Do we really want more parks without any activities? We have almost nowhere to ride an off-highway vehicle (OHV) or all-terrain vehicle (ATV). We do not have a lodge. The park service in 1966 projected 1.7 million visitor days in the national park for 1983. The reality was a stark 277,000. Simply put, the old management plan has failed the community. It needs to be reopened to this community. So what about the Mill Creek Acquisition?
What the community was really supposed to be commenting on regarding the Mill Creek Acquisition was about the actual inclusion of the land into the old existing preservation-orientated general management plan. (Read the fine print on the brochure at the meeting.)
The current plan would find an ATV trail or lodge incompatible with the mission of the management plan jointly administered by the National Park Service and California Parks and Recreation agency. (You may recall it is the same plan orientating the goals of these agencies calling for preservation and restoration of the redwood park into a pristine foresti.e. into a pre-Columbian forest.)
The California and National Parks have no intention of letting community outcry for additional recreational activities to be heard. They do not care about local tourist-based business opportunities or local outcry for recreational activities. It simply falls outside the existing management plan.
The goals of the Mill Creek scoping meeting that our community and I attended was to only amend the same old general plan to include this property. The intent was to just "amend" this acquisition into the old management plan that would then allow the National Parks service to avoid costly and time-consuming studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as other payments to the community. Remember NEPA requires that the parks service review the "economic impacts" and other issues surrounding the community. Miller Rellim employed many loggers, who worked on this land, ran a sawmill and who lost their jobs; this is a real impact.
So with a slight of hand, the people behind the purchase gave the property to State Parks. The California Department of Parks and Recreation used the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption that is allowed for a private donor who can donate land for a specific purpose and be categorically exempt from the CEQA process. This means that state parks can avoid proving or paying the community mitigation for the loss of jobs and recreation activities like hunting, which occurred historically on this land, by circumventing the CEQA process. (In fact, the Mill Creek property has already been incorporated into the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park via administrative placement prior to the meeting. This has denied the county and public any comment while putting the property under the old management plan.)
Furthermore, since the Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park was put under the National Park service plan, it should have also triggered NEPA. This NEPA requirement has been mandated and should be required for all acquisitions. (We have asked for all the NEPA studies since 1978 from the National Parks Service (NPS) and no one can produce them.) The NPS does not intend to do a NEPA study, as the acquisition is only an amendment. No wonder the public is confused into indifference.
In summary, when the other park expansions occurred, this community received funds for re-training timber workers, monies to offset impacts to the local communities. This will not be happening if we allow the agencies to avoid the responsibilities set forth in law. The truth is, the claim that this acquisition was principally done with "donors' money" is a lie, as the the donors got grants from public agencies to the tune of 75 percent of the cost of the land using taxpayers money. The donors will counter that they gave the county $5 millionand they didbut only to compensate for the loss in lieu of taxes (for future property taxes lost in perpetuity).
Sorry, this is hardly compensation for the loss of jobs, timber tax dollars that support our schools and the social costs for the lost jobs. That is why NEPA and CEQA were written into law. We cannot allow any more park shenanigans. We should deny all expansions and force them to be accountable to the community and the intent of the law.
I urge all of you fellow recreational enthusiasts, local government officials and small business owners to comment on the Mill Creek acquisition and demand the parks service open the general management plan for public comment. This property acquisition of nearly 26,000 acres is too large and the consequences to recreation in this community is too dire to ignore.
The clock is ticking...
Ron Plechaty is a resident of Del Norte County.