operates gravel barges on Sonoma County's Petaluma River,
saying that repeated collisions with an NCRA railroad bridge
over the last two-and-a-half years have severely damaged it.
The suit against the Bay Area-based barge company Jerico Products
was partly prompted by the threat of fines from the U.S. Coast
Guard; according to NCRA Executive Director Mitch Stogner, the
Coast Guard is looking at fining the publicly owned railroad
as much as $10,000 per day, retroactive to June 2002, as the
bridge has become an "impediment to navigation." Stogner
said that the lawsuit would attempt to assign blame for the bridge's
precarious state to those actually responsible.
SUPES, BERG ON ELECTION
REFORM: The Humboldt County Board
of Supervisors last week released an analysis of recent election
controversies -- including shadowy ad campaigns against Eureka
City Councilmember Chris Kerrigan and the recent Measure L. In
it, County Counsel Tamara Falor concludes that there is not much
that the county can do to enforce election law or to insist on
clean campaigning except to petition state authorities to investigate.
The board did send a letter to state officials asking for action
against the anti-Kerrigan "Eureka Coalition for Jobs"
and the Humboldt County Taxpayers' League, opponents of Measure
L. Perhaps spurred by the letter, Assemblymember Patty Berg announced
this week that she would sponsor legislation that would make
campaigns like those run by the Eureka Coalition for Jobs illegal.
State Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has already introduced similar
legislation in the Senate.
GUILTY PLEA IN BRIDGEVILLE
KILLING: Chesley Jay Evans, 36,
of Fortuna pleaded guilty Monday in Humboldt County Superior
Court to voluntary manslaughter and mutilation of human remains
in the case of a Bridgeville man who disappeared in April 2001,
said Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman. Burgess Kone, 55,
an oil painter, was last seen at his property by a neighbor,
and fragments of his body were recovered from three locations
within five miles of his home, said Deputy Tim McCollister of
the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. Evans was living on Kone's
property, driving his truck and using his checks after the artist
disappeared, and pleaded guilty later in 2001 to growing marijuana
there, McCollister said. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan.
19 to 12 years and eight months in state prison, Dikeman said.
NOGUEZ CONVICTION AFFIRMED: Rafael Alejandro Noguez, 23, the man convicted
of murdering Crystal Ann Brantley, 18, and Jarliz "Raul"
Amador Rivera, 26, and burying one of them under an Orick dairy
barn in 2001, was rebuffed in his attempt to appeal the convictions,
the DA's Office said. In his appeal, Noguez argued that the trial
court failed to suppress his confession, which he said was obtained
by a police officer who took advantage of Noguez's drug-withdrawal-induced
psychosis. The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction.
MANILA MELTDOWN: Five of seven Manila
Parks and Recreation commissioners suddenly called it quits this
month, citing lack of leadership and fraud among their reasons
for resigning. Joy Dellas, chair of the commission that advises
the Manila Community Services District Board of Directors, said
that relations between the two groups have been strained for
some time, and that community center coordinator Bev Prosser
is a big part of the problem and should resign, too. Prosser
could not be reached by deadline. Tim Dellas, board president
and Joy's brother, defended Prosser, saying that she works hard
and was instrumental in getting the Manila Community Center started.
Joy Dellas decided that she wanted out after hearing that Shelley
Lima, Tara Petti and Felicia Ulloa had already resigned. Jay
Patton quit as well, leaving Cindy Lou Vancleave and Violet Glass
-- who is also a board member -- to hold down the commission.
"Thousands of dollars have been put into parks and recreation
and the kids here are still hoods and vandals. They have no respect
for the program, and with the leadership here you can see why
they have no respect," Joy Dellas said. Topping the commissioners'
complaints is the charge that the Manila Community Services District
sold food at Reggae on the River that was supposed to be fed
to children for free. MCSD General Manager Judy Hollifield said
in a written memo released this week that the MCSD will repay
the Summer Food Service Program, which is funded by the Department
ABANDONED VEHICLES UPDATE:
The Board of Supervisors this week
revived an abandoned vehicle abatement committee to deal with
cars deserted on county roads. The restoration of the committee
comes on the heels of a double fatality caused by an abandoned
boat trailer that was pushed into Myrtle Avenue in Eureka. Cody
Wertz, 19, and Timothy Robertson, 21, were killed on Dec. 4 after
the pickup truck they were in collided with the trailer. The
California Highway Patrol is investigating the accident. Supervisor
Jimmy Smith said that the county recently upgraded illegal dumping
ordinances to make county codes more consistent with state laws.
Under the new rules, which came into effect this week, Smith
said that fines and penalties for illegal dumping will be raised
considerably -- from $500 to a mandatory fine not exceeding $1,000
and/or six months in jail -- and that the process to dispose
of abandoned vehicles has been streamlined.
NEW LEADERS FOR LOCAL
looks as though Blue Lake resident Mike Harvey, chair of the
Republican Party of Humboldt County, will soon be moving up in
the world. In February, Harvey is slated to replace Randy Ridgel,
a retired Lake County rancher, as the North Coast's representative
on the California Republican Party's board of directors. Ridgel
got the California GOP into a bit of hot water last year when,
during an intra-party spat, he defended the idea that Southern
blacks suffered far worse during the "draconian" post-Civil
War period of Reconstruction than they did during slavery itself
-- the ex-slaves' problem being that the "poor devils had
no experience fending for themselves." Meanwhile, the Humboldt
County Republicans will choose new leadership at its regular
meeting on Jan. 13. As of press time, the only candidate for
Harvey's position as chair is Lori Metheny of Arcata, a recent
transplant from Tehama County who was active in party politics
YUROK TRANSPORTATION: The Yurok
Tribe is seeking community input in an effort to establish a
Tribal Transportation Plan that would help tribe members and
others living on the reservation get to where they need to go.
The project, which is funded by an Environmental Justice grant
from the California Department of Transportation, is still in
its early stages, but tribal Outreach Coordinator Neil Peacock
said last week that a number of ideas are already being floated.
Among them: a regular jet-boat ferry linking tribal headquarters
in Klamath with residents as far upstream as Pecwan. People interested
in getting involved in drafting the plan are encouraged to contact
Peacock at 482-1350, ext. 365.
service a haven for the grieving
The lights were dim last Wednesday
night at the First Congregational Church in Eureka. As a small
group gathered, a piano played some of the more contemplative
songs of the season. Candles illuminated the chancel.
While most churches are literally
ringing with celebration at this time of year, First Congregational
and First Christian Church in Eureka decided to devote one evening
to a "blue Christmas" service -- a service for those
who are sad, grieving the loss of a loved one or a relationship,
or simply not feeling the joy of Christmas.
"This is a new service
that we felt there was a need for in the community," said
Rev. Carlotta Vallerga of First Congregational. "Not everyone
is full of the joyful spirit. There's a lot of pain and hurt
and sadness. [Christmas] brings it out in them, and they need
to be able to express that."
Vallerga and Christine Tomascheski,
the pastor at First Christian, led the congregants in scripture
readings, prayers and hymns. At several points during the service,
those present were invited to come forward and light a candle
in remembrance of a loved one, in acknowledgment of pain or in
hope of peace and healing.
Stephanie Schultz of Eureka
said she has been struggling with the death of her father earlier
this year. When she heard about the service on the radio, she
decided to attend.
"When you're in the midst
of grief, you just want people to understand," said Schultz,
56. Ordinarily, "people either ignore your pain or try to
get you out of it, [by saying] `You gotta keep going!' That doesn't
really do it.
"If we had just sat there
for a half hour and not done anything, it would have been worthwhile.
Because I knew there were other people around who knew what I
was going through."
Many churches throughout the
nation hold "blue Christmas" services, though this
is a first for Humboldt County. (There is, however, a public
"service of remembrance" put on each December by Chapel
of the Ferns-Sanders Funeral Home in Eureka.)
Janet Foos of Eureka, a member
of First Congregational, said Christmas is an especially difficult
time for many people.
"Holidays are when we do
so many things with our loved ones that their absence is so obvious,"
she said. Also suffering are those who don't have family and
friends. "I'm sure the fact that everyone else is buying
presents and feeling joyful, if you didn't have anyone to share
the holiday with, it could be hard," she said.
Vallerga said she plans to hold
another "blue Christmas" service next year.
Remembering the Great Flood of '64
Forty years ago this week, Humboldt
County experienced a Christmas like no other. With very little
warning, the skies opened up -- raining down up to 40 inches
of water in a matter of a couple of days -- and rivers began
to climb up their banks. Before the Great Flood of 1964 was over,
whole towns along the Eel had been swept downstream, bridges
destroyed and much of the county left isolated and shell-shocked.
Twenty-nine people lost their lives, killed either by the ferocious
torrents that had arisen out of nowhere to engulf their homes
or during brave efforts to rescue the stranded.
Troy Nicolini, a meteorologist
with the National Weather Service, said last week that there's
nothing stopping another flood on the scale of 1964 -- but advances
in our ability to detect incoming weather patterns and monitor
river levels mean that most of the price paid in human life 40
years ago would likely be avoided. "The one thing that's
changed is technology," he said. "Mother Nature and
human nature haven't changed. We can still have a flood that
big, and we can still have human error that can cause tragedy.
But if that same flood happened today, we wouldn't lose 29 people
-- even though we have more people in the area."
Wage cuts key to mill survival
The fate of the only remaining
pulp mill in Humboldt County is beginning to resemble a chess
game with a time clock attached.
In a meeting with mill management
Monday, union leaders said no to an extension of temporary wage
cuts they agreed to in September, cuts that were part of a proposed
management-worker buyout, company officials said. Union leaders
are betting that the rank-and-file workers, who normally make
an average of $47,000 per year, will still be working after Jan.
1 and that on that date, their 15 percent "temporary"
wage concession will be restored.
"Our position is to wait
and see what the Chinese have to say," said Norman Miller,
president of Local 49 of the Association of Western Pulp and
Paper Workers, referring to the Hong Kong group that has expressed
interest in the mill. "They have an interest in the mill.
They have been buying [pulp] from us for the last three years.
They have deep pockets."
"[Union] leadership said
no yesterday," said Steve Fleischer, CEO of Stockton Pacific
Enterprises, owners of the mill. "This morning, some workers
at the plant said, `maybe'" they would consider a more permanent
"Back in September we all,
as individuals, had to decide between 85 percent [of our salaries]
and a job or 100 percent and no job," he said. The wage
cut included about 125 union employees and about 50 nonunion
and management workers.
Fleischer said extension of
the wage cuts is not the only thing that has to happen to save
the mill, but it's the linchpin. If the union and nonunion workers
agree, he is prepared to go back to his financial backers and
try to reinstate his offer to the bank that was withdrawn Monday.
How credible was that offer?
"Very credible. After evaluating
my dollars and the people backing me, the bank deemed it credible,"
Fleischer said. He declined to name his backers except to say
they were chip producers -- "the big guys" -- who stand
to lose a convenient local buyer of their waste product.
The largest chip producers in
the area include Simpson Timber Co., Pacific Lumber Co. and Sierra
Pacific Industries, according to one industry source.
Fleischer said in addition to
the workers, major vendors have been patient. The Humboldt Bay
Municipal Water District receives weekly payments from the mill
but is still owed about $280,000.
Officials of the Chinese company,
Lee & Man, last contacted Fleischer about Dec. 15, saying
they, too, are still interested in purchasing the mill but they
needed a month to evaluate its assets before deciding to make
Fleischer said he has a fiduciary
responsibility to stockholders and must evaluate any and all
proposals to save the mill, including a competing offer from
the Chinese company or one led by former CEO Brent Hawkins.
Hawkins told the Journal
Tuesday he had made the bank, PPM Finance of Chicago, an offer
last week that was rejected. He said since Fleischer withdrew
his offer Monday, he thinks his own chances of being a successful
bidder are enhanced.
Hawkins also declined to name
his financial backers except to say he has one local mill, another
in Oregon and an investor from Seattle.
One thing is certain, Hawkins
said: A lot of good-paying jobs are at stake.
"It's not just the 170
jobs at the plant," he said. "How are the smaller mills
going to keep running if they can't get rid of the chips? Simpson
and Palco may have a plan, but all the rest are going to struggle."
He said other workers who may
be affected include "up to 1,000 people cutting wood and
The current debt on the mill
is about $30 million, according to Fleischer. That includes one
note held by PPM Finance of $24 million. The debt in 2001 was
more than $80 million when it was sold by Louisiana Pacific Corp.
"Everyone has taken a hit
since 2001 -- stockholders, everyone," said Fleischer, and
that is why he is hopeful the workers will agree to wage cuts.
He said he is also hopeful the Jan. 1 deadline can be renegotiated
with the bank, workers and vendors.
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