Saturday, 20 July 2024


Officials investigate the Monday afternoon bus accident. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


LAKEPORT – No injuries resulted from a collision Monday involving a school bus and a Camaro.

Just before 3:30 p.m. the California Highway Patrol reported the collision had taken place on Giselman at Lakeshore Boulevard.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia said the bus, driven by Lakeport Unified School District driver Glenn Courtney, was on Giselman preparing to make a wide right turn onto Lakeshore Boulevard.

The Camaro's driver, who didn't think the bus was turning right, began to make a right turn on the inside of the bus, said Garcia. The bus clipped the car as both vehicles made a right turn onto Lakeshore Boulevard.

Garcia said no one claimed to be injured at the scene.

The accident's main casualty was Courtney's perfect driving record.

Earlier this year Courtney was honored with a state award for having driven a school bus for more than 30 years and more than 400,000 miles with no accident, as Lake County News previously reported.

CHP Officer Dallas Richey is investigating the accident, said Garcia, which is a requirement in school bus accidents when children are on board.

E-mail Harold LaBonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



THE GEYSERS – A 3.5-magnitude earthquake hit The Geysers area early Sunday morning.

The US Geological Survey reported that the quake occurred at 5:19 a.m. at a depth of 1.6 miles four miles northwest of The Geysers and eight miles west of Cobb.

The US Geological Survey received reports from residents who felt the quake from Santa Rosa and Cloverdale to Lakeport, and even as far away as Vacaville.

A 2.9-magnitude quake had occurred Saturday at 11:29 p.m. at a depth of less than a mile two miles west of Anderson Springs and five miles east southeast of The Geysers.

The last quake measuring in magnitude of 3.0 or above occurred Aug. 19 near Anderson Springs, according to the US Geological Survey.

A 4.4-magnitude earthquake hit the North Coast Saturday at 1:16 a.m., the US Geological Survey reported. That quake's center was in the ocean, 20 miles west of Petrolia in Humboldt County. Residents in faraway San Francisco even reported feeling that quake.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


A male light brown apple moth (left) and a female (right). Photo from a New South Wales Department of Primary Industries report.


On Friday afternoon, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill to help the state battle the light brown apple moth.

The bill, SB 556, the Light Brown Apple Moth Act of 2007, was authored by Sen. Patricia Wiggins.

When the light brown apple moth was discovered in the Bay area in late February 2007, it became the newest pest to make its way into the state.

Wiggins represents two counties – Napa and Solano – where the presence of the light brown apple moth has been confirmed, according to a statement from her office.

The light brown apple moth has not been found in Lake County, state and local officials report.

A second light brown apple moth discovery was made in Napa late in August, according to California Department of Food and Agriculture officials. The first moth was found in May in a residential area; Napa County agriculture officials said this second moth was found in a winegrape producing area.

In recent months agriculture officials have been working on eradicating the moth in Napa and Contra Costa counties by using pheromone treatments.

The US Department of Agriculture in August dedicated $15 million to aid California's eradication effort.

Originally from Australia, the moth has spread quickly across California, resulting in a multi-county quarantine by Food and Agriculture. The moth is considered a threat to 250 host species of native and ornamental plants, fruits, and vegetables.

Wiggins' bill would create the Light Brown Apple Moth Program in the CDFA, along with an LBAM account, from which the department may allocate funds to local agencies for activities to eradicate the moth, her office reported.

“LBAM destroys, stunts or deforms young seedlings, spoils the appearance of ornamental plants, and injures deciduous fruit tree crops, citrus, and grapes,” Wiggins said in a statement. “This pest poses a very serious threat to California agriculture, nurseries and related industries, and my bill will help ensure that our state and local agencies have he tools and resources they need to eradicate the LBAM before it can do any more damage.”

SBl 556, according to Wiggins' office, is patterned after the state’s Pierce's Disease/Glassy Winged Sharpshooter program, which was enacted several years ago in response to the pest's introduction and threat to the state's wine grape and table grape industry.

Exotic pests and diseases create environmental and financial havoc, not only to California's agricultural industry, but to the environment, as well. Due to increased global travel, relaxed federal inspections at ports of entry, and lack of funding for agricultural inspection stations, California has battled exotic pests and diseases with an increasing frequency, Wiggins' office reported.

The CDFA, in collaboration with county agricultural commissioners, inspects products and shipments entering the state, but due to the increasing volume and limited financial resources, not all products and shipments can be inspected, Wiggins reported.

State quarantine programs are coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which Wiggins' office said recently acted to restrict the interstate movement of nursery stock, cut flowers and greenery from affected California counties and the State of Hawaii.

Due to this discovery and quarantine, both Canada and Mexico have prohibited certain shipments of flowers, fruits and other products within the quarantine zones and require inspections and phytosanitary certifications to accompany a variety of products from non-quarantine areas within California, according to Food and Agriculture.

The light brown apple moth already has caused significant economic harm to agricultural producers within the quarantine areas, as well as added costs and new regulatory pressures to all California producers who grow potential the moth's host commodities, Wiggins' office reported.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NICE – Authorities have released the identity of a man killed in a Friday motorcycle crash.

Justin Scott Vibbert, 28, of Nice was killed when his motorcycle went off Highway 20 and landed in some rocks down an embankment near Kono Tayee, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

CHP received a call reporting the crash at about 8:30 a.m., Garcia reported.

As Lake County News previously reported, CHP's investigation has so far shown that Vibbert, who was riding at a high rate of speed westbound along Highway 20, lost control while going through a curve.

Vibbert, a glass artist originally from the Midwest, had contact with the CHP over the July 4 weekend. Sheriff's logs show that he had been arrested on two felony drug possession charges and was booked into the Lake County Jail on July 5.

Garcia said the collision investigation, led by CHP Officer Brian Engle, is continuing.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..





Lake County has some of the clearest, darkest skies in the country – perfect for stargazing! In this monthly column, we’ll talk about some of the things you can see during September nights.

Let’s start by looking at a star chart for September. The chart above is what the night sky will look like around Sept. 15 at around 9 p.m.

If you recall from last month, we mentioned the “Summer Triangle” made up of the bright stars Vega (in the constellation Lyra), Deneb (in the constellation Cygnus) and Altair (in the constellation Altair). This month, this trio of luminaries has moved directly overhead – you can see them in the star chart.

There are also four planets visible this month. Jupiter, the largest of the planets, is setting in the western sky – it’s the brightest object in that direction.

Next to Jupiter is Pluto, the “un-planet.” Up until the fall of 2006, Pluto was considered to be a planet. But this changed when the definition of the term “planet” changed, and Pluto was relegated to “dwarf planet” status. In spite of this change, we still affectionately refer to Pluto as a planet. As for viewing Pluto, you need a very large, powerful telescope, and even then, it will only appear as a faint point of light.

Pluto courtesy of NASA.

The other two visible planets are Neptune and Uranus. Both need a telescope to see. Neptune is bluish in color, and Uranus is greenish. Both appear very small through a telescope. Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus are what we term “gas giants.” They are huge balls of gas – they aren’t solid like our earth.

Neptune courtesy of

Uranus has a ring system similar to Saturn’s. Neptune has a beautiful blue tinted atmosphere. That beautiful color isn’t from water – it’s from methane gas, the kind of stuff cows produce (and no, there are no cattle ranches on Neptune!).

Uranus courtesy of NASA/Marshal Space Flight Center.

As for Pluto, even our most powerful telescopes take pictures that reveal very little detail, as shown in the photo at the left. Pluto is just too small and too far away to reveal very much.

To learn more about Lake County Skies in September, and to observe these objects through a telescope, visit Taylor Observatory ( on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 8 to 11 p.m. This month’s observatory theme is “Global Warming – is Man destined to end up like the dinosaur?” After a presentation about global warming, there will be a planetarium show, followed by telescope viewing.

John Zimmerman has been an amateur astronomer for 50 years. He is a member of the Taylor Observatory staff, where, among his many duties, he helps create planetarium shows.


LAKE COUNTY – A Clearlake man will spend six years in prison for failing to register as a sex offender.

On Sept. 7, Victor Junior Lovato, 32, was sentenced to six years in state prison for failing to register as a sex offender, according to a report from the District Attorney's Office.

Lovato has been required to register pursuant to Penal Code section 290 since he was convicted of four counts of felony child molestation in 1994, when he was sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Lovato pleaded guilty on Aug. 3 to one felony count of failing to register as a sex offender, in violation of Penal Code section 290, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Failing to register as a sex offender carries a maximum prison sentence of three years; however, Lovato also admitted to having been convicted of a prior felony strike offense, which served to double his prison commitment to a maximum of six years, the District Attorney's Office reported. Lovato will not be eligible for parole until he completes 80 percent of his prison sentence.

Detectives Martin Snyder and Richard Towle of the Clearlake Police Department investigated the case, which was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney John R. DeChaine.

Lovato had last registered on Nov. 14, 2005, but failed to update his registration in November 2006, prompting the investigation.

Lovato has been in custody on this charge with bail set in the amount of $60,000.00 since July 23.

The Honorable Judge Steven Hedstrom presided over the taking of the guilty plea as well as the Sept. 7 sentencing hearing.


Lovato's picture and description are available on the Megan's Law Web site,



KELSEYVILLE – With a federal case over Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa now settled, the attorney for the resort's owners and the US Department of Labor are offering insight into the lawsuit's back story.

The Department of Labor filed the lawsuit in November 2004 against Local 38 of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, whose Convalescent Trust Fund, Lakeside Haven, has owned Konocti Harbor since 1959.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao alleged that Local 38 had used pension funds “imprudently” by investing millions in the operation of Konocti Harbor.

James P. Baker of the San Francisco-based Jones Day law firm was the lead attorney for Local 38 in the suit.

“Everybody is happy to have this dispute resolved and it was resolved amicably,” said Baker.

He added, “My clients didn't admit they did anything wrong and I don't think they did anything wrong.”

Baker said the underlying lawsuit was specifically related to whether or not the union should have invested in Konocti Harbor.

“That's going to prove out to be a pretty good deal,” said Baker.

As part of the settlement, Local 38 agreed to appoint WhiteStar Advisors LLC as an independent fiduciary to oversee the resort's sale, said Baker.

WhiteStar, he said, “had been working for us for over two years by the time of the settlement” on the resort sale. “We were already doing the right thing.”

Baker said Local 38 decided to sell the resort in the last few years.

“The thrill was gone from being in lawsuits with the Department of Labor,” which Baker said have been ongoing since 1979.

Baker said the Department of Labor has investigated Local 38 five times about the same question – whether or not Konocti Harbor was a good investment for the pension funds.

It was in everyone's best interest to settle the case, said Baker, adding that the union felt it had a number of good defenses.

Baker joined Local 38 not long before this current lawsuit was filed, he said.

Lawrence Mazzola Sr., son of labor leader Joe Mazzola, remains the union's business manager, but will resign as a pension fund trustee by year's end as a condition of the settlement, as will most of the other trustees, said Baker.

Lawrence Mazzola Jr. and another trustee are the only two being allowed to stay on as trustees, which was “one of the big bones of contention,” said Baker. The two men must undergo fiduciary training in order to continue in their trustee capacity, according to the settlement terms.

If and when Konocti Harbor sells, Baker said Local 38 will still have a presence in the county. “They're going to keep about 10 acres on the lake for a kids camp and recreation area,” he said.

Labor Department describes its role

Wayne Berry, one of the Department of Labor attorneys on the case, said he and colleagues Peter Doland and Megan Guenther took over for a retiring attorney who had originally been assigned the lawsuit.

Berry said the Department of Labor had sued Joe Mazzola and many of the other pension fund trustees in the early 1970s not long after the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was established. That law is meant to oversee how retirement plans are managed.

That original lawsuit, said Berry, was for loan-type transactions, and was not directly related to Konocti Harbor.

In that case, he said, Local 38 hired a doctor to do a feasibility study for a spa at Konocti Harbor. The union borrowed against the resort to get a loan to pay for the study.

It came out at trial that the doctor had no ability to do a feasibility study of how worthwhile it would be to add a spa to the resort, said Berry.

The 2004 lawsuit settled recently didn't involve loans but undocumented, unsecured transfers of cash from Local 38's pension fund to its Lakeside Haven Convalescent Trust Fund, which owns Konocti Harbor.

Berry said there have only been the two lawsuits between the Department of Labor and Local 38 relating to pension plans, although the government has investigated the union on other occasions.

The 1970s lawsuit went on for some time, said Berry. “After we won at trial they appealed at the Ninth Circuit.”

The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, where Local 38 lost the case, Berry said.

Fund was suffering annual losses

Berry said Local 38 needed to show that its investment in Konocti Harbor followed ERISA's rules for prudent use of pension plan money.

The Convalescent Trust Fund's operations, including Konocti Harbor, usually lost about half a million dollars a year, said Berry. Department of Labor spokesperson Gloria Della added that the Convalescent Trust Fund itself was not an ERISA fund.

The lawsuit alleged Local 38 had transferred $36 million from the pension funds to the Convalescent Fund for Konocti Harbor's operations and improvement.

Guenther said the Department of Labor's investigation found that between 1994 and 2004 the union had transferred a total of $54 million to the Convalescent Trust Fund.

“One of the big problems in this case is it's so hard to track that stuff down because there were no records,” Berry said.

While Local 38 has hired WhiteStar to sell the property, Berry pointed out, “The consent order itself does not have any language that says the resort must be sold.”

The Department of Labor doesn't have the power to make that demand, he said.

However, he added, “Part of the recovery that the ERISA plan is going to get is the proceeds of the sale,” which is the only asset the union has to make up the money.

Local 38 also will be reimbursed for a $4 million loan it made to the Convalescent Trust Fund in 2000, when the Convalescent Trust Fund was hit with a foreclosure action on a loan for which Konocti Harbor was the security, Berry explained.

Berry said numerous appraisals of the resort were completed for the lawsuit, with the main one used for the trial in the $11 million to $13 million range.

Court documents show that Page Mill Properties of Palo Alto is a possible buyer for the property. The possible purchase price, the documents report, is $25 million.

Berry said he felt the case moved through the courts in a normal, even quick manner. The more than $500,000 Local 38 was required to pay the government was a civil penalty established by statute, he said.

Della said that, as a general rule, the Department of Labor doesn't point to any one source for the basis of an investigation like this one. Rather, she said, cases are derived from a variety of sources, including informal and random looks at ERISA funds and concerns from people who administer the plans.

However, in the Local 38 suit, the case was referred to the Department of Labor by the Internal Revenue Service. Court documents Della referenced show that the IRS began an audit of Local 38's pension plan in November 1999, when it referred the plan for investigation of possible fiduciary breaches.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Rattlesnakes and ground squirrels contend with each other as predator and prey. Courtesy photo.


Rattlesnakes do not have it easy. Although they have evolved a characteristic ‘rattling’ warning system to advertise their dangerous venomous bites, these snakes are so feared and hated by humans they are often killed on sight. And, if their situation could not get any worse, Northern Pacific rattlesnakes also have to contend with their favorite prey item – California ground squirrels.

Rattlesnakes and ground squirrels co-occurred millions of years ago, leading to an ancient and intimate predator-prey relationship. Currently, there are about 30 species of ground squirrels in the western US and, for those in rattlesnake habitat, evolving methods to evade these rattlesnake predators was a strong source of natural selection.

In particular, California ground squirrels have evolved an amazing array of anti-rattlesnake behavior and physiology. Back in the 1940s naturalists noted some strange behavior in California ground squirrels – they would go straight up to rattlesnakes, waving their tails and kicking up dust. These naturalists knew that ground squirrels made up almost seventy percent of the northern pacific rattlesnake diet, so why would these prey animals put themselves into harm’s way?

Professor Donald H. Owings at UC Davis and his colleagues managed to explain this puzzling behavior and found that California ground squirrels are actually resistant to rattlesnake venom. Thus the danger of succumbing to a rattlesnake bite does not exist; at least for adult ground squirrels.

Juvenile ground squirrels were shown not to have enough of the venom resistance protein needed to survive a snake bite. This created a unique predator-prey relationship: rattlesnakes could kill and eat young ground squirrels but not the adults.

However, adult female ground squirrels are very protective of their pups and have evolved a sophisticated alarm call system to warn other squirrels of impending danger: a high pitched whistle to warn of aerial predators and a chattering call for terrestrial predators. But these alarm calls might also communicate to predators that they have been spotted and their ambush tactics will fail.

The calls do not, however, work against rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes have amazing visual and chemosensory systems and can even perceive temperature changes – but they cannot hear. Thus ground squirrel adults attempting to protect their young by calling at a snake will not be heard. So, instead of an audible warning, ground squirrels have apparently keyed in on the rattlesnake’s most sensitive sensory organs – visual, infrared, and olfactory.

When a rattlesnake is discovered, ground squirrels will approach cautiously, bobbing their heads up and down to size up the snake and waving their long tails back and forth – termed ‘tail-flagging’ – the visual equivalent of an alarm call. Snakes seeing this motion are being told they have been spotted. In addition, recent studies by our research group have demonstrated that ground squirrels can actually heat up their tails during rattlesnake encounters, creating an infrared beacon to further get their message across.

Once the ground squirrel has moved closer, they begin ‘substrate throwing,’ flinging dirt and causing the snake to rattle. This behavior by the squirrel is not just to antagonize the snake, it turns out that the squirrel can determine how big and how warm the rattlesnake is by the frequency of its rattle. A large, warm snake is more dangerous than a small, cold one since warm rattlesnakes move faster and larger snakes have a stronger strike.

These harassment tactics are also thought to drive the snake out of the area and away from the younger and more vulnerable squirrels.

Ground squirrels cannot always be on the alert, however, especially at night when they are asleep in their burrows and when rattlesnakes seem to prefer to hunt. Nevertheless, there is some recent evidence that they have evolved yet another unique defense mechanism.

When California ground squirrels, particularly adult females and juveniles, come across a rattlesnake skin or a patch of grass where a rattlesnake has been resting, they chew on the snake-scented substance and apply it to their fur by licking their bodies. Why would they do this? Finding the answer to this question became the focus of my PhD research.

We had three hypotheses. First, the squirrel may fool predators sniffing around a burrow by smelling like a rattlesnake instead of a squirrel. Second, the predator scent may cause other ground squirrels to leave the area and not compete for food. Finally, applying scent to their bodies might repel the ground squirrels major parasite – fleas.

In a series of experiments, we found that ground squirrel scent mixed with rattlesnake scent reduced rattlesnake foraging behavior but had no effect on ground squirrels or fleas. Therefore, a sleeping adult female ground squirrel and her young might prevent a hungry rattlesnake from entering their burrow at night by applying snake scent to their bodies.



Even with all their defenses, rattlesnakes still get their fill of ground squirrel juveniles and, over millions of years, have not become endangered by these anti-snake tactics. Many rattlesnake species across the country are, however, threatened by humans.

As urban development and agriculture move into rattlesnake habitat, there is an increase in human encounters with rattlesnakes. Due to the fear and hatred felt for these snake species, humans often reflexively kill “rattlers,” including at organized events, or ‘rattlesnake roundups’ at which snakes are killed by starvation, crushing, skinning or other cruel and often horrifying ways in a public setting.

Though caution is appropriate when in an area where rattlesnakes can be found, rattlesnakes are not aggressive and will normally prefer to stay out of sight, and even rattle to warn about their presence. In fact, medical research shows that most rattlesnake bites are caused when a human picked up or provoked a rattlesnake.

If you encounter a rattlesnake in the field, respect its space, and if you find one in your yard think twice before killing it and instead about how you could change your behavior so you and the rattlesnake can safely coexist.

Barbara Clucas is a PhD student in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group at UC Davis and has been studying rattlesnakes and ground squirrels for 5 years. Tuleyome Tales is brought to you by: Tuleyome, a local non-profit working to protect both our wild heritage and our agricultural heritage for future generations. Past Tuleyome Tales articles are available in the library section of their website.


KONO TAYEE – The California Highway Patrol reports that a crash took the life of a motorcycle rider Friday morning.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia said CHP dispatch received a call about 8:30 a.m. from some boaters who said they saw a motorcycle down an embankment just off Highway 20, west of Bruner Drive in the Kono Tayee area.

Garcia said the CHP's preliminary investigation indicates that the motorcyclist was riding at a high rate of speed heading westbound on Highway 20 and failed to negotiate a curve in the road.

The rider and motorcycle flew over the road edge and landed in a rocky area of Clear Lake's shoreline, said Garcia.

Garcia said it appeared that the rider – whose name has not been released pending family notification – died on impact, but the final determination will be made by a coroner's report.

The investigation, Garcia reported, is continuing, led by CHP Officer Brian Engle.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Motorcycles lined up at Saturday's Scorchin' Torch Poker Run. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


NICE – Riders brought out their bikes for a good cause on Saturday, as Lake County Special Olympics hosted the fourth annual Scorchin' Torch Poker Run to benefit its spirited young athletes.

Event coordinator Kristina Navarro reported that 126 riders participated in the 83-mile, five-stop course around the lake, which began in the morning at Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino.

Also on scene were California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia and CHP Commander Lt. Dane Hayward. Hayward was a civilian for the event and a participant in the ride.

Cash prizes and gift certificates were donated by more than two dozen Lake County businesses, Navarro reported.

As a result of the excellent turnout more than $4,500 was raised to help 120 Lake County Special Olympics athletes, according to Navarro.

E-mail Harold La Bonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..





The CHP controls traffic as they move onto Highway 20. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




CHP Officer Adam Garcia mans the CHP pavilion with two of CHP's best motorcycles. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – On Saturday, Sept. 8, the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians will sponsor a traditional Native American cultural gathering in Paskenta from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to commemorate the 144th anniversary of the Nome Cult Trail, the forced relocation of Indians from Chico across what is now the Mendocino National Forest to Round Valley in 1863.

Emergency crews fighting fires in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness have set up an incident base camp at the Paskenta Community Park where the Nome Cult gathering was previously scheduled to be held. The Nome Cult gathering has been moved to the nearby Elkins Elementary School, 2960 Elkins Road, in Paskenta. All times and activities remain the same as previously announced.

Next week, on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15, the Round Valley Indian Tribes will sponsor a gathering at the Round Valley Reservation in Covelo to mark the completion of the 12th annual retracing of the original 100-mile trek.

Descendants of Native Americans who took part in the original relocation and other supporters will walk all the way from Chico to Covelo starting Sunday, Sept. 9, descending down into Round Valley on Sept. 15.

The theme for the walk and gatherings is "Honor Their Memory … A Path Not Forgotten." All events are free and are open to the public.

The Paskenta gathering will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Paskenta Community Park with a program of historical presentations, followed by musical performances and a lunch. During the afternoon there will be performances by Native American dancers and singers, cultural demonstrations, and information on Passport in Time (PIT) excavations at sites on the Mendocino National Forest. Native American arts and crafts vendors will participate. Throughout the day there will be horseshoe and softball tournaments.

At the Covelo event, there will be presentations by the walkers and a meal, starting at about 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Tribal Building, 77826 Covelo Road. From Sept. 9 through 15 the walkers will retrace the original trail, camping out each night along the way. The tribes welcome the public to join them for all or any part of the walk and for the gathering in Covelo on Saturday afternoon.

The National Forest requests that people traveling the forest roads along the trail route be careful of the walkers to ensure their safety.

The removal of Indians from Chico to the Nome Cult Reservation in 1863 is one of the many forced relocations following the establishment of reservations in Northern California in the 1850s. Several different tribes were moved to the Nome Cult Reservation after it was established in Round Valley in 1856.

In September 1863, 461 Indians were marched under guard from Chico to the Nome Cult Reservation, nearly 100 miles across the Sacramento Valley and rugged North Coast Ranges. Only 277 Indians completed the journey. Some were killed, a few escaped, and others were left behind, too sick to go on.

Although the path itself has disappeared, this route is now called the Nome Cult Trail. The most grueling part of the trail passed through what is now the Mendocino National Forest. The Forest Service has marked places where the Indians and their military escorts camped by placing interpretive signs along the route. The Forest Service has also prepared a free brochure and trail map which is available from Mendocino National Forest offices for persons who may want to travel the route.

This year the walkers, many of whom are descendants of those who made the trek in 1863, will begin west of Chico at at the Irvine Finch Park at River Road and State Highway 32 at 6 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9. They will walk west on State Highway 32 and camp at the Buckhorn Campground at Black Butte Lake the first night. For the remainder of the week they will walk across the Mendocino National Forest, following the Nome Cult Trail.

Their planned schedule is:

  • Monday, Sept. 10, camp at Paskenta (evening gathering at Grindstone Rancheria).

  • Tuesday, Sept. 11, camp at Black Bear Campground.

  • Wednesday, Sept. 12, camp at Log Springs.

  • Thursday, Sept. 13, camp at Wells Cabin Campground.

  • Friday, Sept. 14, camp at Eel River Campground.

  • Saturday, Sept. 15, walk into Round Valley.

The Round Valley Tribes will welcome the walkers with a gathering and potluck dinner at the Tribal Administration Building in Covelo on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 15.

For further information on the September 8 Paskenta event, please contact Kim Freeman, Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians at (530) 680-3842; or Phebe Brown at the Mendocino National Forest, (530) 934-3316, TTY (530) 934-7724. For further information on the Covelo event and the re-enactment walk, please contact Alberta Azbill at (707) 983-6126, Rema Lincoln at (707) 983-6188, EXT 30, at Round Valley Tribes; or Arlene Ward, Chico Mechoopda Tribe, at (530) 899-8922.





From left, Bob Cornez and Dale Evans show off before (right) and after pictures of the mine site. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

ABBOTT MINE – A massive mine cleanup project of two south county mercury mines begun last fall officially wrapped on Thursday.

The Abbott and Turkey Run mines, minus the mountains of mine tailings and buildings that once marked the site along Highway 20 near Walker Ridge Road, were shown off Thursday by officials from El Paso Corp. of Colorado Springs, Colo., and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The cleanup project began Oct. 10, 2006, said Clay Bowers, project manager for Camp, Dresser and McKee (CDM), the Cambridge, Mass.-based contractor that El Paso hired to complete the cleanup job.

Daniel Schnee, senior legal counsel for El Paso, said EPA's Region Nine Office, based in San Francisco, contacted El Paso in June 2006 to inquire if the company had ever conducted mining operations at the two mines.

El Paso's business is centered mostly in the southwest, where spokesman Richard Wheatley said they have some 43,000 miles of natural gas pipeline. That puts their current operations nowhere near Lake County.

However, Schnee said El Paso conducted an internal review and found that one of the subsidiaries it had purchased over the years, COG Minerals Corp., had, indeed, been responsible for mining operations at the site.

This wasn't the first mine cleanup El Paso has undertaken. Wheatley said the company also has been involved with cleanup of the famous Comstock Mine, which produced Nevada's silver Comstock Lode.

Schnee said the Abbott Mine claim was filed in 1866. There is some uncertainty about the Turkey Run's history, he added, although the company believes that the Turkey Run claim was filed in 1893. The two mines consolidated operations in 1900.

The mines were highly productive, yielding between 50,000 and 60,000 flasks of mercury during operation, which ceased in 1961, said Schnee. A flask is the size of a three-liter soda bottle and weighs 76 pounds.

The project gets started

Marc Ferries, El Paso's environmental remediation director, said the company was, at first, admittedly reluctant to spend the $5 million needed to carry out the cleanup.

However, he said El Paso's leadership decided it needed to be proactive and clean up the site, which also was in keeping with its corporate vision of being "the neighbor to have."

Schnee added that it came down to trust. "We are very conscious of the public's view of our company and our reputation means a lot to us."

By taking the lead on the project, El Paso also made a smart business decision financially.

EPA was poised to move forward with the cleanup, even if El Paso wasn't, said Schnee. Had the company chosen to contest its liability, Schnee said it would have resulted in an estimated cleanup cost three times the amount the company paid to do the work on its own.

So El Paso moved forward quickly, hiring CDM to lead the cleanup, said Schnee. El Paso Remediation Manager Bart Wilking; Janet Yocum, EPA's onsite coordinator; and Dale Evans of CDM, an expert in mine remediation, designed the project.

Schnee said work began only four months after EPA's initial contact with El Paso.

A unique factor to the cleanup is that El Paso, although held as a responsible party through its subsidiary holdings, doesn't actually own the property, said Schnee. There are now between four and six private owners who own the land through old mine patents passed down to them. Lake County News could not reach them for comment for this story.

El Paso had other challenges, said Evans, including unbelievably steep terrain, with grades as high as 52 degrees in some places.

And besides the mine they had to clean up 23 abandoned vehicles and tons of illegally dumped garbage, company officials reported.

There also was the matter of a squatter who had lived on the land for eight years and created a compound of sorts that included old trailers. Schnee said eventually the company reached a settlement with the man, who left.

Landscape a challenge

Pointing across the landscape, Evans said, "The terrain was obviously a challenge."

In some cases, it was a study in geometry, he said.

Much credit was given to CDM's heavy equipment operators, whose virtuoso skills on bulldozers helped carry out the work. Evans joked that the men were "part mountain goat"; so skilled were the operators that they were able to take the dozers down the incredibly steep slopes safely.

On the topic of safety, El Paso representatives on Thursday were very proud of the absence of any safety concerns or accidents as the project – which required 20,000 man hours – took place.

Evans explained that they removed tons of mine tailings – the waste left over after the mercury is extracted from the rock – from the hillsides and roads, including one mountain of tailings that had formed out from the natural hillside.

Bob Cornez, CDM's lead site construction supervisor, said they looked at the materials and judged whether they were leachable or nonleachable. If they were likely to leach mercury into the soil, those materials were removed completely, he said.

Mine tailings not considered a worry for leaching were capped with a 2-foot-thick layer of clean soil taken from nearby, Wilking said.

Materials considered to be hazardous were loaded, covered and trucked to a hazardous waste site in Nevada, said Wilking.

Cornez estimated that 50 truckloads of the hazardous materials were transported to Nevada.

The mine's buildings, 30-ton furnace and ore bins – the latter considered major contributors to the site's mercury contamination – were completely removed, said Cornez.

Evans said the wooden structures had soaked up mercury and were contaminated.

However, 10 pieces of metal mining equipment that could be decontaminated were saved, said Cornez.

The Lake County Historical Society received several pieces of equipment, according to Greg Dills, who chairs the Historical Society's committee on the Ely Stage Stop Museum, where the equipment eventually will be displayed.

Included was a large winch for raising and lowering people into the mine shafts, a smaller winch, a drag line and a cage used for the ore cars, said Dills. “It's some nice old historic equipment of Lake County's mining.”

Confronting water quality issues

One of the most important aspects of the project was to stop mercury escaping from the site and going into Harley Gulch, at the base of the hillside where the mine was located.

An estimated 10.2 kilograms of mercury in the form of sediment was eroding from the site each year into Harley Gulch, said Wilking. Evans added that Harley drains into Cache Creek about eight miles from the mines.

"We've isolated all that mine waste," said Wilking, with the goal that no more mercury will leach into Harley Gulch or Cache Creek.

That's an important goal; a 2002 report on the Cache Creek Watershed noted that Cache Creek was a major source of mercury to the Bay-Delta, which it drains into.

Wilking said the excavation went down as far as the gulch's flow line; today the gulch is thoroughly riprapped with rock brought from local quarries.

The project was intended to withstand a 100-year flood event, but Evans surmised it could survive much more – possibly a 500-year or 1,000-year event, due in part to the size of the riprap used to secure the site's drainages and creeks.

Evans said they tried to spare as much vegetation and as many trees as possible during the cleanup.

The four to five mine entries, leading to shafts that in some areas led as far as 500 feet into the mountainside, are all now filled and capped, Evans added.

Regulator, company worked well together

El Paso officials cited a great working relationship with EPA, a situation that isn't common between companies and regulators.

"I could not have imagined how good the final project was going to look," said Yocum, who added that the project will greatly benefit the environment.

On behalf of EPA, Yocum thanked El Paso for taking the lead and jumping ahead of EPA's processes. "At every level it's been a great team to work with."

A question company officials couldn't answer is how the site will be monitored going forward. That, said Schnee, has yet to be determined, and could involve not just El Paso but state and federal officials.

Abandoned mines are no small problem for Lake County. Ferries reported that there were 14 mercury mines in the county's Sulphur Bank district.

David Lawler, coordinator of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Abandoned Mine Lands Program in the California state office, said BLM was currently assessing cleanups of about 10 mines in the county. Lawler estimated that there are 100 mercury mines around Lake County.

The reason, said Lawler, is California's rich mineral deposits. "California has world-class mercury deposits," he said, adding that the state is home to the five largest mercury mines in North America.

Supervisor Ed Robey, one of several visitors to the mine site Thursday, thanked El Paso officials for completing the project. In comparison, he said there has been an ongoing battle over the cleanup of the Sulphur Bank mine.

That mine, which is owned by Bradley Mining, is an EPA Superfund site. Last year EPA completed the first phase of its cleanup of the site, which took place at the Elem Colony.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




The processing buildings at the Abbott Mine. The buildings have since been removed. Courtesy photo.




The Abbott Mine buildings sitting on a pile of tailings. Both the buildings and the tailings have been removed. Courtesy photo.




A gigantic pile of mine tailings that was visible from Highway 20. The project cleaned up the pile. Courtesy photo.




A view of one of the hillsides where tailings have been carved away. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




Some of the old mining equipment recovered from the mine. Courtesy photo.

Upcoming Calendar

07.20.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.23.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.24.2024 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
ReCoverCA Homebuyer Assistance Workshop
07.27.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.30.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.03.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.06.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.10.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.13.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.17.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile

Mini Calendar



Award winning journalism on the shores of Clear Lake. 



Enter your email here to make sure you get the daily headlines.

You'll receive one daily headline email and breaking news alerts.
No spam.