November 12, 2003
Letter to the Editor
Anderson Valley Advertiser
Boonville, CA 95415
Big River State Park Road Use: A Chronology
In 1973 Georgia-Pacific Corporation (G-P) purchased approximately 250,000 acres of redwood timberland in western Mendocino County from Boise Cascade Corporation. This property was former owned by Union Lumber Company (ULC). At the same time G-P was implement- ing a divestiture of 20% of the company into a newly created company called Louisiana-Pacific Corporation (L-P). The Boise timberlands were divided among the two companies on the same 20% basis as the G-P/L-P divestiture. The parcels of property being acquired by L-P were not contiguous and intermingled among the residual property retained by G-P. The two companies recognized that the former ULC timberlands had a road system for timber management purposes that was integral to the single ULC timberland ownership but now crisscrossed the G-P and L-P individual ownerships. They determined that the continued use of the established road system by both companies was in their best interest rather than abandon the existing system and construct alternative access roads. G-P and L-P decided to enter into a Reciprocal Right of Way and Road Use Agreement that granted the right for each company to use the roads that cross the other company's property for timber management purposes which included hauling timber products from their respective timberlands to their respective wood processing facilities. The document evidencing the agreement was recorded in 1976 in Mendocino County Records which placed it in the title chain of each company's properties. Subsequent to the creation of the Reciprocal Right of Way and Road Use Agreement, the G-P properties were transferred to Hawthorne Timber Company, LLC and the L-P properties were transferred to Mendocino Redwood Company, LLC. In 1998 Mendocino Redwood Company became the successor to L-P and in 2002 Big River State Park became the successor to G-P on 7,300 acres located in Lower Big River. Each of the respective properties was acquired subject to the Reciprocal Right of Way and Road Use Agreement.
During 2001 it became known that Hawthorne Timber Company was negotiation the sale of a portion of its property in the Big River drainage to the Mendocino Land Trust (MLT) for eventual transfer to the State Park system. In June, 2001 Roger Krueger, representing MRC, attended a meeting of the Coastal Conservancy in
Oakland to observe the presentation of a request by the MLT for partial funding of the Big River land purchase. After the presentation, Roger Krueger spoke to Roger Stumberg, Executive Director of MLT, and specifically informed him about the existence of the Reciprocal Right of Way and Road Use Agreement encumbrance on the property that MLT desired to acquire. Roger Stumberg made a written note of the conversation and assured Roger Krueger that he would look into it and pass the information along to MLT. From that point forward MRC believed that the MLT and State Parks would perform their due diligence for property acquisition and come to terms with MRC's rights for road use on the Big River property. No contact was ever made by MLT or State Parks with MRC regarding the road use issue.
Commencing in 2002 there was a certain amount of correspondence and phone conversations between the parties concerning the Road Use Agreement which affected the Big River property, summarized below:
- In January, 2002, John Ramaley, URC Forester, wrote to Knox Marshall, Hawthorne Timberland Manager requesting written permission to construct a short segment of road on the Hawthorne Big River property as required by the Reciprocal Right of Way and Road Use Agreement Hawthorne's response was made by Paul Means, an attorney representing MLT advising Hawthorne that such a grant would create a violation of the Agreement of Purchase and Sale between Hawthorne and MLT for the Big River property.
- In March, 2002, Nancy Budge, MRC Director of Stewardship, telephoned Jim McCummings of the MLT and Greg Picard of State Parks and informed them of the Reciprocal Right of Way and Road Use Agreement. Mr. McCummings referred Ms Budge to State Parks. Greg Picard, of State Parks, was unaware of the agreement and requested a copy of the document - which Nancy faxed to him.
- In April, 2002, Mike Jani, MRC Chief Forester wrote to Jenny Griffin, MLT Project Director, informing her of the existence of the Road Use Agreement, its environmental mitigation characteristics, MRC's historical use, and its intent to continue to use the roads on the Big River property. Jenny GrilTin responded by acknowledging the existence of the Road Use Agreement since it appeared as an exception in the preliminary title report; she stated that MLT would honor its terms. Mike Jani was also in contact with Michael Lebeau who was representing MLT. Mr. Lebeau believed it would be best to allow the land purchase to be completed before entering into any meaningful discussion of the Road Use Agreement.
- In July, 2002, the Big River property was deeded to the MLT who simultaneously deeded it to State Parks.
- In October, 2002, MRC received a copy of the Land Acquisition Evaluation (LAE) prepared by the California Department of Fish and Game which contained sections that appeared to be contrary to the terms of the Road Use Agreement: 1) "Approximately 200 miles of roads not necessary for management will be properly decommissioned..." 2) "The property has no known encumbrances."
- After review of the LAE, Mike Jani wrote to Greg Picard, again explaining the existence of the Road Use Agreement the environmental benefits of maintaining an existing road system, MRC's intention of continuing use of some of the roads on the Big River property, and a request for a meeting to discuss the Agreement and other points of, mutual interest. Mr. Picard responded to the meeting request a month later with an apology for taking so long and an assurance he would respond with a meeting date as soon as he could. Internal communications between Greg Picard and Liz Steller, available in the public record, indicate that Greg Picard was not prepared to address MRC's road use concerns and the State's ability to deal with the various encumbrances on the Big River property had been adversely affected by a lack of adequate time to properly perform the due diligence required by the acquisition process. Mr. Picard never scheduled the requested meeting.
- In December, 2002, Joan Lemos, an attorney, provided ULT with an assessment of the Road Use Agreement and confirmed that MRC did have rights for road use over the Big River property and that State Parks may be inhibited from unreasonably interfering with MRC's use of the road system. By March, 2003, Mr. Picard was in contact with Liz Steller and Carolyn Momsen expressing concerns and frustrations about the effect of the Road Use Agreement on the Big River property and not feeling comfortable with the lack of policy and review of the issue during the due diligence period.
- In May, 2003, ]on Woessner, MRC Forester, informed Peter Braudrick of State Parks that MRC intended to use a road crossing the Big River property and outlined the maintenance that MRC agreed to perform during a site visit attended by Tom Schultz, ]on Woessner and Adam Steinbuck from MRC, and Peter Braudrick and Renee Pasquinelli for State Parks. Mr. Picard responded to Jon's notice with a claim that State Parks must issue an explicit consent for MRC's road use and receive approvals from other State agencies as well. MRC enlisted the aid of attorney Jim King to express its understanding of the Road Use Agreement and make contact with State Parks legal representatives. The final response from State Parks attorney Lisa Ditora indicated acceptance of the Road Use Agreement as an encumbrance on the Big River property and a recognition of MRC's rights to use and maintain the Big River roads that preserves the roads and road facilities in their present condition.
MRC continues to strive for a meeting with State Parks local representatives to discuss road use and other activities of mutual interest.