Environment / Natural Resources

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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Sunday, January 19, 2020

North Coast Journal Preview: Video

Posted By on Sun, Jan 19, 2020 at 6:47 PM

If you've tuned in to Access Humboldt's channel 12 lately, you may have seen (or heard, if you listen to its radio station KZZH 96.7 FM at noon and 5 p.m.) the North Coast Journal Preview. In the weekly segment, members of the Journal's editorial staff sit down with host David Frank for a few minutes to talk about the stories we just went to press with. You can also subscribe to the NCJ YouTube channel — click the little red button! — for weekly episodes. 

If aren't already familiar with Access Humboldt, let's catch you up. The nonprofit media organization is hunkered down on the Eureka High School campus, where it offers members video and audio equipment training for working in the field or in its fully equipped studio. (That podcast you've been daydreaming about? AH can help with that.) Access Humboldt runs four TV channels on Suddenlink: edc8 (covering local education institutes); civic10 (covering local government and public meetings); AH-11 and AH-12 (airing video submissions from local residents and organizations).

Miss your favorite KHSU programs? KZZH, which you can also stream online, has picked up a few others besides the North Coast Journal Preview, including: Food For Thought, Radio Centro, Radio Bilingue Weekly Newscast, Live Your Language, Community Calendar, Sound Ecology, EcoNews Report, Cosmic Calendar, Here’s A Story, Looking Back, Redwood Wonk (formerly Thursday Night Talk), Cool Solutions and Democracy Now. Learn more about the organization and its work bringing news and information to our community here
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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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Divided Board Votes Down Wind Project

Posted By on Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 3:42 PM

Clearly conflicted individually and collectively, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject controversial plans to build a wind farm project on Monument and Bear River ridges south of Rio Dell.

The vote, which saw supervisors Virginia Bass and Rex Bohn support the project and the balance of the board reject it, came at the conclusion of a more than 16-hour meeting spread over two days that included public comment from hundreds of residents.

A short round of applause followed the vote.

Project Site Boundaries and Surrounding Land - SOURCE: HUMBOLDTGOV.ORG

The project, which would have seen 47 600-foot-high wind turbines placed on Bear River and Monument ridges south of Rio Dell and Scotia, was projected to provide enough electricity to supply 56 percent of Humboldt County’s demand. Proponents argued that not only was the project a necessary step to combat the global climate crisis, but it would also be an economic boon to the area, creating 300 construction jobs and 15 permanent positions, while generating millions of dollars in property tax revenue for the county over its 30-year life.

Opponents, meanwhile, argued the project was little more than a green-washed money grab that would harm local bird populations, clear-cut miles of forest, damage a biologically diverse coastal prairie and desecrate a sacred Wiyot prayer site.

The project was officially opposed by the city of Rio Dell, the town of Scotia, the Wiyot Tribe and the Yurok Tribe. It was endorsed by the city of Eureka, the Humboldt Del Norte Building and Construction Trades union and the county planning department, which recommended the board find there were overriding concerns present that trumped the unmitigable environmental impacts that would accompany the project.

After the 3-2 vote described above, staff told the board a passing vote was needed to make the denial official, so a motion was made to flatly reject the project. It passed 4-1, with Bass having joined the majority. She offered no explanation for the shift in position.

Check back for a full report on the marathon meeting.
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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Diverting Holiday Waste

Posted By on Sun, Dec 15, 2019 at 4:54 PM

Holiday gift wrappings that are not recyclable. - IRIDIAN CASAREZ
  • Iridian Casarez
  • Holiday gift wrappings that are not recyclable.

Now that the holiday season has arrived, so has the waste generated by the festivities, from wrapping paper and plastic bows to dirty foil trays and more plastic packaging.

During this time of the year, Recology Humboldt’s Material Recovery Facility starts to collect about 25 percent more waste, says General Manager Linda Wise.

“Right now we’re seeing a lot of dirty foil and tin pans and Amazon plastic packaging as people are doing a lot of online shopping,” she says.

The waste-collection company especially sees a lot of wishful recycling — a term that describes people putting items in the recycling bins thinking that they're recyclable when they actually aren’t — especially with plastic film and bubble wrap, which impacts the entire recycling stream.

The more garbage recycling-collection companies process, the higher the costs will be for everyone in the recycling industry, which includes consumers paying for recycling, as workers now have to separate, bale and ship the garbage to landfills. MRFs do not clean our recyclables, so make sure that your rinse out any tin foil pans or they’ll contaminate other recyclables.

Non-recyclable holiday items that shouldn’t be placed in your recycling bin include wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon and bows, and gift bags. All the holiday waste on top of the regular recycling produces a slower production line and forces workers to sort out more material.

According to Wise, contamination in the waste stream slows the line to about 12 tons per hour, which is a big difference from the line's normal run of 17 to 20 tons per hour.

“It’s amazing how much waste comes this time of the year,” Wise says. “We see a lot of it, that’s why we don’t take vacations. There’s a big waste generation.”

So be sure to place non recyclable items in the trash bin, because if they wind up at Recology’s MRF, they'll make things really complicated. Better yet, try different sustainable materials to wrap your gifts in.

Wise suggests gift givers opt for reusable produce bags as gift bags and newspaper comic strips for wrapping paper (with twine to add a little flare). She also suggests reducing the waste stream by reusing old Christmas cards or brown paper sacks as gift tags, and keeping ribbon to reuse over and over again. But the most important thing Wise emphasized is shopping local to support local businesses and avoid the online packaging that comes with online purchases.

“Buy a Christmas card from a local artist,” she suggested. “Instead of shopping online, shop locally, or instead, buy gift certificates for services like a massage or a pedicure.”

For more information on local recycling check out our past coverage here

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

No Local Crab Before the New Year

Posted By on Tue, Dec 10, 2019 at 4:52 PM

Another crab season, another delay. - C. JUHASZ/CDFW WEBSITE
  • C. Juhasz/CDFW website
  • Another crab season, another delay.
The commercial Dungeness crab season off of Humboldt, Mendocino and Del Norte counties has been delayed again at least until Dec. 31 due quality tests that “continue to show crab are below the minimum testing guidelines.”

According to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife release, another round of testing will take place around Dec. 20 to determine whether the New Year’s Eve opening is a go or another delay until Jan. 15 is in order.

“No vessel may take or land crab in an area closed for a meat quality delay (i.e., Fish and Game districts 6, 7, 8 and 9),” the release states. “In addition, any vessel that takes, possesses onboard or lands crab from ocean waters outside of a delayed area is prohibited from participating in the crab fishery in the delayed area for 30 days following the opening of that area.”

In other news, CDFW reports a warning on sports caught crab in the Shelter Cove to Point Arena zone was lifted after new tests show the level of domoic acid at low to undetectable levels in the area.

“Although there are currently no areas under an active health advisory for Dungeness crab in the state, CDPH recommends consumers follow best practices to avoid any inadvertent exposure to domoic acid that might be sporadically found in the crab viscera,” the release states.

The Sonoma County and south commercial fishery, which had been delayed due to concerns about marine life entanglements, will open Dec. 15.

Read the CDFW update below:

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Friday, November 22, 2019

Rio Dell Mayor Asks Supes to Move Terra-Gen Appeal Meeting Down South

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 1:24 PM

Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes signs the letter. - CITY OF RIO DELL
  • City of Rio Dell
  • Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes signs the letter.
Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes has sent a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors officially requesting a change of venue for any future meeting on Terra-Gen’s proposed wind farm.

The Humboldt County Planning Commission voted 4-2 Thursday, with commissioners Mike Newman and Alan Bongio dissenting and commissioner Brian Mitchell absent, to deny the proposal to erect massive turbines on Monument and Bear River ridges south of Rio Dell.

In the letter with today’s date, Garnes writes that it is her understanding that Terra-Gen is prepared to appeal the planning commission’s decision to the board of supervisors.

Garnes notes that previous meetings had overflowing crowds, which included elderly and handicapped individuals who were “denied entry for safety considerations.”

“They were instead forced to stand for hours on end and listen to a small, dated speaker suspended from the ceiling,” Garnes wrote. “At one point, the crowd, which was composed of supporters and opponents of the project, chanted in unison ‘Let us in! Let us in!’ I know you can do better!”

She signs off by offering to help the board of supervisors secure an “appropriate venue,” writing that the city is “requesting that you hold this meeting here in
either Rio Dell or Scotia."

Read the full letter below:

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