By Glenda Anderson
The Daily Journal

The black, foamy liquid reported in a drainage ditch outside Mendocino Redwood's hardwood mill in Willits is likely a mix of sawdust, bark and soil, according to state water quality officials.

"It's runoff coming from the area where the employees have been cutting up firewood," said Regional Water Quality Control Board engineer John Hannum.

He noted that Mendocino Redwood Company makes firewood out of tanoak pieces that are unsuitable for other products, like flooring.

He said county environmental health officials contacted water quality two weeks ago when the liquid was first noticed after it rained.

Water samples were taken, but the results are not in.

Hannum said it's common for people to see "black goo" and think its oil, or some similar product.

And the foam--a common by product of decaying organic materials--on top doesn't help alleviate worries.

Regardless of what's in the runoff plant, it will have to stop, Hannum said.

For one thing, the company has no permit to discharge materials into the drainage ditch, which eventually leads to Outlet Creek.

More important, even organic material can be detrimental to fish, Hannum said.

"It's not unusual for leachates like this to have fish toxicity. You can probably kill guppies with your coffee," he said.

Hannum said Mendocino Redwood Company needs to do to things to make sure leachate doesn't escape its grounds.

One is to better clean up the wood waste on the ground.

The other is to capture water running off the property and keep it going into nearby tributaries.

The company is working on that Hannum said.

It plans to capture runoff from the site and route it to a grassy area at the mill, he said adding that's a good way to solve the problem.

Hannum said the leachate from the mill doesn't appear to have made its way into any fish bearing streams and "I don't think this is anything we need to make a big deal of."

However, if it continues to occur, it will be, he said.

"We'll keep track of this," Hannum said.

Copyright 1999 Ukiah Daily Journal