Southern Humboldt resident Estelle Fennell was sworn in as Humboldt County Second District supervisor, representing an area that stretches from Fortuna to the southern and eastern county lines. Fennell appointed Bob Morris, a Blocksburg forester, to represent the second district on the county planning commission.
Reggae on the River received approval of a conditional use permit to return the annual festival to its historic site, French's Camp, at the planning commission's first hearing of the year. (Note: Morris was not seated until the commission's February hearing.)
Rough surf swept 32-year-old Susan Kay Archer of Shelter Cove, along with her boyfriend and her dog, into the ocean. After a 45-minute search by the Shelter Cove Volunteer Fire Department and the Coast Guard, Archer's body was found floating 300 feet offshore. The man and the dog managed to escape.
At its January meeting, the Garberville Sanitary District grappled with the question of whether and how it could legally serve bulk water haulers providing water to customers outside GSD's “place of use,” as defined by the California Department of Water Rights. This issue, initiated by a citizen complaint, brought to light a little-known regulation that applies to all public agencies whose water source is considered surface water, such as the South Fork Eel River.
The Eel River Task Force, a newly formed stakeholders' group comprised of public agencies, tribes, environmental groups, and others, convened in Benbow amid some criticism about holding discussions to which the public and media were not invited. Among other business, the group agreed to open its meetings and provide time for public comment.
Thirty-year-old Garberville resident Ryan Floyd was arrested by sheriff's deputies on a “laundry list” of charges involving narcotics, stolen property, and possession of firearms, following a high speed chase. Further investigation led to a cache of weapons, ammunition, and body armor on Floyd's Alderpoint property.
Whitethorn resident Ian Louth, a first responder from Whitethorn, was honored as an American Red Cross 2012 Humboldt Hero at a ceremony at River Lodge in Fortuna. While surfing at the North Jetty in Eureka, he witnessed a young man being attacked by a great white shark. Louth organized other bystanders in the rescue and kept pressure on the victim's wounds to staunch the blood until the ambulance arrived.
The Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District (RID) board of directors voted to send the county supervisors a strong letter calling for code enforcement action on a list of 15 top-priority alleged violations on various properties within the RID. Many, but not all, of the alleged violations appeared to be tied to marijuana grows. Problems observed included spills of diesel and sewage and pollution of creeks with fertilizers and pesticides.
Mendocino County allocated $75,000 in federal funds for overtime for employees of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with sheriff's deputies to investigate the environmental impacts of industrial marijuana cultivation, especially targeting illegal water diversions.
County sheriff's office personnel confirmed that investigators from the county district attorney's office searched a large-scale marijuana grow site near Ettersburg, where environmental violations were alleged to have occurred. Satellite photos from Google Earth showed a number of greenhouses on a completely cleared hilltop, indicating illegal timber harvesting, excavation, and road building without regard to effects on nearby Mattole Canyon Creek.
In the meantime, county supervisors pondered a proposed county marijuana cultivation ordinance that would allow but restrict the amount of medical marijuana that can be grown on any single property. Concerns about the federal response to such an ordinance caused the board to agree to move slowly and solicit input from the community.
Trustees of the Southern Humboldt Unified School District (SHUSD) reluctantly voted to issue layoff notices to possibly 14 employees in order to cut back the equivalent of nearly five full-time employees. SHUSD was required to give layoff notices by mid-March, but could postpone the decision on how many and which employees would actually be let go. Final cuts would depend upon budget performance over the next six months.
Home health care workers, who had been petitioning the board of supervisors for a raise for the past two years, reached a tentative agreement during a closed session of the board in mid-March. If members of the California United Homecare Workers' local union voted approval in a mail ballot election, they would receive a 75-cent increase over their $8 per hour wage and some additional benefits.
The Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission approved Garberville Sanitary District's revised “sphere of influence,” the legally designated area outside GSD's boundaries where growth should be planned. The Southern Humboldt Community Park remained within GSD's newly-approved SOI.
The community was shocked and saddened by the death of 16-year-old Olivia Marquez-Sykes, who succumbed to complications reportedly related to the use of the drug MDMA after a month in a coma. A Facebook page set up by her mother's employer, Bunny Wilder of the Blue Moon Gift Shop, garnered nearly 500 responses overnight.
Second district supervisor Estelle Fennell, chief county administrative officer Phil Smith-Hanes, and assistant county counsel Davina Smith met with SoHum residents in Garberville to get public input on the county's draft marijuana ordinance. While acknowledging the need to deal with the environmental impacts of careless grows, residents criticized the proposal because the low numbers of plants allowed and the complex registration requirements would prevent people from participating.
Garberville Sanitary District put its three-plus million dollar drinking water treatment plant project out to bid, while Redway Community Services District began discussing rate increases to cover increasing costs of operations as well as future capital improvement needs.
The Eel River Recovery Project held its third annual Water Day at the Mateel Community Center, giving residents of the Eel, Van Duzen, and Mattole River watersheds a chance to learn more about the condition of their rivers and fisheries, and how citizens can help with research and restoration projects.
County planning staff expressed hope that the General Plan Update, currently in its 13th year of review, could be completed by the end of the year.
Former teacher Shelby Messenger was appointed to fill the seat on the Southern Humboldt Unified School District board of trustees vacated by the resignation of Michael Hoffman.
Mattole Valley schools closed for several days while deputies and officers from a variety of Humboldt and Shasta County agencies conducted a manhunt for Shane Miller, prime suspect in the murder of his wife and daughters in Shingletown, near Redding. Miller's truck had been found on Mattole Road, and he was believed to frequent a cabin in the Petrolia area, according to the sheriff's reports.
As construction progressed at South Fork High School (SFHS), close to 20 community members attended a special board of trustees' meeting to express concerns about the use of remaining construction bond funds and to ask trustees to reconsider plans to replace the snack shack. The snack shack raised $40,000 in the previous year, members of the booster club explained, and they objected to both the design and location proposed for the replacement.
The “school within a school,” a special facility for seventh and eighth grades on the South Fork campus, was nearing completion, however, and was expected to be ready by the start of school in the fall. SFHS students would occupy the new buildings for the 2013/14 year during modernization of the high school. The middle school students would move to the new facility the following year.
Controversy over the use of Jim Demulling Veterans Park heated up following the county supervisors' decision to “vacate” the park. The county had granted an encroachment permit for the park to local veterans' groups but continuing complaints culminated in their decision to “vacate.” It was unclear what this meant. Supervisor Fennell described it as, “A proactive step for the community to come forward and find a solution... It's a process to allow the county to do more with that land.”
Increasing awareness of the state's restriction on sales of bulk water by public districts sparked concern at the Phillipsville Community Services District's (PCSD) board meeting. PCSD had received requests from water haulers unable to get water from local districts that draw from the South Fork Eel River. “We are taking the idea of bulk water one step at a time,” board chair Bonnie Mullaney said. “....Our top priority is protecting the residential customers we have first.”
Lifetime SoHum resident John Van Meter was chosen as Grand Marshall of the 56th annual Garberville Rodeo parade. Van Meter's family came to Redway from Oregon in the 1940s; he was born in Scotia but had lived in Redway all his life. As a child Van Meter rode his horse Trinket in the very first rodeo parade in Garberville. He grew up to become an independent logging contractor who at one time employed over 60 people.
Second district supervisor Fennell, with the help of district supervisor Rex Bohn, proposed major revisions to the Guiding Principles of the County's General Plan Update. The board, which was halfway through its final review of the GPU, voted 4-1 to adopt Fennell and Bohn's revisions, with third district supervisor Mark Lovelace dissenting.
China Creek residents received notices from the State Water Resources Control Board regarding potential violations of state water law stemming from unauthorized water diversions and an alleged fish kill in Oct. 2012 resulting from low-flow conditions in China Creek. Local state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said this is likely the beginning of an increased enforcement effort by various state agencies to control increasing environmental damage due to illegal diversion and other violations of state law.
Superior Court judge Dale Reinholtsen proposed that Bob McKee be ordered to pay a $200,000 fine for violations of the Williamson Act in the sale of Tooby Ranch properties. Both McKee and Humboldt County, which brought the suit against him, had 20 days to respond to the judge's proposed fine.
Garberville Sanitary District awarded the construction bid on its drinking water treatment project to Wahlund Construction of Eureka, the low bidder at $2.3 million. Work began on the project later in the month.
The Southern Humboldt Unified School District board of trustees passed a $7.8 million dollar budget for the 2013-14 school year. The budget passed unanimously in spite of a projected shortfall of nearly $300,000. The trustees also voted to extend superintendent Catherine Scott's contract for another year with a one percent raise.