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Astoria For Sale

The city’s attempt to more aggressively market some of their “excess” properties (empty lots and larger parcels) through a local real estate company draws protest from a wide variety of residents

bulldozerThe Great Depression (that’s the one in the 1930s and early 1940s) brought many tax foreclosures to the Astoria area, which in turn brought a good deal of land into the hands of Clatsop County. Starting in the late 1940s, after World War II, much of that land was sold to the City of Astoria for ridiculously small amounts of money (i.e. between one and ten dollars!). Since then, the city has been trying to sell this bounty of land, but hasn’t made it a priority, so that only when a potential buyer approached the city did it respond, and after many decades, the city was still left with many properties that it considered “excess to critical city need”, or “not associated with our duty to provide essential services or recreation opportunities to our citizens,” according to the city manager, Paul Benoit.

At the beginning of 2013, the Astoria City Council set a goal to remedy that situation. City staff went to work, hiring Mike Morgan, the mayor of Cannon Beach and a long-time consultant with the city, to lead the effort to set up a program to start selling off this property. From a total of over 1300 properties that the city owns, the team pared down the list to 37 properties, and developed a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a real estate company to act as the agent for the sale of these properties. They also proposed a plan to allow adjacent property owners to get first dibs on these properties, before listing them to the general public.

By August, Area Properties had been brought on as the agent, and the plan was approved by the council unanimously. Letters went out to adjacent property owners in October. Only then did they, and then after coverage of a subsequent city council meeting, most other local residents, find out about the program.

What’s For Sale
The initial maps of city-owned properties for sale, dated August 8, were available by request from city staff. They were black-and-white versions of the county tax lot maps, and were divided into four areas: Alderbrook, Uppertown, West End and South Slope. These maps included mostly relatively small lots, with one notable exception. Taking up almost a quarter of the Uppertown map was a combination of three contiguous lots that were labeled 38th to 40th, Lief Erikson to Land Reserve; Irving, 35th to 38th; and 900 Blk 36th. This area includes a system of trails, piles of logged blowdown, and towering evergreen trees. Nearby residents, and others shown the map, were amazed that this land was deemed buildable and was on the list.

west end and south slope map
West End & South Slope. The large circle in the center of this aerial photo is the property at the west end of Niagara Avenue. It forms part of a large forested area in back of Astoria High School that is owned partially by the Coast Guard. A cluster of forested properties to the west of Astoria Middle School on either side of 7th St. are also part of the sale. The small circle near the bottom of the photo is the house already sold. Near the top are several properties for sale that are on a relatively steep forested hillside that is the result of several slides. The Port of Astoria is at top left, with downtown Astoria at top right.

 

Bernie Wood, a teacher at Clatsop Community College, was concerned not only about the larger parcel (Irving, 35th to 38th, from above) in back of his house on Irving Avenue in the Uppertown neighborhood, but also a much smaller lot that he had been using as part of his backyard. The smaller lot, which runs along 36th St. in back of four houses that front on Irving, is the kind of property that the city was highlighting in their presentations to the public in the early days of the project. Driveways, alleyways, land used as gardens and for garages and sheds – small lots that somehow the city never sold and many property owners didn’t even know wasn’t theirs. Wood and his neighbors were concerned that a developer might get a hold of this property, and combined with the larger property behind it, might build right up to their houses. One of the owners on the block has put in a bid of $4000 for the smaller property.

At the request of several residents, the city eventually provided aerial maps with the properties for sale marked on them, as well as updated tax lot maps. On the new maps, about 3/4s of the 38th to 40th, Lief Erikson to Land Reserve property was eliminated from the sale, evidently due to its being outside the city’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). At the November 18th city council meeting, a letter from Terrie Remington (a resident on Irving) was read by Bobbi Brice, and after further testimony from Wood, the mayor asked the council to remove the Irving, 35th to 38th parcel from the sale. The council agreed unanimously.

uppertown map
Uppertown. The blue oval indicates the property to the south of Irving Avenue that was removed from the sale. Still for sale are a large, steep parcel extending from Highway 30 up to Grand Avenue on the eastern edge of the Uppertown neighborhood, and several parcels to the north of Irving Avenue that form part of a greenbelt corridor bordered on the west by the 1950s slide zone. These proper- ties are at 22nd, 27th, 28th and 29th Streets. The small red circle above the blue is the property behind Wood’s home on 36th St. City property on Mill Pond is also for sale. The top of the aerial photo is the East Mooring Basin, and the bottom forested area includes reserve (watershed) land owned by the city, but not for sale at this time.

 

Jan and Vicki Faber were shocked when they received their notification letter. They, like other adjacent property owners, were given 4 days to bid on the property on the 2900 block between Harrison and Irving. As a result of Jan’s testimony at the October 21st city council meeting requesting more time to make their decision, the council decided to review the whole process and extend the decision time to 4 weeks.

A quick look at the aerial maps combined with zoning maps shows that most of the properties for sale under the city’s program are forested or wooded sections of Astoria that are zoned residential. Sales of these properties and subsequent development would have the potential to disrupt wildlife corridors and change the character of many areas of the city. The most affected areas would be Uppertown; along Irving Avenue from the eastern end to 18th Street; and the South Slope, especially at the end of Niagara and down 7th St.

alderbrook map
Alderbrook. Several properties for sale are scattered along Ash and Birch St. in Alderbrook. Additionally, steep, heavily forested land to the bottom left is part of the sale. Most of Alderbrook is wetland. One of Astoria’s water treatment ponds is just visible in the upper right hand corner.

 

As of this writing, bids are still being taken from adjacent property owners, and none of the properties for sale has been marketed to the general public.

The Opposition Mounts
Adjacent property owners weren’t the only ones who were surprised by the city’s property sales program. Once the program became generally known, the city council chambers were packed with folks who testified against the sales, and it became the talk of the town.

Confusion reigned at the November 4th council meeting, with several people demanding better documentation of the program before it could be allowed to continue. At the next council meeting on November 18th, the city provided aerial maps and a presentation to the audience on the background of the program and where the properties for sale were located.

Testimony at both November council meetings was overwhelmingly against the sales, for various reasons. Art Limbard, a geologist who lives in Warrenton but teaches ENCORE (Exploring New Concepts of Retirement Education; see encorelearn.org for more information) classes in Astoria, was very skeptical about the geological stability of much of the land under consideration, and cautioned against any sales of public land before further studies were done. Fred White, a retired landscaper who lives on Irving in the famous 1950s slide zone, also cautioned against selling property that was slide-prone.

Shel Cantor, a retired engineer who’s lived in Astoria for 10 ½ years, provided a good case for holding off on sales of property in the current market. He stressed that 2013 and 2014 would be the worst possible time to sell land, as the value is rock bottom, and likely to increase in the near future. If the city’s fiduciary responsibility is to get the best deal for our land, Cantor argued, then we should hold off with these sales for at least another year.

In a letter to Councilman Drew Herzig earlier this year which he updated after attending the November council meetings, Limbard expressed concern about the property for sale at the end of Niagara: “I call attention to city land to the west of 3rd off Niagara and Madison on the ‘south slope’ – land that currently is forested. To me, there are good reasons why this land has not been developed and is forested. The unstable slope conditions are vulnerable to the weight of buildings and roads and it appears that landslips have occurred in the area in the past.” He goes on to state: “In fact, there is evidence that many parts of Astoria are affected by naturally unstable slopes, made more hazardous by so-called development. Cutting into the base of slopes, adding weight to slopes with homes, other buildings, roads, etc., and ‘lubricating’ these slopes via watered lawns and disturbed drainage patterns compound the mechanisms of slope failure.”

Sue Skinner, a nurse practitioner at the Lower Columbia Clinic in Astoria and a longtime resident, criticized the city for not providing more information to the public about the sales much earlier in the process.

Several other residents testified at the two November city council meetings, citing various reasons for their opposition to the sales, including potential destruction of wildlife habitat, inability of some adjacent property owners to purchase city property at this time even if they wanted or needed that property, questions as to the necessity of the city selling property at this time, concerns over process, and worries over the future value of their property and character of the city.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Despite impassioned pleas and alternatives presented at the council meetings and via email, the council voted 4-1 (with Herzig dissenting) to continue the program as envisioned earlier in the year. The people had prevailed, noted Mayor Van Dusen, in removing some property from the original set, and giving adjacent property owners extra time to decide whether to make a bid on neighboring property. Herzig noted, however, that the public was obviously against the program, even in its modified form, and as a representative of the people, he could not in good faith vote for continuing it. (Herzig voted with the rest of the council throughout the year to approve the program.) Unlike some previous land use decisions by the Astoria City Council, where there was plenty of testimony on both sides of the issue, this decision saw only negative testimony by the public, and the council sticking to their guns regardless. The main reasons given for continuing on with the sales program were: decreasing water and sewer rates by attracting more people to the city; lessening the burden on city staff for maintenance of city property; and bringing in more money to city coffers, both for the capital improvement fund (from the sales) and the general operational fund (from property taxes).

This public land sale brings together several projects that the city has been working on in the last few years. Relatively uncontroversial was the one sale already achieved by the program – a house located on the South Slope that the city bought to settle a lawsuit by the previous owner after the house was flooded due to an error made during a water system repair. The city lost money overall on the deal, but saw the property go onto the tax rolls, with the new owner a prominent property management firm in the area.

A large wooded area at the western end of Niagara Avenue was the subject of a council meeting about a year ago, where the city proposed packaging the property – which had been platted many decades ago as a new subdivision but never sold and developed – with a local realtor for sale as “needed” single-family housing. That parcel is one of the larger ones in the current sale. Neighbors of the property have been vocally against selling it, fearing their property value and quality of life would both go down. So far, though, no nearby property owners have bid on that parcel, or any part of it.

However, there have been several written bids submitted to the city by Area Properties, working with adjacent landowners. The process is that each of these bids will be reviewed by the city council, with a public hearing also scheduled on each so that the public can weigh in. The first public hearing has been scheduled for December 16, at the next city council meeting, and will consider the following offers:

5300 Block of Alder Street, Alderbrook, 0.23 acres, James and Mary Huber, $19,000.
1st & W Grand, Uniontown, 0.23 acres, Robert Jacob, $7,200.
400 Block 3rd St, Uniontown, 0.11 acres, Lawrence & Carol Thomas, $15,000.
4600 Block Birch & Ash Sts, Alderbrook, 0.79 acres, Michael & Lorna Zametkin, $16,000.
4700 Block Ash St, Alderbrook, 0.41 acres, Susan Brookfield & Michael Cowan, $26,500.
1600 Block 5th St, South Slope, Lance & Katherine Freeman, $8,500.
600 Block Exchange St, McClure’s Addition, 0.11 acres, Roger Dorband & Patricia Barnes, $6,500.

After all bids from adjacent landowners have been considered, Area Properties will list the properties not already sold on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) so that the general public can bid on the properties in the usual way of real estate transactions. However, the council has directed that there will be no minimum bid for these properties, and potential buyers can pool resources to bid on any property, or any part of each one. The council will be the final arbiter of any multiple bids on a property, and any conditions on the sale.

The city has given mixed signals on whether the property sales program will continue after the final disposition of the initial 37 properties has been determined. There has also been no indication of how long this current program will continue. With a good portion of the large wooded lots throughout the UGB of the city already or potentially for sale through this program, local residents have formed a group called Friends of Astoria’s Natural Areas (see box), and are seeking ways to preserve what has become a treasured part of Astoria.

Friends of Astoria’s Natural Areas (FANA)
Residents opposed to the sale of some of these properties, mainly due to the possible loss of natural areas in the city, are banding together to possibly purchase some of this property, influence the sales in a way beneficial to the maintenance of the natural areas, provide volunteer labor for maintenance, and also work with the city on planning approaches that might keep these properties public. Their first meeting will be held at the KALA Gallery at 1017 Marine Drive on Tuesday, December 17 at 7 pm.

 

In an open letter to the Astoria City Council, Cantor states, “The procedures for this sales program can be modified to comply with your fiduciary responsibilities, encourage good-neighbor purchases, and preclude the sell off of city-owned land to developers, speculators, and mini-timber-barons.”

Summing up the feelings of many, Skinner states in an email to local residents, “There are so many reasons why preservation of open space is crucial – the water(shed), the air, the stability of hillsides, the preservation of a little bit of wetland… We are sitting on riches beyond gold here. Please attend the Astoria City Council meetings, find out what’s going on, and speak out.”

City Manager Benoit agrees. In a recent op-ed, he concluded, “…stay engaged and keep a close watch. An informed and involved public, advising and working together with elected leadership and city staff, is a key to keeping the community on a positive course.”

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FEATURES

Oysterville Sea Farms – Putting the Oyster Back in Oysterville

cannerytoday
The Oysterville Cannery today. Photo by Oliver Robbins

For generations before the pioneer settlers arrived, Chinook Indians gathered oysters and camped in the area that is now Oysterville. They called it “tsako-te-hahsh-eetl” which, like many Indian words, had two meanings: “place of the red-topped grass” and “home of the yellowhammer (or red-shafted flicker).”

restoration1Soon after the first white settlers arrived, Oysterville became a rowdy, lusty boomtown. By 1855 its population and importance were such that it became the seat of Pacific County, Washington Territory. The town had many firsts – a school, college, newspaper, and finally, in 1872, a church – First Methodist.

Late in the 1880s fate took a hand: the long awaited railroad line ended at Nahcotta, an isolating four miles away, the native oysters became scarce and, without the possibility of a local livelihood, residents moved out en masse. Finally, in 1893, the courthouse records were stolen in the middle of the night, and the county seat was moved to its current location in South Bend. Oysterville gradually became the sleepy little village it is today. (adapted from the Oysterville Restoration Foundation website)

restoration2The only oyster business in town these days is Oysterville Sea Farms (OSF), founded in 1991 by Dan Driscoll, a third-generation oyster farmer who grew up in Seattle, but spent his summers in Oysterville helping his dad on the farm and learning the ropes. After graduating from the University of Washington with degrees in Communications and Psychology, he moved to Los Angeles to work in the film business. “Life was good down there, but not fulfilling,” he told me.

He lived and worked in LA for seven years before returning to the Northwest, to visit his family in Oysterville. It was October 1990.

“My dad told me that he had a business that was not good enough to sell, but too good to give up, and asked if I wanted it. I said sure, but only if you and mom give me the cannery. They did give me the cannery, which was pretty mean of them, because the cannery was in such bad shape then it was a liability,” he recalled.

restoration3His father helped to start the process of restoring the cannery building and his mother “even went to the Oysterville design review board to get their approval, got our first shoreline exemption permit, and our first building permit for the Oysterville cannery restoration project.”

Short History of Oysterville Cannery
In 1939 the property on which the building is located was sold by Ed and Randolph Sherwood to a partnership called Northern Oyster Company, made up of Glen Heckes, Roy Kemmer and Ted Holway, all active oystermen with sizable oyster beds. The building went up in 1940, and received massive government contracts after the start of the U.S. role in World War II in December 1941. Ted and Virginia Holway eventually owned 100% of Northern Oyster Company, and in 1966, they signed a contract with their daughter Ruth and her husband Dick Sheldon to sell them the company.

In 1969, oyster canning operations at the Oysterville Cannery were shut down. The Sheldons retained Northern Oyster Company, which included the oyster beds, equipment and boats. This left the Holways with the cannery and no means to support it.

restoration4
Les Driscoll in the field.

In 1973, Les Driscoll (Dan’s father) began selling both oysters and non-seafood items at the cannery in the summertime. Soon after, the Holways gave the Oysterville Cannery to Les and his wife Virginia Ann. On April 21, 1976 the Oysterville Cannery Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Restoring the Cannery and Building the Business
Driscoll and his parents spent about 20 years restoring the cannery, partially financing the project (which Driscoll says costs “in the hundreds of thousands”) by selling shellfish and other items marketed under the Willabay label. Finally, in 2011, the restoration was pretty much complete, and Driscoll set his sights on starting to recoup his investment, and continuing to involve the community in the business. Most of the oyster farmers on Willapa Bay sell their oysters wholesale to markets on the West Coast and beyond. But OSF is a retail operation, both on-line and fresh at the cannery.

In June 2011, an anonymous complaint was received by Pacific County concerning the selling of certain items at the cannery. The complaint alleged that OSF was out of compliance with Pacific County’s latest development and zoning ordinance, adopted in the early 2000s. That ordinance strictly limits the type of development and business activity allowed on the shoreline of Willapa Bay. Since that complaint, OSF has been clamoring to comply and stay open, but has also been fighting many of the decisions of various state and local agencies.

oysterville1940
Though these battles are on-going, the gist of the whole debate about whether OSF should or shouldn’t be allowed to continue to follow its business plan is best summed up in the testimony of Alan Trimble, a professor at the University of Washington, who has worked in the Willapa Bay area for over a decade, at a Pacific County Planning Commission meeting on November 3, 2011. The following is a shortened version of that testimony.

Should OSF Be Allowed to Do Business?
“My name is Alan Trimble. I’m a scientist at the University of Washington. I’ve been working here about a decade now and we live in Nahcotta right across from the port. I’m a marine ecologist. My profession is to worry about the science of water quality and things living in bays, and I’ve devoted a decade to this particular estuary and I have to say it’s a pretty special place – entirely by accident.

“People will claim that they are responsible for keeping it the way it is, but actually the fact is it’s the way it is because we already removed most of the resources from this place and most of the businesses failed. If you look at ancient pictures of Raymond, South Bend and Nahcotta and Oysterville, there were restaurants, there were bars, there were hotels, there were roads, there was a railroad, and there were several mills all over the bay. There was a very large industrial business, and in fact the Oysterville cannery was in the commercial district of Oysterville.

dan16“All of it is gone, essentially, and now we’re left with what we’ve got. I completely understand the desire to try and keep working buildings on the water working, given how hard it is to get any new buildings ever built anywhere. It’s very hard. It’s also extremely hard to start up a new shellfish business – the number of permits required and difficult things that people have to do to try and even begin to do any shellfishery in this bay is nearly impossible.

“So I would suggest that we don’t actually have the problem we think we have. It is not that somebody is here trying to petition this place to put in a Wal-Mart or a power plant or a pulp and paper mill. This is someone who’s operating the one and only (talk about unique!) building of its type on the bay. There are no others. No one else can come through here and petition to change this kind of building (that they also happen to have) into a restaurant, or a place that sells T-shirts, or an art studio, or anything else. There aren’t any other ones.

“So I don’t see the conflict, frankly. I don’t see the specter on the horizon of hundreds of large businesses coming to the edge of the bay looking to scoop up the last three remaining historic buildings and turn them into some corporate empire. I don’t see it. And I do see that the protections that the federal government has on historic buildings (and there’s a reason why they have them)…it’s almost impossible to keep them standing. Most of those places have to have limited liability corporations and nonprofits to get donations just to keep the building standing. And they have to do all sorts of special events and things to keep those buildings viable and to continue to comply with permits: put in new septic systems, upgrade pilings, whatever it is that they have to do to continue to exist no matter where they are. It’s really expensive, and having a business with only one aspect – let’s say that the only legal aspect was to sell shucked oysters, and that was somehow in the county codes – there wouldn’t be a business standing on this peninsula. If that’s all they did, they’d be gone.

“People have diversified: they sell clams, they sell crab, they sell salmon, they sell other things to remain viable. I think we’ve all been in the other stores around the bay that sell clams and oysters and soda pop and other things. It’s not a big deal to sell a T-shirt, really, with respect to water quality.

“So, my two-cents-worth as a scientist is this: Puget Sound is trashed, and will be forever. So is Chesapeake Bay, so is Willapa Bay: if you look at it from the perspective of what it used to be, it is nothing like it used to be. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s almost nothing left of what it used to be, species-wise. It’s dominated by introduced species that we farm, trees that are planted at ridiculous densities to be harvested to make paper, and a few houses. It is nothing like it used to be.

“My paramount goal as a scientist is to keep this place working as a sustainable community that uses the resources we have and the people we have – jointly – to succeed in progressing into the future.

Dan the Oyster Man
Dan the Oyster Man

“Dan’s business, while it has some warts (it hasn’t been perfect, and I don’t think anybody would say that it has) is a reasonably good model of how to succeed against all the pressures that are out there. I think that I would suggest that this group figure out a way to reach a legitimate compromise to show a model of how a sustainable, small, multifaceted, waterfront business can actually work – because there aren’t any other ones: it’s the only one we have. Right, we have canneries, but nobody can go there and buy anything. We have people that ship to faraway places, but nobody can go to you to buy anything. It’s not a…it’s a different thing: those are industries. This (Oysterville Sea Farms) is not an industry.

“Finally, I see absolutely no threat whatsoever from this kind of business – in fact this specific business – to the water quality or health of Willapa Bay. I can’t find one. It may be there, but the county has specified an ungodly-expensive septic system, and they don’t pump seawater and they don’t dump fresh water into the bay, and they collect all their garbage and they don’t even have a real kitchen in the building over the water – it’s across the road on land.

“People walk out on the dock and look around, and sit on decks in chairs, and eat some food and talk to each other, and see the beautiful bay out there, and begin to understand what aquaculture is all about. It’s the only place on the whole bay where they can do that. It’s the only place that you can sit and enjoy eating oysters while you’re watching a dredge dredge oysters in front of your face. And the thought that that’s going to go away and that’s going to be a positive benefit to the bay I think is asinine.

“So let’s not confuse the issue of whether this is opening the door to the world destroying Willapa Bay. If there was a whole waterfront district like there is in Seattle and Tacoma and Olympia and Chesapeake Bay, with hundreds and hundreds of waterfront buildings out over the water with old pilings rotting into the bay, and somebody was going to bring in a Costco or a Wal-Mart or IBM or Intel and put a factory there, that’s a whole other thing – and I bet you a lot of people would show up at a meeting like this to talk about that.

“But that’s not what this is about, so I don’t want us to be confused about that.”

While the dust settles from the legal battles, OSF goes on. In future installments of this story, we will delve a little deeper into the issues and the various players in the debate, and hopefully document the solutions that allow Driscoll and OSF, along with the rest of the Willapa Bay shellfish companies, so important to Pacific County’s economy, to continue to deliver the great shellfish they are known for locally and worldwide.

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Astoria Armory Redux

a vision, a resource, a plausible future

jack benny USO
Overflow crowd of naval personnel witnessing Jack Benny performance. May 10, 1944. Photo courtesy of Heritage Museum library.

On July 9th, several people responded to an invitation to an open house at the old Armory building, bordered on the south by the old Lum’s dealership, on the north by the Bowpicker fish & chips boathouse, and on the west by what’s now the Clatsop County Historical Society Heritage Museum, in Astoria. The invitation read in part “…it would be a shame to lose this incredible resource as there is nothing like this building anywhere on the North Coast.”

How true.

armory
Present day Armory building and Heritage Museum. Photo by Bob Goldberg

From the outside, the Armory building is pretty nondescript. But as you step inside, you stare up at a fine example of a lamella roof, and step onto a gym floor that looks brand new. You can imagine the stands full of people cheering on the Astoria High School basketball team; chairs filling the floor and the stands and bleachers full with Jack Benny on the stage for a USO show; lights flashing, music blaring and kids whizzing around on their roller skates; kids dancing to “Waltz of the Flowers” in pink satin tutus for Jeanne Maddox’s Christmas dance recital; or a packed house to take part in the Scandinavian Festival.

Yes, lots of history in this building. Designed by John E. Wicks and his daughter Ebba Wicks Brown, and erected from joint federal, state and county funding by local builders, the Armory building added a gym, recreation center and community armory to the existing USO hospitality house (now the Heritage Museum, and formerly Astoria City Hall) in 1942. Used as an armory during World War II, the main floor gym became the home of the Astoria High School basketball team afterwards, as their gym (now Clatsop Community College’s) didn’t have any place for spectators. Many great tournaments and games were played there, according to Jon Englund, who was AHS’s center in the 50s. Englund, now head of Englund Marine, remembers playing in the Coast League, and coming in second to Milwaukie in 1955. “In big games against Seaside, the place would be packed, with over 3000 people. It was great,” Englund told me. He said the Royal Chinooks, a semi-pro basketball team, played there in the 50s, the Harlem Globetrotters paid a visit, and there was wrestling and special events “that were a big part of my life.”

Also in the 50s, there were home and auto shows at the Armory, where the basement would be used for the cars. Skip Hauke, the current president of the Astoria/Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, remembers these shows, as well as the Astoria Regatta coronation ceremonies. In particular, he remembers being the train bearer for Regatta queen Lidia Dorn when he was 5 years old. “I still kid her about that when I see her,” he said.

buffalo springfield
Buffalo Springfield, a touring band, played the armory in the 60’s.

Still a recreation center in the 60s, the building was a lot less used after the high school moved to its current digs on Youngs Bay – with a new athletic building with plenty of seating – in 1957. The Scandinavian Festival, now at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, was held at the Armory during this time. “I went to my first Scandinavian Festival there. There were tarps on the floor and a small square stage where someone was telling great Ole and Lena jokes,” recounted Janet Bowler, who has been involved with the festival for decades. And there were some big rock bands that played the Armory, including “Buffalo Springfield and The Zombies in the late 60s, Deep Purple in the mid-70s, sometime after Smoke on the Water came out..  Canned Heat also played late 70s,” according to HIPFiSH editor and publisher and Astoria native Dinah Urell. Another Astoria native, Peter Huhtula, remembers a group called People! playing at the Armory in the 70s. Their cover of The Zombies’ “I Love You” peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1968. So, the Armory rocked through the 70s!

But by 1980, the county was looking to sell the Armory building, and finally, at the end of August 1981, four prominent local businessmen – Darrell Davis, George Brugh, Chuck Taggart and Rod Gramson – bought the Armory building at an auction, as the only bidder. Plans were for a convention center and office space, but instead, the Expo Center roller rink opened its doors at the site on Friday, November 27, 1981.

Lillian Baeten, a recently retired school bus driver and “fancy” skater, was the manager of the rink in the 80s. She remembers good times as the public – mostly kids – packed the building on Friday and Saturday nights, and came to free Christian skate night on the first Wednesday of the month. She was part of the congregation of the Clatsop (formerly Jireh) Christian Center, with her friend David Adams as pastor. The group bought the Armory building in 1994, and retained ownership until the current owner, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, bought it in 2002. According to Adams, “We had a congregation of about 140 people, and over 1000 young people came to

nixon and steinbock
Vice President Nixon and Mayor Steinbock outside the Armory. February 14, 1959. Photo courtesy of Heritage Museum library.

know Christ during our time there. We were the holy rollers!” Adams’ plan was for a church downstairs and a youth center on the main floor. The group did manage to completely redo the gym floor, add new windows, replace the aging roof and other small remodeling efforts while they owned the building.

Liisa Penner, Archivist at the Heritage Museum, recalls that, “In the 1980s, my younger daughter had her birthday parties each year in the small room on the north side of the Armory and after the party they skated in the rink.”

The CRMM maritime museum added climate control to the basement to help with storing their artifacts, including boats. With their purchase of the old Builders Supply store and warehouse, the museum is looking to sell the Armory building, and that gave Robert “Jake” Jacob an idea. Jacob, architect and owner of the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa, spearheaded the effort to save the Liberty Theater and helped found the Astoria Waterfront Trolley. So he began to think of ways to save the Armory building for the community. “There’s nothing like this building in our entire region. It would be great if a group of interested local and regional citizens could come together to save this unique structure. The inside of the building is stunning and the kinds of events that could take place there are so varied that it could also be an economic driver for our region. Astoria just can’t afford to lose a building like this — with the kind of historic relevance and huge space it offers. From sporting events, home shows, large concerts with a great dance floor, this space can be anything the community needs,” Jacob started telling folks.

armory stage
Stage, floor and old Clatsop Christian Center sign. Photo by Bob Goldberg

At the open house – which was attended by City of Astoria staff and city council members, Clatsop Community College management and staff, Astoria Sunday Market chief Cyndi Mudge, members of the Shanghaied Roller Dolls roller derby team, Maurice Hendrickson (a former National Guardsman), City Lumber staff, carpenter Tim Kennedy (who was wowed by the lamella roof), Hauke, Baeten, Constance Waisanan of Partners for the PAC, other local businesspeople and this reporter – Jacob told the crowd of his vision, some of his experiences in the building, and invited others to reminisce about the glory days of the Armory. Others involved in the effort to look into community ownership of the building spoke next, including Hauke and Mitch Mitchum. “We have a real opportunity here to do something terrific. The Armory could be an economic driver for the region as well as a fun project for citizens to be involved with. The integrity of the building is excellent, the hardwood floors are in perfect condition – and with some good ideas, a little clean-up and paint, we can preserve this treasure!” Mitchum said.

lamella roof
Lamella roof structure in Armory. Roof is 41 ft. at highest point. Photo by Bob Goldberg

The leaders called on Robert Stang, a local green developer, to work on a plan to get the ball rolling, and he’s done just that. With a promise of a 90-day window from the maritime museum to allow the newly formed Friends of the Astoria Armory to investigate the Armory building’s physical integrity and assess funding possibilities, and the willingness of Craft3, a non-profit community development financial institution with offices in Astoria, to become fiscal agent for the Friends, the ball is definitely in the community’s court.

Everyone I spoke to about the Armory thinks it would be a great community resource, an economic driver, and a chance to save an important historical treasure. It remains to be seen if Jacob’s vision will come true. We should know in a few months.

To be informed of the Friends of the Astoria Armory’s progress on the possible purchase of the Armory building for the community, or if you want to help, call 503-325-8687 and leave your name, phone number and email address. Someone will get back to you promptly.

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Ghost Shrimp Still Haunting the Shellfish Industry on Willapa Bay

Neotrypaea_californiensisDLC2007-01sIn the world of toxics use reduction – which was my world in the 1990s and early 2000s as an environmental engineer at the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) – it’s a common trick to substitute one chemical for another when the one you were using is either heavily regulated, becomes illegal to use, or too expensive (or all three). Well, such was the case for the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay, that used a neurotoxin called carbaryl from the 1960s up until 2003 to control a small, native shrimp called ghost shrimp, which has the unfortunate tendency to burrow through the sand bars in the bay and suffocate the poor little oysters that are growing up there.

Problem is, carbaryl is not only deadly to ghost shrimp, but toxic to other crustaceans, fish (esp. salmon), small insects (e.g. bees), cats, and even humans. The EPA considers carbaryl “likely to be carcinogenic in humans” due to increased tumor production in mice.

According to Larry Warnberg, a former oyster grower in Nahcotta, “the emergence of burrowing shrimp as a pest coincided with the development of dredge-harvesting oysters at high tide, dragging a large basket to scoop up the oysters, ripping out submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster shell, leaving behind sand/mud, a perfect habitat for an invasion of burrowing shrimp.”

After telling me about his non-chemical methods of raising and harvesting oysters, Warnberg added, “In 1989 Fritzi and Edward [Cohen] purchased the idle and deteriorating Moby Dick Hotel, along with a few acres of adjacent tideland, which I helped them develop for off-bottom oyster culture, supplying their in-house restaurant. They became strong allies in the struggle to keep toxins out of the bay; we formed the Ad Hoc Coalition for Willapa Bay, which is still working on new pesticide issues. In 2003 we reached a Settlement Agreement with the Growers, after appealing their NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] carbaryl pesticide permit at the State Pollution Control Hearings Board [PCHB]. As a result, carbaryl was scheduled to be phased out over nine years, ending in 2012. The Agreement stipulates that the Growers would only pursue non-chemical growing methods, but they immediately obtained USDA funding to hire Kim Patten [Washington State University Extension agent] and others to find a pesticide alternative to carbaryl, resulting in the permitting of a neonicotinoid, imidicloprid. [Ecology] gave the Growers what they applied for on April 16 of this year, a 5-year NPDES permit.”

Now you might be familiar with this new chemical that the shellfish growers were going to switch to, or if not, to the general category of pesticides that the new chemical belongs to – the neonics, or neonicotinoids. These are the chemicals implicated in colony collapse disorder that has been decimating honeybee populations around the world. Banned in Europe, but still used in the U.S. as a general purpose pesticide in homes & gardens and on crops, imidacloprid has never been used in aquatic environments before, and the permit the shellfish growers in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor got was heavily dependent on monitoring. Growers worried the allowed doses would not be sufficient to kill the ghost shrimp, but they were hoping the new chemical would be as close to a “drop-in substitute” as possible for the old standby, carbaryl.

Well, in what can only be described as a series of unlikely events, the new permit regulating the use of imidacloprid on oyster beds in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor was revoked by Ecology at the suggestion of the Willapa-Grays Harbor Shellfish Growers Association (WGHSGA) on May 3, less than a month after the permit was approved. Spraying was due to begin in mid-May. This is after a multi-year research effort costing the industry and taxpayers lots of money, a multi-year permitting process led by Ecology, including many public hearings and the processing of hundreds of comments, and untold efforts of many environmental groups and individuals fighting the proposed permit before approval.

We may never know the whole story, but here’s a short summary of the more obvious and known events and press:

April 16: Ecology gives final approval to the permit.

April 24: Bloomberg Mazagine publishes a story titled Washington State Turns to Neurotoxins to Save Its Oysters – A pesticide from the group of chemicals linked to colony collapse disorder will now be sprayed in US waters. What could go wrong?

April 28: Danny Westneat’s column in the Seattle Times is published, titled (borrowing a little from the Bloomberg article) Disbelief over state plan to spray neurotoxin into oyster beds – The state has approved plans to spray in Willapa Bay a neurotoxic pesticide that has a warning right on the bottle: “Do not apply directly to water.” What could go wrong?

May 1: Respected Seattle weatherman Cliff Mass’ blog entry, titled Oyster victory: But there is more left to do, talks about the sudden reversal and Taylor Shellfish’s statement that they would not spray imidacloprid on their oyster beds in Willapa Bay after hearing loud and clear from their customers. Later that day, the WGHSGA released a statement that they would request the permit be revoked. (Also check out Mass’ blog entry, Oysters and Pesticides: The Washington State Department of Ecology Stumbles, published April 29.)

May 3: A story in the Seattle Times, State, growers scrap pesticide permit for oyster beds after outcry, tells of the delivery of a letter to Ecology from WGHSGA withdrawing their permit application, and of Ecology’s intention of withdrawing the permit the next day.

So, what the heck happened? It’s very rare for a NPDES permit to be withdrawn without a PCHB hearing and/or lawsuit, and the industry (and Ecology) had spent all that time and money to put together the permit. Well, according to some of the articles I read (including those above), it seems that some pretty important restauranteurs in the Puget Sound area were not amused to learn that their local oysters were soon to be sprayed with bee killer, and basically told the growers that they would stop buying their oysters if this spraying occurred.

I also learned from some closer to home sources that efforts were made locally to contact these very customers of the shellfish growers, the growers themselves, and Ecology, letting them know of the permit and its implications. Even local legislators were brought in to put pressure on Ecology.

It worked.

Which is the more amazing because most previous efforts to combat the shellfish industry here have been either unsuccessful or costly, or both. The most prominent example is the eradication of Spartina alterniflora, a cordgrass that proliferated in Willapa Bay (and all over the west coast) after being used to ship oyster seed in the early 1900s from the east coast. Warnberg tells the story from his perspective:

In ‘89 Monsanto launched a marketing program targeting Spartina, trying to sell its herbicide glyphosate for aquatic plants. It is known as Round-Up in agriculture; they renamed it Rodeo for aquatic use. They used some local scientists and The Nature Conservancy to demonize the grass, successfully getting it on the State Noxious Weed List, claiming it would cover all the tideflats eventually if unchecked. The oystermen signed on to their program, not because they felt threatened by Spartina, but because they were already using carbaryl for shrimp control, and didn’t want any enviros challenging pesticide use in their domain. So the Ad Hoc Coalition mounted a legal challenge of the herbicide permit at the PCHB. We went up against a gang of their lawyers, and lost our appeal. They sprayed some Rodeo, but it didn’t work very well. Turns out Spartina has a waxy cuticle, and the herbicide wasn’t absorbed enough to kill the grass. Monsanto lost that round – their product was ineffective.

A more potent herbicide was brought in, we challenged again, lost again, but delayed widespread spraying for eight years until 1998 when a major eradication effort was mounted. Over the next four years crews worked diligently to kill about 10,000 acres of Spartina. It was painful to watch, seemed like ripping the scab off a wound. Spartina was helping the bay heal from a century of abuse. In a few years the negative effects began to show: mud trapped by the Spartina meadows was released by storm waves, increasing turbidity, and covering clam and oyster beds. The decaying root mat, often two feet deep, rotted anaerobically, releasing toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, killing wild oyster larvae.

Continuing our chemistry lesson, you might have heard about this ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate recently, as it was classified last month by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Studies of its effects on aquatic organisms have been mixed. The controversy over glyphosate continues, as do the remnants of the Spartina eradication program in Willapa Bay and elsewhere.

The future of the local shellfish industry is uncertain, given the withdrawal of the imidaclopid permit, the effects of climate change, local opposition to their farming methods, and a stubborn reluctance to embrace new methods. Local groups are still stunned but happy about the latest developments, but this reporter is shocked by customers of the growers and others who say they didn’t know about the permit, the carbaryl and glyphosate spraying programs, or much of anything about the history of shellfish farming in Willapa Bay before May 2015. Which means they probably don’t know about the use of imazamox on clam beds in Willapa Bay to eradicate Japanese eelgrass (Zostera japonica), regulated by yet another 5-year NPDES permit that was approved by Ecology in 2014 (see the April 2014 issue of HIPFiSHmonthly for more).

Warnberg feels the tide is turning (pardon the pun) for the Willapa Bay ecosystem and its human inhabitants. “Please give the growers some credit, they had the foresight to see that the oyster-loving public is no longer willing to tolerate aquatic pesticide use. By relinquishing the NPDES permit they shifted course significantly, bolstering their frequent claim to be stewards of the Bay. Finally we can work together improving water quality and strengthening biodiversity in the estuary.” He added, “Times are a-changin’.” Indeed.

Note: In June, Oysterville Sea Farms (OSF) and its owner, Dan Driscoll, has a date in Pacific County court, where two of the main protagonists for spraying pesticides to rid oyster harvesting operations of pests, Dick and Brian Sheldon (featured in the Bloomberg article cited above, and the estranged uncle and cousin of Driscoll, respectively), will be testifying for the county. At stake, according to Driscoll, is the only publicly accessible restaurant on Willapa Bay, which serves oysters that Driscoll harvests, without spraying, from his beds on the bay. It should be good entertainment! Check it out: June 16 at 9 am in the South District Courtroom of the Pacific County Courthouse at 7013 Sandridge Road in Long Beach. You can read the story of OSF in the November 2013 issue of HIPFiSHmonthly, and we will carry the exciting result of the hearing in the next installment of this series on the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay.

 

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Eating Aliens

Nutria
Nutria: tastes like chicken.

In the January 2012 edition of Weed Wars, titled Goats, Beavers & Carp, Oh My, I talked about the rebranding of Asian carp into silverfin, served as a delicacy in fancy restaurants as part of a campaign to cull their numbers. You see, the carp had escaped their original use – to eat algae at wastewater treatment plants – and gotten into the Mississippi River watershed, and all the way to the Great Lakes, and were causing all sorts of havoc. One of the poster children of invasive species.

Well, in the book Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers, which I just finished reading, the author takes us on a tour of southeastern America, including some islands offshore, as he attempts to hunt, kill, butcher, prepare and eat several invasive species – including Asian carp. Overall, the message of the book is that many animal species that have become nuisances or worse actually taste pretty good, and with marketing, could join Asian carp – oops, silverfin – on your dinner table. Umm!

Many of the species Landers hunts in the book became invasive after being released by pet owners who couldn’t handle them anymore. That was the case with the spiny-tailed iguana, which now munches gardens on Gasparilla Island in Florida, in addition to the eggs of the native gopher tortoise, a keystone species of this area. Landers brings us with him as he navigates a maze of permits, local home owners, and laws to bring down some spiny-tails in a residential neighborhood, and then cook the meat of several with a marinade of lime, cilantro, tequila and some spices. A local hired on to help eradicate the spiny-tails described the taste as “like chicken with the texture of crab.” Umm, umm, iguana tacos!!

Next, Landers is on the hunt for green iguanas, cousins to the spiny-tails, in the Florida Keys. This species unfortunately likes the nicker nut, a plant that also happens to be the primary food source of the endangered Miami blue butterfly. The last Miami blue was seen a few years ago, on Bahia Honda Key, where the green iguana runs rampant. After taking down a few, Landers skins them (he says the hide would be a great material for making belts, books, knife sheaths and more), and sautéed the meat (“all in the tail and legs”) in olive oil and garlic into a ragout sauce. Verdict – “like its spiny-tailed cousin, green iguana turns out to taste pretty much like chicken.”

Landers next takes on wild pigs, “one of the most widespread invasive species in the world.” Brought along as a food source by colonists the world over, many of them either escaped captivity, or were allowed to go, and of course, they eat like pigs, and are quite a problem in many areas of the world. The bureaucratic hassles he encounters in trying to hunt pigs near his Virginia home are interesting, and this theme is carried over into other adventures Landers takes in the book. The insinuation is that if we’re to really take on these invaders, we will have to loosen the rules and allow hunters to do their job. Interestingly, Landers encounters nine-banded armadillos in this same area, and talks about their origin in the wild from a private zoo in Florida in 1924. 95% of the predation of sea turtle eggs in Florida is by this cute little critter. The taste – well, according to Landers, “it’s like a cross between chicken and pork.” As for the pigs, Landers says, “as food, wild pigs are superb.”

Lionfish
Lion Fish: the lionfish has it all – flavor, texture, environmental responsibility, and a dash of romance.

Lionfish are next. These poisonous-spined, hardy, aptly-named sea creatures have few predators, and are really tough to hunt (you have to spear them!). Landers does get some, but almost drowns in the process. Lionfish got into the wild by being blown away from a Florida home by Hurricane Andrew. Landers goes to Eleuthera in the Bahamas to find them, and has a great time. Cooked with a little olive oil and lemon pepper, these babies tasted good. “The lionfish has it all: flavor, texture, environmental responsibility, and a dash of romance,” says the author. I’ve got to get some!!!

On to Louisiana and nutria – beaver-like rodents that are a big problem there. After a maze of problems with the bureaucrats and difficult hunting conditions, Landers and friends bag a few nutria, cook them up with some Cajun spices, and voila, “it was indistinguishable from chicken.”

I’ll leave you with a large and small animal from the book’s menu – the giant Canada goose, and the Chinese mystery snail. Canada geese are a problem in the Pacific Northwest as well as the east coast, where Landers was hunting them. They have stopped migrating, and do a number on the grass of lawns, parkland and open areas by water. In Seattle, where I used to live, they were at least talking about gassing them in parks to get rid of them. Well, contrary to popular belief, according to Landers, Canada goose meat is delicious, when prepared correctly, and could be a great way to keep their numbers in check in cities and elsewhere. And there’s a bonus to hunting geese – their down is excellent for pillows and parkas!

The book ends with a chapter on Chinese mystery snails. These little critters were introduced into the wild as forage for flathead catfish, a non-native also, who decided they didn’t like the snails. These Asian invaders outperform the native snails and are wiping them out in their native habitats across America. “They remind me a lot of slightly rubbery New England-style fried clams or of fake scallops. These snails aren’t going to be 4-star cuisine, but after being tenderized, fried, and served with tartar sauce, they’re quite good,” is Landers’ review of the taste. Snails and chips!

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for some of the invasive species discussed in Eating Aliens. The book has more, and it’s all part of the growing invasivore movement. If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!

Categories
CULTURE MUSIC THEATER

Hitchin’ Revival – An Original North Coast Musical At the PAC

Hitchin Flats
Creator Ned Heavenrich (left) and the Brownsmead Flats, the band behind the musical.

Hitchin’
February 7-9 and 15-17
Fri/Sat, 7:30 pm, except 2 pm on the 17th
Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center
16th & Franklin, Astoria
$15 – adults
$10 – Student/Senior

Partners for the PAC presents Hitchin’, a musical play written by Ned Heavenrich, with music composed by Heavenrich, Robert Stevens and Dan Sutherland of the Brownsmead Flats, on February 7-9 and 15-17 at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) in Astoria. The play is the second in a series of fundraisers to keep the PAC open, accessible and affordable to the community. The first fundraiser, Bach and Rock Around the Clock, featured local musicians (including the Browsmead Flats) and an all-night film festival, which is slated to be reshown in the spring.

Performed to sellout crowds at the PAC in 1997 and again in 1999, Hitchin’ tells the story of a middle-aged man confronted with his rebellious teenage son and his past in what Heavenrich described as a “partially autobiographical tale about coming of age and letting go, a result of a mid-life crisis brought on by my dad’s death in ‘88.” In 2004, Hitchin’ was revived at the River Theater.

Walter Newman is a clothing store owner and workaholic whose 20-year-old son, Matt, is getting ready to leave the house to “find his own path.” Walter finds his journal from his days on the road, and the journal’s entries come to life on the stage. Walt (as he was known then) meets Lulu, a fellow hitchhiker who knocks his socks off and heads on down the road; Mary and James Erickson, a farm couple whose oldest son was killed in the Vietnam war, and whose other sons are now estranged, with the marriage suffering; Howie, a hippie gypsy and former Peace Corps volunteer who keeps a load of pot in his Deadhead VW van; Jack, a draftee at an air force base in North Dakota who’s not especially eager to go to Vietnam; Edna (named for Edna Packard, who played the original role as Ethel), an older widow who invites Walt to her house in the middle of nowhere to reminisce on her life; Marian, Georgia and Debbie, three lesbians on a camping trip; and Sylvester, a bat-swinging hitcher who’s headed “towards his destination.” The play ends with Matt leaving, Walter still leery and the cast singing Isn’t It Exciting!

“I would say that half the characters in the play I met on the road and half are composite characters from my life and other people’s experiences,” Heavenrich explained.

The orchestra for the musical is the Browsmead Flats, who will be joined by Janet Bowler, a flutist with the North Coast Symphonic Band and other musical groups in the area. Jayne Osborn, who stage managed the River Theater production, is directing. Osborn is a veteran director and stage manager who has worked with the Astor Street Opry Company (ASOC) and the River Theater. Musical direction is by Allison Wilski, a soprano with the North Coast Chorale. Amy Coughlin, another veteran of ASOC, is stage manager. Set design is by Craig Shepherd, manager of the Coaster Theatre in Cannon Beach, with set construction managed by John Fenton of the Brownsmead Flats. Josef Gault, former manager of the PAC, is in charge of sound and lighting. And Marco Davis, who played Jack in the original production of Hitchin’, is choreographer. The author is production manager, with able assistance from Heavenrich and Stevens (who played Howie in the 1999 production and was music director in the original production).

All proceeds from Hitchin’ will go to the Support the PAC fund, managed by the Clatsop Community College Foundation and the Partners for the PAC, and used for maintenance and operating costs of the PAC. Partners for the PAC is a coalition of performing arts groups that currently use the PAC for rehearsals and performances which was brought together in 2012 to help raise funds to keep the PAC open and work on ways to maintain and enhance the facility after the college suffered severe budget cuts and was unable to continue their operational support. For more information on the Partners for the PAC and how you can support the PAC, go to the Support the PAC website at supportthepac.org.

CAST: Bob Goldberg, Sandi Hilton, Jordan Okoniewski, Stephen Shannon, Sara Drage, Destiny Lish, Lenny Noller, ChrisLynn Taylor, Eddie Knick, Luke Hanflin, Lori Honl, Stephanie Rowe, Bree Heavenrich, Amy Coughlin, Jonathon Osborn, Daric Moore, Dave Bergquist and Emily Honl.

The Partners’ production of Hitchin’ is made possible by a generous grant from the Clatsop County Cultural Coalition and the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

An Ode to Alder

An Ode to Alder

It has been brought to my attention that there was recently a massive alder kill near Naselle, caused by the application of herbicide to eradicate knotweed near the banks of a stream. To add insult to injury, evidently tansy ragwort, another so-called noxious weed, replaced the some of the knotweed killed in the attack. And most of the knotweed survived.

Now some of you are probably saying “good riddance” to the alders that were sacrificed in the name of invasive species destruction. Alders are considered noxious weeds themselves by many in the area, though they are not on any official lists that would doom them to oblivion. They certainly have some of the characteristics of invasive species, such as the ability to take over a field or garden, but they are native to the Pacific Northwest, so they can’t be invasive, by definition.

My son brought home a red alder (Alnus rubra) sapling 6 years ago that he got at school from Weyerhaeuser. I planted it in our backyard, which I was converting from a lawn with a treed border to a (mostly) native forest. This 10-inch twig is now a 30-foot (give or take a few) tree, dwarfing most of the other trees in the yard.

Not only did this tree grow amazingly fast, but it seems to have spawned a small forest of alders. Now it could be that the younger alders now growing in my yard came from neighboring properties, or just from birds, but I think our original alder is probably the proud mama and papa. So I can vouch for the alder’s ability to grow and spread quickly.

But I don’t have a plan for eradication of my alders.

In fact, I love alders. They seem to me the perfect deciduous tree for the garden. They require almost no care, grow quickly, have beautiful leaves and structure, and most importantly, fix nitrogen in the soil, supplying fertilizer not only to themselves, but to neighboring plants.

A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for alders gave me more reasons to love them. The catkins (fruit) of some alder species are edible (though bitter), and rich in protein. The wood of certain alder species is often used to smoke various food items, especially salmon and other seafood (I still fondly remember eating my son’s catch from a fishing trip some years back after it was prepared by a neighbor and cooked over alder planks).

It turns out most of the pilings that form the foundation of Venice were made from alder trees.

Alder bark contains the anti-inflammatory salicin, which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the body. Native Americans accordingly used red alder bark to treat poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations. Blackfeet Indians used an infusion made from the bark of red alder to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis. Recent clinical studies have verified that red alder contains betulin and lupeol, compounds shown to be effective against a variety of tumors.

(I particularly like this one.) Electric guitars, most notably the Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster, have been built with alder bodies since the 1950s.

And of course, alder is used in making furniture and cabinets and other woodworking products.

Red alder is harvested in Oregon as a commercial hardwood, and according to the OSU Wood Innovation Center, is about 60% of the hardwood inventory in the state. So others see the value of this amazing tree too.

On my weekday walks to and from work, I get to first pass a lot down the street that is being colonized by alder (with some Scotch broom), and then the woods that line Irving Avenue on the east side of town. These woods seem to be predominantly alder, after logging in the 90s and the recent Great Gale of 2007. You can see conifers growing up in between the alders, biding their time until the fast-growing deciduous trees die off and allow them to dominate once again (if we let them). It’s a beautiful place, born of the landslides of the 1950s, and I hope we have the foresight to let it evolve in peace.

Well, our amazing Indian summer is bound to come to a close sometime soon, and I promised my wife that I will prune the alders in our back yard when their leaves are gone. I won’t have anything big enough for a Stratocaster or a chair, but maybe I can use some of the wood to smoke some salmon. Alder – the gift that keeps on giving!

Categories
FEATURES

Voter Beware – The 2012 HIPFiSHmonthly Election Guide

LNG. Walmart. J.P. Moss and Astoria Parks & Recreation. Casinos. Charter schools. Taxes. The kicker. The economy. The new high school sports stadium. Sprawl. Jobs. And sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Some of the local issues that you’ll be thinking of when you attempt to fill in your ballot for the upcoming November elections. (Well, rock ‘n’ roll isn’t specifically on the ballot…)

Welcome to the 2012 HIPFiSHmonthly Election Guide, your handy, free source of information on some of the candidates and initiatives on the ballots of voters on the northern Oregon and southern Washington coast.

It’s a leap year and a year divisible by four, which means that there are plenty of initiatives, ballot measures and referenda requiring your approval or not, in addition to many local council races, and of course the usual state and federal stuff – you know, like the president, your congressman (or woman), the governor (in WA), and those judges you know nothing about.

Ballots in Clatsop and Tillamook counties in Oregon, and in Pacific County in Washington, have contended elections for most of the races this cycle, which is good news. And many of the ballot measures are certainly contentious.

Referendum 74
Let’s start with SEX (now that you’re paying attention…). If you reside in the great state of Washington, you get to decide whether a law passed by the state legislature earlier this year concerning same-sex marriage will stick.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage passed the Washington State Legislature and was signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire earlier this year, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force a voter referendum (Referendum 74) on the legislation. The bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses. After 2014, existing domestic partnerships would be converted to marriages, except for seniors. It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement. The law becomes effective only if it is upheld by the upcoming vote. (from Wikipedia)

In Washington, several groups are promoting a yes vote on Ref. 74 – Equal Rights Washington (http://www.equalrightswashington.org/), Approve Referendum 74 (https://www.facebook.com/ApproveRef74), Washington United for Marriage (http://www.waunited.org) and local chapters of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, http://www.pflag.org). In Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon has a marriage equality program (http://www.basicrights.org/programs/marriage-equality/) that is actively working to pass Ref. 74. The National Organization for Marriage (www.nationformarriage.org/) and the Archbishop of Washington are against the measure. It is leading comfortably in the polls. HIPFiSH endorses the referendum wholeheartedly!

Michael Pierce of Astoria Hemp Works sits behind the counter at his store on Marine Drive in Astoria. Photo by Bob Goldberg

Initiative 502 and Measure 80
On to drugs. There are ballot initiatives in both Oregon and Washington concerning marijuana. To give a better perspective on these measures, we talked with the proprietor of Astoria Hemp Works, Michael Pierce (no relation to Jim Pierce, running for Clatsop County Sheriff). Astoria Hemp Works makes and sells eco-fabric clothing, but also doubles as an art gallery, and is located at 1062 Marine Drive in Astoria. In the store, you’ll find clothing and accessories made from hemp, eucalyptus, bamboo, soy, organic cotton, wool and silk. Business is good, and they’re thinking about expansion.

Pierce has mixed emotions about the Oregon ballot measure, Measure 80, or the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), which would regulate the growing and selling of marijuana, similar to hard liquor. “There’s only one sentence in there about hemp,” he told me. Not only that, but Pierce is not sure that a control board is the answer. “It’s burdensome on the state. It would cost $20 million for regulation,” he added. “It’s too vague; it should be like tobacco.”

The sale of tobacco is regulated so that minors can’t buy it legally from any store in Oregon. It’s also taxed heavily, and the proceeds are earmarked at least partially to prevent smoking, especially minors. Pierce thinks this model would work well for marijuana.

The corresponding measure in Washington, Initiative 502, doesn’t deal with industrial hemp at all. In other respects, it’s similar to Measure 80 in Oregon. Here’s the gist from the initiative’s sponsor (New Approach Washington, http://www.newapproachwa.org/): “This law legalizes the possession of marijuana for adults age 21 and older. The only marijuana that would be legal to sell in this state would be grown by specially-licensed Washington farmers and sold in standalone, marijuana-only stores operated by private Washington businesses licensed and regulated by the state. There would be a 25% sales tax, with 40% of the new revenues going to the state general fund and local budgets, and the remainder dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care. Advertising would be restricted. A new marijuana DUI standard that operates like the alcohol DUI standard would be established.”

Pierce told me that the Oregon initiative, trailing in the polls, has had its money pulled out to work on the Washington initiative and another similar measure in Colorado. In any case, for all such initiatives dealing with cannabis products, the federal government holds sway. Until cannabis is removed from Schedule 1 drug status, these state initiatives will only be advisory. So when I asked Pierce what his ideal marijuana/cannabis/hemp initiative would be, he said, “Appeal to Congress and the President to remove restrictions on cannabis from Schedule 1.” The Yes on 80 campaign’s website is at http://www.octa.org/. Notable endorsements are former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and both of Oregon’s Senators. And you can add HIPFiSH to that list! Look for the No on I-502 campaign at http://www.nooni502.org/. For more information about Oregon’s initiative, go to http://oregonmeasure80.org/. There’s lots of information about cannabis initiatives in several states at http://norml.org/about/smoke-the-vote.

So, will Pierce vote for Initiative 80? “On balance, yes,” he said. “It’s better than what we have now.”

Initiative 1240
Sex, drugs, and now… schools. The Washington Public Charter Schools Initiative would allow up to 40 public charter schools in the state over a five-year period. There would be an evaluation at the end of the five-year period to determine whether additional public charter schools should be allowed.

Washington is one of only nine states where public charter schools are not currently allowed (as most HIPFiSH readers know, a charter school was recently rejected by the Astoria School District, but many exist in Oregon). And Washington voters have turned down charter schools in previous ballot measures in 1996, 2000, and 2004.

The bankroll for this campaign is coming from some heavy hitters in the tech business and beyond: Bill Gates – $1M; Alice Walton – Walmart heiress – $600k; the Bezos family – Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon – $1.5M; Nick Hanauer – described as a “venture capitalist” living in Seattle- $450k; Paul Allen – $100k; Katherine Binder – EMFCO Holdings Chairwoman – $200k; and the McCaws- (McCaw Cellular) – $100k. Wow, I wish I had that kind of money to give to educate the kids of my state! It is supported by the League of Education Voters (http://www.educationvoters.org/), Stand for Children (http://stand.org/washington), Washington State Roundtable, Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Association of Washington Business. And rejected by everyone else.

For more on this initiative, see the People for Public Schools website at http://peopleforourpublicschools.org/, and the Washington Coalition for Public Charter Schools site at http://yeson1240.com/.

Warrenton City Commission
Time to move back to Oregon, and hone in on the unlikely political battlefield of Warrenton. The city commission there has been pretty much a given for years, but suddenly, when the LNG issue is heating up again, and there are rumors of Walmart coming to town, all three positions available in this election are up for grabs, and there’s only one incumbent in the mix!

HIPFiSH asked the candidates to weigh in on LNG and big-box development, probably the two biggest issues regionally at this time. Here’s what they said.

Position 1
Mark Kujala (incumbent) vs. Merianne Myers

Kujala is the native son, and has taken over the family seafood business. He’s been on the commission since 2006, and has been involved in the LNG battle and the onset of the big box takeover of Warrenton. Myers is a relative newcomer, but has made her mark in the community, owning a restaurant in Gearhart and serving on the boards of several local non-profits. And she is one damned good cook! It would be fair to say that Kujala is the more conservative and Myers the more progressive of this pair.

Kujala on LNG
I have voted twice on the Calpine/Oregon LNG project during my term on the Warrenton City Commission.  I voted “no” on the zone change to I-2 water-dependent industrial.  In that instance, I believed that the public did not have ample opportunity to comment during the public hearing, and I was interested to hear from Warrenton citizens.  I also voted “no” on the code interpretation that permitted an LNG terminal as an “outright” use in an I-2 zone. I believed that this type of facility was more consistent with a “conditional” use and certainly not appropriate for other I-2 zones in the City of Warrenton.

Myers on LNG
The current version of Oregon LNG’s proposal is to build an export rather than an import facility.  It’s a whole new ballgame and time for a fresh look at the proposal. In order to review the siting of such a facility in Warrenton, I would want answers:
•    How many construction jobs would be created based on actual projects elsewhere?  How many of our local workers would get work, what kind of work and for how long?
•    Are there companies in our area that are certified to construct such a project in a location that has been identified as high risk for earthquake and/or tsunami?  Would that piece be contracted out of state?
•    How many jobs would be provided to local workers beyond the construction phase?  Which jobs require skill sets we don’t possess locally and how many of the remaining jobs are family-wage jobs with benefits?
•    What actual income would our community realize from this facility and what tax, energy and/or zoning concessions would we have to make to get it?
•    What are the potential hazards to our collective health?  Human lives, our waterways and wildlife are all in the impact zone if something goes wrong.  Sadly, things have gone wrong occasionally elsewhere. Are our local public safety folks confident that we are positioned to deal with disaster should it occur?  Are there safety considerations beyond the explosion scenario (i.e. hot water and pollution discharge into the river)?
•    What is the realistic negative impact on our already beleaguered fisheries and fishermen based on what has happened elsewhere?
•    Do we have the ability to supply huge increases in water and power to run a facility of this magnitude without raising our rates or affecting our local supply?

Kujala on big-box development
I have advocated for updates to design standards in Warrenton, and I am happy that we are working with the Warrenton Planning Commission to adopt new standards. I believe in a transparent and open public process. I recently argued against the appointment of a Hearings Officer to review the latest retail store application. If an application is not consistent with the Warrenton Comprehensive Plan and zoning laws, and doesn’t meet construction design standards, I will not support it.

Myers on big-box development
The development of Highway 101 in Warrenton has brought jobs and low cost goods, but it is not without consequences. My questions in considering a new development would be:
•    How many jobs will be created for local workers? Are they full time, family wage jobs with benefits?
•    Is the demise of local businesses which inevitably accompanies big box presence a fair trade for cheaper prices?  What is the jobs trade-off?
•    Will the proposed store require zoning exemptions to fill or otherwise impact wetlands and streams?  How will those exemptions impact the water table, drainage systems, etc. that affect the quality of life in our communities?
•    How will the development impact traffic?

Kujala also mentioned accountability and accessibility within city government, support for direct election for Mayor, public safety and infrastructure improvements, economic development and partnerships with non-profit groups, community organizations, and schools (full statement available on the HIPFiSH website).

Unlike the federal elections, it is refreshing, but somewhat unenlightening, that the challenger doesn’t rip apart the incumbent’s record. But Myers did add, “There are three obligatory considerations when weighing important decisions – people, planet, profit.  Finding the sweet spot where those three intersect is the goal. Leave one of them out and you have a great big mess that will ultimately have to be cleaned up and will probably cost a boatload of money to do so. When pressured to make a decision before the research has been done, I opt to quote my mom who replied to impatient kids, ‘If you need an answer now, it’s no.’”

Position 2
Roble Anderson vs. Henry Balensifer III

The veteran (Anderson) vs. the young upstart (Balensifer). Anderson is a retired Air Force veteran who has worked in various local industries. Balensifer manages the Wheelhouse Coffee Co. in the Pilot House building on the Astoria waterfront. He also is known for his entrepreneurial exploits at Warrenton High School, starting a fisheries business there, and more infamously, for his George Fox University prank of hanging a lifesize cutout of then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was campaigning for president, by the neck from a tree. Balensifer is currenly on the Warrenton Planning Commission. His grandmother Barbara Balensifer was a former mayor of Warrenton. In this race, Balensifer is the more conservative candidate, with Anderson more progressive.

Anderson on LNG
I care deeply about the health, welfare and safety of the people who live here. I feel that all decisions concerning LNG need to be closely examined with respect to how it will affect the health, welfare and safety of the people who live, work, shop and play in this community. I do not feel any so called  “Acceptable Loss” is acceptable.

I well understand people’s concerns for growth and new jobs however, I remain to be persuaded that LNG is worth the risk to our health, fishing fleet, roads, existing jobs, infrastructure, public safety, fish and wildlife.  I also have grave concerns about the possible release of carcinogenic toxins into the environment from LNG processing.  The issues of hundreds of trucks bringing raw building materials and dealing with a boomtown of construction workers has not yet been addressed at all.  Imagine 5 years of this heavy construction!   I have not yet heard a compelling case for the need or suitability of Liquefied Natural Gas facilities here.  As a veteran I feel that the wholesale export of our Natural Gas is a security threat to the entire United States. We need to be moving toward energy independence not dependence.

My stance on the future of Warrenton is that we will have growth but it must be compatible with the uniqueness of this town while maintaining a safe, pleasant and healthy environment for the people who live here.  I believe growth must feature a useful benefit for the residents of this area and not just that of outside special interests.  As a City Commissioner I will critically and objectively review any application for LNG commensurate with the massive impacts it could have on this community.

Balensifer on LNG
Because I am on the Planning Commission I cannot comment on developments that I may be deciding on in the future.  What I can say is that Warrenton has changed quite a bit in the past decade and I think we need to look at our zoning and comprehensive plan to check in and evaluate how we want to continue shaping/growing Warrenton.  Specifically this would require a lot of citizen input to ensure it is what the entire city wants.

Anderson on big-box development
I recently retired giving me the opportunity to dedicate a large amount of time toward making Warrenton a safe and environmentally friendly place to live.  We now have the big anchor stores in place on Ensign Avenue and Highway 101.  I envision Warrenton will continue as the major shopping center of the entire North Coast region. New growth must pay for itself and follow established guidelines for building design, streets, sidewalks, and land use laws.  The residents of Warrenton should not be forced to pay for incoming business development.  An area within the North Coast Business Park should be considered for future light industrial development that will be attracted by the unique mix of small town and separate big box shopping. This growth will provide the increased jobs and tax base necessary for a thriving community while maintaining Warrenton’s unique downtown area and small town feel.  The old downtown of Warrenton needs to be revitalized by using available Urban Renewal funds to refresh the public infrastructure, develop vacant lots, and help clean up derelict buildings. I see old downtown becoming a friendly place for people to stroll and visit.  We can envision small specialty stores, services, art studios and coffee shops which would be showcased by an attractive and fully accessible street landscape.  Downtown Warrenton will become the community hub with access to our beautiful rivers, parks and trails.

Balensifer on big-box development
Warrenton has changed a lot since the 2008 passage of the Comprehensive Plan. I believe we need to review and revise the Plan and our zoning in an effort to ensure the needs of our citizens are addressed.

There was an attempt to get Balensifer to elaborate on his views regarding LNG and big box development, but he did not respond.

Position 3
Tom Dyer vs. Ken Yuill

Yuill on LNG
First, I would like to say that I am against exporting our natural resources.  Every time I see a load of logs going to the Port for export, yes jobs are being created, but how many more jobs could we have if those logs went to a mill for processing and then the finished product exported.   The debate over the LNG is heating back up. I would like to see more service lines installed to areas in our own county, if not throughout our entire country, that does not have the availability of natural gas. More service lines mean more jobs; however, this comes down to simple economics, cost versus revenue. The final say on if and where there is an export facility will come from FERC.  What we need to do is make sure that if this plant is built in our city, the City Commission places a public safety tax on every cubic foot of natural gas that goes into that plant for export.   Whoever is the consumer of this product needs to pay for the added demand on our Police and Fire Departments, not the taxpayer.

Yuill on big-box development
With the consideration of the big box stores there are advantages and disadvantages. Our City Commissioners set in place a very large Urban Renewal District that included the majority of the big box store area.  As more stores come, there will be more tax revenue set aside for improvements to other areas of the district. This year $1.3 million has been allocated to the Warrenton Marina along with money set aside for the improvements to the storm water pump system.  Before this, there just was not enough revenue to make these types of improvements.  One of the problems the city faces with the big box stores is the added traffic and the greater burden to our Police and Fire Departments. I feel that each store that is 100,000 square feet or larger needs to be examined on how they can offset this type of burden to the taxpayer.

Dyer did not respond to the questions. In this race, Dyer is more conservative than Yuill.

If all of the more progressive candidates win their races, it would change the direction of the Warrenton City Commission dramatically. Much like the county commission changes last year, many important decisions coming up soon in Warrenton could set the tone for the region in the years to come. We’ll see what happens. None of the candidates appears to have a web page, so to contact them, see the Clatsop County elections page at http://www.co.clatsop.or.us/page/298?deptid=2.

Measures 82 and 83
This pair of measures would first authorize private casinos in Oregon in general, and then specifically authorize a casino, in particular, to be built in Wood Village, near Troutdale, east of Portland. Presently, only Native American tribes can operate casinos in Oregon.

The organization Still Bad for Oregon (http://stillbadfororegon.org/) opposes both measures, as do (not surprisingly) the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (http://www.grandronde.org/). For a positive take on the measures, visit the website of the developers of The Grange casino complex, rejected once already by Oregon voters (Measure 75 two years ago), at http://www.thegrangeoregon.com/. According to Wikipedia, there are 20 states (and two US Territories) that allow commercial casinos in some form, including Washington. The approximately 450 commercial casinos in total produced a gross gaming revenue of $34.11 billion in 2006.

Measures 84 and 85
How much should we pay and how should we allocate our taxes in Oregon? Measure 84 would eliminate the current inheritance taxes for extremely rich folks, while Measure 85 would send any corporate kicker rebates to K-12 schools.

The Yes on 84 campaign can be found at http://endoregondeathtax.com/, while the opposition can be found at Defend Oregon’s website (http://www.defendoregon.org/no-on-measure-84/), where you can also find arguments in favor of Measure 85 (http://www.defendoregon.org/yes-on-measure-85/). The organization Our Oregon (http://ouroregon.org/) also favors Measure 85.

Tillamook County Commission
Position #1 on the Tillamook county commission is being contested by Lisa Phipps and Bill Baertlein. This is the second try for Phipps, who lost a close race in 2008, while she was still mayor of Rockaway Beach. A win for Phipps would put a much more progressive stamp on the commission, which, unlike in Clatsop County, is elected at large for its three positions. Phipps and Baertlein were the top two vote-getters in the May primary. For more information on Phipps’ campaign, see http://electlisaphipps.com/. Baertlein’s website is at http://www.baertlein.com/, with a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ElectBaertlein.

Astoria City Council
Two positions are open for the Astoria City Council this election cycle. In Ward 2, incumbent Peter Roscoe has a challenger in Drew Herzig. Roscoe has been on the council since 2005, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. To find out more about his campaign and supporters, check out his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PeterRoscoeForCityCouncil. Roscoe is the owner and operator of Fulio’s Restaurant in Astoria, and a long-time resident of the city.

Herzig is the relative newcomer, arriving on the scene a couple of years ago. He’s been involved in many non-profits and charities, educational programs and arts organizations. Of the two, Herzig is definitely the more progressive. Contact him at (503) 325-1895 or
drewherzig@yahoo.com for more information.

In Ward 4, Russ Warr, the incumbent, had no challengers by the cutoff date to be included on the ballot. Four years ago, Warr squared off against me in a race that was decided by 3 votes. I’m deciding whether to launch a write-in campaign for the Ward 4 position. You may see those green Vote Bob signs from last go-round, and a new website and Facebook page in the coming days. Believing strongly that no election should be left uncontested, and this one being the only one I am eligible for, I may just go for it. What do you think? Use the comment box below this post to let me know what you think.

Wrapping Up
There are many other races and local ballot measures that were not mentioned here, and you should do your best to get all the information you can before voting. County election offices in Clatsop (http://www.co.clatsop.or.us/page/298?deptid=2), Tillamook (http://www.co.tillamook.or.us/gov/Clerk/Elections%202012/2012ElectionsInfo.htm) and Pacific (https://wei.sos.wa.gov/county/pacific/en/elections/Pages/default.aspx) counties are your best first places to look. For each race or measure, do as much research as you can, using this guide and any other credible sources you can. And when all else fails, follow the money. There’s even a website for that (http://www.followthemoney.org/)! The 2012 election, like all major elections, is a really important one for the country, and for us here in the Columbia-Pacific region. Voter beware, but do vote!

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

There’s A Journal For Everything

“Invasive species – plants, animals, and microbes introduced to regions beyond their native range – carry a global price tag of $1.4 trillion dollars. They are responsible for the loss of natural resources and biodiversity, damages to infrastructure, and an uptick in infectious diseases.”

The above paragraph comes from an article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin, entitled Ability Weakening To Prevent Invasive Species And Predict Impacts to Ecosystems, Infrastructure, posted to the bulletin’s website on August 24. The article is a review of research into the efficacy of invasion biology hypotheses, published in the on-line journal NeoBiota (http://www.pensoft.net/journals/neobiota/), under the title Support for major hypotheses in invasion biology is uneven and declining, authored by Jonathan M. Jeschke, Lorena Gómez Aparicio, Sylvia Haider, Tina Heger, Christopher J. Lortie, Petr Py ek and David L. Strayer (the Bulletin article had no attributed author, so we’ll assume their editorial staff wrote it). I didn’t see any mention of $1.4 trillion in the NeoBiota article, and a casual look at a reference that purported to know the economic damage in the U.S. of invasive species put the price tag at $120 billion a year here.

We are entering the election silly season, where ridiculous statistics are quoted as fact all the time, so maybe the Bulletin quote comes from one of the candidates for office somewhere. But it seems completely arbitrary to me, and since there is no reference, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to find out if they’re right or not. It certainly sounds like a lot of money, and the effects of these creatures sound really bad.

So, words of caution – don’t take everything you read, hear or see for granted. Do your research, and try to find the sources that are responsible for all these assertions.

Anyway, back to NeoBiota. As readers of this column know, I have featured the work of David Theodoropolous, who argues in his book, Invasion Biology – Critique of a Pseudoscience, that many of the tenets of invasion biology are not backed up by data. Well, along comes an article in a journal – which supposedly means that serious people with PhDs are studying and obtaining grants from scientific institutions to further the science, because that’s what journals are for – that is, according to its website, “advancing research on alien species and biological invasions,” that argues that the tenets of invasion biology, yes, you guessed it, are not backed up by the data!

Now reading the other articles in NeoBiota, you’d never get the impression that invasion biology was a pseudoscience.

The articles are well-written, heavily referenced, and use technology very well to enable readers to instantly see and go to on-line references. The authors are legitimate scientists, and the journal follows all the conventions that I’ve seen in other scholarly journals. Which usually means that the science the journal is talking about is real.

With the proliferation of publishing that electronic tools allow, we’ve seen an amazing diversity of journals for just about any topic you can think of. One of my favorites is the Journal of Irreproducible Results, founded by two scientists in Israel in the 1950s, which according to its website (jir.com) “offers spoofs, parodies, whimsies, burlesques, lampoons, and satires. JIR appeals to scientists, doctors, science teachers, and word-lovers.

JIR targets hypocrisy, arrogance, and ostentatious sesquipedalian circumlocution. We’re a friendly escape from the harsh and the hassle. JIR makes you feel good :-).” This journal was launched by scientists for scientists, and obviously has a following.

NeoBiota was also launched by scientists for scientists. “Pensoft Publishers [publisher of NeoBiota] was conceived during the Christmas/New Year festivities of 1993-94, when we, Penev and Golovatch, with families, were enjoying Bulgarian wine and food at the southern Bulgarian resort Ognyanovo. It was then that the idea came to us, that we should cooperate in a publishing venture – active scientists publishing for other active scientists! It occurred to us that, in the publishing area of environmental/life sciences wherein lay our expertise, there was clearly an empty niche begging occupation.” (from the NeoBiota website) Well, a few years down the line, this Bulgarian enterprise is very much alive and growing. “In less than 10 years, Pensoft has become the leading Publisher and Bookseller of natural science books in Eastern Europe and Russia. As booksellers and agents, we have expanded our areas of interest from Zoology, Botany, Earth and Environmental Sciences, to encompass also Mathematics, Physics, History, Archaeology, Linguistics, Business, Finance, etc. Hence, much of the very often, mostly unwillingly, neglected treasure represented by Russian or Bulgarian, or other East European/Balkan literature in various branches of natural, medical and humanitarian sciences, has been opened to the western reader and has become accessible due to our efforts.” (again, from the website) Well, it’s free, and is willing to publish an article that calls into question the whole basis for the journal. I don’t know about you, but I’m subscribing today. Happy reading!

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Are We Just LAZY?

The cacophony started a little after 8 o’clock this morning. A lone weed whacker, or hedge trimmer, or some other power tool, got me out of bed to do my gardening chores a little earlier than I had planned.

On my way to the community garden plot a few blocks from my house, the chorus grew louder, with basses and tenors singing different grinding tunes. The soprano bird songs came through only at times.

Having watered my little vegetable plot, I headed home to deal with the garden there. On the way, I saw one neighbor mowing his lawn (which I think he mowed just the other day) and heard several weed whackers singing their tunes in other yards that were just out of sight. As I approached the road to my house, I heard the dual sounds of a weed whacker and the ultimate in power tools for the lazy, the leaf blower. Yes, a couple of guys from the city were completing the job that the Blue Monster (what I call the giant lawn mower that shaves the roadsides in Astoria a few times each summer) started yesterday. Talk about overkill. This oversized killing machine mows down everything in its path, but can’t really cut the grass, especially on hillsides. So it is trailed by mere mortals wielding those much better-sized power tools to finish the job.

As I watched these guys tidy up the steep roadside leading to my house, I wondered why they, or the Blue Monster, for that matter, were there in the first place. At the very least, the leaf blower, the most polluting (including noise) of any power tool on earth, could have been replaced with a broom. The capital cost savings alone would make the couple minutes extra time to sweep the grass cuttings well worth it. The city worker wouldn’t have to wear headphones, wouldn’t be subjected to nasty pollution, and wouldn’t have to carry the heavy blower on his back. I can see a savings in health care costs for the worker and the city.

A friend recently sent me a video of a contest between a lawn mower and a scythe-wielding guy, who beat the mechanized grass cutter by a hair (or is that a blade?) in cutting down a rectangular patch of grass of equal size to his competitor. I’ve seen my friend scythe his field in near silence with spectacular results. Yes, it’s hard work, but it keeps him in shape, gets great results, doesn’t contribute to global warming, and most importantly, doesn’t wake up the neighbors or upset his animals.

Our society has advanced much in the last few centuries, led by the use of fossil fuels to power our tools, transportation and houses. But I look at the drive to destroy vegetation as one arena where the use of power tools and chemical poisons (based on fossil fuels) may be viewed as ridiculous overkill, literally.

Every spring and summer, tons of chemicals are applied by the sides of roads in most places in an effort to kill grass or other “invasive species”, in the guise of fire aversion. If chemicals aren’t used, typically the roadsides are ridded of fuel by mechanical means. Not much in the way of science can be used to justify these activities. It’s just the way we’ve always done it (really?). I’d like to see a study that shows that this huge expenditure of time, effort and fossil fuels really does prevent fires any more than either nothing or better planning of roads and their surroundings.

The epitome of this sort of thinking is what I’ve also seen recently on my way to the community garden. A neighbor in a mask was spraying pesticide on the concrete by his house to rid the cracks of grass. As I’ve commented before in this column, all it would take to rid his cracks of their green inhabitants would be bending down and picking them out.

Recently logged forests are sprayed by plane to rid them of every possible plant before replanting the one species that makes the logging company (and the local government) money. Groundskeeping companies carry rakes, shovels and brooms, but never use them. Grass is cut with a riding lawn mower as soon as it gets above a half an inch.

Is it a love of power tools (or just power), or are we just lazy?

The weather has really been nice in the area the last few weeks. If there is some plant or insect in your garden that you can’t live with, there are so many tools that will make the job easy and don’t require electrical or gas power. Use them or your own hands and muscle to get the job done, or if you’re really lazy, just sit back on the lawn chair, drink of choice in hand, and let nature do its thing.

I kind of like that last choice. Go nature!

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

GODZILLA Invades Oregon!

What a great plot for a B movie! Here comes Godzilla – that irradiated lizard that terrified Japanese crowds in the great movies and TV series starting in the 1950s – floating on a fishing dock headed straight for Agate Beach. Scientists, the military, and concerned citizens battle the great beast, and seem to kill it. But lurking in the water are more Japanese monsters, ready to threaten our way of life, and life itself here in peaceful Oregon. Anyone coming in contact with flotsam with Japanese letters on it should immediately contact the authorities, and get the heck out of there, before they are attacked, and made to carry a terrible disease into the cities of our peaceful land.

Far-fetched, you say. But wait, something like this scenario is actually happening. Here’s the June 11 headline from DOGOnews, a news website for kids: Japan’s Tsunami Debris Drags ‘Alien’ Creatures To Oregon. And here’s part of the article (by Meera Dolasia):

When the powerful tsunami that devastated portions of Japan on March 11th, 2011 receded, it carried with it all kinds of debris – ranging from over 200,000 buildings complete with belongings, to countless cars. Among the biggest were four dock floats – the size of freight train boxcars, that were ripped off intact from the fishing port of Misawa.

One the barges was recovered shortly after off a nearby island. However, the other three were not seen until this week, when one suddenly washed ashore on the white sands of Oregon’s Agate Beach. Not only had the 165-ton concrete and steel dock made an astonishing 5,000-mile journey across the world, but it had also carried with it a diverse community of organisms ranging from algae to mussels, crabs and even starfish.

The problem with the arrival of these unexpected visitors is that they are all native to Japan. If allowed to live, they could threaten the local species and even topple the existing ecosystem irreversibly. In order to prevent the aliens from taking over, the scientists had to scrape the dock clean, sterilize it with torches and even bury the one and half tons of material that was clinging to it, above a high-water line.

While that averted this particular threat, others may not be as easy to get rid of. Wakame, a species of seaweed that was previously found only in Japan, has now been spotted in Southern California, as has a new species of algae. In addition to that, a never-been-seen-before tiny species of crab is making rapid inroads around New York, whilst a new kind of starfish has been spotted all along the US coast. What other surprises will the after-effects of the Japanese tsunami bring? Only time will tell!

See, the italicized sentence above tells kids to kill the invader! Left alive, it could kill everyone! Told you it’s not so far fetched…

Still don’t believe me? Well, here’s the first couple paragraphs from an article published on KOIN6’s website on June 15:

Local, state and federal officials met Friday in Cannon Beach to discuss plans for coordinating cleanup efforts regarding Japan tsunami debris that has washed up on Oregon’s beaches and coastal waters.

“The dock that washed up near Newport is a real wakeup call,” said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who led the work session. “We expect more and we don’t know what’s coming.”

See? More is coming. Told ya.

Of all sources, The Huffington Post (Jonathan Cooper) reports on June 28:

Find a boxcar-sized dock on the beach, or a soccer ball with Japanese symbols? The state of Oregon wants to hear from you. Just dial 211.

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber announced the hotline at a news conference Thursday, saying it’s an easy way for residents and visitors to report Japanese tsunami debris. Beginning Friday, the hotline will be staffed during business hours and will take recorded messages at other times.

“I just want to make sure that Oregonians understand that we are on top of this,” Kitzhaber said.

The hotline will allow the public to help keep Oregon’s beaches clean and return any missing Japanese property to its rightful owners, the governor said.

He also said Brig. Gen. Mike Caldwell, deputy director of the Oregon National Guard and interim director of the state’s Office of Emergency Management, will be responsible for coordinating the response and cleanup efforts among state agencies.

“It’s important to quickly collect and throw away tsunami debris to keep beaches clean and prevent the introduction of invasive species,” Caldwell said. Officials are asking that people not take home debris to keep as souvenirs, but they say there’s little chance of the debris being harmful to human health.

They always say that when there’s real danger. We’re dust. So, if you spot any sign of Godzilla, get out your cell phone and dial 211, and get the hell out of there, before the invading monster destroys you and everything else in this great country. Don’t worry – our military will protect you.

“Oh no! I think it’s still alive, sir!”

Or not.

Categories
CULTURE FEATURES MUSIC THEATER

The PAC – Its Wonderful Past and Uncertain Future

The PAC today. Photo by Bob Goldberg.
Trinity Lutheran Church, circa 1925


Mention “historic theater”
in Astoria these days, and perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is the Liberty Theater, which opened in 1925, and is in the midst of major renovations today. Or perhaps Shanghaied in Astoria, or the more recent take, The Real Lewis & Clark Story, melodramas performed by the Astor Street Opry Company, which tell Astoria’s history with a tinge of Scandinavian humor. But if you were around these parts in the 1970s, the only historic theater in town was the Clatsop Community College Performance Arts Center (PAC), a converted Lutheran church, which showcased an enormous amount of work of both local playwrights and traditional theater, amongst many other activities.

The PAC Stage

Designed by Astoria architect John Wicks, Trinity Lutheran Church was constructed during the Depression on the site of the original Convent of the Holy Name, at 16th and Franklin. In 1974, Trinity Lutheran merged with the Zion congregation to become Peace Lutheran Church, and the congregation was moved to another Wicks-designed building at 12th & Exchange. The abandoned church was then acquired by Clatsop Community College and reopened in 1977 as a performing arts center. The PAC, as it’s affectionately known, housed the college’s theater, music and dance programs until the mid-1990s. Initially, CCC introduced a series of music elective courses such as music history, music theory, and piano practice rooms in the basement level. Then local pianist/music educators, the late Betty Phillips and jazz composer Chris Parker were at the helm of the small music department.

Juanita Price, 2011 George Award winner for community service, branch librarian of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Astoria, and active with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), remembers the early years of the PAC well. She told me that the Tuesday noon concerts, originally for students only, became very popular with the community quickly. “The public starting showing up at these concerts and talks, because people didn’t want to go up the hill [to the main college campus],” Price reminisced. She remembers the Brownsmead Flats performing, and an atmosphere similar to many free noon concerts you see in bigger cities. In addition to music, dance and theater, Price said that the PAC has been used for political forums, speeches, lectures and other AAUW events, even in the early years.

Susi Brown, a retired teacher from the Knappa School District and most recently owner of Pier Pressure Productions, told me, “The college’s theater program produced a minimum of three shows a year, including student-directed one acts. For a time during the 1970s, CCC had a strong and very well attended summer theatre curriculum. At one time, there was an outstanding music program which included concert band, orchestra, jazz chorale, and private and class lessons in the curriculum. Also, during the 1970s and 80s, CCC had a full-time dance instructor offering jazz, modern, tap, yoga, choreography, and performance classes.”

A late 70s English comedy was one of the first fully staged theater productions at the PAC. Locals look closely.

According to Brown, some of the notable plays performed at the PAC as part of the theater program were HMS Pinafore, A Doll’s House, Endgame, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, Carousel, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (set on another planet, sometime in the distant future) under Reed Turner; Nude with Violin, Music Man, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, and The Madwoman of Chaillot, under Del Corbett; Steel Magnolias, Nunsense, Rumors, and The Princess and the Pea, under Gay Preston (with Larry Bryant as tech director); Antigone under Karin Temple; and Talking With, Buried Child, and Lysistrata, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge To Tarabithia, under Karen Bain.

The PAC also housed community and high school theatre productions by the Clatsop County Aids Coalition, the North Coast Readers Theatre, the Mossy Rock Players, the aforementioned Astor Street Opry Company, Coaster Theatre Readers, Columbia River Repertory Company (later to start the River Theater), Knappa High School, and Clatsop County Community Action (Diary of Anne Frank), according to Brown.

Jennifer Goodenberger, a local artist, pianist and composer, attended CCC in the late 70s and early 80s as a music student, and later returned as an adjunct faculty member in the music department. During her tenure as a student and teacher, she helped put on the many musicals that were performed in the PAC. She wrote a kabuki-style score for Rashomon, a Japanese crime drama based on a story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and the famous 1950 Kurosawa movie. She also wrote the score for the other-worldly version of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The repertory dance show Mood Indigo was one of Goodenberger’s fond memories. Put on by Vicki Durst, CCC’s dance instructor, Goodenberger was music director. She remembers a bustling PAC, with rehearsals, classes, recitals, lessons, listening rooms, concerts, plays, and huge audiences.

Josh Hilbur and Mark Davis in the original Hitchin’, 1997.

Measure 5 decimated the performing arts curriculum at CCC in the early 90s. This left a hole that a showcase of local talent filled with the original play Hitchin’, written by Brownsmead Flats’ member Ned Heavenworth, directed by Mark Loring (who designed many of the sets at the PAC and is the brother of local flutist Shelley Loring,), choreographed by Vicki Durst (who also coordinated the PAC’s Arts on Stage program) and Carol Newman (currently host of KMUN’s Arts Live and Local and dance instructor, among so many other activities), starring, among others, Marko Davis, Mark Erickson, Jason Hussa and Mike Wangen (all big names in local theater to this day), and featuring original music written and performed by the Brownsmead Flats. Performed to sellout crowds at the PAC in 1997 and again in 1999, Hitchin’ tells the story of a middle-aged man confronted with his rebellious teenage son and his past in what Heavenrich described as a “partially autobiographical tale about coming of age and letting go, a result of a mid-life crisis brought on by my dad’s death in ‘88.”

KMUN Troll Radio Revue, born of the River Theater and transferred to the PAC.

From almost the beginning, the PAC has been home to many local musical, choral and dance programs. The North Coast Symphonic Band has rehearsed and played at the PAC since 1979, participating in the college’s Arts & Ideas program for many years. The North Coast Chorale has put on many a memorable concert at the PAC, and some musicals to boot, including HMS Pinafore and Amahl and the Night Visitors. The North Oregon Coast Symphony has been performing at the PAC since their inception. Little Ballet Theatre students have participated in the Arts on Stage spring Young Choreographer’s Showcase at the PAC for many years. And since the closing of the River Theater, Coast Community Radio’s Troll Radio Revue has been staged at the PAC the last Saturday of each month. The Astoria Music Festival has used the PAC as the home of its apprentice program, as well as a venue for some great avant-garde performances (including J-Walt’s Spontaneous Fantasia this season).

Janet Bowler, former language teacher and flutist extraordinaire, remembers Foreign Language Day held at the PAC and the Masonic Temple across the street. “It was wildly popular with students who still remind me about it decades later,” Bowler told me. And Carol Newman remembers the Human Relations Task Force two-day conference in 1982, and many other speaking events about the Holocaust, war, environmental and local issues.

Recent years have seen some memorable shows at the PAC. Folk singers Jim Page, John Gorka and Tracy Grammer have graced the stage. Public radio personalities Jim Hightower, Amy Goodman and David Barsamian spoke to big crowds. Balkan dance group Balkan Cabaret gave workshops and concerts with crowd participation. The Tenor Guitar Gathering, in its 4th year, staged a 3-hour concert this past May that was truly inspiring. Spirit of the River, a fundraiser for Columbia Riverkeeper, has been held at the PAC for the past 5 years.

Marty Balin rocks the PAC

But the event that tops them all has to be the final afternoon of the Concert for Big Red, organized by the recently deceased Gordon “Gordo” Styler as a revival of the rock festivals of the 60s and 70s to benefit the recently half-demolished Big Red Building. When the musicians, stage, equipment, staff and audience at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds were soaked through and through by unusual, unrelenting rains in August 2008, Josef Gault, then the PAC coordinator for the college, found a way to get everything over to the PAC, and an overflow crowd witnessed an amazing show by Marty Balin and most of the original Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe McDonald, and Cold Blood.

With state funding falling every year, the college has recently indicated they cannot continue to fund the PAC at current levels, and has talked about selling the building. A coalition of local arts organizations, the Partners for the PAC, has formed to help maintain the PAC for affordable public arts and educational events.

If you’re interested in getting involved with this effort, please contact Constance Waisanen, 503-458-6853, cwastoria@live.com or SupportThePAC@charter.net.

Juanita Price summed up the sentiments of most of those community members I spoke with. As we finished our phone conversation, she said, “I can’t imagine the town without the PAC.”

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

An Inconvenient Species

u_cinerea_lg_j
Urosalpinx cinerea shells collected on San Francisco Bay shores, showing different amounts of wear and bleaching. Photo by Andrew N. Cohen.

If you’re a shellfish grower in Willapa Bay, the Willapa Bay Oyster Reserve Advisory Board needs you! According to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) press release from late May, the advisory board was “established by the state legislature in 2001, and advises the department on issues related to oyster reserve management, growing operations, and research in Willapa Bay.” Be sure to get your applications in by June 15. For more info, call Bruce Kauffman of WDFW at (360) 665-4166.

So what would you be doing on this prodigious board, you might ask. Well, recently the board decided to hire Dr. Steve Sylvester from Washington State University in Vancouver to find a way to eradicate oyster drills – snails that drill their way into the shells of oysters and other shellfish and eat them. Two kinds of oyster drill exist in Willapa Bay: the Atlantic (Urosalpinx cinerea) and Japanese (Ocinebrellus inornatus). Both species were inadvertently introduced along with imported oysters, brought into the state to replace the over-harvested native Olympia oyster. And both are examples of aquatic nuisance species.

According to the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force website, ANS are “non-indigenous species that threaten the diversity or abundance of native species, the ecological stability of infested waters, or any commercial, agricultural, aquacultural or recreational activities dependent on such waters. ANS include non-indigenous species that may occur within inland, estuarine or marine waters and that presently or potentially threaten ecological processes and natural resources. In addition to the severe and permanent damage to the habitats they invade, ANS also adversely affect individuals by hindering economic development, preventing recreational and commercial activities, decreasing the aesthetic value of nature, and serving as vectors of human disease.”

Our little snails meet the ANS definition, since they weren’t around here a couple hundred years ago, and they threaten the local oyster aquaculture industry. Sylvester claims that the oyster drill snails are “costing oystermen millions of dollars in Washington State.”

The ANS Task Force is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to preventing and controlling aquatic nuisance species, and implementing the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA) of 1990. NANPCA was set up mainly to combat the spread of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes region, but also mentions several other ANS in its Congressional findings section that “are likely to spread quickly to most other waters in North America if action is not taken promptly to control their spread”, including mitten crab, green crab, brown mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, hydrilla, water hyacinth, and water chestnut.

Green no more. Satellite photo courtesy of Google Maps.

NANPCA was amended in 2000, after passage of the National Invasive Species Act (NISA) in 1996. It mandates the preparation of state ANS management plans, and both Oregon and Washington have them. They mainly deal with education campaigns to prevent boaters and shipping operators from bringing ANS to our coastal and inland waters. But along with NISA, NANPCA has brought resources into the Pacific Northwest to continue our battle with other species of life that are very inconvenient to local industry, agriculture, aquaculture and many of the rest of us real working people who depend on the environment to live.

Now, if you want to see the ravages of a real invasion, check out the land behind Les Schwab adjacent to Highway 101 in Warrenton. Employing giant tree-eating machines, the premier invasive species on Earth has managed to wipe out a native ecosystem in a matter of days. From the ashes of an ancient coastal woodland wetland comes…

…a dry, flattened, graveled property, “ready for sale”. And we’re worried about a tiny snail? Don’t forget to get those applications in!

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

A Curse of Furze

Question: What’s just like Scotch broom but thorny, and is public enemy #1 of conservationists on the Oregon Coast?

Answer: Common gorse, whin, Irish furze, Irish hedge or Ulex europaeus.

Gorse is on the New invaders in the North Coast Cooperative Weed Management Area list which means it’s coming here, and is trying to establish itself along the coast in southern Washington as well. It’s widespread in the southern Oregon coastal counties, up to Lincoln County. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) designates gorse as a class B (“a weed of economic importance which is regionally abundant, but which may have limited distribution in some counties”) and T (“a priority noxious weed designated by the Oregon State Weed Board as a target for which the ODA will develop and implement a statewide management plan”) noxious weed. Part of the statewide plan for gorse involves the development of biocontrol agents similar to those for Scotch broom (see the June 2011 Weed Wars column).

Oregon State Parks runs a blog called Oregon Coast Gorse Control and Eradication (http://oregongorse.wordpress.com/), where the current top post is a video showing a hummingbird nest in gorse! The blog also contains a post about a recent workshop on gorse, which included a field visit to two gorse restoration sites: Bandon Dunes McKee Preserve (a golf course by the beach!) and Bullards Beach State Park. Mark Tilton, a Florence resident who attended the workshop, said that the Bandon Dunes course used to be a gorse thicket. He was surprised that the course builders were able to remove the gorse successfully. Evidently, they used herbicides, burning, bulldozing, and lots of money to accomplish the task.

So what’s so bad about this plant that the state is devoting huge resources to try to control it? I asked that question to Phillip Johnson, executive director of Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition and director of their CoastWatch program.

His respone: “I can say with everyone else who has ever encountered it that it completely excludes you from anyplace it grows. It is deeply saddening to see it choking stream valleys on the south coast, blocking hillsides, turning trails into ugly mown strips lest they be lost entirely. I have particularly hated to see how the trail out to Blacklock Point in Curry County, one of the most beautiful spots on the Oregon coast, has turned from a sylvan path through a native forest to a tunnel through gorse. CoastWatch plans to develop a gorse-tracking project to trace its spread and perhaps provide alerts that enable the line to be held before it spreads into new areas.”

He continued, “Once it gets established, trying to remove it is an industrial activity. Removing it requires a scorched-earth approach, bulldozing, burning, then covering the area for a long time to kill off sprouts.” Johnson indicated that herbicides were not particularly effective against gorse, but they are used.

And then he got to the crux of the matter. “From an anthropocentric standpoint, it excludes us from the landscape where it grows, once it really takes hold. It is viciously spiny – worse to try to push your way through than blackberries or roses. And it grows very densely. Once it occupies a place, we lose our ability to roam the landscape. And, oh yes, it is highly flammable. The city of Bandon was burned more or less to the ground in the ‘30s due to gorse-fueled fire. One of these days it is going to go up in flames again.”

So, where is gorse from, and how did it get here? Well, the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon History Project (http://ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/) has the answer. Its page on the 1936 Bandon fire tells us that George Bennett, founder of Bandon, brought some Irish furze with him as an ornamental shrub, which soon became a common sight in the new town. On September 26, 1936, a forest fire was driven by a sudden shift in the wind towards Bandon. Ignited by the fire, the town’s abundant gorse exploded into an inferno. The town was destroyed, and ten people lost their lives.

There are some references to people trying to use gorse oil to make biodiesel fuel, but it hasn’t been very successful. The major uses of the plant seem to be as living fencing and livestock fodder. Unfortunately, there is no write-up in Scott’s Invasive Plant Medicine on gorse. It’s evidently used as an anti-depressive and anti-stress medicine for humans and horses in various essential oil lotions.

I’ll leave you with this thought: What’s so bad about a plant that excludes humans from the area it grows in? I can think of some places that gorse would be very useful…

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Anekeitaxonomy and Alternative Environmentalism

Matt Chew is an assistant research professor at the Arizona State University Center for Biology & Society in Tempe. His specialty is anekeitaxonomy, a word he admitted to me he made up. It’s the study of where species belong (anekei is Greek for belongs), or where we think they belong, and how they got there, and how we have thought about it over time. The easy word for it is natural history. Chew is a critic of invasion biology, which puts him at odds with many of his colleagues in academia, and much of the mainstream political and economic establishment that have promoted the idea that certain species of plants and animals don’t belong where they currently are, and must be exterminated, before they “take over” and destroy everything. Which made him a perfect candidate to speak at the invasive species panel of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) in March at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The panel, called Weeding the World: The Destructive War on Invasive Species, was a follow-up to one called Environmentalism Gone Awry from last year’s PIELC, and featured Chew and a return visit from Syd Singer, an independent scientist from Hawaii.

Entitled Natives & Aliens – Not Even A Good Idea, Chew’s talk was originally called Law, History, Language and the Failing Paradigm of Biological Invasions, but he thought the title might scare away some prospective attendees. Showing slides of some local places from different perspectives, Chew got the audience thinking about how our concept of place fits into the real world. He went on to show slides illustrating the concept of belonging, such as a toolkit with a certain size screwdriver missing, and this exact tool laying near it. The concept of dynamism was relayed with slides of tectonic plates, wind, ocean currents, international air traffic, and cargo and freight routes. Nativeness was discussed in the context of the definitions of Darwin’s time, which are still used today. Putting all this together, Chew showed a photo of his backyard, which contains plants whose origin and distribution “is certainly a mystery to them.” Being rooted in one place, the plant has no concept of nativeness, nor even of the place they occupy, except that that’s where they are, he explained.

Blaming a plant for where it happens to grow is a personification, Chew told me, and certainly not a basis for an ecological assessment. Yet invasion biologists and ecologists do just that, he said.

Chew left his audience thinking about place, belonging, dynamism and nativeness, and he told me that discussions ensued after the session with many of the attendees. The message of the talk could be summed up with a saying from Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist, explorer and philosopher: “human history is an overlay to natural history.”

Singer’s talk, another one crafted to make the audience think about accepted norms, introduced the concept of alternative environmentalism. In a brilliant and insightful set of analogies, Singer set forth what could be a new movement.

A medical anthropologist, Singer is co-director (with his wife Soma Grismaijer) of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease. Stretching the concept to include the environment, Singer talked about human health as analogous to environmental health, invasion biology to germ theory, and alternative environmentalism to alternative medicine.

“After all, our bodies are an ecosystem, too. I realized that the medical model is being applied to environmental healthcare, treating invasive species like germs invading our bodies. The chemical industry seems to define the approach to both. So I proposed drawing on alternative medicine as a model for an alternative environmentalism, emphasizing the strengthening of health over the treatment of disease, and avoiding chemicals (antibiotics = pesticides) whenever possible,” he told me afterwards.

It’s fitting that 50 years after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, exposing the effects of pesticides on eagles and other animals and starting the modern environmental movement in the U.S., here comes along Singer, exposing the fact that environmentalists now support applying pesticides to kill plants and animals (supposedly in order to save others).

“Hopefully, there will be a shift in the environmental focus from weeding the world to healing the planet,” Singer says. Sounds good to me.

Categories
FEATURES

COAL casts its shadow

Approval of six proposed coal export terminals will face national, regional and local opposition. Learn more on both camps.


Following in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark, trains loaded with coal from mines in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming could be converging on the Lower Columbia and other port towns along the Pacific Northwest coast in the next few years, if several proposals for new export terminals are approved.

In what seems like a replay of the LNG saga here, companies are lining up, plucking down hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the permitting process, and carefully picking the ports and counties in which to pitch their proposals. In some cases, coal export terminal proposals are popping up in the same places as LNG terminals that are still pending, or were long ago shelved.

Weary from the LNG fight – which is still going on as the terminal and pipeline proposals switch from import to export – citizen groups, environmental organizations and even some business groups are already gearing up for a series of long battles combating the new proposals for coal export.

Coming on the heels of the largest recession since the 1930s, there are many in the region that argue that coal exports will be a boon to the local economy, and welcome the new proposals. Before one lump of coal has been loaded onto a ship headed to China, the two sides are already flinging numbers and accusations at each other. And the stakes are high, because we’re talking really big numbers here, like up to 100 million short tons of coal a year, or 10% of the current usage of coal in the U.S.

It’s All About Supply and Demand

The fossil fuel industry – including natural gas, oil and coal – is experiencing a boom in the U.S. Prices are rising, mostly due to increased demand from booming Asian economies. Improved technologies have allowed heretofore unattainable reserves to be recovered. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, which uses water and chemicals to force gas and oil out of deep shale formations, has brought prosperity to many towns across the country unseen since the 1970s or even earlier. Tar sands oil from Canada has started to flow to and through the U.S. And new mining techniques are allowing more coal to be recovered from existing and new mine sites. Regulations have been eased to spur the production of more domestic energy.

Due to the recession, rising gasoline prices, better vehicle technology and efficiency, the threat of climate change and associated regulatory changes, demand for fossil fuels has decreased in the U.S. in the last few years. When you take increased supply and add it to decreased domestic demand in a global market where demand is increasing rapidly, you get more pressure to export. LNG import terminals have become export terminals, there’s a net export of finished petroleum products for the first time since the 1950s, and coal exports have almost doubled in the past few years (though still below historic highs in the 1980s and 90s).

And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The Proposals

It turns out that the shortest (and cheapest) route between the Powder River Basin coal mines and China is through Oregon and Washington ports. Therefore, as the map (from an opposition group called Coal Free Northwest) shows, the proposals for terminals and associated rail lines to export Powder River coal are all on the Columbia River or Pacific Ocean (or associated bays) deepwater ports.

Applications for permits and agreements to investigate the potential for coal export at these ports started coming in about a year ago. Let’s travel by train, barge and ship, and follow the black gold to its potential loading and unloading sites in Oregon and Washington. We’ll take several routes from Spokane west, starting with the northern spur to Cherry Point, near the border with Canada and close to North America’s largest existing coal export terminal (operated by Westshore Terminals, shipping over 29 million tons a year in over 200 ships) just north of the Tsawassen ferry terminal in Delta, B.C.

gatewaypacific
Terminal site, courtesy of the Gateway Pacific Terminal website

Gateway Pacific Terminal
In March of 2011, Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, “one of the largest shipping terminal operators and stevedores in the world” (from the terminal website at http://gatewaypacificterminal.com/), submitted preliminary documents to Whatcom County, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and state agencies to kick off the environmental review process for a proposed deep-water marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, between Ferndale and Blaine. The terminal would provide storage and handling of up to 54 million metric tons of exported and imported dry bulk commodities, including coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina, but mostly export coal. In a related project, BNSF Railway Inc. has proposed adding rail facilities adjacent to the terminal site and installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.

A permit was issued for a terminal at this site in 1997, but the new proposal has been determined to need a full environmental review, including an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The review will be carried out jointly by the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County. According to Ecology’s web page on the project (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/geographic/gatewaypacific/), the timeline puts completion of the EIS in 2014, with scoping starting in June of this year, and a draft EIS issued in late 2013. The lead agencies will ask other agencies, tribes and the public what they think should be analyzed in the EIS, including things like stormwater, wetlands, air emissions, noise, and traffic, as part of the scoping process.

For more information on the project review, contact Alice Kelly of Ecology’s Northwest Regional Office at akel461@ecy.wa.gov or (425) 649-7128, or if you would like to get on the Whatcom County e-mail subscriber list for the project, send your email address to pds@co.whatcom.wa.us, and in the subject line type “GPT Subscriber List.”

Heading a little south, we travel along the Yakima/Tacoma branch of the Coal Export Railroad to the Port of Grays Harbor, founded in 1911. Once the leading port for timber export, Grays Harbor now leads the U.S. in exports of soybean meal and is the number one seafood landing point in Washington State. It has been diversifying its portfolio recently, with coal perhaps in the picture in the next few years.

Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad (RailAmerica) Terminal

terminal3
Terminal 3, proposed site for coal terminal, courtesy of Port of Grays Harbor

In late 2010, RailAmerica officials approached the Port of Grays Harbor about building a coal export terminal at the port’s Marine Terminal 3 near the Hoquiam sewage lagoon. It was once a Rayonier-owned dock and log yard. Willis Enterprises now operates a wood chip facility there.

According to an article in The Daily World, Hoquiam’s daily newspaper, in July 2011, Gary Lewis, RailAmerica’s vice president of industrial development, is quoted as saying that the project will likely be delayed until at least 2013, in order to complete additional studies and planning. The proposed terminal could export up to 5.5 million tons of coal a year from that site, according to Lewis.

Gary Nelson, executive director of the Port of Grays Harbor, told me only that there is a proposal for developing a coal or grain terminal at Terminal 3, with an access agreement signed with the proposed terminal’s operator, which has been in effect for about a year, with “maybe another 90 days to go before considering an extension or further action.”

For more information on this proposal, contact the Port of Grays Harbor at (360) 533-9528, or try Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad at (360) 482-4994.


For our last stop in Washington, we’ll travel from Spokane towards and then along the Columbia River, on the Vancouver spur, to the industrial waterfront of the city of Longview.

millenium
Former Reynolds Metals Co. site proposed for coal export terminal, courtesy of The Daily News

Millenium Bulk Terminal
Millennium Bulk Terminals, a subsidiary of Ambre Energy, an Australian company, has proposed building a $600 million export terminal at the former Alcoa aluminum smelter site west of Longview. The company plans to export up to 44 million tons annually by 2018 or 2019, which would mean 16 trains would be traveling through Longview daily to the terminal. County planners have proposed a $200 million plan to upgrade the area’s rail system by 2016 or 2017.

In February, Millennium submitted applications for a Joint Aquatic Resources permit application to the Army Corps of Engineers, a 401 water quality certification to the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), and a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit and a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit to Cowlitz County. These three agencies will conduct a coordinated environmental review of the proposed facility, similar to the procedures laid out above for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Washington.

An application submitted last year for a much smaller operation was withdrawn after opponents uncovered internal company emails that spoke of hiding the larger numbers from the public.

According to Mike Wojtowicz, the Building & Planning Director for Cowlitz County, the proposed terminal in Longview is about 6-9 months behind the process just getting under way for Gateway Pacific.

The proposal, according to the Millenium website, is to build out the terminal in two phases. The first stage would include the construction of a new dock at the site, and raise the coal export capacity to 25 million metric tons. The second stage would upgrade the existing dock, currently used for import of alumina; and storage on site, currently used for coal for the adjacent Weyerhaeuser pulp and paper mill and other bulk materials, for additional import and export capability, especially for coal export.

For more information, contact Wojtowicz at wojtowiczm@co.cowlitz.wa.us or 360-577-3065.


And now we’ll continue our tour along the southern banks of the Columbia River, as our train pulls into the Boardman Industrial Park at the Port of Morrow, just east of the town of Boardman, Oregon. Ironically the current site of Oregon’s only coal-fired electricity plant, slated for phaseout by 2020, a different kind of terminal is proposed here, part of a scheme that includes facilities at Port Westward, near Clatskanie.

The Morrow Pacific Project
The Army Corps of Engineers has extended the public comment period to May 5 for the shoreline development permit application submitted by Coyote Island Terminals, LLC, an offshoot of Ambre Energy North America, itself a subsidiary of Ambre Energy in Australia, to develop a new transloading facility for bringing coal in by rail and transferring it to barges on the Columbia River at the Port of Morrow.

boardmanindustrialpark
Satellite view of the Boardman Industrial Park at the Port of Morrow, site of teh barge loading facility proposed as part of the Morrow Pacific coal export project, courtesy of Google Maps

Comments should be sent to: Mr. Steve Gagnon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, PO Box 2946, Portland, OR 97208-2946, or e-mailed to steven.k.gagnon@usace.army.mil. Additional information may be obtained from Gagnon at (503) 808-4379 or at the e-mail address above. Reference project #NWP-2012-56.

The coal would be barged from Boardman down the Columbia to Port Westward and loaded onto ocean-going “Panamax” vessels to be shipped to Asia. Initially, approximately 3.85 million tons of coal would be shipped through the facility each year. At maximum capacity, the facility would be able to handle 8.8 million tons. That would translate to approximately 5 trains to Port of Morrow, 5.5 loaded barge tows from Port of Morrow to Port Westward, and 1 Panamax ship to Asia per week initially, increasing to 11 trains, 12 loaded barge tows, and 3 Panamax ships per week at full build out.

In January, Port of St. Helens commissioners unanimously approved a terminal services agreement with Ambre Energy that allows for an initial 5-year lease and options to extend it to 25 years. At this point, the company is doing feasibility studies at Port Westward under the one-year contract, which can be extended another year, and then month-to-month, according to Pat Trapp, the executive director of the port.

For more information, contact Trapp at (503) 397-2888 or trapp@portsh.org. The terminal’s web site is at http://morrowpacific.com/.


Continuing along the rail line that runs along the southern banks of the Columbia, we get a great view of the Columbia Gorge and the Portland Metro area before coming to our next stop at Port Westward in Clatskanie. Right near the site of a proposed LNG import terminal that never materialized, another proposal for moving our black gold out via the Columbia River has emerged.

Kinder Morgan Port Westward Project

port westward
Port Westward, Clatskanie, site of proposed coal export terminal, from Kinder Morgan presentation

Kinder Morgan Terminals, “the largest independent terminal operator in North America, with more than 180 terminals that store petroleum products and chemicals, and handle bulk materials like coal, petroleum coke and steel products” (from their website), has proposed to build a $150-200 million coal export terminal at Port Westward, with the potential to move up to 30 million tons of coal obtained by rail from the Powder River Basin.

Port of St. Helens commissioners approved a lease option agreement in January that extends 18 months, with the ability to add another 12 months to that, according to Pat Trapp, the port’s executive director. The port will hold the land for that time, and if both parties agree that the project could go forward, another vote will be taken by the port commissioners on a full-time lease, Trapp told me. The port’s role is to “facilitate collaboration between the project and the community.” All necessary permits would be obtained from the proper agencies once the proposal was given the go-ahead by Kinder Morgan and the port, according to Trapp.

For more information, contact Trapp at (503) 397-2888 or trapp@portsh.org. The terminal’s web site is at http://portwestwardproject.com/.


One last port of call for the Coal Export train, and that is the Port of Coos Bay, down on the southern Oregon coast. Heading south down the I-5 corridor from Portland, we pass Salem and Eugene, before heading southwest along the recently renovated and reopened Coos Bay Rail Link. Right near the site of the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal, our journey finally ends.

Coos Bay
End of the line at Coos Bay, site of proposed coal export terminal. Photo courtesy of the Port of Coos Bay.

Project Mainstay
Several companies recently approached the Port of Coos Bay with requests for possible development of a bulk facility within the Port’s jurisdiction. The Port asked the various parties to express their plans in an “Expression of Interest”, and these were evaluated using criteria such as experience, environmental record, financial strength, port involvement and project timeline. The winning proposal came from an overseas company, according to Elise Hamner, Communications and Community Affairs Manager at the port. Out of four proposals, three for coal export, Project Mainstay, which would be located on the North Spit (upper middle of the photo) on 80 acres and have a capacity of 6-10 million tons of coal (the smallest of the four proposals evaluated), won in every category of the evaluation. Project Glory proposed a 26 million ton throughput, but came in dead last.

An “exclusive negotiating agreement” was entered into between the port and Project Mainstay, which expires on April 15. According to Hamner, it will likely be extended. The goals of the agreement are to come to financial terms on the sale or lease of port property, establish a timeframe for development and permitting, agree on design, set a target date for start of operations, and get reasonable financial and volume guarantees from the operator. The identity of the potential operator of the coal export terminal is being withheld due to a confidentiality agreement.

For more information on Project Mainstay, contact Hamner at ehamner@portofcoosbay.com or (541) 267-7678, or search through the commissioner packets at http://portofcoosbay.com/packets2011/ and http://portofcoosbay.com/packets2012/, the meeting minutes at http://portofcoosbay.com/mintues/, and the public requests page at http://www.portofcoosbay.com/publicreq.htm from July 2011 to the present.


The Opposition

Back in 2004 when proposals for LNG terminals started coming in, the opposition was mostly composed of small, local groups near the proposed sites. It wasn’t until the routes for the pipelines associated with these terminals became known that bigger groups, such as Columbia Riverkeeper, became involved

Not so for coal export. The opposition has been organized and broad-based from the start.

Beyond Coal Campaign
On the national level, there is the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign (www.beyondcoal.org). From humble beginnings in 2002, the campaign has grown into “a force to be reckoned with,” says its leader, Mary Ann Witt. According to Witt, over 150 proposed coal-fired power plants have been stopped. No new proposals have been submitted in the past few years.

In addition to stopping new plants, Beyond Coal has a goal of retiring one-third of the existing coal-fired energy plants and replacing them with clean energy. They’re about a fourth of the way there.

The campaign’s Coal Exports leader is Cesia Kearns, who works out of the Portland Sierra Club office. A veteran of these types of campaigns, Kearns told me, “the coal companies will have a fight if they pursue these coal export terminals.” The campaign has already filed a lawsuit against the Port of Coos Bay for charging them to view documents related to the Project Mainstay proposed export terminal there, and the local district attorney has ruled in the campaign’s favor. And they sponsored a rally in Salem on April 9, where they attended the State Land Board meeting and presented petitions to stop the Oregon-based terminals.

Power Past Coal
“A growing coalition of organizations sharing a common interest to prevent the West Coast from becoming a high volume coal corridor,” Power Past Coal (www.powerpastcoal.org) is an opposition coalition of groups including Climate Solutions, Columbia Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Columbia Riverkeeper
One of the Power Past Coal coalition partners, Columbia Riverkeeper (www.columbiariverkeeper.org), is no stranger to fossil fuel export schemes. They are currently the lead organization in the fight to stop the LNG terminal proposed for the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton, and have ties to groups fighting the pipeline associated with this project. Originally proposed as import terminals, the two remaining west coast proposals, Oregon LNG in Warrenton and Jordan Cove LNG in Coos Bay, are looking into applying to export LNG to Asia.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, summed up the group’s objections to coal export along the Columbia River to me in a conversation we had a couple of weeks ago.

“Do we protect our quality of life in a vibrant estuary and coast or do we sacrifice it for dirty coal and LNG? The residents view the lower Columbia as a healthy place to work and raise a family. The gas and coal giants see a convenient location for massive industrialization. These are not compatible views. We can’t have both. Coal giants are seeking approval to make the lower Columbia the world’s largest exporter of dirty coal.  This would dramatically change the face of our communities and our river.

“Coal is dirty. It contains toxic pollution like mercury and lead. Hundreds of doctors have taken a stand against bringing coal to our towns because coal is linked to increased cancer, lung disease, and asthma. The costs are too great.

“Our communities would bear the brunt of shipping coal to China.  Dirty coal trains and terminals would foul our water and air.

“Building the world’s largest coal export terminals is not compatible with protecting salmon. Salmon need clean water and healthy habitat, not dirty coal. Studies have shown that coal terminals are a source of toxic pollution and that the coal dust harms salmon.  We don’t need any more slaps to our fishing industry.

Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community (lsco.org), originally organized against LNG pipelines in the Longview area, has now shifted focus, and is fighting the Millenium Bulk Terminals proposed coal export terminal in Longview.

Citizens for a Clean Harbor (cleanharbor.org) has formed to fight the proposed RailAmerica terminal at the Port of Grays Harbor in Hoquiam.

Coal Derail
Photo by Paul K. Anderson, paulkanderson.com, from the cleanharbor.org website

Communities for a Coal-Free Gorge (coalfreegorge.wordpress.com) “envisions a Columbia River Gorge where the people can determine what materials are allowable for transport through their communities and watersheds.”

Coal Train Facts (coaltrainfacts.org) has organized to fight the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Washington.
Though many of the effects of coal export will be felt by those of us who happen to live in the Columbia Pacific region, the larger implications of the export of Powder River Basin coal to Asia will be felt around the globe. While global energy companies and their associates will continue to reap large profits from their investments, in what can only be called “the tragedy of the market”, the continued use of coal to fuel the growing economies of Asia and elsewhere could inevitably destroy the planet through climate change and the runaway greenhouse effect.

Mike Wojtowicz, the Planning & Building Director for Cowlitz County, told me he was frustrated with the lack of a clear national energy policy, which resulted in Cowlitz County fighting the state Department of Ecology and other agencies over the rules regarding siting of coal export terminals. Pat Trapp, the executive director of the Port of St. Helens, countered that the coal being exported to Asia is private property, and restricting the flow of goods between private parties is not something the government should do.

But one has to wonder, if there’s a reasonable chance that coal export from the Pacific Northwest could contribute to accelerated climate change and global havoc, should we not pause and think through the consequences of this job-creating, economy-stimulating endeavor?

Coal Trivia

1. What state in the U.S. has the largest coal reserves?2. What is coking coal used for? Steam coal? How is coal made?

3. Which country has an advanced coal liquefaction industry and what country developed the technology for this process during what event?

4. Which country has the world’s highest reserves of coal?

5. Which country uses the most coal?

6. When will peak coal arrive?


Answers

1. Alaska
2. Coking coal – steel; steam coal – electricity; coal is made from living matter, pressure, heat and time
3. South Africa; Germany; WWII
4. U.S.
5. China
6. 2030-2100 depending on economic growth


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Northwest Coal Exports – Project of the Sightline Institute

Important Action from EPA on Coal Exports, Strongly Worded Letter from EPA Warns of Health Impacts of Coal Export, Urges Comprehensive Review – from the Columbia Riverkeeper website

Coal Free PSE – a new project of the Beyond Coal campaign

US Coal Market: Export Potential – a Platts.com news feature

STOP COAL – a group opposing the Roberts Bank coal port and other proposed ports in B.C.

Miner Ambre Energy in financial trouble as Queensland rejects its coalmine project – from The Australian newspaper

Coal Project Fires Up Public Interest – from the East Oregonian newspaper and OPB News

“Desperate” To Export: A Coal Industry Close-Up – from Ecotrope, OPB’s environmental blog

Westshore provides glimpse of Longview’s potential future with coal – from The Daily News newspaper in Longview

EarthFix Conversations: Coal Coming Through A Community Near You? – from KUOW’s EarthFix environmental news blog

Gateway Pacific Terminal Project – from Whatcom County’s Planning & Development Services web page

Coal Export Terminal – special section in The Daily News newspaper

Port Westward Coal Project Feedback Form – from the Port of St. Helens website

Here’s A Case For Coal – article in Columbia River Business Journal

 

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Invasive Spring is in the Air

After a typical Fisher Poets Gathering weekend of wind, rain, hail, snow and yes, a little sun, I woke up this morning to one of those days that makes you love living here. The sky was about to be illuminated fully by the rising sun, and there wasn’t a cloud in it. The orange hues were mixing with the totally blue sky, the snow was shining bright white on the Coast Range hills, the water glistened, and though the mercury was sitting at 32°F, the air was so dry that there wasn’t much ice on the roads, and it took forever to get the ice off my windshield.

By the time you’re reading this, there might have been more wind and rain, maybe snow and ice, but I think spring is in the air. Take a good look at the trees and bushes, and the crocuses and daffodils. They’re waking up, in the renewal phase of the annual cycle of life. If we let them live, they will go on to produce leaves, needles, flowers, fruit, wood, food and water, and most importantly, oxygen. They will take up carbon dioxide, any sunlight our sun-stingy region gives them, and water (usually not a problem), and produce not only the things mentioned above, but a spiritual sense of calm, protection and beauty.

If we let them live.

Not only the plants are waking up this time of year. So are the companies that make money from the cutting of trees, and soon, the crews that spray the roadsides for weeds. On my weekday walks to work along Irving Avenue in Astoria, the chainsaws have been disturbing the stately silence of the forested areas that have been largely left alone during the winter. Good-intentioned homeowners have been having those pesky non-native (and native) trees cut down to improve their view, tidy up their property, or just because. People are even coming out to look at their yards and gardens, thinking about what plants they’ll pick up at the nursery to make their garden look nice in case we have a better growing season than last year (not likely). And I even saw some new soil on a neighbor’s garden, probably giving fresh cover to bulbs planted last fall. I wonder whether some weed seeds are hiding in that soil, waiting to take over that garden, and then the neighborhood!

Almost exactly a year ago, I attended a panel session about invasive species at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the Univeristy of Oregon in Eugene, which became the impetus for this column. Panelists discussed how environmentalists and most of the mainstream agreed that so-called “invasive species” – plants and animals that are not “native” (another term they discussed) and cause either economic or ecological hardship (disputed by the panelists for many cases) – had to be eliminated, often at great cost. The panelists’ views seemed to be that in many cases, these plants and animals were either beneficial, or had naturalized, and should be considered part of the local ecosystem.

The 2012 PIELC is scheduled for the first four days of March, and again, there will be a panel on invasive species. The focus will be how climate change affects the picture. A complete report awaits you in April. For now, it got me thinking about the folly of controlling nature, whether that means trying to eradicate a species in a geographical area, or restore a section of land to conditions that existed a hundred years ago, or even plant a successful garden. As any field ecologist or gardener will tell you, it’s almost impossible to know what might come of your efforts. The system is just too complex to be predictable.

The science of invasive species is coming around to the conclusion that these would-be terrors actually might be relatively tame, and in an era when more and more of the planet is cleared and paved over, might actually be necessary to preserve and enhance the biological diversity of the planet (see http://milliontrees.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/professor-arthur-shapiros-comment-on-the-environmental-impact-report-for-the-natural-areas-program/ for an example).

I like this quote from an article called Attack of the Flying Carp by Jeff Wheelwright in the March 2012 Discover magazine. “Ninety per cent of the catch in the Danube River is bighead and silver [carp],” (Duane) Chapman [carp researcher] remarked to his listeners. “They’re not an issue there; they are the fishery. If you want more biomass, or to feed more people, then it’s a great choice.” He pointed out that “invasive” was a relative term. “If you like ‘em, they’re not invasive.”

Well, I’m learning to like ‘em all. Enjoy the spring, and do what you can to preserve and enhance life of all kinds on the planet. Join in the annual chorus of renewal and sing loud and clear!

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Goats, Beavers & Carp, Oh My!

Goats eating scotch broomIt’s hard to keep up with the world of invasive species, but I thought I’d start off 2012 with some stories I’ve been reading and listening about lately. Let’s start with goats. A blurb in the current National Geographic (which my son reads religiously), sent me on a search mission, and I found out that goats are being used as weed eaters all over the place. Ewe4ic Ecological Services, a company that rents out goats in Colorado and Wyoming, has been hired to take care of all the following weeds (in alphabetical order, no less): Canada thistle, cheat grass, common tansy, common mullein, dalmatian toad flax, dandelions, downy brome, Indian tobacco, knapweed, kudzu, larkspur, leafy spurge, loco weed, musk thistle, oxide daisy, plumeless thistle, poison hemlock, purple loosestrife, scotch thistle, spotted knapweed, sweet clover, yellow star thistle and yucca. Goats also eat blackberry leaves, ivy (including the poisonous kind), Scotch broom, knotweed, morning glory, holly, nettle, and horsetail. My friend Christopher says that his goat will chow down on blackberry leaves from branches he prepares for her (to avoid the goat eating rhododendron, which is poisonous!). And a real bonus for this time of year – goats love Christmas trees! They’ll strip them bare and tear off the bark for dessert. The closest cud-chewing invasive weed solution is Vegetative Management Services, Inc. run by Lewis Cochran, in Vernonia. Give him a call at 503-730-7065 for help with your weed problem.

BeaverOn to beavers. In last month’s NatGeo (the magazine version), I found a blurb illustrating a classic invasive species story. Turns out that in 1946, Argentina imported about 50 (funny how different sources give different numbers here) beavers from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago on the southern tip of South America, to start, of all things, a fur trade. The business never flourished, but the forgotten beavers did. They now number over 100,000, and have been busy (pun intended) altering the landscape. With no natural predators to check their advance, they’ve crossed the border into Chile (Tierra del Fuego is divided between Argentina and Chile), swum to the mainland, and laid waste to patches of forest. Christopher Anderson of the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Santiago, Chile says, “The change in the forested portion of this biome is the largest landscape-level alteration in the Holocene — that is, approximately 10,000 years.” (I love quotes like this that ignore human-caused changes.) Local authorities are looking into eradication (beavers) and restoration (forest). The eradication would be over the largest area ever, “by an order of magnitude,” according to Josh Donlan, director of Advanced Conservation Strategies, an Idaho firm working on the program. So, get ready for a sharp drop in the price of beaver pelts! Maybe that fur trade will pay after all! Check out Nature 453, 968 (2008), and a BBC News article called Argentina’s great beaver plague for more great quotes and factoids.

SilverfinAnd now, to finish up, how ’bout a nice entrée of silverfin? (I first heard about this one listening to a podcast of Living on Earth entitled Let Them Eat Carp!) Yes, the venerable Asian carp, scourge of the Great Lakes, has been officially renamed and branded as silverfin, and is being marketed as the latest chic seafood dish. Like the Patagonian toothfish, which was obscure until the Chileans marketed it as Chilean sea bass (it’s now so popular that Greenpeace says it may be commercially extinct in less than 5 years), there has been a movement to solve the Asian (or silver or flying) carp problem by eating the highly invasive species. Silver carp were imported to North America in the 1970s to control algae growth in aquaculture and municipal wastewater treatment facilities. They escaped from captivity soon after their importation, and now are rampant in the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to enter the Great Lakes, home to a multi-million dollar fishing industry. Chef Philippe Parola, founder of Silverfin Craze, describes the taste of Asian carp (whoops, silverfin) as “a cross between crabmeat and scallops!” Bon appétit!

Categories
FEATURES

Riding the Wave: Ocean Renewable Energy on the Oregon Coast

La Rance Tidal Barrage
La Rance Tidal Barrage, in the Rance River estuary, Brittany, France, opened in 1966. It was the world’s first tidal energy system, and still the world’s second largest system, with a peak rating of 240 MW. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Energy – where it comes from, how we use it, how much we pay for it, and how we make the transition to an independent renewable energy future – will define us as Oregonians for generations to come. In 2007, we passed energy legislation – including renewable electricity and renewable fuels standards – that will keep Oregon in the forefront of the fight against climate change, and move us toward a clean energy future. Under these standards, 25% of Oregon’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2025.
– former governor Ted Kulongoski

The Oregon coastline is among the few places in the world that possess the four key elements necessary to tap into wave energy today: an abundance of energy generated by ocean waves border to border, internationally recognized experts leading the effort to develop the technologies to capture and convert wave power, the ability to supply that power to the grid, and sea ports ready to build, maintain and deploy wave energy conversion devices.
– Oregon Wave Energy Trust

VIVACE wave energy deviceGET READY for the next wave of energy projects in Oregon – offshore wind and wave energy, tidal energy from coastal rivers, energy from the California Current (which runs up the coast), and maybe even ocean thermal energy (OTEC) – ocean renewable energy.

According to a 2011 status report on renewable energy from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), 2010 saw more than 100 ocean energy projects around the world reach various stages of development. By early 2011, offshore testing facilities were deployed in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Ireland and the U.S.

The La Rance tidal barrage (see photo above) began generating power off the French coast in 1966 and continues to today. Additional tidal projects have come on line, especially in Russia and China. Research into OTEC (which takes advantage of the temperature difference between surface and deep water) began at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in 1974, and continues today at the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Hawaii. Energy from ocean currents is studied at the new Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Florida Atlantic University in Dania Beach. And a new device called VIVACE (see photo at right), developed at the University of Michigan and being commercialized by Vortex Hydro Energy, can eke out power from currents of less than 3 knots, available in ocean, river and tidal currents around the world.

PowerBuoy wave energy device
Ocean Power Technologies PowerBuoy® “point absorber” wave energy device. The rising and falling of the waves causes the buoy to move freely up and down. The resultant mechanical stroking is converted via a power take-off to drive an electrical generator. The generated power is transmitted ashore via an underwater power cable. Photo courtesy of Ocean Power Technologies.

Ocean energy companies started showing intense interest in obtaining permits here for their devices after an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) report in 2004 showed Oregon had a huge potential for energy in its coastal waters. To date, one site off of Reedsport has been permitted for testing an Ocean Power Technologies PowerBuoy system (see photo) in conjunction with the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Construction of the test device has begun, and it is expected to be in the water later this year. If tests are successful, a wave energy “park” could be developed in the area.

Here in Clatsop County, there are two potential wave energy projects that are beginning to gather some steam.

Feasibility studies are now underway for development of a series of wave energy devices that would double as marine firing range boundary demarcation and warning devices at the Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center in Warrenton. Stan Hutchison, of the Oregon Military Department, told me that the various National Guard stations around the state have a net-zero energy goal for 2020 (meaning that the bases must generate as much energy on site as they use) that will require each base to look at using various renewable energy technologies. Whereas solar is being used in Ontario and Christmas Valley, and solar, wind and geothermal in southern Oregon, at Camp Rilea, wind and wave energy will be the main contributors towards the net-zero energy goal. As Camp Rilea is also the new headquarters for emergency management in Clatsop County, Hutchison explained that renewable energy will be even more important, in case a repeat of the kind of disaster that struck the North Coast here in 2007 (The Great Gale) occurs, and we are cut off from supplies of fuel, as happened then. “We used vehicle fuel for the generators in 2007, and that left nothing for emergency vehicles. We don’t want to be in that situation again,” said Hutchison. Feasibility study results will be available by the summer. Hutchison said that the results would be shared with the community, and the whole process will be transparent.

Limpet OWC
Limpet (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) energy converter sited on the island of Islay, off Scotland’s west coast. Terminator devices extend perpendicular to the direction of wave travel and capture or reflect the power of the wave. These devices are typically onshore or nearshore. The oscillating water column is a form of terminator in which water enters through a subsurface opening into a chamber with air trapped above it. The wave action causes the captured water column to move up and down like a piston to force the air though an opening connected to a turbine. Photo courtesy of Voith Hydro Wavegen Ltd.

Clatsop County is considering another very interesting wave energy project. The South Jetty that juts into the Columbia River Bar is due to be rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers in the near future. The county is investigating having a series of oscillating water column (OWC) wave energy devices (see photo) built right into the jetty rock structure, and collecting and using the generated power locally. Douglas County is investigating this same technology, and has received a preliminary permit to test the system.

After the initial flurry of activity on the Oregon coast, the ocean renewable energy industry has sorted itself out, and the state and other stakeholders have set about planning for an orderly ascendance of this newest of uses of the territorial sea (up to 3 miles out). While the 500 MW of energy available in the waves off the coast is tempting, there is a long way to go to realizing even a fraction of that potential. Christopher Paddon, sustainable energy technician program administrator at Clatsop Community College, told me that “the wave energy industry is where the wind energy industry was in the 70s.” He’s not optimistic that the industry will take hold in a big way in Oregon. But the state, coastal counties, and the industry are hoping that wave energy, along with the other ocean renewable energy technologies, will supply not only energy, but jobs and hope for a better future for our state. The ride could be bumpy, but will definitely be interesting. Stay tuned.

The Territorial Sea Plan Working Group, which met in Astoria in December, will be seeking public comment on the state’s new territorial sea plan, with inclusion of ocean energy, at two meetings in Clatsop County on February 17:

Camp Rilea: 11 am – 2:30 pm
Cannon Beach: 5:30 – 9 pm

For more details, see the Oregon Ocean web page.

REFERENCES

Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG) – The Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG) aligns industry, academia and government to ensure that Canada is a leader in providing ocean energy solutions to a world market. OREG works to advance the wave energy, tidal energy, and in-stream (hydrokinetic) energy industries in Canada and internationally.

Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) – OWET is a nonprofit public-private partnership funded by the Oregon Innovation Council. Its mission is to support the responsible development of wave energy in Oregon. OWET’s goal is to power two Oregon communities with ocean energy by 2025.

Mapping and Assessment of the United States Ocean Wave Energy Resource – This project estimates the naturally available and technically recoverable U.S. wave energy resources, using a 51-month Wavewatch III hindcast database developed especially for this study by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

EPRI Ocean Energy Web Page – “Ocean energy” is a term used to describe all forms of renewable energy derived from the sea including wave energy, tidal energy, river current, ocean current energy, offshore wind, salinity gradient energy and ocean thermal gradient energy.

E2I EPRI Survey and Characterization of Potential Offshore Wave Energy Sites in Oregon – The purpose of this report is to identify and characterize potential offshore sites in Oregon for a 1,500 MWh annual energy output (500kW at 40% capacity factor) wave energy power plant feasibility demonstration and an envisioned 300,000 MWh per year (100 MW at 40% capacity factor) commercial plant.

Supporting the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan Revision: Oregon Fishing Community Mapping Project – The state of Oregon is developing a comprehensive plan to guide the potential siting of renewable ocean energy projects in Oregon’s Territorial Sea. To this end, the state is revising its Territorial Sea Plan (TSP), and has begun collecting information on the spatial extent of human uses that provide economic and socio-cultural benefits. One data gap identified was the distribution and spatial extent of commercial, charter, and recreational fisheries. Ecotrust and others engaged in collecting relevant information on these use activities. Our research team developed and deployed an interactive, custom computer interview instrument, Open OceanMap, to collect geo-referenced information from commercial, charter, and recreational fishermen about the extent and relative importance of Oregon marine waters.

VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibration Aquatic Clean Energy): A New Concept to Harness Energy from Ocean/River Currents – slide presentation from Michael M. Bernitsas, Ph.D.: Professor UofM, Director, Marine Renewable Energy Lab, CEO and CTO, Vortex Hydro Energy.

Goal 19 – Ocean Planning, General Information for Clatsop County – The county’s Comprehensive Plan does not include a Goal 19 element.  In response to interest in ocean renewable energy (wind and wave) development along the Oregon coast, Clatsop County is considering comprehensive plan, plan/zone map, and zoning ordinance amendments that will address permanent structures in the territorial sea.  These include wave and wind energy devices, cables and pipelines, buoys, and other fixed structures in the territorial sea.

Ocean Energy Systems (OES) – As the authoritative international voice on ocean energy we collaborate internationally to accelerate the viability, uptake and acceptance of ocean energy systems in an environmentally acceptable manner.

OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Guide for Wave Energy – The United States Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), has prepared a final programmatic EIS in support of the establishment of a program for authorizing alternative energy and alternate use (AEAU) activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), as authorized by Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), and codified in subsection 8(p) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).

Oregon Surfrider Foundation Wave Energy and Territorial Sea Plan Campaign – The Oregon Chapters of Surfrider Foundation have been involved with wave energy development and the territorial sea planning process for over 5 years.

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) – OPT is a leading renewable energy company specializing in cost-effective, advanced, and environmentally sound offshore wave power technology.

The Washington State Ocean Energy Conference: Deep Water Wind and an Ocean Energy Economy, Kitsap Conference Center, November 8-9 2011, Bremerton, WA – Program and Agenda.

Voith Hydro Wavegen Limited -A world leader in wave energy and wave power. Developed and operate Limpet, the world’s first commercial-scale wave energy device that generates wave energy for the grid.

The Hawai’i National Marine Renewable Energy Center (HINMREC) – Their mission is to facilitate development and commercialization of wave energy conversion (WEC) devices and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) systems.

Oregon Shores Convservation Coalition (OSCC) Board Position on Renewable Ocean Energy – Oregon Shores supports effort to consider and responsibly test new ocean renewable energy technologies to help the state of Oregon, and the nation, move energy production away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources.

WETGEN (Wave Energy Turbine Generator) – The home for the HANNA Wave Energy Turbine.  The device harvests energy from ocean waves by means of the OWC (Oscillating Water Column) principle.

Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association (OCZMA) Ocean Policy/Marine Reserves/Wave Energy – A growing number of people, organizations, and foundations take a strong interest in state and federal ocean policy. And, because technology is evolving so rapidly, today, many new uses of the Pacific Ocean are being proposed. This represents big challenges and opportunities. And, it guarantees debates about ocean policy will become increasingly politicized and polarized over the next few years. Oregon Coast residents who care deeply about the marine environment, and, who seek to maintain access to recreational and commercial fisheries, should follow these ocean policy developments.

Our Ocean – A coalition of conservationists, scientists, ocean users, local leaders and business people from around the state working to preserve Oregon’s coastal legacy. Coalition members include: Audubon Society of Portland, Coast Range Association, Environment Oregon, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, Pew Environment Group, Surfrider Foundation.

Marine Current Turbines Limited – Set up to pioneer the technical and commercial development of tidal stream turbines.

Pelamis Wave Power – The Pelamis absorbs the energy of ocean waves and converts it into electricity.  The machine floats semi-submerged on the surface of the water and is made up of a number of cylindrical sections joined together by hinged joints.  As waves pass down the length of the machine these sections flex relative to one another.  The motion at each hinged joint is resisted by hydraulic cylinders which pump fluid into high pressure accumulators allowing electrical generation to be smooth and continuous.

Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company – The Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company was founded in 2007 in Seattle, Washington to develop large offshore renewable energy projects with focus on the USA.

Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) – NNMREC is a partnership between Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Washington (UW). OSU focuses on wave energy. UW focuses on tidal energy. Both universities collaborate with each other and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on research, education, outreach, and engagement.

Categories
COLUMNS Weed Wars

Better Killing Through Chemistry

On my way into town the other day, I spotted someone spraying the sidewalk. No, not hosing down the sidewalk – spraying it with pesticide. It appeared the person was trying to kill the grass and other “weeds” that were popping through the cracks in the pavement. I thought about going over and asking why they would be spraying in this season, or at all, but just kept going.

This was not an isolated incident. I remember a few years ago when my son was a student at Lewis & Clark Elementary School, I noticed someone spraying the area around home plate on the adjacent baseball fields (to eliminate small patches of grass). I mentioned this to some people at the school, and they just said I was now in a rural area (having moved from Seattle a few months before), where things like pesticide spraying were part of the mix. I said I was worried about the kids “eating the dirt” as they slid into home, and ingesting some of the pesticides. No problem, they said.

While other cities have banned pesticide use in and around schools, parks and other public places, we go on applying here. And a good portion of pesticide use is to kill “noxious weeds”, another definition of invasive species.

According to Sunny Jones, former coordinator of the Pesticide Use Reporting System (PURS) at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, pesticide use numbers in Oregon are too inaccurate to quote. We do know that metam-sodium and glyphosate are the top two active ingredients in these pesticides. Funding to resume tracking pesticide use in Oregon is probably not forthcoming, according to Jones.

Being Halloween as I write this, it’s appropriate to talk about pesticides – they’re really scary. Rachel Carson gave the public at large the first accounting of the dangers of pesticides in her 1962 book Silent Spring. The evidence of the down side of pesticides has been mounting ever since. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise – pesticides are meant to kill. Unfortunately, they tend to not only kill the species that they are meant to, but often take others as well (sort of like by-catch in the fishing industry). Residues on foods that we and other animals eat can be harmful, especially to the frail and young. But we keep on spraying.

Even if you believe that the “weeds” (plants you don’t like) on your property are deserving of death, there are more environmentally safe ways of doing the dirty deed. The website (http://www.pesticide.org/) of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) lists several alternatives to pesticide use in your garden, including flame weeding, goats, mowing, barriers, and even vinegar. A paper published in the Journal of Pesticide Reform (NCAP publication, no longer in print) in 1998 drew some general conclusions from experience with leafy spurge and yellow starthistle, two noxious weeds found throughout the Pacific Northwest. These included: not panicking, identifying and eliminating the causes of weed problems, encouraging desirable vegetation and using site-appropriate techniques. The paper concluded, “Noxious weed control does not have to mean widespread use of toxic chemicals. Alternative techniques can successfully reduce weed populations and encourage vegetation whose presence is desirable, thus reducing or eliminating the need for repeated treatment. Implementing non-chemical strategies and reducing the herbicide dependence of noxious weed programs provides long-term and cost-effective weed management.”

This past summer, I weeded the path and the adjacent soil next to my house, and planted a nice little garden. How did I get the grass out of the cracks? On my hands and knees, using only my gloved fingers and a hori-hori. It took several days of 2-3 hour sessions, but it worked fine, and I got some exercise and sun in the process. And the weeding part didn’t cost me a dime.