Our remaining small family farms are worth fighting for. It’s a way of life for many in Del Norte County and a stable income for 256 families, including mine. However, agriculture in Del Norte County has been in sharp decline over the past decade, in large part due to tightening regulations and competing economic forces outside our community’s control. As we look for ways to gain a competitive edge and stay in business, we look to support projects that will have meaningful and long-term economic impacts. One of those projects is Highway 199.
As a manager for Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms, I will help move $8 million worth of hay and grain across Highway 199 this year; dry feeds that directly impact our bottom line by supporting milk production. Adding additional grain or hay to a longer trailer would reduce our fuel and labor costs and our footprint on the environment. The Highway 199 project would make this economic and environmentally conscious change possible.
With the expansion of Alexandre Kids, we will ship an estimated $2.3 million worth of pasture-raised organic eggs on our highways this year, eggs that now support 10 new jobs in our community as well as Joseph and Christian Alexandres’ dream to return home. Staying competitive in this emerging market is critically important, as new pastured-egg producers with unrestricted access to I-5 develop to the north and south.
As I reflect on the past few months of open and healthy discussion in the Triplicate about Highway 199 improvements and the effects of the current injunction, I often ask, does our community fully grasp what’s at risk to our local economy? While safety and environmental impacts have been the primary focus of the discussion to date, our customs and culture and the financial impacts the injunction has on the project are missing from the conversation.
Project opponents claim this is about the competing interests between Del Norte County’s rural character, traffic safety and environmental impacts. They contend that the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission and Caltrans have overlooked public safety improvements to the 199 corridor that would not impact the environment. The truth is, the proposed improvements were carefully designed to balance the growing safety and economic needs of our community while minimizing impacts to our environment. The chosen alternative harmonizes rather than ignores the community’s myriad interests.
As a rural county, Del Norte’s funding options for large capital improvements are limited, often requiring the commitment of past, present, and future funding sources to see projects of this size constructed. Delays caused by opponents’ lawsuits and the current injunction have already cost millions of dollars and are likely to cost millions more.
These are unacceptable costs for our county that already struggles to meet the needs of education and law enforcement, let alone transportation. If these funds are lost due to further delays, they will be lost to the region for good. This would not only be a significant setback for any safety improvements on Highway 199, but would further limit the economic development of small family-owned businesses like Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms.
How can Del Norte County meet the challenge of moving goods cheaply and reliably on an increasingly constrained infrastructure without affecting safety and degrading the environment? By depending on the collective action of all stakeholders to maintain and enhance transportation systems within the context of safety and environmental concerns. Most people do agree that creative solutions, both large and small, are needed to keep goods moving and to meet the needs of our economy.
I strongly believe in Del Norte County. I see its community members as part of my family. In my many years here, I have watched with grief as our forest product companies and fishing fleets dwindled and moved away, resulting in lost jobs and a depressed economy. These changes have left a lasting mark on my life. I do not want my children to see this pattern repeated with agriculture. As many in this community hold on to what we have left of our economic base to share with future generations, I respectfully request your help to support these critically important Highway 199 improvements.
Chris Howard is general manager of Alexandre EcoDairy Farms and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors District 3 supervisor-elect.