2.14.2008

spokesman for Citizens for Real Economic Growth

CLEAN IT UP: Larry Glass, owner of The Works record store in Old Town Eureka and spokesman for Citizens for Real Economic Growth, on Tuesday released results from a poll he instigated showing that 61 percent of Eureka voters don't think a big-box retail complex, as proposed by Rob and Cherie Arkley, is the best use of the contaminant-soaked, weed-bristling, former Union Pacific switching and maintenance yard known as the Balloon Track.

Glass says the telephone survey of "307 likely voters," conducted on May 10 and 11 by the firm Evans/McDonough, shows that voters "would much rather build an aquarium or a park with wetlands on the Balloon Track land." And, according to the poll, 58 percent of voters want the Balloon Track site "thoroughly cleaned up before anything is built on the property," as opposed to "containing the contaminants on the site by paving over it." Sixty percent of voters agreed that "stores like the Home Depot have a direct negative impact on local small businesses," says Glass.

Glass got the idea for the poll "around about Christmas-time," he says, following some discouraging waterfront development meetings, but it took him a while to gather money and find a firm to conduct it. "I realized this project was forever going to change the face of the waterfront and of the city," Glass says. "And yet, the city council was saying, `No, the city feels this way.' I really believed the council was mistaken."

But maybe not everyone in city government has been cheering on the Arkley proposal. On Monday, Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee sent out a press statement heralding timely newspaper accounts of how Union Pacific is rolling in the dough. "The $35 BILLION railroad company ... has just released financial statements that show a net profit for the last quarter of $311 MILLION," shouted La Vallee. "That is more than $100 MILLION a month in profit, an increase of 143 [percent] over the same quarter last year! During the last three months, the value of their stock has also increased by 46 [percent] ... and the company added 5,000 new employees."

It is clear, said La Vallee, that the company suffers "no lack of money to implement a high level cleanup of toxic waste at the Balloon Track and it is clearly the responsibility of Union Pacific to do so." But, he said, the City of Eureka needs to hold U.P.'s feet to the fire, because he, too, has been hearing from the city's residents that they want a thorough cleanup of the site. And, judging by the figures, the cost of a cleanup "to the full extent of technical feasiblity" would constitute "a mere three days worth of earnings for the responsible party" — big bucks U.P.

So how about it, city? U.P.? Put those 5,000 new employees to work in Eureka?

— Heidi Walters