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The Georgia Pacific Millsite: A Deal In the Works

The Fort Bragg City Council has its third closed session discussion in less than a month scheduled for Monday night, over what appears to be a deal for the city to acquire the remaining millsite land still owned by Georgia-Pacific Corp. 

On June 14 and 17, the Council met in closed session on a single item, titled "Conference with real property negotiators for possible acquisition of real property" followed by several parcel numbers that correspond with the millsite. The negotiators are listed as Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller and Dave Massengill, who is Senor Director of Environmental Engineering at Georgia-Pacific Corporation. The same closed session item appears on the June 28 agenda.

Miller confirmed last week that discussions over a possible city acquisition of the more than 200 acres on the southern portion of the site. Talks have been ongoing in various forms over the past two years, and have intensified in recent weeks. 

The details of discussions between the city and Georgia-Pacific are exempt from public disclosure under the Brown Act, California's open meetings law, which specifically allows real estate negotiations to be conducted mostly in private. 

But the talks themselves have to be noted publicly, as they have been on several recent council agendas. A fourth discussion related to a possible millsite deal happened on June 3, in a special council meeting devoted to approving a contract with Kulak Rock LLP, a Washington D.C.-based law firm, among whose specialties are real estate transactions involving large-scale environmental rehabilitation and monitoring, conversion of military bases to other uses, and partnerships with Native American tribes. 

Miller said last week that any deal would likely require the purchaser to continue to monitor and do final cleanup, which has been the focus of a nearly two-decade testing and cleanup effort by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. 

Money for such an undertaking would not come from the city's general fund, but likely from hefty federal grants — the EPA is a promising source, Miller said — targeted at environmental and economic restoration. 

Washington law firm Kulak Rock's experience with tribal governments prompted questions at the June 3 meeting about The Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians' possible involvement in a deal. Sherwood Valley is steward of significant Native American sites on the property, both historical and in current cultural use. Sherwood Valley's tribal government did not respond to a request for comment. 

Miller would not comment on details of the current talks, but said a potential deal could open the way for mixed-use housing and retail development on the site, public facilities like playing fields, and overall a more community-centered approach to developing the land. 

Miller added that the deal hinges on G-P finding a responsible buyer who will uphold the company's obligations regarding groundwater monitoring and any other leftover consequences from the land's century-plus of industrial use. 

Miller gave no timeline on an agreement, but the frequency of recent closed session discussions suggests a conclusion is hoped for soon.

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Fort Bragg City Council’s Monday Meeting

Formula businesses, water conservation, and, in closed session, a potential deal for city government to buy the remaining 200 acres of millsite land from Georgia-Pacific, was on Monday night’s Fort Bragg City Council agenda. 

The council was to discuss the inland portion of the formula business ordinance that, it is hoped, will guide officials in evaluating development proposals from out-of-area chain retail operations. Applications from Grocery Outlet (approved) and Dollar General (pending) to build stores in Fort Bragg prompted calls for a specific policy on the legally-fraught question. Local governments cannot ban chain stores just because they are chain stores, and the issue has inspired strong feelings both for and against particular chain businesses, often depending on which store you're talking about and where you like to shop and exactly where the store might be located. 

The council's discussion will focus on the "inland zone," meaning the part of town not in the Coastal Zone, which has another set of planning documents that have to be Coastal Commission-approved. It's the Council's and public's first look at the proposed ordinance. Any changes are expected to be made by the time the ordinance is slated to return for final approval on July 12. 

The city's strengthened water conservation ordinance will be up for approval. The basics have not changed: use of water for outdoor landscaping, construction, and at businesses — especially restaurants and hotels — is progressively restricted through four stages: a Water Alert, a Water Warning, a Water Emergency, and a Water Crisis. (What’s next? A Water Catastrophe?) 

The new ordinance adds a fifth stage, a Critical Water Shortage, that gives local government sweeping powers to regulate water use — including installing "flow restrictors" on any user's water connection and determining a "base allocation" for each class of user, that could further limit use in a severe emergency. 

Currently Fort Bragg has not reached the threshold for any of the conservation stages. The Noyo River is at drought level, but the recently-built reservoir at Summers Lane gives a cushion that proved enough to get the city through 2020's dry summer without severe restrictions. 

But the alarms over potential water shortages later this summer are sounding statewide this year, and the Fort Bragg council will consider voluntarily initiating a Stage Two "Water Warning" that would allow outdoor watering (except drip irrigation) on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, from midnight to 9 a.m. and from 6pm to midnight. Washing off sidewalks, driveways and asphalt would be banned. Hotels and motels would be required to offer guests the option of not having their sheets and towels washed every day. 

The council will also hold its fourth closed session in less than a month on negotiations between the city manager and Georgia-Pacific on possible city purchase of the remaining 200 acres that G-P owns on the millsite. (See above.) 

Also on the agenda: a consultant's presentation on how the city should handle its part of unfunded public employees' pensions; cost of living increases in city hall salaries (salary talks with the police department are ongoing); discussion of a possible ocean intake/outflow facility that could be used for desalination, aquaculture, or an expanded Noyo Center for Marine Science (aquariums); and an update on the activities of the Mendocino Coast Healthcare District.

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