Del Norte Triplicate Readers

Alliance pockets money in Hurdygurdy land deal

NBC "Nightly News" regularly features the "Fleecing of America," a segment which profiles examples of government waste. Unfortunately, it appears we have an example of a "fleecing" here in Del Norte County.

The federal government, through the U.S. Forest Service, has begun to purchase the formerly private property known as "Hurdygurdy" in Del Norte County. In 2012 and 2013, the Forest Service spent $2,959,236 to purchase 3,407 acres of the property. In future years, the Forest Service intends to purchase another 2,360 acres for an additional $2,661,764, meaning it will ultimately pay $5,621,000 for 5,767 acres.

This sum matches exactly the appraised value of the property as determined by the Forest Service in January 2012. So, why is this a "fleecing?"

The Smith River Alliance (SRA), a local non-profit, acquired the Hurdygurdy property on Aug. 8, 2012, from the previous private landowner, ALCO, or the Agnew Company. At the time of this sale, a $2,200 transfer tax was paid, which roughly translates to a $2.2 million sale price between SRA and ALCO for the property. On the same day that SRA purchased the land from ALCO, SRA sold the first portion of Hurdygurdy to the Forest Service, all while knowing it would receive $5.6 million from the federal government.

That's a hefty profit margin paid for by our U.S. Treasury!

I presume the SRA would say that it is working to protect the environment. However, it appears in this instance from the public information available, it is instead working in the best interest of the Smith River Alliance bank account.

It will pocket over $3 million knowing that the county will lose tax dollars and have no way to replace them.

On behalf of taxpayers, I question how the federal government justifies paying more than $3 million above the original sale price for the same property. That's quite a gift to Smith River Alliance.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are left holding the financial bag, and local government is left with less private property, less commercial timber revenue, and absolutely no mitigating compensation to support the essential services provided by local government.

Even before this sale, 70 percent of our land was already owned by the state or federal government, yet we're still asked to continue to provide the same level of services, all with less opportunity for revenue. And, the Forest Service continues to choke off our access to these same "public" lands!

Gerry Hemmingsen,Crescent City

Editor's note: Gerry Hemmingsen is a member of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors.