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Feather River Bulletin
Quincy, California
February 3, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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February 3, 2010

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FEATHER RIVER II ' and Surrounding Areas Since 1866 Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010 Vol. 143, No. 26 50 CENTS Out of touch: Pager provider abandons area Joshua Sebold Staff Writer Several organizations oper- ating on the eastern side of the county became aware of something strange in the third week in January: Their pagers were malfunctioning. Eastern Plumas District Hospital Information Tech- nology Manager Rick Boyd received a call from a doctor Monday, Jan. 11. The doctor explained the hospital attempted to page him the night before and he never received the message. Boyd tested the pager and got no response. He pro- ceeded to test some spares he had on hand and discovered they also didn't work. As it became apparent that the trend had to be larger than a malfunction in the pagers themselves, he called Grace-Ann Mason, the Quincy representative for Walltech, the pager provider for the hospital. Boyd reported Mason looked into the problem and later told him the company that owned the pager tower that all the providers in the area used would no longer be maintaining the service. In a short phone interview, Mason said she hadn't re- ceived a full briefing from USA Mobility, the company operating the tower. Boyd said he knew Portola and Graeagle were both out of service, and he suspected problems would extend to Loyalton and Hallelujah Junction. The IT manager said he immediately switched the contact information for all on-call doctors to cell phone and home phone numbers, and asked those doctors to call in more often when traveling. Plumas County Mental Health Director John Sebold reported his department had been experiencing problems with its pagers for several rhonths. He said his agency tried re- placing batteries and entire pagers at first and also talked to the on-call service that receives after-hours calls and pages the on-call therapist. Sebold said Walltech was also contacted several times to see if something could be going wrong on that end. Mental Health Fiscal Officer Bianca Harrison said Mason called Thursday, Jan. 14, with information that the Beckwourth Peak tower was out of service and that USA Mobility didn't plan to bring it back into use. Harrison said her con- versation with Mason gave her the impression there was no pager service south of Beckwourth and there might be issues in Lassen County. She described the depart- ment taking similar measures to those Boyd talked about at EPHC, switching on-call notifications to cell phones, telling on-call employees to call in more often and ex- plaining to them they were expected to stay in range of cell phone service. Sebold said he contacted several other agencies to see if their pagers worked and many people in Quincy were under the impression their pagers were working fine. The mental health director wasn't convinced, saying many people only conducted pager tests in their offices and his department had expe- rienced inconsistent pager coverage throughout the county in recent months. Plumas-Sierra Rural Elec- tric Cooperative Network Administrator Rob Brandt said one of PSREC's employ- ees who was married to a county employee informed him there was a problem with the pager system. Sebold confirmed the spouse was one of his employees. Brandt said the tip prompted his company to conduct a pager test in Portola. He said all five pagers failed to get the message. Brandt reported the first USA Mobility customer support representative he contacted told him to replace the pagers because the service should be fine. "So all five quit at once supposedly," he quipped during an interview. Brandt said on a second call he worked his way to a supervisor who said she would call back in a couple days. He said when he got that call, it was from an adminis- trator who informed him the company was pulling the tower out because there wasn't enough revenue to sustain it. Brandt said he was pretty sure his company had tested pagers as far as Loyalton, finding problems there as well. Brandt said his company See Pager, page 14A Art Walk Friday P luma/U:wtna show of paintings by Lucinda Woods as part of Friday's Art Walk. Other galleries in downtown Quincy will be open 5-8 p.m. An illustrator and designer, Wood works mostly in watercolors. Photo courtesy of Plurnas Arts Positive coliform test closes one East Quincy well Joshua Sebold Staff Writer At a mid-January meeting, East Quincy Service District Manager Mary Henrici told .the district's board that she had isolated the well behind the district office, well #2, from the rest of the water system because of a positive total coliform test. Total coliform tests look for bacteria that originate in dirt or plant matter, compared to fecal coliform that originates in sewage, septage or animal waste. Henrici said the levels of total coliform weren't above regulations; she isolated the well from the water system anyway, until further tests could be done. The well has remained isolated while further inves- tigations have proceeded. The manager said the next test was positive for both total and fecal coliform, which she found interesting. "It's like it drew in more of whatever it was, the issue, and made it worse." Henrici also told the board she looked at the most recent nitrate levels for the well, which were at 32.8 mil- ligrams per liter, compared to a maximum allowable level of 45 mg/L. She explained, "Nitrate is an indicator of groundwater pollution." The manager said the number was particularly sur- prising to her because nitrate levels usually rise at a rela- tively low rate. She indicated that a test in 2007, showed 2.0 mg/L and one in May 2009, showed 2.1 mg/L. Henrici added that one company did tests on all six of the district's wells and on- ly well #2 had the problems, which made her think it wasn't a testing problem. She said the well, which had been in place for as long as the district has existed, could be failing and the cas- ing around the well could be collapsing. Henrici said she discovered the well also didn't have a gate valve, which provides a fail-safe to further isolate it from the rest of the water system. She said one would be in- stalled, and clarified this wasn't a cause for alarm because a check valve was already in place and the well was turned off. A check valve opens when a significant level of pressure is applied to it; to close it, the water pressure must go down. A gate valve is considered a "fail-safe" because it's designed to be either in an open or closed position and would be able to stop flow under a reasonable amount of water pressure even if the well couldn't be turned off. The manager also ex- plained regulations dictated the district test the well quarterly because of the high nitrate levels, but added that wouldn't change any- thing because she wanted to figure out what the problem was at a faster pace anyway. She said other chemicals that were indicators for pollution would be tested for as well. In a quick telephone inter- view Wednesday, Jan. 27, Henrici said the well had been chlorinated and re- ceived a clean bacteria test result after that. She said the next steps would involve sending out more samples and chlorinat- ing the well again. Agencies respond to storm damage in Almanor See page 1B Ski races High school and junior teams take to the slopes. See Sports M. Kate West Chester Editor Without the assistance of multiple agencies, life, as it is known in the Lake Almanor Basin, might have come to a screeching halt during the snowstorms the week of Jan. 17-25. In addition to the more than six feet of snow that fell on the West Shore of Lake Almanor and Chester, the storms brought about a Plumas County Board of Supervisors declaration of a local emergency Jan. 22. District 3 Supervisor Sher- tie Thrall, who represents Chester and most of the Lake Almanor Basin, said the dec- laration was due largely to conditions in Chester, which was the hardest hit area in Plumas County. She also said the official act made the Basin eligible for increased resources. Chester Fire Department Assistant Chief and incident commander Nick Dawson provided facts Jan. 26 about the efforts of some of the additional resources. Among those resources were Captain Tim Williams and Antelope fire crews from the CalFire agency, previously known as the California Department of Forestry. "Two crews were assigned to Chester and the East Shore and one to the West Shore. They cleared areas to enable crews from PG&E to effect repairs," Williams said. He also talked about the collaborative effort between all the Basin's fire depart- ments and CalFire to clear roadways, fire hydrants and school roofs, remove trees and even clear a driveway in the instance of a medical emergency. He said crews were perform- ing similar tasks Saturday, Jan. 23, around the Basin. "All of the fire departments in the Basin assigned per- sonnel to work within their respective areas," he sid. "We knew that if we didn't get caught up over the week- end with the latest storm prediction, we would have been way overwhelmed; this could have become a life issue for residents," he said. He said Supervisor Thrall and Plumas County Office of Emergency Services Director Keith Mahan were involved in all decisions. "Mr. Mahan and Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood were both on site and involved in the processes and incident updates," he said. Local team leaders were Sergeant Dean Canalia of PCSO, Chester Fire Chief Bill Turner, West Almanor Fire Chief Randy Fluke and Gary Pini, who is the fire chief for the Peninsula and Hamil- ton Branch fire protection districts. "The Basin responded 100 percent just like always and our local government moved fast too---they didn't sit on it. Without their support, that of CalFire and our local teams we could have been much worse off," Dawson said. Government v. commercial Dawson explained use of fire crews was not intended to replace individuals or entities in providing ser- vices. "The fire crews were strictly for life hazards; where snow or trees prevent- ed the ingress or egress of emergency services," he said. He said crews were not in the Basin in lieu of private contractors, but in the role of supporting government. As for leaning trees, downed fences and other storm-related problems on private property, Dawson said resolution is the home- owner's responsibility. Roof snow load Dawson said while some folks were concerned about the snow loads on local roofs, teams that were out Jan. 23 estimated the weight at See Storm, page 8A