By Lorralne Buranzon
The Mendocino Beacon
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Thank you for the informative article (April 14) discussing the road use issue at Big River. However, the accompanying editorial had several inaccuracies and over simplifications I would like to clarify.
The editorial sounds a bit as if the lawsuit is frivolous and filed solely to make a point. Thus is not the case. Long before the lawsuit was filed, attempts to resolve the situation through dialogue were made.
In June 2003, Big River Citizen's Advisory Committee (CAC) was informed that the State Park's attorneys had decided to allow roadwork by MRC without demanding environmental reviews. The CAC responded by writing to Ruth Coleman, Director of California Department of Parks and Recreation (6/03) asking that the State Parks request an injunction until the issues had been legally resolved, and that determination of validity of the road easements be made. The CAC also wrote to MLT (6/03, 7/03) asking that they step in and request an injunction, and subsequently, that they use their Big River fund to file a lawsuit. Their attorney, Morrison and Foerster, wrote a letter to State parks (10/03) providing legal assessment of State Parks responsibilities under the Terms and Agreement, and requesting that State Parks adopt road use restrictions and regulate and conduct CEQA review of MRC's activities within Bid River Unit.
A representative from MRC attended several CAC meetings, and there was discussion that they would enter into a dialogue with State Parks over the roads. During those meetings, MRC was firm that they believed that they had a legal use agreement, and the State Parks stated that State Parks attorneys were of the view that they had no "discretionary authority" to implement CEQA. MRC wrote up their own erosion control plan, but roadwork proceeded without environmental assessment under any formal review process including Forest Practice rules and CEQA.
The CAC, still going by the supposition that certain roadwork within the Big River Unit was subjected to a CEQA review, knew that the public had a deadline in which to formally respond after such roadwork was initiated. The CAC formed a subcommittee of interested citizens to evaluate all potential options. There were notices to the newspaper and radio to solicit public opinion and one CAC meeting was devoted to evaluating the best source of action. When it did not appear the parties involved (MRC, State Parks) would discuss the issue publicly, nor resolve by the perceived CEQA deadline, it was determined that the CAC would support a lawsuit.
As to the lawsuit being brought on by people "outside the progress" the Big River Unit was purchased largely by the public, either by donations or by tax payer money. I don't believe the public is "outside the progress" even though they were often treated as such. Since the primary purpose of the purchase of Big River from logging interests was to preserve, 1 would have to say that if anyone is part of the process, it is Linda Perkins. She works selflessly as a voice of the public to protect our forests and environment. and to keep that "public eye" on the workings of agencies.
Lastly, before we ask State Parks to buy easements from MRC, we should first ask State Parks to hire additional ecologists, botanists, biologists, rangers, etc., since there is no additional funding for staffing allocated for the Big River Unit upon acquisition.
The lawsuit does not keep State Parks under a "cloud of litigation."
The purpose of the lawsuit is to clarify a situation that State Parks Sacramento did not appear to want to deal with. If the plaintiffs win the appeal, it will clear the way for decommissioning of roads that are contributing sediment to the Big River.
The parties involved with the purchase should work together to convince State Parks officials and attorneys that they do have the authority and latitude to regulate the roads within the unit. And MRC should be willing to subject themselves to the same environmental scrutiny that State Parks adheres to win operating within a State Park bounty.