Friends of the Van Duzen River
A Grass Roots community organization comprised of residents and visitors to the Van Duzen Region. We are Dedicated to helping to restore the river for future Generations

Creeks, not cash, to drive Palco permitting

By John Driscoll
The Times-Standard
February 24, 2005

EUREKA -- Recovery of Freshwater Creek and Elk River will drive a decision to permit any or all of a dozen Pacific Lumber Co. logging plans, the region's chief water quality officer told a crowd at the Wharfinger Building Wednesday.

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Executive Officer Catherine Kuhlman said she'd take hours of testimony from the workshop back to her hotel and begin crafting a decision. That could come as soon as today, she said.

After meeting for several days in private with water board staff last week, Palco aired an unwritten proposal it said aimed for improving stream conditions and a release of its logging plans. It offered to fund a science panel with representatives from all parties, to help with residents' drinking water supplies and clear creek banks of vegetation and sediment that cause flooding.

"Releasing and approving these THPs (timber harvest plans) allows us to deal with these problems," said Palco CEO Robert Manne.

Palco has claimed it faces bankruptcy if the plans aren't permitted by the water board, and Manne said it wanted to start logging in January. The board staff have said Palco held up development of watershedwide permits it would apply to logging plans, creating the delay.

Many residents in the watersheds have been frustrated by the water board's handling of the issue over several years. They claim flooding has gotten worse, more frequent even with minor rains, the result of logging since 1985.

"We're getting more and more flooding on less and less rain," said Elk River resident Ralph Kraus.

The logging plans Palco wants permitted are on 1,100 acres in both watersheds, or the equivalent of 641 acres if clearcut. Palco chief scientist Jeff Barrett said cutting logging wouldn't significantly reduce flooding. But engineering fixes, like building a 3-foot flood wall on Elk River Road at Dead Woman's Corner, would eliminate most floods and spare Palco the loss of tens of millions in revenue.

The Humboldt Watershed Council's Mark Lovelace said Palco's financial crisis has more to do with its $760 million debt than approval of a few logging plans.

"The water board must not be responsible for PL's profitability," Lovelace said.

He brought up a 1980s-era report by a Palco consultant that showed the pattern of logging the company has undertaken was predicted even then would damage watersheds and lead to layoffs like Palco has warned about. The whole time, Palco has pulled billions from the company and paid down little debt, he said.

The Pacific Meridian report was rebutted by one of the 1999 Headwaters deal's architects, Jared Carter. He said the company had better information years later, when the Headwaters agreement was being struck, a deal that envisioned Palco being able to log more than was outlined in the earlier report. He said it had no relevance to the proceedings.

Carter also said that the money Lovelace presumed was flowing to parent company Maxxam Inc. of Houston did not account for costs to the company. He shrugged off the company's debt, saying it's not against the law to borrow money.

Freshwater resident Alan Cook said all indicators of watershed health are moving in the wrong direction, and said people in the watersheds are again asking the board to consider what has been ignored: Palco's rate of harvest in the area.

One Elk River resident, however, said he didn't see the same impacts, saying deep holes in the creek are still there below Berta Road. Jim Holdner said flooding always occurs along flood plains and dairymen in the area had built their homes on high ground.

Eureka attorney Bill Bertain reminded Holdner that some dairymen in the area have also suffered due to the increased flooding.

Palco and the water board staff are at odds over a model used to predict logging's effects on flooding. The board is using it heavily, and said since the task is to design a recovery strategy for the creeks, it needs justification to permit the logging plans under the old regime. Palco has said the model doesn't work for larger watersheds, and tends to overestimate the effects of logging.

In wrapping up the meeting, Kuhlman said the impacted streams are a health and safety issue.

"I don't believe the status quo is acceptable," Kuhlman said.

Kuhlman said she welcomed Palco's offer to pay for feasibility studies for various methods to fix the problems. She said mechanically removing sediment and other engineering solutions are an important but incomplete part of the recovery equation, as are the sediment-reducing elements of Palco's logging plans.

But she appeared clear that economics are not relevant to the decision she will make.

Friends of the Van Duzen River
PO Box 315
Carlotta, CA 95528
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