The Year in Review: News Stories of the Year

December 29, 2006 11:00 pm

atural disasters, area fishing hauls and hope for new economic development dominated Del Norte County news during 2006.

Those headlines mark eight of the 10 local "News Stories of the Year," as selected by The Daily Triplicate.

Those news stories by far either had the most widespread impact on the county or deeply effected a specific community, and will long be known as a turning point.

In order of importance with the biggest listed event first, here are our top news stories for 2006:

1. Tsunami smashes harbor – A 5.9-foot tsunami smashed the Crescent City Harbor about 2 p.m. Nov. 15, causing an estimated $1.2 million in damage. The destruction received media attention around the world. But the story didn't end with the disaster. Two days later, local emergency officials said the warning and response system went exactly as it should leading up to the tsunami. The following week, however, Harbormaster Richard Young said "a breakdown in communications" caused emergency officials to fail to warn Crescent City Harbor about the threat of a tsunami. The Daily Triplicate later found in an investigation that Crescent City officials received no warning because a state Office of Emergency Services staffer thought the city was in Humboldt County.

2. Heavy New Years' weekend rains – The year began with a New Years' weekend storm pummeling Del Norte County, damaging the Crescent City harbor, flooding Klamath and closing U.S. Hwy. 101 and State Hwy. 169. Damages exceeded $5 million. California Office of Emergency Services officials assessed damage and identified 64 sites as sustaining significant damage. On Feb. 3, President Bush declared Del Norte County and nine other California counties disaster areas. A section of west Klamath Beach Road, wiped out during the storms, finally reopened on April 5 thanks to a temporary bridge that allows one-way traffic.

3. Home Depot opens – Excitement filled Crescent City through the year over the impending opening of Home Depot at the former Kmart site. On May 31, The first walls of the new Home Depot store go up. A large crane is shipped into town from Portland to erect the 44 slabs that will make up the store's shell.

But in mid-July Home Depot officials announced the store would open four months later than anticipated because heavy winter and spring rains delayed construction work. On Aug. 12, almost 430 applicants for the new store showed up at a job fair the company hosted at Del Norte County Fairgrounds.

Finally on Oct. 4, Home Depot opened its doors, providing 125 new jobs and a projected $150,000 in sales tax for city coffers.

4. Bed tax measures fail – Several community members began to press during the spring for expanded marketing of the county to increase tourism. Initially, the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce lobbied city and county government for the dollars.

In June, the Crescent City Council agreed to provide a one-time $100,000 for a tourism marketing campaign. But they also decided to cover that expense beyond 2007 by placing a measure on the November ballot to raise the bed tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. The following month, the Del Norte County Board followed suit, placing on the ballot a set of three measures that would raise the bed tax at county motels and extend the tax to RV parks.

By the end of October, however, opposition to the measures began to organize, with Kamp Klamath RV owner Aaron Funk spearheading opposition to Measure C, saying a transient occupancy tax would be devastating to RV parks.

On Election Day, Crescent City and Del Norte County voters reject three of four measures that would have raised the bed tax. The only measure to pass eliminated the bed tax exemption for government employees.

5. Salmon fishing restrictions — Fishery managers early in the year once again predicted grim numbers for the fall's Klamath River Chinook salmon runs — about 19,000 spawning salmon, well below the 35,000 needed to maintain a healthy population. On April 6, the Pacific Fishery Management Council closed 700 miles of ocean coastline to salmon fishing for most of June and July to help the fish population recover in the Klamath River. A few days later, the council cancelled the commercial fishing season for salmon from Humboldt Bay to the Oregon Coast. By month's end, NOAA Fisheries approved a 60 percent reduction in the commercial salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts to protect struggling returns of wild fall Chinook salmon in the Klamath River.

In May, the California Fish and Game Commission followed suit on inland waters, limiting the salmon sportfishing season to catch-and-release only for adult Chinook, effectively wiping out much of the sport fishing trade in Klamath.

But some good news came in July when the California Coastal Conservancy gave a $1 million grant allowing the Smith River Alliance to improve Mill Creek habitat for the endangered Coho salmon and other fish. The 25,000-acre Mill Creek watershed became part of Redwood National and State Parks in 2003.

6. Crab fishing record haul – The 2005-06 crab season did not start with much promise. Winter storms kept crabbing boats from leaving the Crescent City Harbor until mid January. Then a six-day strike by fishermen affected the Pacific coast from Mendocino County to Washington state.

But as spring arrived, the season began to look brighter. In late April, Crescent City's fleet accounted for almost half of all crab caught in the state, the California Department of Fish and Game reported.

When the season ended, Crescent City's crab fishermen brought in a record catch of about 11.5 million pounds of Dungeness crab, or nearly half of California's total catch.

7. Football team success – Following last year's conference championship, there was high hope for the Del Norte Warriors football team. The Warriors did not disappoint. They opened conference play in September with a 42-0 whooping of McKinleyville. On Oct. 13, the Warriors blanked archrival Eureka 28-0 to remain undefeated in the Big 5 Conference after playing all four league opponents.

The month ended with the Warriors winning the Humboldt-Del Norte Conference football crown with a 32-0 Homecoming victory over Arcata.

November began with the Warriors completing back-to-back undefeated seasons in conference play with a 34-6 trouncing of McKinleyville.

During the first round of playoffs on Nov. 24, the Warriors football team hung on to beat Marin Catholic 14-13. With six seconds left in the game, the Warriors intercepted a two-point conversion attempt that Marin hoped would give it the lead.

On Dec. 2, though, the Warriors' season came to a heartbreaking end as the Novato Hornets beat the team 58-0 during the regional championship game in Novato.

8. Mountain School's sixth through eighth grade classrooms close – In late February after a year of planning, the Del Norte County School Board decided to close Mountain School's sixth through eighth grade classrooms, which serve about 15 students in Gasquet. The students would attend Crescent Elk Middle School beginning the 2006-07 school year, the board said.

The response from Gasquet residents was swift. In April 6, Mountain School parents filed a complaint with the school board, claiming "geographic discrimination" in the panel's decision.

Then in May, a group of Gasquet parents contended that the district's decision to close grades 6-8 at Mountain Elementary School was to mitigate the civil rights investigation into the previous year's closure of Margaret Keating Elementary in Klamath. District Superintendent Jan Moorehouse denied the charge, saying that the decision to close Mountain School was made last year.

Despite pleas from Gasquet parents, the board would not reverse its decision. On June 21, several students mark their last day at Mountain Elementary.

9. Controversial Tsunami Landing project – What seemingly was a simple plan turned out to be anything but: Remove the aging Tsunami Landing canopy in downtown Crescent City. Tired of the city not taking any action,in January developer Bill Stamps Jr.'s company, Retreats Inc., sued Crescent City in Del Norte County Superior Court, alleging that allowing the canopy over Tsunami Landing is maintaining a public nuisance, negligence and interfering with the company's business endeavors.

Then in March, after an apparent agreement had been reached with the city, Stamps announced he would drop the lawsuit that called for the city to remove the canopy.

But later that month the council decided to wait on approving the canopy's removal as two members were absent. Scathing public comment peppered the council at the meeting.

On April 3, the council finally approved removal of the breezeway canopy, opening the possibility that Stamps' project could yet move forward.

In early October, the council unanimously agreed to allow Stamps Jr. to remove the canopy above the city-owned walkway. Within three weeks, Stamps unveiled artist's renderings of what new development will look like

10. Bucks fires – A July 24 lightning storm struck 30 spots in the Six Rivers National Forest, which stretches from Eureka to Oregon. Of those, eight started fires, including Del Norte County's Bucks fire in a remote area with steep terrain.

By July 26, about 30 acres had burned and smokejumpers — firefighters who parachute from airplanes to fight the blazes — attempted to battle it.

By the following day, the fire had burned 100 acres.

The fire prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to close public access to the Siskiyou Wilderness in the Smith River National Recreation Area of Six Rivers National Forest, about 20 miles southeast of the Gasquet Ranger Station.

"There were so many fires burning in northern California and across the nation, we didn't have enough resources," said Julie Ranierri, a public affairs officer with the Six Rivers National Forest.

Since the fire burned in a wilderness area, away from people, the USDA Forest Service allowed it to continue. It burned about 210 acres before running itself out by Aug. 16.

Hilary Corrigan contributed to this report.