North Coast Journal - month 1998: UPFRONT




Indian gaming slots for sale

An agreement reached with the Pala Band of Mission Indians of San Diego on March 6 is being used as a model for contracts with the state's more than 100 tribes. The contract would allow 199 slot machines per tribe and that the machines' winnings be linked to the number of players -- not the house as they are now, similar to state-run lotteries.

For tribes without casinos, the right to those 199 machines can be leased to other tribes at $5,000 per machine, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. Each Indian-run casino may have up to 975 units.

Under the agreement, tribes have until early May to sign a pact with the state or risk closure of their casinos. Both the Trinidad Rancheria and the Rohnerville Rancheria are said to have drafted letters of intent endorsing the compact.

For most Indians, the issue behind the do-or-die agreement is one of sovereignty.

"It's given the state of California too much control in our affairs," said Smith River Rancheria Chairman William Richards, who said he will not sign the agreement.

The rancheria, located north of Crescent City, runs the Lucky 7 casino. Its members are supporting the California Nations Indian Gaming Association's efforts to have the U.S. secretary of the interior intervene. The coalition is also considering taking the question to the voters in a ballot initiative, Richards said.

In related news, a proposed statewide initiative backed by some North Coast tribes was filed with state officials aimed at broadening the state's definition of legal gaming devices.

Wrecking ball for gazebo?

A move is on to level Eureka's Old Town Gazebo and create a flat, open European-style plaza.

That's the recommendation of a draft study of the site commissioned by the Eureka Redevelopment Agency. The proposal, written by architect Martha Jain and released in December, offers several options for redoing both the Old Town Square and Clarke Plaza -- the secluded area across from the Clarke Museum. The last significant change to the public areas generated criticism when horseshoe-shaped benches were removed in an attempt to reduce illicit activity.

Eureka Main Street Executive Director Charlotte McDonald said the reasoning behind revamping the Gazebo area is to make the public space more "user-friendly." As it is, businesses on the back of the square such as Sjaak's Fine Chocolate and Humboldt's Finest are hidden.

The city first considered changes for the public areas two years ago. The design review proposes several options: removing the gazebo, moving the fountain to an off-center position, shrinking planters, adding two double-sided benches and raising F Street to the same level as the Plaza, among others. Opening Clarke Plaza to the street is the primary revision suggested for the public area near Opera Alley.

Eureka Assistant City Manager David Tyson said the city is waiting on cost estimates. He's hopeful the renovations can be included in the city's fiscal year 1998-99 budget.

Nuclear waste dilemma

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s plan to remove spent nuclear fuel rods from Humboldt Bay Power Plant marks the second time the now-defunct nuclear facility has made history.

The 63-megawatt power plant was the first commercial operation of its kind in California and the seventh in the nation when it began operating in August 1963. The plant was shutdown in July 1976 for maintenance at the same time three earthquake faults were found nearby, including one directly below. It was never reopened.

If PG&E's current plan is approved, the plant would be the first facility with a dry-cask storage system for used-up fuel rods specifically designed to withstand earthquakes. The design would also allow the fuel rods to be moved to a federal nuclear repository without removing them from the storage unit -- in essence the entire dry cask would be shipped out.

The public will have a chance to comment on PG&E's proposal at a Public Utilities Commission hearing April 13 at 7 p.m. in Eureka City Hall. On April 29, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public hearing in Eureka on dismantling the nuclear plant's vent stack, the large red-and-white striped flue visible to motorists on Highway 101.

While the permit process for moving the spent fuel rods to dry-cask storage is expected to take three years, the stack will tumble this summer.

Much of the planning for the dry-cask storage unit, including where it will be located at Humboldt Bay Power Plant, has not been completed. The layered device of concrete and steel -- similar to Russian nesting dolls -- has not been designed, Humboldt Bay Power Plant spokesman Alec J. Arago said.

While other nuclear power plants in California have on-site dry-cask storage, none were built with specific earthquake safeguards.

In fact, the utility has only committed to seeking Nuclear Regulatory Commission permits to move the spent fuel rods to a dry-cask storage. It has not committed to actually transporting them out of the county.

The spent fuel rods are now in an on-site storage pool that requires continual maintenance. PG&E hopes to close down the operation all together by shifting the fuel rods to dry-cask storage.

The fuel rods, roughly the diameter of a pinky finger and six to 12 feet long, are bracketed together in 6 foot by 6 foot by 9 foot units and stored on racks 20 feet down in the pool.

The pool itself has been the subject of concern. A leak allowed hundreds of gallons of water to enter and mix with irradiated water. The problem grew worse after the 1992 earthquakes when the water pouring in went from roughly 200 gallons a day to 2,000 gallons per day by 1995, then jumping to 8,000 gallons daily by summer 1996.

Topless club opens

Blame it on the U.S. Constitution.

Tom Great Razooly was issued a permit by a unanimous Humboldt County Board of Supervisors last month to open his Tip Top Club topless nightclub near Humboldt Hill.

Razooly was originally turned down by the Planning Commission and the board -- against the recommendation of their staff. When he threatened to sue, citing the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, the board reversed its decision.

Razooly was represented by Eureka attorney Jason Singleton.

Judge issues ruling

Three environmental activists at the center of a controversy over law enforcement's use of pepper spray must answer to the criminal charges against them.

In a court ruling last month, Judge Marilyn Miles denied defense attorneys' motion that charges of trespassing, resisting arrest and vandalism be dropped against Lisa Marie Sanderson-Fox, Jennifer Schneider and Terri Slanetz.

In her ruling Miles wrote: "In the court's view, directly swabbing pepper spray on the eyes of the defendants ... and directly spraying pepper spray from a distance of inches into the eyes of defendant Slanetz was improper."

But the charges, Miles reasoned, were independent of the pepper spray incident and, in fact, preceded it.

The three women were arrested Oct. 16 after refusing to leave Rep. Frank Riggs' Eureka office. A civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco on their behalf is pending.

Headwaters deal advances

A plan to preserve the Headwaters forest moved one step closer to reality in late February.

The Clinton administration reached an agreement with Pacific Lumber Co. in Scotia that was expected to remove the final hurdle to a $380 million deal to acquire the ancient redwood forest.

The pact protects four groves of ancient redwoods outside a planned 7,500-acre Headwaters preserve and sets wildlife protection standards.

But it remained unclear how the state would pay its $130 million share of the purchase price.

The Wilson administration wants the money to be included in a statewide park bond measure on the November ballot. But Pacific Lumber Co. officials fear the state-federal accord would fall apart if the bond measure did not pass.

The Wilson administration also might consider including the $130 million in the next fiscal year budget if there are enough reserves. That won't be known until May.

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