Environment / Natural Resources

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Redwood National and State Parks Close Parking Lots, Recommend Virtual Tours

Posted By on Sun, Mar 29, 2020 at 4:22 PM

If you've been scanning the list of Redwood State and National Parks to see which ones still have open parking lots, you can stop now. They're all closed, effective immediately. Hikers, walkers and cyclists are still welcome, just not their cars. Also, campgrounds, visitors centers and bathrooms remain closed.

According to a press release, the closure of parking lots is an effort "to support federal, state and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)." Even in the great outdoors, it turns out, the parks, their lots and trails were getting crowded, making it difficult or impossible for visitors to maintain the necessary 6 feet of physical separation recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Still from a virtual old growth tour. - YOUTUBE
  • YouTube
  • Still from a virtual old growth tour.
Instead, the release states, "The National Park Service and California State Parks encourage people to take advantage of the many digital tools already available to explore Redwood National and State Parks on our webpage." This includes links to YouTube for virtual tours of old growth groves and more that you can scan your way around as a friendly guide tells you all about the environs. We looked at them and the tours provide effective virtual forest bathing for stress relief but may not fool your fitness tracker.

Read the full press release below:

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Trinidad Rancheria: Hotel Could Open Next Summer

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 3:46 PM

An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad. - SUBMITTED
  • An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad.
If all goes as it hopes, the Trinidad Rancheria could have its hotel overlooking Trinidad Bay open in the summer of 2021, says Executive Director Jacque Hostler-Carmesin.

The Rancheria’s controversial proposal to build a five-story hotel on its property off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad took a major step forward recently when the Bureau of Indian Affairs found the 100-room hotel would have no significant impact on the surrounding environment — a crucial finding that seems to clear the way for the agency to move forward with the lease and loan guarantees needed for the project. Hostler-Carmesin says the Rancheria’s reasonable best hope is that the project breaks ground in a couple of months, with construction expected to span approximately a year.

Despite the BIA’s finding, some questions continue to surround the project, most notably among them exactly how it will source the approximately 14,000 gallons of potable water it needs per day. There also seems to be a lot of confusion.

Back in August, the California Coastal Commission went against the recommendation of its staff and voted to give the project a “conditional concurrence,” saying that if it met certain conditions — namely securing a water source — the commission found it to be in line with the California Coastal Act. Some in the public mistook that vote to mean the Rancheria would need to return to the commission at some future date to seek its approval. But that’s not how the process works.

Because it is a federally recognized tribe, the Trinidad Rancheria has the legal status of a sovereign nation and is not subject to state or local authority, including that of the Coastal Commission. Instead, the project is under the jurisdiction of the BIA, which, as a part of its process, must affirm that it will not conflict with any state laws, which triggered the need for the Coastal Commission’s concurrence. And the BIA’s final assessment found that the Rancheria has “identified additional sources of water to meet” the conditions of the Coastal Commission’s “conditional approval.”

According to Coastal Commission spokesperson Noaki Schwartz, BIA made the determination without consulting further with the commission or its staff.

The BIA’s Finding of No Significant Impact is open to public review and comments can be submitted on it up until March 20, after which it will be signed off as complete, triggering a 30-day appeal period. The BIA did not respond to multiple Journal inquiries to multiple people seeking to clarify the process moving forward.

While the BIA indicates it is assured the Rancheria will find enough potable water to service the 100-room hotel, it remains to be seen where that water will come from. Hostler-Carmesin says the hope is still that it will be purchased from the city of Trinidad, though the city has yet to commit.

Trinidad City Manager Eli Naffah says the city has completed five studies collectively aimed at determining its current capacity and needs, as well as how those may change in the future. But the city is taking a holistic approach to the issue and is working on formulating a comprehensive water policy that will not only decide whether the city can service the Rancheria’s hotel but also how such requests will be vetted and decided in the future.

Naffah says the city’s planning commission is currently working on the policy and he hopes it will sign off on a recommendation to the city council later this month or in April.

One of the studies commissioned by the city seems to indicate the city won’t have the capacity in its supply — which is pulled from Luffenholtz Creek — to accommodate the Rancheria’s request, saying it is sufficient to meet current demands but with minimal reserves for droughts or emergencies, while also pointing toward the unknown impacts of climate change as a looming concern.

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Monday, March 9, 2020

NCJ Preview with Access Humboldt

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2020 at 9:00 PM

This week: We're talking about the Elk River Watershed, Humboldt County elections and how we camp out in the NCJ office to cover them, as well as how a pair of local campers became outdoor cooking YouTubers. Hit subscribe for weekly updates via YouTube.

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Got Geese? (or Otters?)

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 3:12 PM

Migrating geese take to the sky early Sunday morning from the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Migrating geese take to the sky early Sunday morning from the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Those who braved the pre-dawn cold Sunday to venture down to the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Loleta were treated to the sight of thousands of geese taking flight as a part of the Aleutian Cackling Goose Fly-Off.

The annual event, also dubbed "Sunrise at the Refuge," allows people to enter the refuge before sunrise in order to see the migratory geese take flight from their nighttime roosts. This year, the refuge will expand its hours to open half an hour before sunrise every Saturday and Sunday in March to give more visitors the chance to see the birds take flight.

Local photographer Mark McKenna was there Sunday and shares the following slideshow. (Spoiler alert: He also found a trio of snuggling otters.)

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

County Climate Action Plan Plods Forward

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2020 at 8:51 AM

In the aftermath of the Board of Supervisors voting down the Terra-Gen wind project amid dire global climate forecasts, many have been asking what Humboldt County can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change.

Well, local governments are working on it and residents have lots of ideas.

The state is requiring every city or county to address the climate change impacts of projects that it approves. Local governments have the choice of doing this on a project-by-project basis or by creating a Climate Action Plan for the whole community that would enumerate the quantity of greenhouse gases being emitted and come up with plans to reduce that amount.
  • County of Humboldt
Humboldt County, in cooperation with its seven incorporated cities, is slowly hammering out a Climate Action Plan, complete with goals, policies and specific changes that could be made. Several workshops on the topic have already been held and some cities have created their own plans.

Most recently, a Jan. 15 workshop at the Wharfinger Building was jointly sponsored by the county Planning and Building Department and the city of Eureka. About 50 members of the public gathered to hear county planner Connor McGuigan describe what the local community can actually do in the next 10 years to meet or exceed state requirements for greenhouse gas reduction.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

North Coast Night Lights: Art Utility Boxes of Eureka: Marine Life Triptych

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 4:29 PM

  • David Wilson
Wintertime has dampened my nighttime roaming and kept my photography a little closer to home of late. But as a famous photographer once said, though I can’t recall who it was, and I’m afraid I must paraphrase, “You can find plenty of beauty to photograph right in your own backyard.” That idea has stuck with me for decades.

It was easy to dream of faraway places growing up with National Geographic’s fantastic photography from around the world, and I did. But I live in a remarkably beautiful area right here in Northern California and hearing that idea expressed in an early photography class I was taking helped me appreciate the beauty already around me.

I’m usually drawn to the nighttime magic of our gorgeous North Coast’s natural landscape, out where the starry skies glitter overhead without the interruption of humanity’s ground lights. But it is also rewarding to direct some attention a little closer to my home, especially when the weather is inclement. I find myself attracted to the mural paintings on the utility boxes around Eureka, the many instances of public art beautifying the city as part of Eureka’s Strategic Arts Plan (https://www.eurekart.org).

On the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Fifth Street, just outside of Pacific Outfitters, is an undersea triptych painting on a trio of utility boxes that has attracted me for some time. Brought to life by the hand of local painter Dakota Daetwiler, the three-piece work of art creates an undersea world featuring local marine plants and animals in a joyous celebration of life. Dakota worked with the input of Pacific Outfitter management, who she said hoped she would represent the local undersea world off our coast.
Three electrical utility boxes form a canvas for Dakota Daetwiler’s undersea triptych mural featuring local marine life. Find it next to the Pacific Outfitters parking lot at the corner of 5th and Myrtle in Eureka, California. Photographed January 16, 2020. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • Three electrical utility boxes form a canvas for Dakota Daetwiler’s undersea triptych mural featuring local marine life. Find it next to the Pacific Outfitters parking lot at the corner of 5th and Myrtle in Eureka, California. Photographed January 16, 2020.
Daetwiler is a self-taught painter born and raised in Humboldt County. Most of her inspiration has come from a fascination with reading. As a kid, she “read hundreds and hundreds of books.” Her artistic journey has rewarded her passion with success but it isn’t always easy to learn on one’s own. Her message to others finding their own way would be to not give up in the face of setbacks.

“This project was a huge learning experience for me,” she told me, “as the first time I put the wrong clear coat on them and almost a year later I ended up having to re-paint them entirely. I was in tears seeing how much they'd deteriorated. But I'm nothing if not persistent!”

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Safety Corridor Sees First Fatal Collision in Years as Project Gears Up

Posted By on Tue, Jan 21, 2020 at 4:52 PM

A photo-simulation of proposed undercrossing at the Indianola Cutoff, one of the most dangerous safety corridor intersections. - COURTESY OF CALTRANS
  • Courtesy of Caltrans
  • A photo-simulation of proposed undercrossing at the Indianola Cutoff, one of the most dangerous safety corridor intersections.
Even on an already notorious section of road, the Indianola Cutoff on U.S. Highway 101 stands out as a dangerous crossing point, with a collision rate 200 percent higher the state averages.

Anyone who has lived in Humboldt County long enough likely knows the story of the safety corridor, with the short version being that a succession of horrific accidents led to the special designation in 2002.

In the five years prior, there had been 85 accidents along the 5-mile stretch between Eureka and Arcata, including five fatal crashes, with the vast majority — 83 percent — occurring at one of roadway’s intersection, according to a Caltrans report.

Interim measures to reduce the collision rate were implemented — including a headlights-on requirement and lowering the speed limit from 60 mph to the current 50 mph.

Still, accidents continue to occur on the short span, the most heavily traveled of any highway in Caltrans District 1, which includes the counties of Del Norte, Lake and Mendocino.

On Jan. 14, William Clymer was killed while attempting to turn onto the Indianola Cutoff from the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 101. His GMC Jimmy was hit on the passenger side by a vehicle traveling northbound and overturned. He was 42.

According to CHP Officer Paul Craft, Clymer’s death marks the first fatal car crash along the stretch in at least five years, although there have been countless accidents and close calls.

A month earlier, another car overturned at the same intersection, sending at least one person to the hospital.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

King Tide Tour Gives Glimpse of Sea Level Rise

Posted By on Mon, Jan 13, 2020 at 4:26 PM

Dozens of people gathered in the rain at the Arcata Marsh on Saturday, Jan. 11, to view the highest tide of the year and listen to a discussion on how it can be seen as a preview of sea level rise and the effects it will have on both the city of Arcata and the world.

Elliott Dabill, a retired high school biology teacher and current president of the board of directors for Friends of the Arcata Marsh, which sponsored the event, led a walk along the dikes and pathways through the marsh, explaining the science behind the King Tide event. The tour also incidentally treated followers to glimpses of black-crowned night herons and dramatic aerial ballets by flocks of dunlins in flight.
Sherry Van Fossen photographs the King Tide at the Arcata Marsh. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Sherry Van Fossen photographs the King Tide at the Arcata Marsh.
King tides, Dabill explained, occur when the Earth is between the sun and the moon, and at the closest point in its orbit to both these bodies. This combination of events occurs once or twice a year, usually in January, resulting in a dramatically high water levels along the ocean shores. (This year, there will be another King Tide in February.) While ordinary high tides generally run around 6 feet, king tides are more than 8 feet high. In Arcata Bay, the tide peaked at 8.35 feet shortly after noon Saturday, covering the mud flats and salt marshes, leaving dead trees, bushes and small patches of grasses protruding eerily from the water.

In the 1850s, white settlers, in an attempt to reclaim upland areas from the reach of the tides, diked off the bay from the land, replacing the salt marshes that originally rimmed the water with levees. This worked for about 150 years but now that the ocean is rising because of global warming, high tides are getting higher, and eventually the height of today’s king tides will become the new normal, occurring on a frequent basis. At that point, when an unusual event, such as a big storm or the regular astronomical pattern that creates King Tides occurs, the water levels will be so high they will overtop the dikes, creating flooding and making some areas useless for agriculture and dwelling.

“When the sea level rises 2 to 3 feet, it’s going to start overtopping these dikes and then the Humboldt Bay will increase by one-third,” Dabill said. “The bad news is that your house is in that one-third.”

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Five Things to Know About Microgrids

Posted By on Mon, Dec 23, 2019 at 10:46 AM

The Blue Lake Rancheria gas station, which used microgrid technology, including the solar panels above the pumps, to keep operating through the blackout. - FILE
  • File
  • The Blue Lake Rancheria gas station, which used microgrid technology, including the solar panels above the pumps, to keep operating through the blackout.
More than 1 million Californians were left in the dark for days recently as their big utility companies shut off power for fear of sparking wildfires. Frustrated by those outages, some homeowners say they’d like to turn their backs on the companies in favor of smaller providers who might do a better job of keeping the lights on. The mayors of San Francisco and San Jose say they want to sever ties with Pacific Gas and Electric, which serves much of Northern California, and create separate utilities for their cities.

Grasping for solutions, people toss around ideas like joining “microgrids” or setting up banks of generators to keep the electricity flowing during widespread power cutoffs. Would that really help?

What, exactly, is a microgrid?

A microgrid can be as simple as a single home operating on its own solar power, or a complex series of connections between a power source and distribution lines to end users. It can run a business, a neighborhood or even a city. It can be any size and may be fueled by renewable energy stored in batteries, or by generators run on a conventional fuel such as diesel.

Here’s Chris Marnay, a senior scientific fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who wrote the definition of microgrid that is used by the U.S. Department of Energy: “There are two characteristics: It is a locally controlled system, and it can function either connected to the grid or as an electrical island.”

How many microgrids are in California?

It’s difficult to say how many have sprouted across the state and are now dotting the landscape, producing and sharing their own energy. Such systems include small neighborhood operations and one that runs the desert town of Borrego Springs.

That town, and others like it, are known as end-of-the-line communities, lying just beyond the reach of power companies’ distribution lines. For those small locales, and for residents in many rural parts of California, a microgrid is the only choice if they want power.
Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James, accompanied by Yurok Tribal Council, Yurok Planning & Community Development Department and Schatz Energy Research Center celebrate the installation of a 28 Kw photovoltaic (solar panel system).
  • Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James, accompanied by Yurok Tribal Council, Yurok Planning & Community Development Department and Schatz Energy Research Center celebrate the installation of a 28 Kw photovoltaic (solar panel system).
Many state universities have training-wheels versions that use small solar arrays to power a building or a section of the campus. UC San Diego runs a much larger system that provides up to 90% of campus electricity.

If some California lawmakers have their way, there will be many more such systems. A bill in the Legislature would require utility companies to identify the best areas of the state for employing microgrids and then build them.

A 2018 law sets a deadline of Dec. 1, 2020, for creation of a program for how they might operate, especially during times of emergency. The state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates California’s power companies, the California Energy Commission and the Independent System Operator—which runs most of the state’s electrical grid—are developing the plan.

Not surprisingly, former Gov. Jerry Brown is an enthusiastic supporter of microgrids. He said in his 2015 inaugural address that they should be greatly expanded. His rural retirement compound, Rancho Venada, at the end of a dusty road in Colusa County, is powered by a microgrid system.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Why the Supes Denied Terra-Gen's Wind Project, Despite a Series of 11th Hour Concessions from the Company

Posted By and on Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 8:27 PM

With Humboldt County supervisors Rex Bohn and Virginia Bass having indicated they would support controversial plans to erect a wind farm on Monument and Bear River ridges south of Rio Dell, and supervisors Steve Madrone and Estelle Fennell having indicated they would not, Supervisor Mike Wilson was left as the swing vote.

Obviously deeply conflicted at the end of a marathon 16-hour meeting spread over two days that were punctuated by emotional testimony and the occasional outburst, Wilson was still clearly trying to get to yes. Torn between the realities of the climate crisis and a project that promised to deliver 56 percent of Humboldt County’s electricity load from 47 wind turbines — but planned to do so by placing 20 of them on Bear River Ridge, desecrating a sacred ancestral prayer site of the Wiyot Tribe known as Tsakiyuwit — Wilson first asked if the project would be viable if moved entirely to Monument Ridge.
Project Site Boundaries and Surrounding Land - SOURCE: HUMBOLDTGOV.ORG
Randy Hoyle, senior vice president and chief development officer of Terra-Gen, the company proposing the project, replied that the company had already crunched the numbers on that alternative and it wasn’t feasible.

“I understand the extreme sensitivity of this but, from a commercial standpoint, remove the turbines from Bear River Ridge and this project will not be built,” he said.

Wilson said that was the sticking point for him. He wanted to support the project but couldn’t do so if it meant adding to the generational trauma suffered by Wiyot tribal members, whose ancestors had been victims of an attempted genocide, by forever altering a “culturally important” landscape.

“From my perspective, this is a heavy and horrible place to be at this moment,” Wilson said, lamenting that the Wiyot Tribe had brought up the sacred nature of the site months ago when commenting on the project’s environmental impact report, yet apparently little had been done to bring them to the table to find a workable solution. Now, as he flailed to find one, the tribe didn’t have a seat the table. “It’s somewhat patronizing that we’re having this conversation without the impacted peoples — I apologize for that. This is terrible. I’m crying. Seriously.”

Hoyle then responded, saying he’d felt the “sensitivity of the issue,” as well, floating a potential solution. He said the projected local sales and property tax revenues from the project — a total of $9.8 million over the span of its 30-year lease that many considered one of the project’s more tantalizing carrots from the county’s perspective — could be redirected to “certain affected people” at the board’s discretion.

“I think along with that … we are willing to put aside and fund an endowment, and we’ll call it a community endowment, prior to the start of construction for the board to distribute at its full discretion,” Hoyle said, adding that the company was then and there pledging $1 million to go into the endowment to be dispersed as the board sees fit. “That is something the applicant is willing to consider.”

Seemingly a bit surprised at what he’d just heard, Bohn, the board chair, mused that he knows “sacred sites are not for sale” and called Wiyot Tribal elder Cheryl Seidner to the podium to offer a response on behalf of the tribe.
“There’s not enough money to do that,” Seidner said, addressing her comments directly to Terra-Gen’s representatives. “You would not sell your mother, we cannot sell our earth. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful. You don’t know where Indigenous peoples come from. We come from here. We come from the earth.”

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