Fort Bragg Water Theft (Jan. 23, 2002)

With less than three minutes of deliberation on January 10th, the five-member Mendocino Coast Recreation and Park District Board certified the Environmental Impact Report to allow construction of its $7-10 million dollar 187-acre 18-hole golf course to begin — directly on top of all the area that supplies half of the drinking water to the 7,000 residents of the City of Fort Bragg, and all the water to numerous neighboring well owners. 

360,000 gallons a day of water for the golf course will be pumped from an alleged “lower” aquifer and sprayed on the turf. Fort Bragg residents and golf course neighbors will not suffer from a water shortage, according to the EIR prepared by Jones & Stokes. 

The $150,000 spent by the handful of local business men pushing the golf course (the Rec District doesn't have two nickels to rub together) bought them an EIR which concludes that the amount of water available to the City will be enhanced by draining the runoff from the course into Newman Gulch (a stream that traverses the site) thence into the City's downstream reservoir. It concludes that this runoff water will also quickly seep into the upper aquifer supplying more water to the neighboring wells and the College of the Redwoods' water-dependent Robert Scholars Bog (home to extremely rare and endangered carnivorous plants). The protected Pygmy Cypress forest located on the site, and between the course and the bog and wells, will not get too much water. 

Water will be controlled so that the chemical fertilizers applied to the turf will not flow into the drinking water supplies and endangered plant species areas.

Just in case there is a water shortage, the Rec District proposes to use reclaimed water from the City's sewage treatment plant to water the course.

In other words, the EIR says everyone will have more drinking water as a result of the golf course. Or maybe less. Except where it might poison someone, then there will be less. Or maybe more. More or less.

Which it will ultimately be? More? Or less? The EIR says one, the other, neither, or both depending on what page you flip to. The design for the course (its irrigation system, and graded contours) isn't final, you see.

The “overriding consideration” (required legal statement that proves the course will be beneficial despite its serious, and more or less unknown environmental impacts) is that the trash on the site will be cleaned up. 

Seriously.

The City of Fort Bragg, the Dorothy King Young Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, Teresa Scholars (professor of botany at College of the Redwoods), the Sierra Club, Friends of Fort Bragg, and four neighboring well owners were given five minutes each to summarize their numerous concerns and objections to the bogus EIR and the moving target golf course. All were told by the Rec Board chair, Pat Tilley, that the Board was not legally required to hear or respond to these comments. 

The five board members did neither.

Fort Bragg's yahoos (greedy small-town developer types who endlessly snarl and scrap for tax-dollar subsidies) also attended the Rec District's EIR certification meeting, though only in a small pack. Just two (Walt Puffer and Ryan Perkins) yelped their support for the course. 

The standing-room-only audience, however, was stuffed with what appeared to be imported golfers, none of whom said a word before, during, or after the meeting. Each of these very tall and straight postured thin guys sported silvery white hair, dark tans and similar tailored polyester attire.

Imagine being packed in a small box with 100 popsicle sticks and you'll appreciate the ambiance. 

When they left the meeting, they were kinda spooky, though. Like those expressionless, stiff walking, coming-to-get-you townspeople from Night of the Living Dead. The EIR promises there will be 44,000 of them coming to Fort Bragg from April to October to play on the course.

The EIR acknowledges that the City of Fort Bragg has some concerns about the golf course's impact on the quality and quantity of its Newman Gulch drinking water supply. These so-called “minor” concerns are to be “worked out” through a Memorandum of Understanding to be negotiated at some future time, absent the public. City staff objected to the EIR's mischaracterization of City concerns, its lack of information, its contradictions, its exclusion of the public and requested that the EIR not be certified before the MOU was completed.

Even though Jim Hurst and the Rec District promised years ago, and many times since, to work with the Native Plant Society and Teresa Scholars to identify and preserve the endangered plants on the site, they were never contacted.

Indeed, every single impact one can imagine that the golf course could and will have is to be addressed through plans, permits, or studies all deferred to some later date, outside of the public's ability to review and comment.

The EIR does not contain any requirement (i.e., enforcement mechanism) that the Rec District must actually do anything it says it will do in the EIR to alleviate the environmental impacts caused by the golf course construction, development or ongoing maintenance. Fertilizer chemicals in your water glass? Thirty days after you drink it, the Rec District is to report to the City that this was the case.

So, if the EIR certification (and in particular, the EIR's lack of an enforcement mechanism) is not challenged in court within 30 days of the certification (less than 15 days from now), any future lawsuit over an actual occurrence of water depletion, water pollution, destruction of the protected Pygmy forest, Bog, or to any of the other numerous endangered plants and animals identified on the site, will fail. Once the time clock runs out, the Rec District holds a “get out of jail free” card, forever. The MOU between the City and Rec District, no matter what it says, won't be worth the paper it is written on.

Jim Hurst (former school board member and current motel owner, who will personally benefit from the customers the golf course will bring) is the man responsible for thoroughly corrupting our government's ususal system of checks and balances (think Enron, the Savings & Loan debacle, or Tea Pot Dome) by exploiting a Rec District that is normally not institutionally, and now through its deficient EIR, not legally capable of enforcing the golf course's impact prevention measures. 

Hurst is now beating the tom-toms (through his wholly controlled KOZT and Advocate News media outlets) for support from fellow yahoos. Their mission? To pressure the Fort Bragg City Council members into overriding its staff's and Public Works Committee's (Councilmembers White & Benedetti) concern about impacts to the City's drinking water and inability to do anything about them whatsoever after the 30-day clock ticks its last tock.

The AVA goes to print before the City Council's Tuesday afternoon meeting where the Council will discuss what to do. The City must sue to de-certify the EIR until its MOU is negotiated and then adopted into the EIR with enforcement provisions. But it's easy to predict that there will be a split vote, with Lindy Peters and Jere Melo going for Hurst-Golf Course, Michele White and Vince Benedetti going for insuring protection of town's drinking water. 

The swing vote, councilmember Dan Gjerde, is not so easy to predict. Though he campaigned hard and won his election, back in 1998, with his courageous stances on issues surrounding the town's water problems (developer ripoff, lack of supply, and ratepayers bearing the financial burden of these), he has been a disappointment in several other areas this last year. 

Typical of so many ambitious politicians after they are elected, Gjerde's moral principals have become increasingly difficult to discern. His positions seem childishly calculated to undo the perception that there is solid three-vote-majority on the Council and instill his independence in the eyes of the voter and fellow councilmembers. The Gjerde-White-Benedetti majority used to stand for “Truth and Right” above all in Fort Bragg — tax-dollar fiscal responsibility, competent staff, upholding the municipal and building codes, paving the roads, and protecting public health and safety. White and Benedetti have kept the faith.

Gjerde, on the other hand, has begun to sacrifice Truth and Right in order to fully garner the heady power of the swing vote through “I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” deals with the yahoos. The downside to implementing this strategy in Fort Bragg, as we old-timers know, is that the yahoos never have, and never will scratch anybody’s back.

There's still time for politically pubescent Gjerde to successfully re-chart his new course and mature into a true statesman. He's got the brains. But does he have the inner moral fortitude to resist Hurst & Co. money and protect the water supply of the Fort Bragg people who elected him ?

Gjerde's golf course decision (to sue or not to sue) will be the test.

3 Responses to "Fort Bragg Water Theft (Jan. 23, 2002)"

  1. Lee Edmundson   September 3, 2019 at 5:46 am

    We need more people like the late Roanne Withers.

    Thanks for printing this analysis, written in 2002.

    It’s now 17 years later, the Recreation and Park District is (still) saddled with the albatross parcels of land — along with a million dollars of debt and pending bankruptcy proceedings (the status of which are…?) — and as for the once vaunted golf course…?

    Yes, more citizen activists like Roanne.

    Reply
  2. Lee Edmundson   September 3, 2019 at 5:50 am

    We need more people like the late Roanne Withers.

    Thanks for printing this analysis, written in 2002.

    It’s now 17 years later, the Recreation and Park District is (still) saddled with the albatross parcels of land — along with a million dollars of debt and a pending bankruptcy proceeding (the status of which is…?). And as for the once vaunted golf course…?

    Yes, more citizen activists like Roanne, an all-to-rare modern day Cassandra.

    Reply
  3. Betsy Cawn   September 3, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Would love to hear how this situation unfolded — did the City sue? Were the P&R District Board members ousted? How can a special district decision that affects a city water supply be irrevocable to that municipal entity? How did Dan vote when it came down to it?

    Reply

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