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Supervisors declare emergency

By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

Rising steadily under the latest rains, water in the Lake Earl wetland complex is set to be drained at 10 a.m. Monday.

The water level in the wetland has risen to nearly nine feet above mean sea level.

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors decided yesterday to declare the water level an emergency due to flooding of nearby pastures.

That action passed 4-0 with supervisor Jack Reese absent from the special meeting.

The resolution set in motion permission to breach the lake from the six state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over it.

Landowners who say they are flooded by the rising waters told the supervisors yesterday they waited too long to declare an emergency.

"We should have been here when the lake was five feet. Flooding starts at five feet," said rancher Helen Ferguson.

The audience was divided with a handful of property owners sitting on the supervisors' right and a handful of environmentalists sitting on the supervisors' left.

"The lake is an asset to the local economy. The tax base will increase if the lake is allowed to rise. People want to live by a lake, not by a fluctuating mudhole," said Ron Thompson.

In trying to balance the concerns of both sides, the supervisors expressed frustration with the lack of a long-term plan to manage the wetland by its owner and caretaker, Fish and Game.

"It's been in excess of eight years I've been dealing with this issue," said lame duck Supervisor Clyde Eller about waiting for the management plan to set a lake level.

Supervisor Chuck Blackburn also lamented a recent announcement by Fish and Game that it will not pay the county the $25,000 it owes in property taxes.

"It bothers me greatly that there are other areas in this county that the state is trying to buy up," Blackburn said.

Supervisor Martha McClure noted there is one major reason Fish and Game has not released a management plan yet.

"The plan is hung up in their attorney's office because they know once it comes out they will have one side threatening to sue because the lake level won't be high enough and one side threatening to sue because the lake level won't be low enough," she said.

Fish and Game promised that a draft management plan would be in the public's hands six months ago. It is now uncertain when it will be revealed.

Until the plan comes out and is adopted by the state, the county and its citizens must continue to wade through the maze of government agencies before lowering the lake level.

"It is very complicated. There are so many agencies involved because there are so many issues," said Ernie Perry, director of the Del Norte County Community Development Department.

State Lands Commission has jurisdiction over the actual sand that needs to be pushed out of the way to drain the lake waters into the ocean.

State Fish and Game owns the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, the California Coastal Commission has jurisdiction over any actions in the coastal zone, Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Services also have fingers of jurisdiction.

The county must get permits from each of those agencies before it can legally break the sandbar separating the lake from the ocean.

Yesterday's declaration of an emergency was necessary to get the Coastal Commission permit, the last permit on the list.

(See Breach, Page A3)

Property owners who say their land values have plunged after the last several years of flooding are frustrated and vocal.

"The first job of the government is to protect not only the people, but property. We look to you to stand up to these people making decisions for us from Sacramento," said landowner Lou Goodgame to the supervisors.

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