By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
Previously unknown powers of the Del Norte County government may, if used, help loosen the now-firm grip of state and federal agencies on local land-use issues.
A new ordinance, now in use by 40 other counties across the nation, is under consideration by the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors. If adopted, it would command the ear of state and federal agencies before decisions are made concerning local land and its various uses.
"It gives the county the power to require the state and federal government to work with them before anything starts. Presently, when the state and the feds have a project, they bring the county in after the fact," leaving negative impacts of the project unaddressed, said Randy Hatfield, chief executive officer of the Del Norte County Fair.
Hatfield is spearheading the effort, along with Del Norte County Farm Bureau President Brian Ferguson, to give the county more leverage in its relations with the higher governments.
They presented the draft ordinance, called the "County Empowerment Ordinance" to the supervisors Tuesday. The supervisors were unanimously supportive of the draft and agreed to have county legal staff review it.
According to Hatfield and many others, the county has long suffered the negative impacts of state and federal park and conservation projects not properly negotiated with county officials.
Specifically, the takeover of nearly 80 percent of county property for parks has occurred, with few compensations to those who previously used the land and to county coffers collecting taxes from it.
Of special concern to Hatfield and Ferguson are losses to the agricultural industry here and how those losses effect the entire community and local economy.
"I'm concerned that the agriculture industry get its fair share for their property and business if some project should come along," Hatfield said.
Many ranchers and farmers with land near the Lake Earl Wildlife Area have been angered by what they call lowball offers by the state to buy their land and add it to the California Fish and Game holdings.
In addition, they say the state's policies for managing the land near the farms has caused flooding and devalued their properties.
Hatfield said that in other communities the state and federal governments have addressed and mitigated the problems and impacts of their projects.
"The ordinance has brought those communities and federal agencies together and has resolved issues to the satisfaction of both sides, while letting the projects go forward," he said
That hasn't been the case here, he said, because local officials weren't aware of their powers.
"A lot of times, supervisors are public people like you and me who don't always know the powers they have.
"This ordinance forces the state and feds to consider how their actions will affect the local business people and schools, etc.," said Hatfield.
If the supervisors adopt the ordinance, they will need to appoint two standing committees to meet with each government agency planning a land purchase or project here.
Ferguson and Hatfield have relied on legal advice from the Wyoming -based Budd-Fallon Law Firm to prepare the ordinance.
The same law firm was hired last year by the Pacific Shores California Water District to fight its battle for development rights on the sandy subdivision near Lake Earl. The fight has, so far, been unsuccessful.