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Fishing For Dollars (August 16, 2000)

Patti Campbell, Richard Shoemaker and David Colfax are to be commended for their actions at last week’s Supes’ meeting. They righted a wrong, and you can never be wrong when you are setting things right. Right? I’ll explain.

You’ll recall that two columns ago, I reported on Lee Howard being passed over on an appointment to a newly-minted redevelopment advisory committee. The Ukiah-area man is no stranger to controversy, but that pretty much goes with the turf when you’ve been an active player in local politics for lo these many years. 

Whether you agree or not with Howard’s politics, the guy has given years of service to various boards, commissions and special districts. His time in harness has given him a lot of experience and knowledge about the local and regional governing process. Currently, he sits as president of the Russian River Flood Control District, a district which encompasses most, if not all, of the proposed redevelopment areas. Recently, the Supes sent out a clarion call for people to serve on a committee charged with providing advice on redevelopment for unincorporated areas in north and south Ukiah, as well as Calpella. The Supes solicited Gary Brawley for committee duty because the Ukiah school chief’s district has plans for a new school in the redevelopment area. Seeking participation from other governmental entities in the redevelopment process is not only logical, but also good public policy. That is why the rejection of Howard’s application, who serves not only on a sister governing agency but also owns property in the redevelopment area, was somewhat perplexing and disturbing. 

This past Tuesday, with Supes Campbell, Shoemaker and Colfax taking the lead, they reconsidered their earlier action regarding Howard. In doing so, they returned to the path of good public policy, and restored some good will in a process — redevelopment — which has not enjoyed wide public acceptance to date. This week, the BOS will take formal action to approve Howard’s application. Supervisors Campbell, Shoemaker and Colfax deserve public recognition for doing the right thing.

Fish Dollars For Road Repairs

At Tuesday’s Supes’ session, County Department of Transportation honcho Stan Townsend presented a list of road projects for approval. The nine projects will be paid for with $798,000 from a state salmon recovery program. Townsend also reported “there is also a strong possibility” that the County will continue to receive some $750,000 per year for the next six years. The Supes unanimously OK’d the projects.

You’ll recall the big stink last December when Supe Mike Delbar informed his colleagues that he had unilaterally submitted a list of road projects for funding from the recovery program. At that time, Delbar explained he was forced to bypass normal channels because he was notified at the last minute by state officials of an impending deadline. That incident set off heated debate, including criticism from enviros that fish money was being used for road projects. 

Tuesday, the Supes heard a reprise of those arguments from KZYX newsman Bruce Haldane, who said, “You shouldn’t be using fish money for road projects. Use fish money for fish, and road money for roads.”

He also stated that “experts” he had spoken with claim that little or no benefit to watersheds results from paving dirt roads. Other experts argue that fish habitat improves with road paving because run-off into streams is reduced. Just another little disagreement amongst friendly experts. Here’s the list of projects.

• Laytonville-Dos Rios Road, CR 322; regrade existing aggregate base; provide double chip seal; project area: MP 0.95 to MP 5.25; $87,000.

• Mina Road, CR 336: regrade existing aggregate base; provide 3”-thick asphalt concrete pavement; project area: MP 2.00 to MP 6.00; $396,000.

• Tomki Road, CR 237D: regrade existing aggregate base; provide double chip seal; project area: MP 10.38 to MP 11.74; $26,000.

• Hearst Willits Road, CR 306: regrade existing aggregate base; provide double chip seal; project area: MP 5.45 to MP 9.80; $88,000.

• Eel River Road, CR 240B: regrade existing aggregate base; provide double chip seal; project area: MP 6.71 to MP 9.46.

• Briceland Road, CR 435: modify culvert with baffles, outlet beam and weirs to reduce flow velocities and establish outlet pools at Ancestor Creek culvert; project area: MP 3.45; $45,000.

• Ten Mile Road, CR 506: reconfigure roadway (e.g., rolling dips, gentle outslopes) to reduce erosion; project area: MP 0.00 to MP 1.85; $50,000.

• Ryan Creek Road, CR 310C: replace damaged apron, install baffles and outlet beam, install weirs to backflood outlet pool at Ryan Creek; project area: MP 0.68; $45,000.

• Ridgeway Highway, CR 249: regrade existing aggregate base; provide double chip seal; project area: MP 3.62 to MP 3.90; $6,000.

Joe Stalin Sighting in the County

Got a kick out of a Willits News report on a recent meeting of the Mendocino Council of Governments. Believe me, the story was unintentionally humorous. 

MCOG is the County agency responsible for doling out state funds for local transportation projects. 

During a discussion on the allocation of some $7 million, Fort Bragg city councilman Dan Gjerde made a pitch to change how the pork barrel should be porked. Evidently, Gjerde argued that the loot should be divvied up by the cities and the county on a per capita basis: Split the money up and let each entity spend it as they see fit. He was upset that several years ago, MCOG voted to allocate its then-entire pot of $17 million towards the $100 million-plus Willits Bypass project. I am not going to rehash the details of that dust-up, it’s enough to say that not everybody was pleased with the decision. Folks down in Willits are still feuding over that project, including fighting about building European-style “roundabouts,” vs. traditional on-off ramps. Roundabout, indeed. Is the word even in the Caltrans dictionary?

Anyway, Gjerde tells MCOG their Willits Bypass decision made them look “like Joseph Stalin’s Central Committee.” For the history-impaired, Stalin was the guy who ran Russia, actually the Soviet Union, back in the good old days of purges, liquidations, and petty political squabbling ending in massive blood-letting. In other words, standard Mendocino County liberal politics. Uncle Joe was also a stone-cold psychopath of the first order. He was kind of like a Bill Clinton before there was a Bill Clinton.

By the time Gjerde ran out of steam, that noted Marxist-Leninist theoretician, Denny “Vladimir” McEntire, an MCOG member and Commissar of the Willits Council of Workers, had heard enough from the Fort Bragg upstart.

According to the news report, “McEntire wadded up a printed statement given to the MCOG board by Gjerde and was seen shaking his head in disagreement. ‘This has the appearance of an immature crybaby’s complaint, that somebody got something, and they didn’t,’ McEntire said.”

When last seen, Comrade Gjerde was being frog-marched at bayonet point by a special KGB unit assigned to the Willits Chamber of Commerce. Reportedly, they were taking him to a secret, underground re-education roundabout from which no one has ever been known to exit.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

Tuesday, while taking a mandatory break from keeping the government’s iron heel off your necks, I was standing in front of the Low Gap Admin Center shooting the breeze with a county employee. This car pulls up in the white zone and out hops this 20-year-old woman who sashays up and asks for directions to a County department. We check out her tee-shirt and crack up after she’s on her way:

“I want to be just like Barbie— That bitch has everything!”

More Railroad News And Views

Last week’s item about the possible sale of the Skunk Line to new owners who are looking at a plan to transport gamblers to a Willits tribal casino, caused me to speculate about similar business opportunities for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. I suggested not only could the NWP shuttle gamblers to Northcoast tribal casinos year-round, but it could inaugurate “Bud Car” service to capitalize on the region’s number one cash crop. Here’s some related ideas to increase revenues. 

In the spring planting season, Bud Cars would haul water tanks, drip lines, and fertilizer directly to formerly-abandoned stations along the rugged Eel River Canyon right-of-way. Think of the drastic reduction in car and truck trips as growers forsake long and tedious supply runs for the convenience of delivery by rail. Fall harvest would find mile-long sections of Bud Cars chugging south loaded with a cargo worth more than its weight in gold. To cover all the bases, the NWP could offer special discounts to CAMP and COMMET riders who could stage their raids from the comfort of Pullman cars instead of noisy, intrusive helicopters. Don’t you think pot raiders would prefer jumping from an on-the-ground train instead of a high-flying whirlybird? All in all, that’s a business plan guaranteed to make money. 

I also told you last week, that rail experts, whose opinions I defer to, have told me that the Skunk Line as a purely passenger operation is a tough business proposition. Historically, the Skunk has always relied on freight traffic to bridge revenue gaps in off-peak tourist months. 

One knowledgeable source, an honest-to-God working railroader, summed up the carrier’s dilemma: “The CWR (Skunk Train) used to be a pretty classy operation. When I rode in about 1985 it was enjoyable and well-run. The crews were friendly and the trains were on time. I agree with those who insist it should be no less than that. The operation is obviously failing due to mismanagement.

“To be fair, though, think of how things have changed on the CWR. The line is no longer supplemented by freight revenues since their outside connection (with the NWP) is gone. The track and structures have undergone some tough winters, the same as those that shut down the NWP, and (employee) lay-offs followed inevitably.”

Historically, successful short lines depended on “niche” marketing and/or interchange agreements with larger carriers. Hopefully, Skunk owners can figure something out to keep the line operating, preferably in local hands. John Mayfield, part of the Skunk ownership group, impresses me as someone who knows something about running a railroad. In order to improve both the line’s performance and prospects for remaining locally-owned, he may have to take a more hands-on role in the day-to-day management of the railroad.

Last week the NCRA received its first relief check from the state. NCRA chairman Bob Jehn described his reaction when he opened the envelope. “You could have knocked me over with a feather” when the mail arrived with $850 grand from state Comptroller’s Office. 

If Jehn swoons over that piddling sum (to the NCRA’s reckoning, anyway), what’s the poor guy going to do when the whole $60 mil is dumped in his lap? Let’s hope he doesn’t have a stroke.

The next installment from the $60 million bailout is expected to be $10 million allocated to pay off the NCRA’s debt to long-suffering contractors and vendors. 

According to NCRA officials, they “are optimistic that creditors will be paid in full before the end of the year.” 

That statement is very similar to Jehn’s earlier assessment that he was also “optimistic” that freight service would resume from Willits by the end of the year.

Jehn has become a very optimistic guy now that the rainbow’s pot of gold is within grasp.

The NCRA’s next meeting is August 16 in Eureka, where, Jehn said, “the process to reopen the rail line will be an item for discussion.” 

Glory hallelujah and the saints preserve us, the NCRA is actually going to discuss re-opening the line. Will wonders never cease.

According to Jehn, “The timing of the opening will be dependent upon the availability to return to work of certain employees of NWPY, the freight operator for NCRA, and the process which the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will require to certify the safety of the line.”

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