Lois Henry

Wednesday, Feb 29 2012 11:00 AM

LOIS HENRY: Sometimes the foul odor is government-induced

By Lois Henry

I was off for a week so I hope you all enjoyed your little respite.

THAT'S OVER NOW!

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Read archived columns by Lois Henry at Bakersfield.com/henry.

First, a little government ditty that makes you go, "hmmm."

Way back in 1981, Houchin Community Blood Bank installed an emergency generator at its G Street location to keep blood from going bad in case of a power outage.

Fast forward to October 2011, when the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District called up and said they wanted to inspect Houchin's generator.

That's when a Houchin employee made what became a fateful slip and asked, "Which one?" according to blood bank Director Greg Gallion.

"And they said, 'OOOHHHH,'" Gallion recalled, his signature handlebar mustache twitching at the memory.

Houchin had installed a new generator at its Truxtun Avenue location in 2009, getting the permits and paying all appropriate fees to the Air District in the process.

But no one had given any thought to the G Street generator, which had been quietly minding its own business for the past 30 years.

Once the G Street cat was out of the bag, so to speak, the Air District sprang into action and in January had the G Street generator inspected (at a cost of $620 to the blood bank). The generator was perfectly fine, no untoward emissions at all.

Then last week, Gallion got a message from the black hand ...er, Air District.

It was a demand letter telling Gallion that although the Air District could charge him up to $10,000 per day per violation, it would drop that to $1,836.

There was no explanation of what, exactly the $1,836 was for and when Gallion called he was told "penalties and fees." He said he didn't think they should pay penalties since they didn't knowingly do anything wrong. He was quickly told the amount might be reduced by $600. He's waiting to get that in writing.

I called Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the Air District, to better understand the reasoning behind all this since the generator had no emissions problems and had been in place 11 years before the Air District was even formed in 1992.

That's why they reduced the penalty, he told me.

"Since they turned themselves in, we decided not to fine them," he said. "They just have to pay the back fees that their competitors and others have had to pay all these years while they didn't pay."

Not knowing the generator should have been permitted was no excuse, he said.

"I can't say that to the CHP if I'm stopped for speeding."

And the fact they got a new generator permitted just a few years earlier should have triggered a question from them about the G Street generator.

He didn't know whether the $1,836 was to cover permit fees all the way back to 1981, when the generater came to G Street, or 1992, when the Air District was created.

Either way, it's a bit heavy handed, particularly when we're talking about a non-profit organization that certainly hasn't been a scofflaw polluter in our community.

Can't the Air District just charge them permit fees from here out and call it good?

"This hasn't exactly been the most user friendly approach," Gallion agreed.

No kidding.

...

Next, a quick update on what's happening, or not, on the county's looksee into the rescue attempt of logger Bill Bennett, who died Sept. 23, 2011 in the mountains south of Tehachapi after a a tree fell on him.

I confirmed that the Board of Supervisors ordered the county fire and sheriff's departments to investigate and report on their own actions during the rescue attempt.

No word on whether the Kern Emergency Medical Services Department (EMS) or Hall Ambulance were included in the review order.

Uh, no. Not good enough.

The supervisors need to have the incident reviewed by an outside agency that doesn't have a dog in this fight.

EMS already did an investigation (containing at least two errors of fact) that found nothing that day violated county policies so no harm, no foul.

And sheriff and fire already gave their stamp of approval to EMS's findings.

Does anyone truly believe the outcome of a self-review will be any different?

Look, I know everyone that day wanted to get Bennett off that hill alive.

But after reading the reports from all involved, I have to conclude we have a real problem when it comes to multi-agency rescue responses.

Bennett was hit by the tree about 9:45 a.m. 911 was called by 10 a.m. A Fire Captain was at Bennett's side about 11 a.m. The Sheriff's helicopter, Air 5, was hovering above.

But a Hall paramedic said the hike was too difficult, went back to his ambulance and did not radio Fire's dispatch about his decision. Meanwhile, it took Air 5 nearly an hour to hoist Bennett out.

Bennett was seriously injured and there's no certainty he would have lived had the rescue been textbook.

But as I've said over and over, the rescue was far from textbook and requires a hard, unemotional look to see where improvements can be made.

The Bennett family and all taxpayers who rely on this safety net deserve that, at a minimum.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail @bakersfield.com Listen to KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday when Californian staffers discuss this issue and others. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN. Lois Henry hosts every Wednesday. To listen to archived shows, visit www.bakersfield.com/CalifornianRadio

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