By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Del Norte County and its schools will get more money from the U.S. Forest Service this year to make up for lost timber sales, and that will help balance the county roads department budget which is $2.8 million in the hole.

Thanks to new legislation passed this year, the once dwindling Forest Service funds sprung from about $800,000 last year to $2.8 million this year.

Del Norte County schools will get $1.25 million, the roads department will get $1.25 million and the remaining $255,000 is set aside for special projects relating to trails, wildlife habitat and forest health.

County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn who helped push lawmakers to sign the bill, said hes relieved to see the battle is over.

Ernie Perry (director of the Community Development Department) told me that if that bill didnt go through, the county would be in a lot of trouble and that even general maintenance would have to be deferred, said Blackburn.

Now, the road departments budget deficit projected for the 2001-2002 fiscal year will be cut in half and the county schools budget will get a boost. Also, projects like the Hobbs Wall bike and pedestrian trail will have a new chance for funding.

We were getting in terrible shape in terms of schools and roads, so we really pushed hard for this, Blackburn said.

According to Laura Chapman of Six Rivers National Forest, Del Norte County is guaranteed the flat payment of $2,832,580 every year until 2006.

Then it will likely be made permanent in 2007, Chapman said.

The project set-aside fund of $254,930 will also stay fixed.

A committee of 15 local residents was appointed by the Forest Service to decide which projects should receive the funds.

Karl Beyerle, Chuck Blackburn, Susan Calla, Joe Gillespie, Chris Howard, David Hubbard, Sandra Jerabek, Martha McClure, Stephen McCollum, Clarke Moore, Dwayne Reichlin, David Rhodes, Natalie Schaefer, Sean Smith and Richard Warner will serve on the Resource Advisory Committee. Its first meeting is at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 17 at the Elk Valley Rancheria Community Center.

The local RAC is one of 14 such groups representing 15 counties throughout the state.

Local citizens will have an opportunity to propose projects ranging from treating fuels in critical areas to reduce wildfire danger, to planting tees streamside to improve water quality, said Chapman.