Lake County Record-Bee - Lake County News






October 23, 2004



3.1 quake centered in the Geysers

By John Lindblom - Record-Bee staff

ANDERSON SPRINGS -- It was an earthquake that sort of came on cue. A severe temblor that occurred at 3:15 p.m. Thursday afternoon and measured 3.1 on the Richter Scale. It also touched off what might be described as "earthquake season" in Lake County.

The quake, which had an epicenter next to Unit 13 of the Calpine power plant near Socrates Mine Road but was felt all the way to uptown Middletown, ostensibly serves as the opening salvo of a period in which the focus will be on earthquakes.

Two meetings in three days in early November will spend much of their focus on the steady series of earthquakes in Anderson Springs, which some community members attribute to the injection of millions of gallons of waste water into the earth by Calpine Corp.

The first meeting on Nov. 8 will address an announced $70,000 contribution of "community funds" to Anderson Springs and Cobb by Calpine subsidiary Geysers Power Co. The act was greeted by skepticism from Jeff Gospe, president of the Anderson Springs Community Alliance.

Comments by people in both Anderson Springs and Middletown attest to the violent shaking of the Thursday afternoon quake. It came from a depth of four-tenths of a mile and had a G-force of 16.2, according to Gospe.

"All of a sudden the whole place started jumping, then we had two smaller ones right behind it," said Alan Clay, who has lived in Anderson Springs for nine years and has been familiar with the area since the 70s.

"You can hear them (quakes) coming up here and then you get the shakes," Clay added. "They sound like a bomb going off because they're so shallow. The sheet rock in your house is cracking and the nails are popping out of your walls."

Chuck Palmer, who has resided in Anderson Springs for five years, said Thursday's quake "felt like a five (on the Richter Scale.)"

"It was probably one of the worst I've felt up there and I've felt hundreds of them. The shaking was extraordinary," added Palmer, who feared the cottage he was working on might slip off its pier blocks.

"Everything was rattling and moving and it went on for quite a while."

Susan Conley, who owns a store in Middletown, said that the earthquakes are being more severely felt there.

"It was actually felt pretty strongly here," she said. "I don't know where the one yesterday (Thursday) was centered, but the customers in my store felt it. Not only did the building move, but it made popping and cracking sounds.

"I've been here since 1986 and could feel them (quakes) since then. But they're just starting to get more pronounced. They seem different now."

Another Middletown businesswoman, Cyndi Henderson, said she said saw one of the walls to her hair salon and spa move and couldn't remember anything so strongly felt since a 5.0 quake in Anderson Springs some time ago.

Although the quake was centered less than a mile from PSG Hilltop Recovery's site, Pat Rogers, who answered the phone at the 12-step alcohol and drug treatment facility, said she didn't feel it.

After commenting on the quake, Gospe turned his attention to Calpine's announcement regarding the community funds, which representatives of Geysers Power Co. plan to discuss and review with residents of the Anderson Springs and Cobb communities from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Calpine Visitor Center in Middletown.

Acknowledging the funds as Calpine's "good neighbor gesture," Gospe asserted, "My read on it is they're doing the smart thing, because if we take them to court it looks really bad to conclusively know they're causing this (quakes) and they haven't done a damn thing about it.

"Relative to the amount of money they have, this is what I call a rounding error for a $7 billion company on its monthly statement. It's insignificant. If you look at what minimal out-of-pocket expenses would be just to start dealing with litigation from our community, it would be a lot more than $35,000."

Because Calpine was closed on Friday, no local officials of the company could be reached for comment.

But Bill Highlander, vice president for public relations in San Jose, said. "We have a community relations program at every site throughout the country in 22 different states. One reason we built the visitors center up in Middletown was that we want to be part of the community.

"It's not like we're doing anything we don't normally do."

The first meeting involving earthquakes will be the second of two annual meetings of the Seismic Monitoring Committee in the Lake County Board of Supervisors chambers at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 8. Gospe said he intends to "show conclusively how much worse Anderson Springs is being hit by earthquakes." He hopes to introduce a survey of Anderson Springs residents on the issue.

"I think (the committee) will be surprised by the extent we can feel a small earthquake," he said.

But Gospe is waiting for the Nov. 10 meeting with Calpine and the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), which operates two of the 21 power plants at The Geysers.

Is a court date with Calpine and NCPA inevitable?

"I think it is unless things change dramatically," Gospe said. "You can't shake people's houses and cause damage and then not do anything about it forever."