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Mendocino County Today: July 27, 2012


POINT ARENA'S terrific all-round athlete, Trace Yager, has been named Small School Basketball Player of the Year. (Yager is also among the Redwood Empires top young golfers.) All-Empire First Team: Kasey Cazet, Rincon Valley Christian, senior; Alec Fetzer, St. Helena, senior; Max Huff, Kelseyville, senior; Luke Humphrey, Middletown, senior; Ilan Zur, Summerfield Waldorf, junior. Second Team: Peter Delbondio, St. Helena, senior; Jacob Hicks, Rincon Valley Christian, sophomore; Colby Kelley, Laytonville, senior; Evan Knight, St. Vincent de Paul, junior; Dustin Thaxton, Kelseyville, senior. Third Team: Jezreel Brown, Rio Lindo Adventist, junior; Nick Delia, Middletown, senior; Kyle Donald, Clear Lake, senior; Benji Rifati, Sonoma Academy, senior; Dom Cerutti, Mendocino, senior. Coach Of The Year: Darren Nelson, Rincon Valley Christian.

CHRISTINE SOUZA reports for the California Farm Bureau: “Farmland losses for a Northern California highway project have ballooned without sufficient study of the environmental impact, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation, which moved last week to intervene in an existing lawsuit regarding a bypass around the city of Willits. In US District Court in San Francisco last Friday, the CA Farm Bureau filed documents to intervene in litigation charging that state and federal transportation agencies and the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted inadequate environmental review of the Willits Bypass Project on US Highway 101. CFBF requested that the court require state and federal agencies to review and reduce the impact on agricultural land, particularly from wetlands mitigation to allow construction of the project. “Farmland plays an important role in the economy and the environment, both in Mendocino County and statewide,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “All too often, public agencies try to convert farmland as a convenient way to address other issues. But that comes at an environmental cost, and the agencies in the Willits Bypass Project didn't work hard enough to review that.” The Farm Bureau says the defendants in the case — the Federal Highway Administration, Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Transportation — failed to conduct adequate environmental analysis as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, in approving the proposed bypass. In its motion, the Farm Bureau stated that the bypass originally would have affected 150 acres of farmland. But now, more than 2,000 acres of land will be affected — with 400 acres removed permanently from agricultural use — as government agencies seek agricultural land to mitigate for wetlands affected by the bypass. Much of the farmland that would be taken out of production for the bypass would be converted to wetlands, to make up for loss of existing wetlands in the path of the project. “We don't oppose the bypass, but we do oppose the potential for an extraordinarily high loss of farmland that the agencies would require to build it and to mitigate for its wetlands impacts,” CFBF Associate Counsel Kari Fisher said. “For every acre of wetlands the agencies want to mitigate, they would impact 30 acres of farmland. That significant impact would have a ripple effect on the area's agricultural-based economy, particularly for the farming and ranching families who would lose their land.” Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones expressed concern about how the Willits Bypass Project will impact mitigation for future projects that involve agricultural properties. “Mendocino County Farm Bureau is concerned about the precedent that the mitigation process for the Willits bypass is setting, and the potential effects it could have on agricultural operations throughout the state that may be involved with similar [Clean Water Act] Section 404 permitting processes,” Jones said. “We are not against the project; we are against the impacts to agriculture.” The Farm Bureau says the agencies violated environmental law “by failing to conduct adequate environmental review of the proposed project's impacts on agricultural land and the environmental services provided by that land.” A hearing on the Farm Bureau motion to intervene in the lawsuit is scheduled for August 31. At the same time, a hearing is set on a motion to dismiss the suit, filed by Caltrans.

STATE PARKS WAS WARNED. Manuel Lopez, former deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Parks and Recreation, told The Sacramento Bee that he informed agency Director Ruth Coleman about a $20 million surplus in the Parks and Recreation Fund “at least five times over approximately a five-year span.” Nonprofit groups and local governments helped raise money and assumed responsibility to keep the 70 state parks open past a July 1 closure deadline. The attorney general and state finance officials are investigating the scandal. State lawmakers also are promising oversight hearings and plan to seek an independent audit of the department. The state Finance Department also is reviewing all the state's 560 special funds to make sure the actual fund balances match what has been reported to the administration and the state controller. State officials said Friday that the department had maintained the unreported money in its accounts for at least 12 years, including the entire time Coleman was director. She served under three governors but said in her resignation that she was “personally appalled” to learn of the hidden money.

NOW IT'S $37 BILLION? As California State government tries to explain how State Parks misplaced millions, we now learn that the State has no way of accounting for $37 billion in “special funds” squirreled away in some 500 accounts, relying, they say, on an “honor system” to keep track of the money. No one checks to see that the money reported as being in these accounts actually matches the money on hand. Only last week it was revealed that State Parks had sequestered $54 million in two special-fund accounts by not reporting them over the last 12 years. Longtime State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and her chief deputy, Michael Harris, were fired Friday.

CLEANING UP MENDOCINO COUNTY. The dollar fee to haul off and recycle abandoned vehicles, a recurrent problem in Mendocino County, will be on the November ballot for its third ten-year renewal. Mendocino County's Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Service Authority was established in 1992 to collect the $1 fee via registration fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Supervisor Pinches said this week that he thought the fee had outlived its usefulness since metal recyclers now pay an average of $300 per wreck, meaning the supervisor feels private individuals have adequate incentive to get rid of the things without the County collecting money to do it.

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