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In the News - Friday, FEBRUARY 25, 2005


Burglary spree nets

SUV, jewelry, more

   Imagine waking up after a night’s sleep and realizing an intruder had entered your home and removed your wallet. If you think that this can’t happen in Three Rivers, think again.
   Because that’s what happened to a resident of Craig Drive in Three Rivers sometime between late last Friday night, Feb. 18, and early Saturday morning.
   Sheriff’s detectives are hoping that entering the occupied dwelling was the end of a local crime spree that actually began the previous night when the burglar entered two other unoccupied Three Rivers homes. In the first of these two incidents, somebody forced their way into a Skyline Drive residence between Thursday night and Friday morning. In this crime, the victim reported missing stereo components and compact disks with a total value of more than $2,300.
   Sheriff’s investigators theorize that after the burglar hit the Skyline home, he then forced his way into an unoccupied Mynatt Drive residence where he stole more electronics, an unknown amount of jewelry, musical equipment, and the victim’s 2002 Ford Explorer. Loss in the Mynatt Drive crime was estimated at $11,500.

  “In the Mynatt Drive case, the victim’s wife is out of town so we really don’t know how much jewelry is missing,” said Jim Fansett, Three Rivers resident deputy sheriff. “It is very important to inventory all your personal property if you ever hope to get it back.”
   Deputy Fansett said he is responsible for helping detectives from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department with a lot of the legwork in the investigation.

  “We’ve been able to trace the use of the credit cards to the Tipton area,” Fansett said. “We think, at the very least, we can arrest the suspect on possession of stolen property.”
   The Sheriff’s Department is reminding all Three Rivers residents to lock all doors and windows, secure their vehicles, and report any suspicious activity by calling 911.

  “The guy who we think did this is not a local, but worked in Three Rivers,” Fansett said. “The suspect already returned to the scene of the crime at least one time and he’s liable to do it again.”
   Deputy Fansett also urged residents who are planning to be away for an extended period to fill out a VIP house-check form, which is available at the Three Rivers Post Office. For more information about the house checks or any law enforcement matter, call Deputy Fansett, 740-8894.

Ishida hosts

first Town Meeting

   On Monday evening, Feb. 21, in front of an enthusiastic audience at McDowall Auditorium, newly-elected District 1 supervisor Allen Ishida conducted his first Three Rivers Town Meeting. The topics of an informal agenda ranged from the proposed visitor center to combating the illicit marijuana gardens that are flourishing on public lands near Three Rivers.
   The meeting began with two presentations made by The Kaweah Commonwealth. The first was a new “Golden Pen Award” that was given to Jim McClintick, a 13-year resident of Cherokee Oaks, for an outstanding written contribution to the local newspaper in 2004. In fact, McClintick said, he has submitted an original Valentine’s Day composition for the past 12 years, the first two of which were published in the former Sequoia Sentinel.
   The Commonwealth also honored Congressman Devin Nunes (R-21st District) as 2004 Newsmaker of the Year. Nunes was selected for his diligent work on Capitol Hill on behalf of Kaweah Country and all his constituents, which included landmark legislation to preserve and protect the historical resources in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park.
   Accepting on behalf of the congressman was Justin Stoner, communications director of the district office in Visalia.

  “The Congressman told me he was very pleased to receive this award,” Stoner said. “Politicians are called a lot of things but it’s unusual to be named the ‘Newsmaker of the Year.’ With the Mineral King bill, it was something he wanted very badly because he felt it was the right thing to do.”
   Stoner also said that his office is currently looking into why some of the federal-enhancement money promised to Three Rivers for a visitor center has not been forthcoming.

  “We are urging Caltrans to proceed with the project,” he said.
Supervisor Ishida said that Caltrans officials are holding up the project because Highway 198 was never officially designated a scenic highway.

  “Assemblyman Bill Maze and I will be meeting with Caltrans this week in Sacramento and looking into what kind of strings would be attached to the project,” Ishida said. “We have the funding for the project, but they’re not letting us spend it.”
   Supervisor Ishida also briefly discussed several other issues relative to Three Rivers. He said the June election looks “positive” for the Memorial District and that the Sheriff’s Department’s volunteer patrol (VIP) is vital to law enforcement in rural areas like Three Rivers.

  “I believe more of you folks should get involved with the VIPs,” he said.
   Glenn McIntyre, who started the Three Rivers VIP group in 2002, said the local VIPs currently number 12 and they would welcome having some more volunteers.
   Ishida also said county planners will be holding public meetings soon to review Tulare County’s Master Plan. A section of that document will contain the Three Rivers Community Plan.

  “Your community needs to figure out what kind of growth pattern that you want for the next 15 years,” Ishida said. “It’s imperative that we plan what we need in this community, or the county will do it for you.”
   Ishida also said he is currently part of a subcommittee of a “coastal commission-like” statewide committee created by Gov. Schwarzenegger to preserve areas in the Sierra Nevada mountains. For the first year, he said, he will be learning how the new committee will function as a representative of the Board of Supervisors.
   The county is also looking at various development issues including more industrial uses in the unincorporated areas and adding developer-impact fees.

  “We are one of only a few counties that do not have these fees,” Ishida said.
   Next, Ishida said that a private citizen who flies a helicopter in the area has been responsible for finding a number of the local pot-growing gardens. With the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, he said, it’s the lack of manpower that has allowed the activity to become established in Tulare County.
   At the next Town Meeting, scheduled for March or April, Supervisor Ishida will update the public on his recent meetings in Sacramento and ask county staff for a briefing on the Three Rivers Community Plan.
   For more information about any county matter, contact Supervisor Ishida, 733-6271.

NPS pays fine

for no-burn violation

   Last month, the National Park Service paid a $25,000 fine to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The fine stemmed from a brush-clearing fire that was ignited in Sequoia National Park on June 30, 2004, after the air-quality district had issued a no-burn order.
   It was the first time that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks had been cited or fined for an air-quality violation. The NPS regional office in San Francisco negotiated the original $75,000 penalty down to $25,000. An NPS spokesperson said, however, the payment was not an admission of guilt.
   Air quality management personnel said that Sequoia-Kings Canyon fire crews routinely consult district officials when planning a burn. But Valley air is so bad that air quality officials took action, they said, because the district cannot make exceptions for anyone or any agency that defies the no-burn order.
   Kelly Malay, SJVAPCD spokesperson, explained what happens when the agency issues a notice of violation like the one it sent to Sequoia National Park.

  “When we issue a violation, the party can pay a fine, contest the action in court, or go through a mutual settlement process,” Malay said. “In this case, the NPS opted for the latter and district officials agreed to accept the $25,000 payment.”
   Both sides agreed that in any burn there is always a possibility that down-canyon communities like Three Rivers could be recipients of smoke and dangerous particulates.

  “The number-one goal of the district is to achieve compliance, Malay said. “We’ve had the cooperation of the national parks in the past and we expect that to continue.”

Access gate installed

on Mineral King Road

Reduction in pot-planting is goal

   In an effort to deter what has become a thriving seasonal industry in Tulare County and on public lands throughout the state, a new gate has been installed on the Mineral King Road, about 10 miles from Highway 198, where it will remain closed and locked until Memorial Day weekend.
   The new access gate is located at the Sequoia National Park boundary on the Mineral King Road, about one-half mile past Lake Canyon. Its installation by the National Park Service is an attempt to curtail a burgeoning pot problem that has exploded in recent years in the area.
   The gate near the former Camp Conifer, at the 17-mile mark, will also remain closed and locked until the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
   In fact, Tulare County is currently ranked number one among California’s 58 counties with more than 150,000 marijuana plants seized in 2004. In contrast, Fresno County ranked seventh; Madera County was ninth in plants eradicated.
Statewide, there were 466,000 plants removed last year, 31.6 percent more than in 2003.
   The mid-elevations of the Mineral King Road are attractive to these sophisticated organizations that have targeted the Sierra foothills to ply their trade. When looking for a prospective marijuana grove, growers place a priority on water sources and remoteness.
   And don’t underestimate the seriousness of this 21st-century crime for several reasons:

  —These marijuana crops are not grown by old hippies or teenagers who have 20 or so plants. These are poly-drug-trafficking organizations that have marijuana factories, growing tens of thousands of plants.

  —Six people were killed in California’s marijuana groves last year. The plants are grown where people like to hike and fish and, as the season wears on, those hired to guard the lucrative crops get violently protective.

  —Where Mexican marijuana may sell for $350 to $400 a pound, varieties grown in the Sierra can net $3,500 per pound.
   The pot-planting season can begin as early as March with the cultivation of the site. Planting occurs when all danger of frost has passed.
   The pot-growing season continues throughout spring and summer. Sites usually have drip-irrigation installed with pesticides and herbicides used to control the environment.
   Camps are set up for hired workers, who should be considered armed and dangerous. Drops of food and supplies occur intermittently.
   The pot-harvesting season occurs between mid-August and October and must be completed before nighttime temperatures dip to freezing. This is when the potential for violence is greatest because so much has been invested by this time in the venture.

Mailing company agrees to pay

Memorial District election costs

   On Tuesday, Feb. 22, at a special meeting of the Three Rivers Memorial District, the board announced that the County of Tulare had reached an accord relative to the sample ballot mailing failures in the November 2004 election. In Three Rivers alone, at least 602 registered voters did not receive sample ballots.
   Supporters of the local Memorial Building’s Measure Z, argued that the mailing failure was responsible for a shortage of a few dozen “yes” ballots that could have made a critical difference in the outcome of the voting.

  “There was confusion over the length of time the tax would be required and the procedure to remove it from property tax bills when the necessary funds were collected,” said Bill Tidwell, Memorial District board president. “The settlement is great news because the money should cover all or most of the expense to get the measure on the June ballot.”
   Under the terms of the agreement, the Merrill Corporation of St. Paul, Minn., agreed to waive $15,000 of its fee for handling the distribution of the County’s election mailings contracted for Three Rivers.
   By offering to pay the fee, the bulk-mailing company did not assume liability for any wrongdoing. According to Tidwell, county counsel was able to negotiate the settlement based on data compiled by the Three Rivers Memorial District.

  “Supervisor Ishida is deserving of some of the credit,” Tidwell said. “He made certain that the district’s situation was seriously considered and dealt with in a timely manner.”


Viral infections

arrive in foothills

   Viral infections are hitting Kaweah Country residents hard. The most prevalent infection has symptoms of an irritating cough that lasts two to three weeks, fever, muscle and joint aches, sinus congestion, and sore throat.
   Although viral infections make people miserable, in most cases they can be treated at home with over-the-counter medicine. Exceptions are people who can’t control their coughing, appear dehydrated, develop bloody, green, or yellow sputum or sinus drainage, bad headaches or earache, breathing difficulty, or prolonged fever.

3R assists

Habitat for Humanity

   Three Rivers residents are invited to participate in the most recent local Habitat for Humanity project. Organized by members of the Community Presbyterian Church in Three Rivers, volunteers should meet at the Village Market parking lot by 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26, to carpool to Visalia.
   Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian housing organization. Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built more than 175,000 houses, providing shelter for nearly 900,000 people worldwide.
   Local Habitat affiliates coordinate house-building and select partner families to live in the simple, yet decent and affordable housing.
   The current construction is a house at 611 N. Locust St. in Visalia. The Three Rivers group will work until about 1 or 2 p.m.
For more information or to be notified of future workdays, call Bill Tidwell, 561-3105.

Motorists could pay at

the pumps this summer

   Gasoline prices rose more than seven percent in January, which is typically one of the slowest driving months of the year. This recent trend has led experts to predict that pump prices may surge past last year’s record highs when highway travel begins to increase in the spring.
   Government figures show that the average price of regular unleaded gas has risen in each of the last several weeks, jumping from $1.78 at the start of the year to $1.91 a gallon in the week ended January 31.
   And that’s more than 30 cents a gallon higher than January 2004.
Prices, of course, are highest in California, averaging $2.01 a gallon. They are lowest in the Rocky Mountain region, averaging $1.83 a gallon.
   Last year, the average price peaked above $2 a gallon in May, just before Memorial Day, which is the unofficial start of the summer-driving season. To be a mere dime short of that level in February is not a good sign for motorists, analysts said.
   Retail gasoline prices are predicted to rise above last year’s peak due to the rising demand for fuel and the higher price of crude oil, from which gasoline is refined.

Lawmaker wants

mountain lion hunting revived

   A bill making its way through the state Assembly would allow Californians to hunt mountain lions for the first time in more than 30 years.
   Assembly Bill 24 by Bill Maze (R-34th District) would allow the state to issue 116 hunting permit tags per year through a lottery process. As the mountain lion population increases in the Sierra foothills, so does the threat to humans and livestock, said Maze.
   The 116 permits he’s proposing equal two permits for each county in California, but the state Department of Fish and Game would be able to reduce or raise the permit number in areas according to their mountain lion populations.
   There are currently an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions roaming the state. Some evidence — such as an increase in reported sightings and a decrease in the deer population — suggests that the mountain lion population is growing.
   Joggers, bicyclists, and children could be at risk if they attract a lion’s attention. They don’t go stalking people, but if people are doing the wrong thing in lion country they could be mistaken for prey.
   Should the bill pass, people who receive hunting permits will have one year to kill a mountain lion. Immediately after killing the animal, the hunter must attach half of the permit to its ear and send the other half to Fish and Game.
   Opponents of the bill say the law would have no public-safety benefit and that it’s just sport hunting. Attacks on humans are rare, they say.
   Fish and Game already offers a depredation permit, allowing Californians to kill lions that damage their property, including livestock. Otherwise, it is a misdemeanor to kill a mountain lion and violators can spend up to a year in jail.
   AB 24 is now awaiting a hearing before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee planned for early March. After that it will go before the Natural Resources Committee.
   Should the bill pass through both committees, it will go to the Assembly, then the Senate. Because the current mountain-lion hunting ban was approved by voters, lawmakers must approve the current bill by a four-fifths vote.


Public comment requested

on Merced River Plan

   Yosemite National Park officials have unveiled the “Draft Merced Wild and Scenic River Revised Comprehensive Management Plan and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement” and has made it available for public review.
   The plan is intended to provide direction and guidance on how best to manage visitor use, development of lands and facilities, and resource protection within the river corridor.
   The proposals outlined in the Merced River Plan include user capacity for the entire 81-mile corridor in Yosemite and rezoning parts of the river area to protect resources.
   Public comment is being accepted on the plan through Tuesday, March 22. Public meetings are currently underway, in which participants have the opportunity to talk with park staff, provide individual testimony and/or participate in a public hearing with a court reporter, and submit written ideas and concerns.
   A meeting will be held in the Veterans Room at the Clovis Memorial Building, 453 Hughes Ave., on Thursday, March 3. An open house will be held from 5 to 9 p.m., with a presentation from 6 to 6:30 p.m., and a public hearing from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
   The Merced River Plan outlines development, recreation, and restoration projects along the stretch of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. It was originally released in 2000, but parts of it have been held up in litigation for the past two years.
   The National Park Service failed to draw proper river boundaries or show how its resources may be affected by a steady inflow of visitors, according to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.
Yosemite Valley receives about 18,241 visitors a day on the busiest five days of the year.
   One alternative of the plan would make that number the benchmark for visitor use. Another would cap the number of visitors as 23,717 — a number the Park Service arrived at through its research.
   Although the park’s gates wouldn’t be closed if that number is reached, the Park Service would attempt not to exceed that number through education efforts or announcements that would let visitors know there are better days in which to come to the park.
   The park’s preferred alternative does not involve fixed visitor quotas.
   The public can also comment on the plan’s proposed zoning and boundaries for wetlands, meadows, and archaeological sites around the river.
   The draft Merced River Plan is available for review online at: www.nps.gov/yose/planning/mrp/.
   Comments may be mailed to: Yosemite National Park superintendent; Attn: Revised MRP; P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389.
  Comments may also be faxed to (209) 379-1294, emailed to yose_planning@nps.gov, or delivered in person to a public meeting.


Deer susceptible

to killer disease

   In August 2003, during a men’s softball game on the upper field at Three Rivers School, a dazed and confused deer ran onto the infield and hit the backstop so hard that it broke its neck and died instantly. This bizarre incident took place in front of dozens of onlookers, including children.
   Although no local statistics are being kept, state Department of Fish and Game scientists have confirmed the presence of the adenovirus (pronounced AD-no- virus) in deer throughout the Sierra foothills, which causes adenovirus hemorrhagic disease (AHD). The virus was first identified among deer in California in 1993, in which an outbreak killed several thousand deer in 17 California counties.
   The disease, although reportedly not as severe as the previous outbreak, is apparently taking a toll among resident herds — those deer in the foothills that don’t migrate when seasons change.
AHD is similar to a bad cold or pneumonia in humans and can kill a healthy deer in three to five days or an unhealthy one in as little as 12 hours.
   Signs of a sick deer include the animal staying near water and drooling or foaming at the mouth. A deer with the disease will have labored breathing a cough, and a high fever.
   The deer’s body fills with fluid, they foam at the mouth, and they literally drown. Because of a high fever — normal temperature is 101 to 102, deer with AHD have a fever as high as 106 — deer can become delirious and try to find a place to cool down.
   Fawns that have been weaned from their mothers are most susceptible to the disease. It is a communicable disease; the virus is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids during licking and coughing.
   People are urged not to feed deer because that brings them together in large concentrations, encouraging the spread of the disease.
   Though similar to human viruses, the deer adenovirus cannot be spread to humans or other animals.
   People are advised to wear rubber gloves if handling deer carcasses and to thoroughly cook all deer meat.

 
THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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