Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Rotten-egg smell wafts over Soldotna

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KENAI - A rotten-egg smell wafted through Soldotna, but it wasn't a dangerous gas leak.

It was a malfunction in a pump that put more scent into the odorless natural gas than it was supposed to.

"We put mercaptan in it, which gives it the rotten egg odor so people can detect if there's a natural gas leak in their home," said Curtis Thayer, a spokesman for Enstar Natural Gas Co.

The mercaptan-laced gas traveled through the system and went into peoples' homes on Saturday.

Mercaptan is highly concentrated. The extra amount was probably less than 50 gallons, but that was enough to be detected in homes as it was ignited by pilot lights, Thayer said Tuesday.

The malfunction occurred at a station off of Kalifornsky Beach Road after the system there was restarted following maintenance work, Thayer said.

To get rid of the over-odorized gas remaining in the system, Enstar workers released it into the atmosphere in a remote area. Otherwise, it would have continued on to Anchorage, according to Thayer. Natural gas is lighter than air and it was not contained, there was never any danger of an explosion, he said.

Dick Kapp, a shift captain for Central Emergency Service, said the fire department received many calls from people complaining about the smell of gas. Once authorities became aware of the situation, they informed the residents what had occurred.

Thayer said the company is investigating the malfunction to determine what went wrong.

Residents rally to support beavers

MARTINEZ, Calif. - City and state officials may have reached a solution to the gnawing problem of what to do about some urban beavers.

The beavers showed up about a year ago and got busy, building an impressive, 6-foot dam across a creek in downtown Martinez, a suburb in the San Francisco Bay area. The animals built up an equally strong following of visitors enchanted by their industrious ways.

But city administrators considered having the beavers destroyed over concerns that their dam could cause a repeat of winter floods that have wreaked havoc on the area in previous years.

"Beavers certainly have a place in the ecological system but not in the middle of urban development," reads a staff report scheduled to be presented to the City Council on Wednesday. "Staff has concluded the only method to address the beaver situation in Alhambra Creek is depredation."

Beaver backers have hotly protested beaver "depredation" and some city officials were also reluctant.

City Councilman Mark Ross said it's clear the dam has to go, but he believes that Martinez, home of famous naturalist John Muir, can come up with a non-lethal solution.

"Surely the hometown of John Muir's got to have a better answer than killing beavers," he said Monday.

After previously indicating that relocating the beavers wasn't an option, state Fish & Game officials agreed Tuesday to allow the animals to the trapped and moved, Ross said.

"Everybody's happy," said Ross, adding that the city will be working on a long-term solution since it's likely a new crop of beavers will show up to sample the pleasures of urban living.

Feds seize fossil from Washington couple

SEATTLE - Federal agents have seized more than a dozen fossils and bone fragments from the home of a Kelso man who was seen excavating illegally in Oregon's John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, according to federal court documents made public Tuesday.

A seasonal employee at the monument called authorities in May after she and her 11-year-old son confronted David Wixon and a woman believed to be his wife as they were chipping fossils out of a blue-claystone slope with a 2-foot-long hammer.

Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management searched the couple's home and vehicle on Oct. 30. According to an inventory filed with a U.S. magistrate judge in Vancouver, Wash., the items seized included a bag containing 17 fossil specimens; fragments of the "dental end" of a rhinoceros (rhinos roamed North America until about 4.5 million years ago); a prehistoric anthropod called a trilobite; lake shale slabs containing fossils; and an unidentified mammal section.

Gregory Lloyd, a BLM ranger, wrote that the agents also seized computers, CD-ROMs, and hard drives, and noted that authorities were interested in any evidence that stolen fossils had been sold.

Wixon, 45, and his wife, Tina Marie Wixon, have an unpublished phone number and could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not clear if they had obtained a lawyer; they have not been charged.

Deal struck in fight over BPA benefits

PORTLAND, Ore. - Parties to the tussle between public and private utilities over the relatively cheap hydropower sold by the Bonneville Power Administration report a tentative deal, The Oregonian newspaper said Tuesday.

Such an agreement could reduce the electricity rates of most customers in Oregon, who buy from private utilities.

The paper said parties close to the talks disclosed that the agreement would reinstate the BPA's payments to private utilities, suspended in May, at about 65 percent of their previous level.

The BPA sells low-cost electricity generated at 31 dams and a nuclear plant in the Columbia River basin, primarily to consumer-owned utilities that were given preferential rights to the power when the agency was established in 1937.

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