Friday, January 04, 2019

Legislative sessions mean more bills to reduce paid public notices, which are needed by citizens and newspapers

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

As state legislatures around the country convene this month, we can expect the usual raft of bills to reduce the requirements for public notice – paid advertising from government that tells citizens what it is doing. Many journalists have thought little about this issue, but they need to realize that public notice is the little-known third leg of the platform for open government in America, along with open records and open meetings and courts.

Maryanne Reed of West Virginia University brought the issue to journalists' attention Jan. 3 with an article on Nieman Reports. She began: "Reading public notice ads in the classifieds is about exciting as watching paint dry, but it’s necessary reading for some. In Carmel, California, a 99-year-old woman was able to stop the bank from foreclosing on her house after someone read the notice in the local paper and shared it with her grandchildren. After reading a county financial report in the Ottumwa Courier, an Iowa pharmacist learned that a national pharmacy chain overcharged by five times the price of medicines it supplied the local jail. His complaints led to him securing the contract instead." Dating back to the Colonial era, public notice has served a vital role in informing people about the activities of their government."

The Public Notice Resource Center tracked about 160 public-notice bills in state legislatures in 2018. Most failed, in large part because newspapers still have "allies among legislators in rural areas, where internet access is limited and local newspapers still have a strong presence," Reed writes. But in many states, this is a year for longer sessions and there is more room for mischief, such as putting public-notice ripper legislation into a state budget bill, a frequent tactic.

Local officials argue for putting public notices online, where the cost would be minimal, but so would the reach. Surveys have shown few people are likely to go to a government website to find public notices, but in a newspaper they encounter them without looking. Reed writes, "While newspapers may still be the best venue, they also have an obligation to make public notices as widely available as possible. More than a dozen states now require that newspapers also publish them on their websites or on state press association sites that aggregate notices."

Most state newspaper associations provide public-notice websites on their own. “It’s a way to answer critics, who say newspapers are still living in the buggy-whip era,” Mark Maassen, executive director of the Missouri Newspaper Association, told Reed. The digital era means papers have fewer journalists, and that makes it all the more important that citizens can serve as watchdogs over government through public notices. And that revenue can keep journalists employed at newspapers, the main finders of fact in our republic.

Series explores rural water quality issues – supply, quality, management and more – in the Upper Midwest

"The land near Wisconsin's Little Plover River didn't used to be much good for farming – until center-pivot irrigation," the StarTribune reports. "Since then, the river's base flow has drastically diminished." (StarTribune photo by Aaron Lavinsky)
Josephine Marcotty of the StarTribune in Minneapolis has written an outstanding three-part series on rural water quality in the Upper Midwest called "Water Pressure." Essentially, Minnesota, "a state renowned for its abundant water, confronts a difficult new fact of life," Marcotty reports. "It may no longer be able to guarantee what its residents have always taken for granted: Clean drinking water, industrial and agricultural growth, and many thousands of healthy lakes and streams."

Part one explores efforts by the town of Cold Spring, population about 4,500, to balance the needs of residents and a local brewery, and those of farmers who use fertilizer that can pollution. When Cold Springs Brewing Co. expanded in 2012 and needed more water, that threatened a nearby trout stream and triggered a "statewide political fight," Marcotty reports, one which could happen again if there's a drought or the brewery wants to expand again, which it hopes to do.

Part two details how more than 80 residents from rural Wisconsin sued one of the most powerful players in the state's agriculture industry, Central Sands Dairy, alleging that its irrigation and manure-spreading practices have depleted and polluted drinking water and caused the death of an infant. "A young mother in the tiny town of Nekoosa lost an infant daughter to a fatal brain malformation that has been associated with high levels of nitrate, a fertilizer byproduct found in the community’s drinking water," Marcotty writes. "Her tragedy led to a community well testing program this year, which found that 40 percent of the homes had nitrate concentrations that, like hers, were far above the legal limit.

Lewis & Clark Regional Water System
(StarTribune map by Ray Grumney)
Part three looks to the future, holding up the nonprofit Lewis & Clark Regional Water System as a model for how communities, states and the federal government can cooperate to supply areas with limited groundwater. The system consists of 337 miles of underground pipes that carry water drawn from a South Dakota aquifer to 20 cities, towns and utilities in three states (Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska) and soon, Iowa.

The project, in the works for over 25 years, is a solution dreamed up after predictions that the area would eventually run out of water. The proposal faced many challenges along the way; it was too risky for many communities to gamble on, required a great deal of cooperation among communities that did sign on, needed nearly $590 million in state and federal subsidies, and relies on South Dakota water laws to protect the water in the aquifer.

The project could be a national example. Federal and state officials have long encouraged consolidation of small water systems that are prone to problems.

Journalists from Iowa to Ohio are urged to apply by Feb. 1 for free environmental reporting workshop March 7-8

If you're a journalist from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio, and want to learn more about how to produce in-depth pieces on energy, climate, and/or the environment, here's a workshop for you:

"InsideClimate News, the Pulitzer Prize-winning national nonprofit newsroom, will hold a two-day training for about a dozen winning applicants from March 7-8 in Nashville. The workshop will be business journalism-focused and will center on covering the clean energy economy in the Midwest. The training is part of ICN's National Environmental Reporting Network," ICN reports. It held a seminar for journalists in the Southeast last fall.

Reporters, editors or producers of any type of news outlet, including print, digital, television and radio, are welcome to apply. Though preference will be given to newsroom journalists, freelancers may apply. 

The workshop will be held at Vanderbilt University's First Amendment Center and all lodging, food and reasonable travel expenses will be covered. ICN journalists will conduct some sessions, and Vanderbilt professors will conduct others. Participants are asked to bring a story idea, and will receive individual, confidential coaching on how to best approach it as well as ongoing mentoring after the workshop. Attendees can apply for story development funds and other financial assistance. ICN may co-publish participants' finished stories to bring wider attention to them.

The workshop is funded by the Grantham Foundation, the Park Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and other donors. Click here to learn more about the workshop and to apply.

Interior Dept. wants to make FOIA requests more difficult

Proposed regulations from the Department of the Interior could make it more difficult and expensive for journalists to obtain documents through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The changes, proposed in a notice Dec. 28, "would allow the Interior Department to enforce caps on how many requests it will process from frequent FOIA users, make it more difficult for news organizations to justify having their FOIA fees waived, and relax internal deadlines for the agency to act on requests," writes Frank D. LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

Frank LoMonte
The Interior Department reports that FOIA requests to it have increased 30 percent since President Trump took office, with 128 cases in active litigation as of September. That's partly because journalists, archivists and historians worried that Obama-era documents about topics like climate change might be destroyed if not preserved, LoMonte writes.

It's possible the proposed changes also stem from a desire for less scrutiny from journalists. Reporters used documents obtained through FOIA requests to document the actions of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who recently resigned because of accusations that he used his position for personal benefit, LoMonte writes.

"The Interior Department is taking public comments on the FOIA regulation through Jan. 28. They can be filed electronically by referencing Docket No. DOI-2018–0017," LoMonte writes. "By law, federal agencies must show that they took account of public input before they can finalize enacting or amending a regulation."

Democrats who are now running the House Agriculture Committee circulate their list of priorities for 2019

House Democrats on the Agriculture Committee are planning hearings galore and making Farm Bill implementation the top priority of each subcommittee, as revealed in a list of oversight priorities and potential hearings circulated among members this week, Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico. The committee is chaired by Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who chaired in when Democrats controlled the House in 2007-2010. Here's a quick overview of priorities on his list:
  • The nutrition subcommittee plans to review the Trump administration's rulemaking on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work-requirement waivers for able-bodied adults with no dependents. 
  • The panel that oversees agriculture research will examine Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's plans to move the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington by the end of 2019.
  • Several subcommittees are planning hearings on the Agriculture Department's relief program for farmers and ranchers hurt by the trade war with China, since some lawmakers and farmer groups have said the payments are inadequate for certain crops.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Rural newspaper lobby tells feds: Don't move ads required for migrant labor from dailies to internet; run in weeklies

By Tonda F. Rush
Director of Public Policy, National Newspaper Association

WASHINGTON — Keeping notices in newspapers about agricultural job opportunities is important for U.S. workers, the National Newspaper Association told the U.S. Department of Labor in December.

The Labor Department has proposed a change in the rules for employers seeking visas for foreign seasonal or temporary workers. Congress requires those employers to make positive recruitment efforts to seek U.S. workers before looking abroad. Labor Department regulations consider a positive recruitment to be two ads in a daily newspaper. Now, Labor says daily newspapers are losing readership and are too expensive for farm employers, costing more than $600 per ad. It proposes allowing the ad postings on a job-search website instead and letting employers document their efforts by capturing a screenshot of the ad for their own files.

NNA and more than 500 newspapers filed objections to the proposal. They point out that putting ads in community newspapers closer to the workforce would be cheaper and better and that the readership of newspapers together with their websites would be more effective. The newspapers, ranging from the Ackley (IA) World Journal, to the Zionsville (IN) Times-Sentinel, told the Labor Department they believed their newspapers and websites were the best choice.

“U.S. workers deserve a fair chance at jobs before foreign workers are recruited. That is the law. We want to help the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to make sure they get that chance,” the newspapers said. “We are among the nation’s 7,000 weekly and small daily newspapers. Most of us operate in small towns. Our circulations are smaller and our ad rates are far less costly than those of the metropolitan dailies that the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security have studied in their research. Our pages are more closely read than any website. The word-of-mouth promotion that emanates from our readers more quickly penetrates our communities than the internet does. We know our markets and can help employers find their workforce,” the newspapers said.

NNA’s separate filing noted that although the law does not call the recruitment ads a “public notice,” the requirement is for its equivalent and should be set up to follow the usual criteria for public notice. Using the newspapers would preserve the independence from the employers who are required to do the notification. The print pages and websites would be accessible to the workforce, which usually find their jobs within 25 miles of their homes, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture studies. Community newspapers are less costly and have access to statewide classified networks operated by their press associations. They are also permanent and do not evaporate as Internet publications often do.

The department also is considering a similar new rule for the recruitment of non-agricultural employees. More information about the Labor Department proposal is available at

'The good, the bad and the ugly' of the 2018 Farm Bill

As we've noted before, at 807 pages, the 2018 Farm Bill is a lot to dig through. Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee offer a sharp, succinct analysis of "the good, the bad and the ugly" in the bill for farmers in a recent "Policy Pennings" column. Here are a few highlights:

The Good:
  • Industrial hemp legalization offers a much-needed new source of revenue for farmers.
  • Some farmers will be able to get a better payout from crop insurance programs.
The Bad:
  • The payment limitation threshold for farm-program payments remains at $900,000 a year in adjusted gross income. 
  • The bill expands who is allowed to receive farm program payouts to even distant relatives who aren't farmers.
The Ugly:
  • Crop insurance payout prices remain nowhere near the full cost of production. 

How 5G networks could help rural America, maybe

Wireless providers began launching the nation's first 5G hotspots last month, but rural areas won't see any for a while. Here's what you can expect when 5G does make it out to rural areas:

"Rural areas won't be left out of the 5G world, but 5G will be different there. It will enable new ways of farming and living. It will be a big deal, and many of its applications haven't been invented yet. But it probably won't give rural homes unlimited high-speed access to Netflix next year, which is what rural residents probably most want and are most frustrated by right now," Sascha Segan reports for PC Reviews. "The multi-gigabit speeds and massive capacity you hear about with 5G is by and large an urban phenomenon, driven by the huge bandwidths of millimeter-wave spectrum, which doesn't travel very far. Rural areas will get a form of 5G called "low-band" or "sub-6" 5G, which will have less capacity but still have extremely low latency and be able to work with massive networks of industrial sensors."

The 5G network Sprint is building out will probably be suitable for home internet and could provide a big boost to farming and telemedicine, but it's not clear how much 5G will improve speeds in rural areas. Later this year, AT&T and T-Mobile will build out 5G networks in rural areas as well, and Segan predicts rural customers can expect a 35 percent increase in upload/download speeds and much faster data transmission speeds.

The planned rural networks for AT&T and T-Mobile will transmit on low-band, frequency-divided spectrum networks, which can use existing towers and coverage areas but probably won't increase capacity enough for rural households to experience the nationwide home usage average of 151 gigabytes per month. "In a 2016 paper, scientists from nine countries including the US concluded that only government subsidies would turn 5G into a real solution for rural home broadband issues," Segan reports.

N.H. fight over opioids and recreational pot: Governor vows veto, but House speaker says legislature would override

Debate has been heating up in largely rural New Hampshire over proposed legalization of recreational marijuana. Medicinal marijuana is legal in the state, possession of up to three-fourths of an ounce has been decriminalized (meaning it's only punishable by a fine and not jail time), and many residents and leaders want marijuana to be completely legalized, Naomi Martin reports for The Boston Globe.

Proponents argue that legalization will keep badly needed cannabis revenue in state, since locals drive to any bordering state or Quebec and purchase legal recreational marijuana. And since research has shown that legal marijuana correlates with reduced opioid use, they believe it could help decrease the state's soaring opioid-overdose death rate. "New Hampshire ranks second in the country for opioid-overdose deaths, with a rate nearly triple the U.S. average, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2016, 437 people died of opioid overdoses — three times 2013’s death toll, a rise that experts attribute to fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid," Martin reports.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu remains staunchly opposed to recreational legalization and has hired anti-marijuana lobbyist Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana to help him convince constituents that it's a gateway drug, and would actually hurt efforts to fight the opioid crisis. "Sabet said he will work with Sununu to publicize his message that cannabis today is more potent and addictive than 'your grandpa’s marijuana' and that legalization is being pushed by companies that seek profits over health and safety," Martin reports.

Sununu has vowed to veto any legalization bill. A legislative override requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers, which Democrats control: the House 234-166 and the Senate 14-10. "House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, a Democrat, said the chamber would have the votes to override a Sununu veto, and he predicted the Senate would, too," Martin reports. "He said the governor should quit fighting and spend the next few months working with lawmakers on how best to regulate the drug."

CNHI sold to Retirement Systems of Alabama, its old owner; rural journalism institute director says that's a good thing

Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., one of the country's largest owners of community newspapers, announced yesterday that it had been acquired by the Retirement Systems of Alabama; the financial details weren't announced. Both are headquartered in the state capital of Montgomery, because CHNI has been owned by RSA for most of its 20-year history.

CNHI, which has 68 dailes and more than 40 non-dailies in 22 states, became a subsidiary of Raycom Media Inc. in September 2017. In June 2018, Raycom announced the sale of its television stations to Gray Television, which said it did not want to own newspapers and would sell CHNI as a whole or in pieces. RSA is the chief creditor of Raycom and CNHI. The sale to RSA was announced along with the closing of the Raycom sale to Gray.

RSA administers the pension fund for state employees in Alabama, and has made a number of non-traditional investments in golf courses and hotels. "Those who are concerned about accountability journalism and ownership of newspapers in this country should be pleased at this development," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. "CNHI has a history of supporting strong journalism in its communities and providing statehouse news coverage, which has been declining for years in most states."

Study: low-income, rural kids may be at higher risk of cigarette smoke exposure than previously thought

A newly published study in Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that young children from low-income, rural homes could be at a higher risk of exposure to second- and third-hand cigarette smoke than previously reported. Secondhand smoke is smoke in the air that comes from a lit tobacco product; thirdhand smoke is smoke residue that settles into floors, furniture and clothing.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, analyzed data from the Family Life Project, an ongoing longitudinal study of poor families in six rural counties of Pennsylvania and North Carolina who added a child between September 2003 and August 2004. Researchers measured levels of cotinine, which the body makes from nicotine, in the saliva of 1,218 children at ages 6,15, 24, and 48 months; about 63 percent had detectable levels, and about 12 percent had at least as much as one would expect to find in an active adult smoker.

"Greater exposure was associated with lower income, less education, more residential instability, and more instability in adult occupants in the home, whereas time spent in center-based day care was associated with lower exposure," the researchers write.

Greater residential instability correlates with higher smoke exposure because thirdhand smoke lingers, so a nonsmoking family that moves into a home once occupied by a smoker will likely be exposed to thirdhand smoke. Poverty is associated with frequent moves, which the researchers hypothesize could increase such children's risk of thirdhand smoke exposure. More time in a center-based daycare lowers the risks of smoke exposure; day-care centers are generally smoke-free.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

How the partial federal shutdown affects rural America

The partial shutdown of the federal government, which began Dec. 22, will soon have a bigger impact on rural Americans as federal departments that have continued operation with leftover money run out of appropriations. "Many of the departments and agencies hit by the partial shutdown, which began Dec. 22, have reached a breaking point in their ability to go on with minimal disruption. They are running out of carryover cash and time to prep checks for the mid-month pay period," Jennifer Scholtes, Caitlin Emma and Bernie Becker report for Politico.

In a statement last week, the Department of Agriculture "assured farmers that checks would continue to go out during the first week of the shutdown. But direct payments for farmers who haven’t certified production, as well as farm loans and disaster-assistance programs, will be put on hold beginning next week, and won’t start up again until the government reopens," Juliet Linderman reports for The Associated Press. "Although certain vital USDA programs will remain operational in the short term, that could change if the shutdown lasts for more than a few weeks."

Other ways the shutdown could hurt rural America: "USDA won’t be able to issue new loans for rural development or grants for housing, community facilities and utility companies," Politico reports. "Payments will stop being processed for agricultural research and education projects. Statistics routinely published on commodity and livestock production, as well as economic projections, will cease. And U.S. Forest Service work to prevent wildfires will halt, along with staffing for ranger stations and other facilities at the agency’s public recreation sites. Farmers affected by retaliatory tariffs will now have to wait until after the shutdown to receive aid if they have yet to apply for that relief."

Payments for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are guaranteed through January and school lunch programs are guaranteed through February. Payments for the Women, Infants and Children program and food distribution programs on Indian reservations will continue on a local level but without additional federal funding, Politico reports. USDA has released a list of activities that were and weren't continued after Jan. 1. Read it here.

China allows first imports of U.S. rice, but in the meantime has hampered other U.S. exporters with inspections

With the U.S. and China in a nominal cease-fire of the trade war, China is making a conciliatory but possibly symbolic gesture by allowing imports of brown, polished and crushed rice from the United States for the first time, Reuters reports. However, it's unclear how much rice China might actually buy from the U.S.

Meanwhile, China has been creatively hurting U.S. exporters by denying shipments as Chinese inspectors judge them wanting. "Disparate American goods such as oranges, logs, calf skins and even Lincoln vehicles have encountered heightened customs reviews at Chinese ports this year. Multinational companies already accustomed to the sometimes difficult environment have reported an uptick in the number of hurdles they must jump through in order to do business in the increasingly lucrative market," report Megan Cassella of Politico and Chad Bray and Finbarr Bermingham of Hong Kong's independent South China Morning Post. American exporters whose shipments failed inspection have been forced to quickly find other buyers, especially when the product is perishable.

"The total value of products that China imports from the U.S. represents just one-fourth of what it exports, so Beijing cannot match U.S. tariffs dollar for dollar, but China has many other weapons in its arsenal to make doing business painful and costly," Reuters reports. "Chinese officials rarely tie such actions directly to any international tensions, and they often go unnoticed outside the industries that are affected by them, trade experts said. But they are part of a well-worn playbook for the Chinese government, which has used these and other non-tariff barriers for years during political squabbles."

National parks, left open but understaffed during government shutdown over border wall, are being trashed

A line of cars streamed into Joshua Tree National Park on Saturday despite the federal government's partial shutdown, meaning visitors entered without having to pay the usual $30 fee. (Los Angeles Times photo by Jay Clendenin)
The partial federal government shutdown has had a big, and sometimes disgusting, impact on national parks. Restrooms and visitor centers have been closed and trash collection discontinued since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, but parks remain open to visitors and are only lightly staffed. The result: overflowing garbage cans, littering, and human waste on the ground.

"Yosemite National Park visitors using the side of the road as a toilet have prompted the park to close two campgrounds and a popular redwood grove for public-safety reasons," Matt Forgione reports for the Los Angeles Times. "Death Valley, whose most popular landmarks have been crowded during the winter holidays, says outhouses are open but aren’t being cleaned or stocked with toilet paper during the closure."

The problem stems from the Trump administration's unusual decision to leave the parks open to visitors during the shutdown over the president's demand for funding of a border wall, Ellen Knickmeyer and Jocelyn Gecker report for The Associated Press.

“We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts," John Gardner, senior budget director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, told AP. "We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety."

The National Park Service has the authority to close any areas where garbage or waste become a threat to visitors' health and safety, historical artifacts, or wildlife, AP reports.

As prices and demand drop, and financial pressures grow, dairy farmers increasingly leave the business

Jason Lawhorn milked cows on Dante Carpenter's farm in Russell
County, Kentucky. (Photo by Bill Estep, Lexington Herald-Leader)
After several years of low milk prices that often don't cover operating costs, many dairy farmers are leaving the business. Nationally, the problem is overproduction; fewer Americans are drinking milk, which has cut demand in all states.

In Kentucky, more than 10 percent of dairy farms shuttered in 2018, lowering the count to 513, down from 1,400 in 2005, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "In August 2017, one measure of milk prices in Kentucky, the “mailbox” price, was $18.63 per hundredweight; a year later, it was $15.82, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture," Estep writes. That's down from nearly $26 in 2014. Kentucky farmers are at a disadvantage because the federal government subsidizes the transport of milk from other states into Kentucky for sale, Estep reports.

The nonprofit Farm Aid says the milk-pricing system is controlled by large dairy corporations and unfairly hurts consumers and small dairy farmers; the organization points out that the number of very large dairy farms has increased in recent years as small farms have been pushed out of the market. "Farm Aid pointed to Walmart’s new Indiana processing plant as a example of large players taking over more of the milk-supply chain. Large companies with processing plants typically would rather deal with a few large farms than many smaller ones," Estep reports. "More than a dozen Kentucky dairy farms lost their sales contracts in 2018 when Walmart decided to build its own processing plant in Indiana and stop buying processed milk from Dean Foods, which in turn announced it would close a plant in Louisville."

Dairy farmers can get USDA relief payments as part of the larger package aid authorized to help producers hurt by the trade war, but the National Milk Producers Federation says the payments are "less than we had hoped for."

Many farmers just can't weather the storm. In a grim op-ed for The Washington Post, organic dairy farmer Jim Goodman writes that he sold his Wisconsin herd this summer after 40 years of milking: "My retirement was mostly voluntary; premature, but there is some solace in having a choice. Unlike many dairy farmers, I didn’t retire bankrupt. But for my wife and me, having to sell our herd was a sign — of the economic death, not just of rural America, but also of a way of life. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to walk through our barn and know that those stalls will remain empty. Knowing that our losses reflect the greater damage inflicted on entire regions is worse."

Camp Fire clean-up stalls amid local disagreements over where to dump rubble from demolished town of Paradise

Over a month after the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California, clean-up efforts in the devastated town of Paradise have stalled because of local disagreements over where to dump the rubble.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials first planned to put the concrete and metal rubble in a 100-acre temporary scrapyard next to a residential site in nearby Chico, but residents and town officials objected and persuaded the government to look elsewhere, Dale Kasler reports for The Sacramento Bee. But the alternative, a 200-acre former industrial site in nearby Oroville, is also unpopular with locals. "Although the decision is out of Oroville officials’ hands, about 100 residents showed up for a town hall meeting last week to protest the location, largely over their fears that the project would stir up toxic chemicals still in the soil. Federal officials say the site is safe," Kasler reports.

At the meeting, "along with the same complaints in Chico, including air quality, traffic, and narrow roads, Oroville residents told of their months dealing with the state Department of Water Resources after the Oroville Dam spillway crisis last year," Laura Urseny reports for the Oroville Mercury-Register. "Even worse were the memories from the days the Koppers plant operated: chemically treated wood, leaving toxins in the soil, followed by several fires that left the site an EPA Superfund site. Several speakers said they knew people who had died because of cancer they said was linked to the contamination."

An Oroville City Council member said she thought debris from Paradise would be "toxic-laden stuff" like the World Trade Center debris from 9/11 that sickened first responders. "State and federal officials insist, however, that the debris from Paradise would be cleansed of hazardous materials long before reaching Oroville," Kasler reports. "The Oroville location would be used to process up to 4 million tons of concrete and metal, rinsed clean of hazardous materials before leaving Paradise by truck. Once the debris arrives, it will be sorted, crushed and shipped elsewhere by rail. The yard would be open for at least a year." The nearest home is 2,500 feet from the proposed site.

State and federal officials hope to begin clearing the town of rubble by mid-January, but local opposition may keep them from meeting that goal. Once that happens, Paradise residents can put travel trailers on their properties and resume living there, Kelly Huston of the California Office of Emergency Services told Kasler.

Incoming mayor Chuck Reynolds told Kasler he understands why many locals are reluctant, but he thinks the site could bring more jobs to Oroville and believes small-town neighborliness is important. "This has to be done, they have to do it somewhere," he said. "We need to help our neighbors, especially in the face of tragedy."