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Becoming a Non-Person

It’s a strange new world when the Mayor of Fort Bragg takes a page from the Trump playbook. The Press Is The Enemy Of The People blasts Mayor Will Lee. Not all the press — only the part that disagrees with him. The Donald Tweets; Will Lee posts. I’ve been snubbed before, but to hear the mayor tell it I am… well… a public enemy. I don’t live in the city, I don’t have the facts. I don’t understand his sophisticated governance — and I say mean stuff. I am screwing up everything.

It seems a little over the top and it hasn’t always been this way.

The last time Will Lee and I had coffee he told me we should do it more often. Then I asked that awkward question. What happens to the 70% of the mill site that the Coastal Commission has required remain open space? GP can’t sell open space. GP will own it. Nothing requires them to clean it up.

A permanently fenced off mill site (70%) dotted intermittently with light industrial shops and a big supermarket next to the highway turns out to be the best plan they can come up with. It's kind of weird that after the millions of dollars consumed by Fort Bragg city hall in the two decades of mill site planning — no planning at all would have exactly the same effect. Why is the City Council supporting a plan that leaves two-thirds of the mill site fenced off for another generation or two and why oh why does the Mayor feels he needs to defend the plan so ferociously? It’s objectively a bad plan.

Is citizen journalism as dark and dangerous a force as Will Lee claims it is? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? When I raised the issue, councilman and former Mayor Lindy Peters, current Mayor Will Lee, and (possibly coincidently Dan Gjerde) instantly cut off all communication. No more questions, no more interviews.

"Bye Bye," said Lindy Peters in his admirably terse last email.

Will Lee has been outspoken damning me to hell. It’s a total communications blackout. Maybe I’m as bad as the Mayor says. Maybe the Mayor is stuck between a rock and Georgia Pacific. Maybe the whole story has NOT been told.

A crack in the stonewall may have taken place in a quiet development committee meeting one weekday afternoon two years ago in Fort Bragg - August 24, 2017 to be exact.

At that time, the City Council was under intense pressure after the big public meeting in which the DTSC (the State Department of Toxic Substance Control) had announced the termination of the mill site toxic clean up, explaining to the people of the city that they were leaving Fort Bragg in possession of a mill pond that DTSC had to admit remained unsafe for human beings. DTSC told Fort Bragg that if people did not walk past the pond more than (I think it was) two times a week they probably would not get cancer. It looked bad for a City Council that had provided no pushback on the DTSC. 

In committee, they reacted to public pressure with a proposed resolution. Bravely titled “For the Benefit of the Citizens of the North Coast, The Environment and our Economic Future.”

The proposed resolution demanded that “Be it resolved that the restorations of all the wetland areas on the mill site be given a strong and renewed priority by decision-makers, and be it Further Resolved that the preferred remediation of the mill pond is that it be dismantled and thoroughly cleaned of toxic contamination."

It was what the people of the city were demanding. The dirty little secret was that the brave little resolution was also a double-cross of a deal between the city and GP. Georgia Pacific wasted no time in reacting. Now we can finally tell the story.

In an undisclosed letter to then-Mayor Lindy Peters, Georgia Pacific blew the whistle:

"We are aware that the City Council is prepared to consider the October 24, 2017 Council Committee Item Summary Report to ‘Receive Report and Provide Direction Regarding Resolution Regarding Clean-up of the GP Mill Pond’ and possibly take affirmative steps to endorse a resolution calling on DTSC to require active remediation of Pond 8, also known as the log pond, on the Georgia-Pacific site. We want to remind you and the City Council that the City, in order to settle claims between the City and Georgia-Pacific in the recent cost recovery litigation, agreed to certain terms and Georgia-Pacific accepted the City's settlement proposal and dismissed our claims. Should the City proceed with consideration of the Pond 8 resolution, we would view the City to be in breach of our agreement and would take such action as would be appropriate…should we be forced to undertake active remediation, we will require that the City fund its fair share of that remediation.”

Prior to this report, no disclosure of ANY deal obligating the city for a share of cleanup costs has ever been released by the city, discussed at a Council meeting, or reported to the people.

The city did not release the information easily when I requested the letter from GP — City Clerk June Lemos sent me an email stating that:

“This document is privileged and will not be disclosed pursuant to Gov. Code 6254(k) and Evid. Code Section 1119. This determination was made by the City Attorney in conjunction with the City Manager.”

It was not until we credibly threatened to take them to court. the city caved. Now we know.

Maybe the 70% of the mill site that Will Lee is fighting to keep fenced off forever is not such a mystery after all.

Fort Bragg's finances are extremely fragile. They can't build a staircase at Glass Beach. Fort Bragg paying for half of the clean up of the Mill site is not on the table.

Maybe Lindy Peters's shutdown of communications makes more sense than it seemed to. Maybe Will Lee and Peters are caught, as I said, between a rock and Georgia Pacific.

Maybe it's not the press that is the enemy of the people.

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