North Coast Journal


Marsh-makers dismayed

In McKinleyville's continuing saga of development vs. the environment, a battle has been decided but the losers say the war is not over.

The once-small town must expand its sewage system, and those who want to do so by spraying treated sewage at the Arcata-Eureka Airport won a victory last month.

The county Board of Supervisors last month denied an appeal by residents who hoped to block a plan to create an Arcata Marsh-like system instead.

The McKinleyville Community Services District Board was scheduled to meet at press time to «consider alternatives» to the airport plan because of problems with a loan and safety concerns. However, pressure by developers to continue quickly is expected to keep the airport project alive.

The town's sewage system is so full that restrictions on new hookups went into effect last month.

«The only parties now getting sewer permits are those that have an active building permit,» District Manager Bruce Buel said.

The district plans to open bids for the airport project May 24, Buel said, despite problems with the district's loan agreement for the project.

Residents opposed to the airport plan (they say it will attract wildlife, which will have to be killed, and that it will cause airline safety concerns) are appealing to the California Coastal Commission, said Lynn Pettlon, a community activist.

Low grade testing

Humboldt County students are better off than their state counterparts, according to recently released test scores, but they're still failing to master basic reading, writing and math skills.

According to results of the controversial California Learning Assessment System, or CLAS, less than half of all fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders were able to perform at a proficient level.

The test, however, will not be given to California students again because Gov. Pete Wilson cut the program last year after some parents and conservative groups questioned the test's perceived «liberal» bent.

Deaths set record

Two men, both under the influence of alcohol or drugs, were killed by Humboldt County law enforcement officers last month, setting a record for police-involved shootings in the county.

The first shooting occurred April 9 when Eureka police officers surrounded a Shasta County man after he crashed a stolen pickup into a gulch. When Lloyd F. Brenard, 29, jumped out and started firing at police, they returned the fire, hitting him as many as five times.

An autopsy revealed Brenard was under the influence of methamphetamine and marijuana at the time of his death. He was wanted in Shasta County on suspicion of attempted murder.

The second shooting occurred April 10, when Hoopa Tribal Police officers shot and killed John A. Lewis, 33, after a high-speed chase on a windy mountain road. Lewis, a Weitchpec resident, was shot once in the face after he got out of his car and began firing at police.

An autopsy revealed Lewis had a blood alcohol level more than double the legal limit. He was facing trial in June on arson charges, and had spent time in a mental institution after several felony convictions. Both deaths have been investigated and labeled justifiable homicide.

Acquittal for Thao

Dennis Thao, the 19-year-old suspected leader of a local Asian gang, has left town with his wife and young child after being freed from jail following a mistrial.

Thao had been in the Humboldt County Jail for nearly a year, charged with shooting James Spears last May 27. Spears, 17, lost an eye in the incident. The jury trial ended in a mistrial last month after the jury deadlocked 10-to-2 in favor of acquittal.

«We are doing some additional investigation,» prosecuting attorney Worth Dikeman said late last month. His office had not decided if it would retry Thao.

Meanwhile, the Eureka Police Department is concerned about gang reaction to the mistrial and has stepped up patrols.

The case highlighted the increased presence of racial tensions on the North Coast, primarily between black and Asian youths.

Cemetery trees tumble

Several large fir trees, some pine and a few other species, lie on the ground near the century-old Ferndale cemetery, no longer shading the graves but not yet on their way to a mill.

Cut down by the Ferndale Cemetery Association, the toppled trees are creating a huge stir in the Victorian village. The logging resulted in a lawsuit, the firing of a planning commissioner and allegations of all sorts of back-door deals.

Some say it may even hamper Ferndale's efforts to bring in other Hollywood moguls, a top priority since the small city played host to the producers and cast of «Outbreak» last summer.

Logging near the cemetery was brought to a halt last month when several residents filed a lawsuit against the city and the cemetery association. One of those residents is Terrence Ford, brother of movie star Harrison Ford and somewhat responsible for Hollywood's interest in the tiny village.

It all began last month when the cemetery association, led by the mayor's father, used a controversial three-acre exemption rule to begin cutting trees on 2.9 acres adjacent to existing graves. The group said the land was needed to expand the hilltop site, which has room for less than 50 more graves.

Neighbors say the move was intended to raise money and had inherent conflict-of-interest problems. The mayor voted not to require permits.

A casualty in the fracas has been former Planning Commissioner Brian Lewis, who was fired after he wrote a letter to the City Council protesting the logging.

Mark Harris, an Arcata attorney, filed a restraining order in late April that forced the cemetery association to stop logging. It even forced the group to leave the already-cut trees on the ground. A hearing is set for this month.

«We are alleging wholesale violations of the California Environmental Quality Act,» Harris said.

PL problems mount

Employees of the Pacific Lumber Co. took the fall this month for what one county judge says is a politically motivated plan to portray him as a bad guy.

One day after Judge John Buffington, of the Humboldt County Superior Court, issued a temporary order restraining PL from cutting trees in a contested 198-acre plot along Blanton Creek, the company shut down one of its old-growth mills and laid off 105 employees.

Calling it a «quite apparent, blunt and crude application of political power by PL,» Buffington issued a statement removing himself from the Blanton Creek case.

This is the first time PL has laid off workers in more than a decade. In the recent past, log shortages were handled by cutting back workers' hours, not cutting them entirely.

«The layoffs are temporary, though we don't have a start-up date,» said Mary Bullwinkel, spokeswoman for the timber company.

«We obviously disagree with (Buffington's) statements,» she added. «We never said (the layoffs) were because of any one thing.»

Company President John Campbell blamed the layoffs on heavy winter storms, and «recent judicial and regulatory developments.»

Every other local judge joined Buffington in removing themselves from the Blanton Creek case.

A judge from Yreka is expected to hold a hearing in Eureka early next month, and decide if PL will continue to be restrained from logging Blanton Creek until trial. The case was filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center, which has successfully sued PL many times, and Doug Thron, an Arcata photographer and activist.

Some fear this could be the beginning of layoffs at PL, which hired an additional 300 employees after Maxxam Group Inc. took over the company in 1985. At that time, company officials said they planned to double the harvest rate of old-growth redwood for about a decade at which time they would reduce the rate to a sustained yield cut.

At press time, PL was still not cutting in Headwaters Forest, an area targeted by environmentalists as holding the last privately owned virgin old-growth in the nation. The company agreed to a 30-day freeze in late March, while North Coast environmentalists, state regulators and the company consider harvest plans for the area. Blanton Creek is not in the Headwaters Forest.

In other action, PL pensioners found out last month they can continue with their lawsuit against Charles Hurwitz, who purchased the company in 1985.

When Hurwitz's Maxxam Group Inc. took over PL almost 10 years ago, the company pension plan was changed and Hurwitz used some of the money in the buyout. Pensioners sued after a new pension plan collapsed and retirees were cut back to 70 percent of their benefits.

More than 2,000 employees and their families are affected. The suit had been dismissed by one U.S. District Court judge but a recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit.