Triplicate staff writer
The looming loss of 25,000 more acres of private property to the state parks has Del Norte County ready to fight.
If the sociological and economic impacts arent mitigated, my orders are to do everything possible to kill the deal, said Del Norte County Counsel Bob Black.
In question is an effort by the San Francisco-based Save-the-Redwoods League to purchase the land from Stimson Lumber Company.
Save-the-Redwoods has acquired grants and other funding from several different state agencies, such as the Fish and Game Department, to pay the $60 million asking-price.
Black and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors say using taxpayer money to fund such a transaction may be illegal.
So far, SRL has accumulated about $50 million. Once the acquisition is complete, the land will be handed over to Redwood State Park and taken off the Del Norte County taxrolls.
The issue riling Del Norte County officials and many residents is that no formal mitigation fund is in place for the county, which has already lost about 70 percent of its land to public, untaxable agencies.
And its more than just about mitigation, its about respect for the working people and families that make up this community. People have to be able to make a living here, said Supervisor Chuck Blackburn.
A few weeks ago, the county hired the San Francisco lawfirm of Diepenbock, specializing in environmental and resource issues to investigate the legality of the transaction.
So far, Diepenbock has raised five major issues which it will forward to the California State Legislature for review.
One issue is the use of money from Senate Bill 271, called the Salmon and Steelhead Trout Restoration Account, created for projects that improve fish habitat.
Because the money will be used for the actual transaction to buy the land from Stimson, Del Norte says its the wrong use of that money.
It is generally accepted that Mill Creek as it is currently managed is the best coho salmon spawning stream in California. Therefore the purchase of the property will not result in any improvement to fish habitat, said Supervisor David Finigan who spoke at a public hearing about the sale Monday.
Another issue raised could throw a monkey wrench in the sale, delaying it for years.
We feel there is an effort to circumvent some of the environmental review process, said Black.
The state parks and Save-the-Redwoods have claimed they and the sale are exempt from reviews by several different agencies like California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.
These agencies are called to review the proposed uses of lands which may impact the environment, which in turn may effect the economy of the surrounding community.
The supervisors and the law firm claim timber-yield taxes gleaned from the Mill Creek area represent a significant portion of the countys income.
County Assessor Gerald Cochran said the Del Norte County Library alone will lose thousands of dollars a year as a result of taking Mill Creek off the taxrolls. Crescent Fire Protection District and the schools will also lose money.
If an acquisition of this magnitude cripples the ability of local governments to perform duties and services to the community, it has both moral and legal ramifications, said Black.
Black also said there are many questions surrounding the relationships between Save-the-Redwoods League and the state.
Save-the-Redwoods seems to be acting as real estate broker to the state and national parks. It is a private non-profit group, but is working in conjunction with the parks to gain funding for the parks to acquire this large tract of land.
Frankly theres a lot of missing information. We dont know what the deals are between Save-the-Redwoods and the state, and between the state and federal parks, said Black.
With help from Diepenbock, the county has sent Public Records Act requests to six different agencies involved in the sale. Black expects these documents to reveal all the sources of money used to accumulate the $50 million bankrolled so far.
Because the money is suspected to come from several other government agencies and the sale will be detrimental to the tax-paying citizens of Del Norte County, Black and the supervisors say its a misuse of taxpayer money.
We see this train careening wildly down the track with no intention of providing mitigation, Black said.