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Sucking Sound

By Atticus Hart

DO YOU HEAR that sucking sound? Thwooooooop! There it is again. Thwoooooooooop! Shhhhhhhhuuuuuuump! Like a great chrome Hoovermatic slurping up every pebble of dignity left in this teeming asphalt-and-mini-mall landscape. Do you hear it? Thwoooooooop! Brrrrrrrr! Up north, up there, breaking the peaceful calm, up there near the gilded hamlet of Healdsburg. Up there, along the Russian River

Do you wonder what it is?

It's the sound of money, the sound of enterprise, the sound of the North Bay's lifeblood being sucked dry.

In case you missed it, on July 25, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors by a 4-1 vote (with Mike Reilly in dissension) rejected a challenge by environmentalists opposed to a plan that will allow Shamrock Materials Inc. to "skim" 150,000 tons of gravel from the Russian River bed over the next 10 years.

That's 300 million pounds of gravel that now serves as the filtration system for much of the water running out of your tap. Does that sound like a drop in the bucket?

"We have to look at the facts," Supervisor Mike Kerns told the local daily when asked about his support of the mining. "The facts show me this is not going to damage the river, jeopardize water quality, or jeopardize the fish." Yeah, even the county's own "expert" said scraping 300 million pounds of rock out of the riverbed would be a simple matter with no repercussions.

Environmentalists disagree. They point out--to no avail--that years of deep-pit mining, which is supposed to be suspended in 2004, has left an indelible scar on the beleaguered Russian River. Decades of mining, they argue have lowered the water level, damaged fish-spawning grounds, undermined bridges, threatened the quality of the North Bay's already limited drinking water, muddied the river, and destroyed natural vegetation.

Of course, the gravel-mining companies are hefty campaign contributors to four fifths of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The seat of power in this county rests squarely on the ability of Shamrock Materials Inc. and similar companies to exploit one of the region's most valuable natural resources, even if to the detriment of the North Bay's future health and well-being--but as long as the cash keeps flowing.

Do you hear it now? That's the sound of your future--that ethereal quality of life for which you pay top dollar on the real estate market and in the marketplace of the soul--going down the drain.

Atticus Hart of Bodega Bay has an uncontrollable urge to consume only clean drinking water.

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From the August 16-22, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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