The Mendocino Beacon
Thursday, April 14, 2005

The purchase of the Big River unit isn't quite finished. That will be when State Parks acquires road use agreements from Mendocino Redwood Company.

Ideally, State Parks should have tried to acquire the rights to logging road reciprocal agreements, or at least negotiate conditions for their use and repair, when the Big River Unit was purchased. That was not done, with State Parks and its buying agent, the Mendocino Land Trust, on a narrow mandate to buy the property. Instead of pointing fingers about this relatively minor problem, all forces should get now together and find a solution.

A related problem is nobody told the public to except logging trucks in the park. People who live adjacent to the park had to find out the pard way -- in a confrontation with the lumber truck. The public being kept in the dark about MRC's rights to drive through the park contributed to the filing of a lawsuit. The lawsuit led to a finding by a judge that confirmed what those involved in the deal already knew -- MRC had legal rights to use the roads.

MRC's vice president has told this newspaper his firm is already to negotiate with State Parks about the roads. As a practical matter, the company won't use all the roads it can and can't use others. MRC's legal rights must be honored while all parties work toward properly retiring roads as much as possible in the long term.

The lawsuit had one point that remains salient despite the victory of the timber company. That is MRC repairing or even replacing the roads outside of the California Environmental Quality Act review process. That point could still be legally changed. On this point alone, State Parks should have been defending the state CEQA process, not being sued by local residents to enforce or at least interpret it.

But continuing a lawsuit by people outside of the process is and ineffective way to finish buying these road agreements. The suit keeps State Parks under a cloud of litigation. Those who filed the suit have done their job -- calling attention to this important omission in the purchase. We call on the plaintiffs to end this lawsuit. A hearing is set this month, and we call on State Parks to seek to buy or greatly limit the road agreements or enforce the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Big River watershed is a big place where timber harvesting, ecological protection and public use must all cooperate and use common sense in dealing with each other.