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  In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 17, 2004

There’s pot in them thar hills…

and lots of it
Recent bust nets

4,000 mature plants

By John Elliott

   On Tuesday, Sept. 14, a task force of Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies eradicated a marijuana garden above the Sierra King subdivision south of the Mineral King Road on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Officers removed more than 4,000 plants, some of which reached heights of six feet or more.

  “This is our busiest time of the season as the plants begin to mature,” said Sergeant Michael Strawser, the strike force commander. “A number of other gardens have also been discovered, so we’ll be returning to Three Rivers maybe as early as next week.”
   The raid began with a procession of Tulare County vehicles traveling up Sierra Drive just as students were boarding morning school buses. Heavily armed deputies dressed in camouflage were distributed among a dozen trucks and patrol vehicles.
   Sgt. Strawser said that Southern California Edison employees first spotted the garden while inspecting a segment of the flume. The East Fork flume supplies river water for hydroelectric generation to Power House No. 1 in Three Rivers.

  “It’s entirely possible that this was one of the gardens that the growers intended us to find,” Strawser said. “The magnitude of all that is being cultivated is difficult to imagine.”
   Investigators now believe that the most powerful of the Mexican drug cartels are operating in Kern, Tulare, and Fresno counties. And it’s the marijuana that’s the flagship business; the methamphetamine production, Strawser said, is merely a means to generate money during the off-season.

  “The really big money and profits are in marijuana cultivation,” Strawser said.
   There is so much at stake, the experts say, even legalization won’t solve the problem.

  “If pot were legalized then the growers would evade the taxes and target smokers under the age of 18,” Strawser said.
   This season to date, deputies in Tulare County have eradicated 110,000 plants.

  “If you subtract the extraordinary garden [72,000 plants] that we took down on the Tule reservation in 2003, then we are actually ahead of last year in terms of eradication,” Strawser said. “We are getting lots of information from ranchers and local residents, especially in the Three Rivers area.”
   Strawser also said that deputies have made only one arrest because the growers seem to know just when to run.

  “In Badger, we arrested a Mexican national in a garden with a weapon and methamphetamine base in his possession,” Strawser said. “The suspect said he was acting alone and the judge gave him a suspended sentence.”
   According to Strawser, the department would like to set up checkpoints on key roads during the peak harvest season. Unfortunately, there are issues like racial profiling and the fact that Tulare County lacks the sufficient manpower and resources.
   After gathering several hundred pounds of the most recent haul, the pot was loaded on a county truck and transported to a site east of the Bob Wiley Detention Center. The contraband, which would have had an estimated value of $16.1 million if it had hit the streets, was then doused with diesel fuel and burned.

  “It’s satisfying when we can hit them [the growers] hard and see millions of their dollars go up in smoke,” said a deputy.

County cuts fire protection

   At the Tuesday, Sept. 14, Board of Supervisors meeting, Tulare County fire chief David Hillman announced a plan to cut firefighter positions at six fire stations, but not at Three Rivers. Chief Hillman said the cuts, effective October 1, are necessary because of a $1.8 million shortfall in the county’s fire budget.

  “Chief Hillman knew about the shortfall when we approved the current budget,” said Supervisor Bill Sanders, whose district includes Three Rivers. “In this year alone, the state authorized 28-percent raises in CDF benefits.”
   Sanders said there is no way that the county general fund can keep pace with those kinds of increases for CDF personnel. Tulare County contracts with the California Department of Forestry (CDF) for its fire protection in unincorporated areas.
   The cuts, Sanders said, will not immediately affect Three Rivers. At the end of the current fire season, Chief Hillman’s “Amador Plan” calls for CDF personnel now stationed at Hammond to cover Three Rivers.
   That allows Chief Hillman to use the county firefighter normally stationed at Three Rivers to cover elsewhere in the county. The rationale behind the plan is that during the off-season when there are fewer calls, state firefighters assigned to cover mountain forests can also service foothills communities like Three Rivers and Springville.
   But at least one local ambulance volunteer and paid call firefighter, who asked not to be identified, said Three Rivers would be left short-staffed.

  “During an incident when local CDF personnel are asked to serve as backup response in other areas, response time might be affected,” Sanders admitted.
   Sanders said he plans to call for a countywide assessment and a fee on new development to help raise funding for the escalating fire budget.

  “We’re not going to let the system collapse, but we must find a quick fix and a long-term solution,” Sanders said.
   After Chief Hillman presents the details of his budget cuts, Sanders said he plans to call a Three Rivers Town Meeting and invite Chief Hillman to address Three Rivers.

  “Three Rivers will not lose its firefighters and there won’t be a reduction in service,” Sanders assured.

DUI causes motorcycle crash

On Sunday, Sept. 12, Daniel Santos of Visalia was riding his 1999 Harley Davidson westbound on Sierra Drive in the vicinity of the First Baptist Church. According to Greg Fox, California Highway Patrol investigating officer, Santos failed to negotiate the curve and left the roadway striking a utility guy-wire.
Santos, 54, was not seriously injured but received bruises and lacerations. He was transported by ambulance to Kaweah Delta Hospital.
Based on evidence gathered at the scene, the cause of the accident was determined to be the fact that Santos was driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

TRUS seeks bus driver,

board members

By Amy Dolcourt-McElroy

   On Wednesday, Sept. 8, at their first meeting of the 2004-2005 school year, the Three Rivers Union School board of trustees faced a variety of issues.
   Welcome news is that enrollment grew by 20 students over the summer, bringing the total to 192. This could increase the 2005-2006 budget, as schools are funded based on the previous year’s average daily attendance. The newly enlarged student load is not a detriment to this year’s budget.
   Off-ballot candidates— As of Tuesday, Sept. 14, seven individuals had expressed interest in the two vacant school board positions. The deadline to apply for the school board is today (Friday, September 17). Candidates should submit to the TRUS office a resume and letter of intent addressed to “Board of Trustees.” The candidates will be invited for a public interview at the Wednesday, Oct. 6, meeting, and the two new school board members, elected by the sitting board, will be sworn in at the December organizational meeting.
   Route reorganization— Forty-nine students rely on the school bus for transportation to and from school, but currently there is not enough staff to drive all the necessary runs. TRUS superintendent Sue Sherwood is temporarily taking the morning run up South Fork Drive in her own car. In the meantime, the board is considering whether to hire a part-time bus driver, not hire any bus driver, or to ask Woodlake Union School District to host one run. The board will present a final decision at the October 6 meeting.
   Other transportation revisions during the past couple of school years include each teacher being allotted one field trip per year by bus. And, currently, after-school athletics no longer take a bus to out-of-town games, but instead relies on private cars and parent drivers for the commute.
   Update and upgrade— The board approved the financing for more than 15 modernization projects, ranging from replacing the heating and air-conditioning in the portable building (room numbers 4 to 7) to increasing the well capacity to installing blinds in the gym.
   The projects will begin after the plans are approved by the Division of State Architecture, which the board expects will occur some time in December.
   The funding for these projects comes from a $600,000 grant from the State of California, and since TRUS qualified under “financial hardship,” the usual fund-matching requirement has been waived.

A matter of principle:
Local youth,

form ‘American Heritage Girls’

   It all came down to one small yet powerful word: “God.” Due to the Girl Scouts of America allowing “flexibility” in the use of the word “God” in the Girl Scout Promise, leaders from a Three Rivers troop became disillusioned with the worldwide organization, finding the omission of God unacceptable for their young daughters.
   The group of girls in grades four through six are now affiliated with the nonprofit “American Heritage Girls,” an organization founded in 1995 on the premise of “building women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country.”
   While the name has changed, the experiences remain the same and the membership dues are retained locally to assist with club projects. The girls, under the guidance of their leaders, will continue to accomplish activities and projects to earn badges, plan and participate in events, and they have adopted the Community Food Pantry as their pet community-service project.

Memorial District

receives donations

   On the November 4 general election ballot, Three Rivers residents will be asked to decide whether a measure to assess a property tax to assist with the Memorial Building’s operation and maintenance should be approved.
   According to Bill Tidwell, Three Rivers Memorial District president, expenses currently surpass income at the Memorial Building, which has been a local events center for more than 40 years.
   Currently, the Senior League, Lions Club, Woman’s Club, and Jazz Club hold meetings here. It is also available for weddings and other gatherings.
   The Three Rivers Woman’s Club recently contributed a generous donation to assist with the facility’s operations until, and if, voters approve the funding initiative. The Three Rivers Lions Club also contributed several thousand dollars.

Robinson remembered;

Tranquillity best forgotten

By John Elliott

   It was a season opening game that the Woodlake Tiger fans would just as soon forget. But the ceremony prior to the game honoring coaching legend Leo Robinson was something those who attended will always remember and attracted media attention from several local television stations.
   Four speakers including son Ron Robinson, a retired Major League baseball player, paid tribute to the late Coach Robinson and reminded the large crowd what an inspiration his 41 years at Woodlake had been to all who knew and played for him.
   Frank Ainley, Woodlake’s current athletic director, spent many years coaching with Robinson. He said what distinguished Robinson is that he never gave up and “Coach Robinson just got the dad-gum job done.”
   After the glowing tributes, a contingent of current Tiger players led a procession from the bench over to the southeast corner of the stadium. There, in front of Robinson family and a legion of Tiger fans, the players unveiled the new monument to Coach Robinson adorned with a remarkable likeness in bronze and plaques listing the records of “A True Tiger.”
   Ainley said it is a tremendous challenge coaching at a small school like Woodlake and nobody met that challenge better than Coach Robinson.

  “In high school football, there is no draft or free agents,” Ainley said. “We just go out each season and do the best we can do with what the good Lord gives us.”
   The game was anti-climatic after all the emotion of the dedication ceremony. Tranquillity took the opening kickoff and in spite of committing two critical penalties, scored on a nine-yard run. The extra point staked Tranquility’s Tigers to a 7-0 lead.
   On Woodlake’s opening series, sophomore quarterback Ryan Baker completed two passes, but the running game stalled and the Tigers were forced to punt. Tranquillity started another drive that ended when Travis Groeber, senior linebacker, made a key tackle and Tranquillity was forced to punt.
   But a fumble by the Tigers allowed Tranquillity to recover the errant ball deep inside Woodlake’s territory. A quick 21-yard burst and a botched extra point had Tranquillity leading 13-0 with 6:46 remaining in the first half.
   On Woodlake’s next drive, Baker completed five of six passes and had his youthful Tigers deep in Tranquillity territory. He then scored Woodlake’s only points of the game on a three-yard quarterback sneak.
   After a long pass play just before halftime, Tranquillity regained the game’s momentum by scoring on a six-yard pass. A two-pointer failed and the visiting (Tranquillity) Tigers led 19-6.
   In the second half, an interception and several penalties stopped Woodlake before they could ever mount any comeback. On this night, they were simply outplayed by a more experienced team and succumbed 33-6.

  “We expected them [Tranquillity] to play well because we knew they had 14 starters who returned to play this season,” said Doc Harrow, Tiger team trainer. “This just might be their year.”
   In the junior varsity game, the Tigers prevailed 7-6 in a defensive struggle. A game-saving tackle on a two-point conversion attempt as time expired preserved the Woodlake win.

Arnold Burnett
1915 ~ 2004

   Arnold Claire Burnett died of cancer on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2004, in Phoenix, Ariz. The former Kaweah Country resident was 89.
   A memorial service will be held tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 18) at 1 p.m. at the Three Rivers home of Ollie Craig. All who knew Arnold are welcome to attend.
   Arnold was born on Aug. 24, 1915, in Sanger to Clyde and Marie Burnett. He was raised on the family farm and attended Fresno State College.
   Arnold worked for the Bank of America for 20 years. In 1950, he was appointed manager of the Woodlake branch, at the time the youngest person in bank history to achieve this position.
   In the late 1950s, with his friends Ollie and Leon Craig of Three Rivers, Arnold formed LOA, a mail-order company. The company was awarded computerized postage permit number one.
   An envelope with this postal imprint was sent to the Moon and back. Arnold was very proud to have been a part of this achievement.
   Arnold was a member of the Lions Club International, Rotary International, Masons, and Eastern Star. He served as Worthy Patron of Eastern Star in Woodlake.
   Arnold loved flying airplanes and was a member of the Woodlake flying club. He enjoyed traveling, ballroom dancing, and playing bridge with his Three Rivers friends.
   Arnold was preceded in death by his older sister, Gilberta Powell, and his youngest son, Jim.
   He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Miriam; son Bill Burnett; daughter Jan Burnett; six grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; his sister, Harriett Hickman; and several nieces and nephews.


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