By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Lake Earl is a hairs breadth from the 10-foot mark as of yesterday more than a half-foot higher than it was at exactly this time last year when the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors declared an emergency.

Water has extended over nearby county roads including the well-traveled Kellogg Road, where driver Nancy Dolores was stalled yesterday waiting for a tow truck to pull her car out.

The guy who collects the data (on the lake) almost had to swim out there yesterday, said Art Reeve of the county Community Development Department.

Breaching the sandbar between the lake and ocean and allowing the lake to drain is the only way to relieve the flooding.

But the complex process of getting a breach permit has kept county and California Fish and Game officials from breaking the bar.

It takes several levels of bureaucracy and public input before such permits can be issued.

The Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service must weigh the requirements, facts and public comments surrounding the issue.

Ecologist Kelley Reid of the Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday the permit could be issued by his agency as early as next week.

Reid is waiting for an official statement from NMFS who has been viewing the permit and comments from the public since last week.

Lake Earl is definitely our top priority, he said.

Last year an emergency permit was issued. This year, the permit will cover the next couple of years, allowing the lake to be breached at the eight-foot level until Fish and Game finishes its study on what the best lake level is for both wildlife and the people who live around it.

Complicating the process this year, officials say, is the fact that Del Norte County has signed on for two separate permits, one with Fish and Game, the other with Lake Earl property owners and the Pacific Shores Water District.

The Fish and Game permit asks for a breaching level of eight feet. The Pacific Shores application wants the lake breached at five feet.

In addition, the Corps has received numerous comments in support or opposition to both permits, and must weigh the comments before acting.

Officials have said that is slowing down issuance of the permit.

From the perspective of the Army Corps, according to Reid, its peculiar that the county is applying for two completely different permits at the same time.

The county is effectively applying for conflicting activities. The lake cant be managed at both levels, Reid said.

Once the comments are processed, the Army Corps will draft the permit and send it to the San Francisco district headquarters for final approval and signing. What could have happened by the end of November will now take at least until the end of December.

Some local citizens have also questioned the wisdom of the county signing on with the Pacific Shores California Water District.

Going on a second permit is a waste of time and a waste of scarce Del Norte County tax dollars, said Eileen Cooper, from the environmental group, the Friends of Del Norte. No matter how many different permits you apply for, Fish and Game will do similar biological assessment of the alternative suggestions that arise during the public comment period.

Water district and Lake Earl property owners, however, say the lake should be managed at a much lower level, to protect the property rights of landowners around the lake.