League hits goal for land purchase

January 16, 2002 11:00 pm
The San Francisco-based  conservation group, Save-the-Redwoods League has the $60 million needed to secure the buy up of 25,000 acres of old growth redwood forest in Del Norte County. Now all that is needed is the extra $2 million to make up for the county's tax loss. If things go as planned, the Mill Creek purchase will be the largest land acquisition in the group's history. (Stephen Merrill Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).
The San Francisco-based conservation group, Save-the-Redwoods League has the $60 million needed to secure the buy up of 25,000 acres of old growth redwood forest in Del Norte County. Now all that is needed is the extra $2 million to make up for the county's tax loss. If things go as planned, the Mill Creek purchase will be the largest land acquisition in the group's history. (Stephen Merrill Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).

Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Save-the-Redwoods League has all but secured the $60 million it needs to buy up 25,000 acres of Del Norte County but is having trouble finding an extra $2 million to make up for the countys tax loss.

If the sale goes through, it will be the largest acquisition in history for the San Francisco-based conservation group.

Once the land is purchased, Save-the-Redwoods plans to hand over the former Stimson Lumber Company land known as the Mill Creek area to Redwoods State Parks.

A potential roadblock to the deal, though, is the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, whose attorney has pledged to block the sale if the county is not compensated for the tax loss.

We are at $60 million, but the hardest amount to raise is the $2 million for the tax endowment fund. Ive found no money in Sacramento to fund that, so Im pursuing private sources to do that, said Kate Anderton, executive director of Save-the-Redwoods.

As the buying agent in the deal, Save-the-Redwoods pledged to create a separate fund to make up for that loss.

Coming up short on the tax endowment, however, wont stop Save-the-Redwoods from moving ahead with the purchase, Anderton said.

Meanwhile, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors have asked for a $10 million tax endowment fund and have hired a Sacramento law firm to either get it or find a way to kill the sale.

When asked if $10 million was doable, Anderton essentially said $2 million should be enough.

To get that number, I calculated the property tax to the county and to the special districts, like the library, as well as the timber-yield tax using the Stimson companys projections of the timber harvest over the next 25 years, she said.

I am not shortchanging any of the countys interests, she added.

The 25,000-acre purchase is the largest of its kind and will make Del Norte County, already the home to many parks, almost 80 percent public land.

The sale and some compensation for the tax loss is particularly controversial now, because Del Norte Countys budget is $1.7 million short of needed revenue for the year. The loss of taxable land over the years, according to the supervisors, is in part to blame.

Through county counsel Bob Black, the supervisors say hiring outside attorneys specializing in environmental and resource issues to fight the sale may help set public policy on such buyouts that hurt local governments.

Its a public policy issue. Right now there is legislation for the March 5 ballot, Prop. 40, that will set aside $2.6 billion of taxpayers money to buy up private land with no plan for mitigation, Black said.

Still, Anderton wonders how the county can afford Sacramento attorneys when it is struggling with a budget deficit.

I dont see how, with the scarce resources of the county, they can afford that. And to alienate the state with a lawsuit doesnt seem to make sense when its the state theyre asking for help from, Anderton said.

Black said a specific reason for hiring the Sacramento-based firm was to check the questionable sources of money Save-the-Redwoods is using to buy the land.

Grant money from the state Department of Fish and Game to improve fish habitat and grant money from other state and federal agencies are all being used for the buy.

Black said that may be inappropriate and Diepenbrock, the hired law firm, has sent out public records act requests to Save-the-Redwoods and all the government agencies involved to surmise which monies are coming from where and what the relationships are between Save-the-Redwoods and the state.

The next step is to pull the wraps off the secrecy surrounding this whole thing, because frankly, theres a lot of missing information, Black said.

Anderton said Save-the-Redwoods League has received the request for document disclosure, but refused it.

Were a private organization and are not subject to the Public Records Act, she said.