By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Passions are rising again over Lake Earl and whether the breach permit to lower lake levels will arrive before waters rise over neighboring pastures.

Im not satisfied with what Im hearing from the Army Corps of Engineers. It doesnt sound like the permit will get back to us until late November and that disturbs me, said Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn.

As the department of Fish and Game tries to figure out a new management plan for the wetland area, about 31 landholders are in the process of trying to sell their land to Fish and Game through the Wildlife Conservation Board.

The WCB is essentially the states real estate agent, providing the money for purchase and staff for negotiations.

Some landowners met with WCB officials last week along with supervisors Blackburn and Clyde Eller.

Some of the residents that have gotten appraisals feel like theyre really being lowballed and there were some who were upset because they hadnt had any communication from WCB, Blackburn said.

Meanwhile, Lake Earl is nearing the six-foot mark and stretching across the surrounding wetlands, according to Kelly Reid, ecologist and senior project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Reid said the permit process to breach the narrow sandbar that separates the lake from the ocean is started, but confirmed it will likely be the end of November before it is delivered to county officials.

As a matter of fact, we are on the verge of publishing the public notice and starting the environmental assessment, Reid said.

The county and the Department of Fish and Game have jointly applied for the breach permit.

The application is to breach the lake between Sept. 1 and Feb. 15 if the waters rise above eight feet - so that leaves us a bit of wiggle room, Reid said.

Before granting the permit, the Corps considers possible impacts of the breach on the 2,500 acres in and around the lake area.

The Corps also gives the public 21 to 30 days to comment about the application. The county and Fish and Game then must respond to the comments within two weeks.

If the Corps of Engineers is satisfied with the process, the permit should be granted.

Last year, the permit process took several months and the lake topped over 10 feet, flooding parts of Kellogg Road and access roads to the Pacific Shores subdivision.

Pasture owners near the lake said the land was also flooded by the high waters and thats why they want Fish and Game, the responsible party for the wetland, to buy them out.

But Blackburn said buying agent WCB is down to only $2.5 million for the 31 or so properties.

He said that number is far short of the $15 million appraisal price for the properties.

What good are they going to do with $2.5 million? A lot of us are very frustrated about this, Blackburn said, adding that he and supervisor Eller are communicating with Senator Mike Thompsons office and Assembly Member Virginia Strom-Martins office to get some answers.