Disparate interests approve RAC work
In the era of a do-nothing, deadlocked U.S. Congress, compromise and collaboration on even a handful of public projects comes as a breath of fresh air.
During last week’s meeting of the Del Norte Resource Advisory Committee, stakeholders representing various interest groups including business, environmentalism and local government quickly saw eye to eye, allocating this year’s cycle of about $260,000 in RAC funds with ease.
When the 15-member RAC reconvened after quietly debating where to put the funds in three separate interest groups, the allocations picked by each group were often on the same page.
Six Rivers National Forest officials facilitating the meeting were surprised by the swift consensus, prompting them to question if RAC members had met in advance.
RAC members said that wasn’t the case; they’ve just been at this a while.
“We kind of know what the other people are thinking,” said Gerald Cochran, former long-time county assessor, who chaired last week’s meeting and has been serving on Del Norte’s RAC for years, even back when debate was “pretty lively.” At some point, RAC members became adept at working as a group, he said.
“Everyone realized that everyone wants the best for Del Norte County and we started looking at each project in terms of what do they do for Del Norte County,” Cochran said.
Projects that have a high rate of benefit for the local community or employ local people take priority.
Although some RAC members liked a proposal from Oregon-based Northwest Youth Corps that would restore the Forks of Blue Creek trail, it was nixed because there was doubt that it would employ local kids.
“Our focus has been on providing jobs locally and getting local organizations involved,” said county Supervisor and RAC member Mike Sullivan. “A bigger impact countywide for the most possible users has been the primary focus.”
All three interest groups chose to kick $47,660 (half of what was requested) to the Coast to Crest Trail, which is the Del Norte RAC’s legacy project. In 2005, the RAC funded a feasibility study for the project, which will create a trail from the Crescent City Harbor to Harrington Mountain.
“There are some real conservative people there and environmentalists, but (Coast to Crest) was a major project for RAC to point to,” Cochran said.
Through coordinating with adjacent agencies, the goal is to ultimately connect the trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (hence the title Coast to Crest).
Funding from the California Resources Agency allowed the Rose Foundation to recently complete an 8-mile stretch of the trail from Boulder Creek to Big Flat.
That stretch was partially built on a section of the historic Kelsey Trail rediscovered by RAC Chairman Clarke Moore.
“This RAC worked because ‘special interests’ were at the table, but no one interest dominated. All points of view presented were treated with respect,” Moore said in an email. “All learned and grew from the experience.”
RAC meetings weren’t always so congenial, Cochran said.
“It’s no fun to fight and we see it enough in Congress,” said Cochran, who was in Washington, D.C., in April representing Del Norte on the Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District. During his trip, he had conversations with longtime senators and congressmen who frequently related how they were sick of the recent combative tone in Washington.
“You’ve got to work with both sides to make it go,” he said.
Funding also went to road maintenance on Gasquet Mountain Road ($30,000) and Jawbone Road ($22,000), which were proposals submitted by the Forest Service.
Pulling invasive weeds (a project important for agricultural interests) received $15,000, and an illegal dumpsite cleanup project got $10,000.
Smith River Alliance’s annual fish count was fully funded for just under $5,000 and praised for its use of local volunteers.
A project at Sunset High School teaching kids job skills for employment in forest and tourism jobs received $40,000. A Low Divide Brushing project was granted just under $35,000.
County Supervisor and RAC member Martha McClure believes that some of an unused portion of money from a previous cycle could be used for the Sunset and Low Divide brushing project, which would free up more money for a “Low Divide Rock” project.
The RAC allocated $60,000 to a Low Divide Rock Project that would lay gravel on four miles of road that is currently dirt, but the unscalable project needs $111,052 to get done.
The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors will vote today on whether or not to shift these funds.
RAC funds come from the Secure Rural School and Self Determination Act of 2000, which provides assistance to rural communities impacted by the decline of timber harvest revenues on federal lands.
Congress was close to not reauthorizing the funds this cycle, leading many RAC members to believe this would be the last time the group convened.
Sullivan doesn’t think the federal payments should run out and hopes county lobbyists make sure they don’t.
“I look at RAC money as a federal obligation as the largest landowner in the county,” he said. “They have an obligation to contribute just like a property owner would pay property taxes.”