Power attorney: The Butte County supervisors voted last Tuesday to hire a $425-an-hour lawyer to represent the county in its effort to force concessions from the California Department of Water Resources through the Oroville Dam relicensing process. Top county lawyer Bruce Alpert said the board hired D.C.-based Carol Smoots because she is an expert in power law who has used her access to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get millions for former clients involved in relicensing deals.

But Smoots’ hire has also widened gaps between the county and its partners in relicensing, specifically Oroville, where many believe the county is taking too tough a position with DWR. That agency, which runs the dam and its surrounding park, has been accused in the past of breaking promises it made to locals to provide recreation and jobs around Lake Oroville. Now DWR seems to be playing a divide-and-conquer strategy among the county, its municipalities and other groups in order to minimize its future commitments to providing amenities near the lake.

Snowman loses a pound: BINTF brass is blaming stress and a lack of manpower for what looks on the surface like an incomplete drug search. When the interagency anti-dope patrol served a search warrant at a house near downtown Chico earlier this month, they nabbed a suspected dealer with 6.5 grams of methamphetamine and about a half-gram of cocaine in his room.

The agents were acting on a tip from the man’s landlord, who told the CN&R he had asked the agents to keep his identity out of the legal file, which they did. But a few days later, he claims, he was puttering in his tool shed when he stumbled across an entire pound of coke along with about a quarter-pound of meth. He said he tried to contact BINTF but didn’t get a fast enough reply, so he panicked and called 911. Now his name is all over the police report.

BINTF Commander Vic Lacey conceded it was possible his agents missed the drugs, as “it happens from time to time. We’re very much overwhelmed with work right now.” Still, he said, the alleged dealer is off the street and nobody’s the worse for it.

In 2003, BINTF seized over $23 million in speed and coke and took more than 200 kids from homes where drugs were being made, sold or consumed.

Grocery unions bag contract: After nearly five months of intense contract negotiations and the possibility of a strike, a Northern California labor union has agreed on tentative terms with Albertson’s and Safeway.

The announcement was made on Dec. 20 by Jack L. Loveall, president of UFCW 588-Northern California. Loveall said the agreement averts a strike and maintains the finest contract in the supermarket industry, including no employee-paid health care premiums and no two-tier wages or benefits.

Loveall said the 19,000 members of UFCW 588 had waited long enough for a new labor agreement and gave the companies a Dec. 19 deadline to come up with something or the union would recommend that members authorize a strike.