Arcatans are estimated to use about four million single-use plastic bags annually. After last night, that number should drop dramatically.
In a 5-0 decision, the city council decided to adopt a bag ordinance that prohibits those plastic carryout bags found at grocery stores and restaurants.
“We’re really happy that Humboldt Waste Management did our EIR (enviromental impact report) and made it available for everyone in the county to use,” said Alex Stillman, Arcata City Councilmember. “And we’re looking forward to adopting it, and also the county considering adopting it so that we can, as a coastal city and coastal county, eliminate plastic bags from our environment.”
Arcata’s bag ban goes into effect in February 2014, Stillman said. Starting in August, the city will mandate a ten-cent charge on paper bags.
Plastic bags don’t biodegrade. Instead, they get shredded into smaller and smaller pieces until they work their way into the food chain. “There are places in the ocean where you find more particles of plastic than plankton,” said Humboldt Baykeeper’s Jessica Hall. “This is the single most popular issue when we post this on our Facebook page,” she said. “This is the thing people have really, really responded too.”
Though Stillman said she’d been eyeing a bag ordinance for Arcata since her reelection in 2006, Hall notes that this is the first plastic bag ban in Humboldt county. In addition to the city staff, Hall added that “Humboldt Waste Management Authority also gets a big high five for putting this on the table in the first place and I’d also like to thank our partners in the environmental community and the community members themselves.”
Now’s as good a time as ever to enjoy Australian comedian Tim Minchin’s epic anthem.
Humboldt County Superior Court Calendar: Tomorrow
Us101 N Indianola Cutoff Ofr / Indianola Cutoff (Humboldt office): Traffic Hazard
Mad River Union: Book Review: The Pleasure Of Remembering
KINS: PM News 121213
McKinleyville Press: DA Charging Ferrer With Murder, Others With Assault
This time wasn’t like the others. The mission was the same, picking trash off the ground to prevent it from washing or blowing into the water and further polluting the ocean, but instead of the beach, we scoured a chunk of land along the Eureka side of Humboldt Bay for Coastal Cleanup Day. We knew about the homeless camps along the small wooded spit. Don’t go into the tent areas, don’t pick up clothes or other things that might belong to somebody and watch out for feces. Be respectful. Those were the general guidelines.
Trash on the beach tends to come from one of three main sources: it washes up with the tide, someone dumps household garbage, or people party and leave a mess behind. The beach is, the Surfrider refrain goes, “downstream from everything,” which makes it, in a sense, everyone’s back yard. But as we gathered aluminum cans, plastic bags and food containers on the outskirts of the encampment, the awareness that we’d literally entered someone’s yard unnerved me.
Of course, the area isn’t someone’s yard – it’s public land that would be well served if transformed into usable open space. From there, the bay expands north, south and west, industrial legacy tempered by sandpipers and eelgrass. A few fishermen hung over the pier railing hoping to get lucky. Empty picnic tables stood on an open field perfect for Frisbee or shagging fly balls before Little League playoffs. On a sunny Saturday, the daydream was easy to come by.
But right now, this potential idyll serves as refuge for folks caught in hard times, friends and families who would have to be cleared out if the park were ever to become a community destination. And that phrasing – “cleared out” – as if they, too, were nothing more than something to be swept up and not an integral part of the community fails to reflect my belief that we’re all in this together.
Beliefs are easier as theories, however, and I found today that as much as I advocate against labeling a group of people in a way that makes them “others” – i.e., “the homeless” – my gut reaction was not kumbayah, but worrying about how the homeless would react to us. How would they feel about us being there, near their things, cleaning up the trash they or recent others had left scattered. Would they yell at our volunteers? Our leader had done some early recon, but still, I wondered what the best etiquette was in this situation.
What happened was most of the homeless stayed out of sight and silent. One man complained at us early on. “Some of us pick up trash every day,” he groused. “It’s pretty insulting to have you come down here one day a year and act like you know what’s going on.”
I wanted to thank him for his efforts, but every word choice risked inadvertent condescension. At a loss, I offered him a donut from our snack box instead. He scowled and stomped off. I regretted offending him, aware of my unease at being on “his” turf. A while later, an argument broke out behind the trees. A woman launched into a tirade of accusations, full volume, and didn’t let up as she stormed out and into the parking lot.
Undeterred, our volunteers moved down the path, gloved hands and grabbers gathering cigarette butts, bottle caps, plastic bits. A couple chatted with a woman who’d come out of her tent to let us know the clothes on the bench were there to dry. Her sweet-looking little dog sat politely nearby.
I followed the trail through a thatch of overhead fennel, all licorice on the breeze. Near the end, past the blanket and feces we’d been warned about, piles of abandoned detritus marred the scene. Several trash bags later, our volunteers had returned the patch to a safer state for both human and marine life. Less broken glass for bare feet, less plastics to blow into the bay.
After two hours, we’d removed over a hundred pounds of trash from the overall site. Tangible, immediate good. A tiny step in efforts to solve an enormous problem. Absolutely worthwhile. But as we drove away in our nice dry car toward our sweet warm home, my thoughts returned to the folks left behind.
Around here, we’ve become accustomed to people living on the streets and creating de facto shantytowns in the woods – a reality that sometimes feels inexplicable to me even as I practice it myself. What does that say about us, that we must jettison instinctive compassion to function? Lately, however, frustration with the unstable and dangerous portion of the homeless population has intensified anger toward the dispossessed in general. I worry – these people are so vulnerable already.
But exasperation with the situation is understandable. Safety in public spaces is a legitimate concern – we should be able to enjoy our common outdoor spaces – as are impacts on local businesses, many of which are on fragile ground. People forced to camp illegally are also not typically in a position to follow best environmental practices. Longstanding problems exist not only around the bay, but in the dunes and along the rivers. A group of well-meaning do-gooders showing up once a year to gather other folk’s garbage is something, but it’s no solution.
We need a solution. I hope for one charged with compassion.
Heads up: The BLM is seeking public input to a business plan that seeks to preserve wilderness qualities by proposing, for the first time, to limit public use in the King Range Wilderness. Comments due October 18.
Blue-Green Algae Found on Lower Mad River; County Department of Public Health Issues Stay-Away Warning
Hank Sims / Friday, Aug. 30 @ 3:46 p.m. / Environment
From the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services:
Officials with the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are urging users of the Mad River to avoid contact with algae in the lower Mad River in the area above the Blue Lake Bridge and below the Mad River Hatchery. This week, a dog wading in this area suffered symptoms consistent with those of ingestion of toxic blue-green algae. The dog survived and is recovering.
“A blue-green algae bloom can present a health hazard to those swimming or playing in the river, especially children and pets. We recommend that people stay out of the water where significant algae are present, and keep their dogs out of this part of the river at this time,” said Kevin Metcalfe, Consumer Protection Unit supervisor of the DHHS Division of Environmental Health. Other areas that are warm, slow, stagnant and muddy are to be avoided, especially areas with floating algal mats.
DHHS is aware of 11 dog deaths which may have been caused by blue-green algae poisoning since 2001. The dogs died shortly after swimming in Big Lagoon, the South Fork Eel River and the Van Duzen River. A nerve toxin associated with blue-green algae was found in the stomachs of the dogs that died on the South Fork Eel River in 2002. The same toxin was found in water samples from the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen rivers in 2009 just after two dogs died. This poison is the most likely cause of the dog deaths on these rivers. Dogs are more vulnerable than people because they may swallow the toxin when they lick their fur. The onset of symptoms can be rapid; dogs have died within 30 minutes to one hour after leaving the water.
Blue-green algae can be present in any freshwater body. It looks like green, blue-green, white or brown scum, foam or mats floating on the water. Usually, it does not affect animals or people. However, warm water and abundant nutrients can cause blue-green algae to grow more rapidly than usual. These floating algal masses or “blooms” can produce natural toxins that are very potent. Dogs and children are most likely to be affected because of their smaller body size and tendency to stay in the water for longer periods.
Potential symptoms in dogs following exposure to blue-green algae toxins can include lethargy, difficulty breathing, salivation, vomiting, urination, diarrhea or convulsions. People can experience eye irritation, skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea and cold or flu-like symptoms.
This summer, increased algae in the Mad River may be due to warmer coastal temperatures, low flows, added nutrients and warmer water temperatures.
>DHHS officials recommend the following guidelines for recreational users of all freshwater areas in Humboldt County:
Keep children, pets and livestock from swimming in or drinking water containing algal scums or mats.
Adults should also avoid wading and swimming in water containing algal blooms. Try not to swallow or inhale water spray in an algal bloom area.
If no algal scums or mats are visible, you should still carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow any water.
Fish should be consumed only after removing the guts and liver and rinsing fillets in tap water.
Never drink, cook with or wash dishes with water from rivers, streams or lakes.
Get medical attention immediately if you think that you, your pet or livestock might have been poisoned by blue-green algae toxins. Be sure to tell the doctor about possible contact with blue-green algae.
Human activities can have a big effect on nutrient and water flows in rivers, streams or lakes. Phosphorous and nitrogen found in fertilizers, animal waste and human waste can stimulate blooms. Excessive water diversions can increase water temperatures and reduce flows. People can take the following measures to prevent algal blooms in our waters:
Be very conservative with the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn, garden or agricultural operation.
Recycle any “spent” soil that has been used for intensive growing by tilling it back into gardens. Or protect it from rainfall to avoid nutrient runoff.
Plant or maintain native plants around banks. These plants help filter water and don’t require fertilizers.
Pump and maintain your septic system every three to four years.
Prevent surface water runoff from agricultural and livestock areas.
Prevent erosion around construction and logging operations.
Contact the DHHS Division of Environmental Health at 707-445-6215 or 1-800-963-9241 for more information. People may report unusual blooms or conditions, including pictures, to Environmental Health by emailing email@example.com. The California Department of Public Health website also has more details: www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/environhealth/water/Pages/bluegreenalgae.aspx.
Mike Dronkers / Tuesday, Aug. 27 @ 12:05 p.m. / Environment
The bay is closed for food harvest due to a sewage spill in Arcata. City of Arcata’s Eric Lust filled in the details for KHUM listeners. He says over 1,000 gallons are estimated to have entered Arcata Bay last week, and officials are awaiting lab results before giving the go-ahead to local oyster farmers.
In addition to having spill sensors, Arcata relies on citizen tips.
The City of Arcata has implemented a Sewer Overflow Reporting Program. By promptly reporting an overflow, the City is able to minimize the impact to the environment. To report a sewer back-up or overflow, please call the Environmental Services Department at 707-822-8184. After hours, call the after-hours emergency number at 822-2424.