At back-to-back meetings last week (April 26 and April 27), the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council (LAMAC) and the Laytonville County Water District (LCWD) Board, both approved supporting the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) in a ludicrous dispute with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) regarding essential watershed restoration work. For disclosure purposes I’m chairman of the LAMAC and district manager of the Water District.
For the record, the Water District has a long-standing relationship with ERRP, and we have assisted and partnered with them over the years on a number of watershed restoration projects that have been brought to successful completion. I have worked with ERRP’s Executive Director, Pat Higgins, for 10 years on numerous watershed projects.
One of those projects involved a $475,000 grant from the State Water Board to stop bank erosion, restore riparian areas and to create fish habitat improvement structures in critical reaches for salmon and steelhead. Just 10 days ago, the UDJ ran a story on another grant awarded to ERRP from CAL FIRE for $5.9 million for its Forest Health Program. So it’s evident that ERRP is an organization that has a successful track record with state resource agencies due to their demonstrated ability to perform critical watershed work.
About a week ago, Higgins emailed me regarding this growing dispute with CDFW. Here are excerpts from those emails:
“Hi Jim, I think CDFW has given us no other option than to appeal their decision in the court of public opinion and then in court if necessary … Monday afternoon I opened my emails and got notice that our group has been awarded a $5.9 M CAL FIRE Forest Health grant! Forest Health will be creating a major surplus of wood that we can rebuild creeks with … agencies now hate rock and love wood. We intend to use the excess wood to reshape stream channels and rebuild fish habitat and hydrology throughout the Tenmile Creek system. can we get a permit to fix these four places with rock and then fix the rest of the channels with the wood?”
Basically what’s happening is CDFW doesn’t want ERRP using rock to repair eroded stream banks, even though it’s been one of the main fixes for years.
Here’s excerpts from the Water District’s letter to Wade Crowfoot, who is Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. The Water District, as well as the Laytonville Town Council, are requesting Crowfoot to intervene and resolve the dispute.
Dear Secretary Crowfoot,
The Laytonville County Water District (LCWD) is a local government public water utility that has been in existence since 1951. The Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) was awarded a State Water Resources Control Board 319h sediment abatement grant (#D2013114) for $475,000 to stop bank erosion, restore riparian areas and to create fish habitat improvement structures in critical reaches for salmon and steelhead. Staff of Region 1 of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are refusing to grant ERRP a 1653 permit, which 1951. Among other powers, we are also authorized to represent our community’s interest to other governmental entities and in this capacity that we wish to request your assistance in getting a much-needed restoration project in Tenmile Creek permitted. we believe they are obligated to issue under the Habitat Restoration Enhancement Act (HREA) and it is threatening the project. We call on you to work with CDFW Director Charlton Bonham to remedy this problem expeditiously because bank erosion is active at these locations and levels of sediment pollution unacceptable.
CDFW not issuing a permit for this project is inexplicable and an insult to our community. Our community needs the jobs that this project will create. LCWD and all the citizens in our watershed want to clean up sediment pollution and restore fish habitat and we are dumbfounded that the Department is threatening a much-needed project and allowing sediment pollution. The ERRP project has a substantial science and monitoring component that is much needed and could be aborted, if project funding is lost due to inability to get the restoration project permitted. We highly value the work they are doing with Laytonville Elementary School to help students learn about rivers and watersheds and to participate in restoration. We want ERRP to maintain its grant budget to provide this valuable service.
ERRP has been a positive force in our community, assisting with planning and implementation for water conservation, erosion control, riparian restoration and forest health. The illegal, capricious and arbitrary treatment by CDFW staff has put them under unnecessary stress. We know from your pronouncements how important the Cut the Green Tape program within the Natural Resources Agency is. Therefore, we trust that you will help guide CDFW, which is under your jurisdiction, to do the right thing on issuing a 1653 permit for this much needed project by June 1, 2023 to allow 2023 construction and to abate continuing sediment pollution.
Thank you for consideration of our request.
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Mendo’s Public Records Ordinance’s End Near
If everything goes according to plan, next Tuesday, May 9th, the Board of Supervisors will repeal the illegal Ordinance dealing with public records requests from citizens it approved last year.
As I said last week, since late February I’ve written a series of columns, drawn from legal briefs I’ve prepared, outlining how County Ordinance 4705 (so-called Public Records Act Ordinance) violated the California Public Records Act, as well as a seminal California Supreme Court decision rendered a couple of years ago.
At the April 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, the Supes went into closed session for approximately 90 minutes to review the status of an ordinance that in light of the legal research I was providing the Supervisors, showed pretty conclusively that it was unlawful on its face.
Shortly before Board Chair Glenn McGourty gaveled Tuesday’s session to a close, Williams said, “I want the Board and public to know that Supervisor Mulheren and I will be bringing a proposed action to the Board to repeal Ordinance 4507, that’s the Public Records Act Ordinance, and we’ve asked for the soonest time available on scheduling (it on an agenda).”
So assuming the Supes follow through and deep-six the ordinance, here’s what should occur.
Subsequent to the Ordinance’s repeal, requesters of public documents who paid illegal fees should be compensated without any argument from the County. If the County refuses to make requesters whole for paying unlawful fees, then litigation will occur and the County lose that lawsuit without question, and then would have to pay requesters attorney’s fees also. Of course those are our tax dollars that the County would be wasting, but I don’t believe that will happen. It better not for all concerned.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)