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SPI Opposes Ebbetts Pass Scenic Road

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Sierra Pacific Industries said naming Ebbetts Pass a national scenic byway would limit its logging practices in the area.

On Tuesday, SPI officially announced its opposition to a plan that would put the 58-mile stretch of Highway 4 from Arnold to Markleeville on the Federal Highway Administration´s (FHA) prestigious byway program.

SPI, which owns about 74,000 acres in Calaveras County, said its reasons were, “concern about the designation´s impact on private-property rights and the use of the designation to limit our company´s operations along the corridor.”

Supervisors Tom Tryon and Victoria Erickson agreed with SPI that the designation somehow impacts private-property rights, but they have not clearly explained what those impacts are. July 6 the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 2-2 on the plan with Tryon and Erickson voting no. A second vote will take place Aug. 2 when Supervisor Paul Stein will be present.

The plan was developed through a three-year effort by the Council of Governments (COG), the county´s transportation agency. Ebbetts Pass has been a state scenic highway since 1971.

“I´m contacting byway coordinators in other areas where there are major logging and timber interests,” COG Executive Director George Dondero said. “So far what we´ve found is that byway programs can work quite well with timber companies. We hope that SPI can follow that model in the future. But I don´t think that´s going to be negotiated.”

Erickson and Stein sit on the seven-members COG Board of Directors and joined a unanimous vote in favor on the byway plan at an April 14 COG meeting. Erickson seconded the motion to approve the plan. Stein asked that SPI be contacted to attend the July 6 supervisors´ meeting “to give SPI the opportunity to express their opinion on the issue,” COG meeting minutes said.

SPI did not attend the July 6 board meeting, but Erickson brought a June 24 e-mail from Mark Luster, SPI´s community relations manager. Erickson summarized it as saying, “SPI is nervous about the designation.”

This came as a shock to Dondero, who had worked with Luster to include language in the plan intended to protect SPI´s right to log. Luster was notified his changes were included June 1, Dondero said.

Luster´s e-mail to Erickson said, “Hi Victoria, I´ve reviewed the document again and made a few comments that might be helpful in regard to property rights.” Luster explained the language he wanted in the plan, the same language Dondero included. But then Luster went on to list specific sections of the plan he had a problem with.

“Page 2, last paragraph, line11. There is a historical statement that reads, ‘escaped the ravages of mining and logging.´ That´s a pretty strong statement and assumes that logging and mining was bad,” Luster wrote.

The complete sentence in the plan is, “Although the emigrant and mining travel disrupted the trade culture between the Miwok and Washoe people, significant cultural areas in the high Sierra escaped the ravages of mining and logging and are only subject to the natural processes of time.”

Luster concluded, “Hopefully my notes will help you with your review.”

“My vote is not solely based on SPI,” Erickson said at the July 6 board meeting. “I do believe once we apply, there are strings attached,” Erickson said.

Efforts to contact Erickson for comment on why her vote changed since the April 14 COG meeting or exactly what strings she´s referring to have been unsuccessful.

“Our job is to get the facts and vote appropriately,” Supervisor Merita Callaway said. “There are no facts that support their fear.”

Callaway´s district encompasses a portion of the byway.

“I´m asking all of them where are the facts that support their fear. ‘Where is your perception coming from?´” Callaway said. “There is nowhere that I know of that a national scenic byway has impacted the timber industry or mining.

“And I thought we took those concerns and were addressing them. We changed the plan to put in SPI´s recommendation.”

“It´s a perception based on what (SPI) thinks can happen rather than what has happened,” Dondero said

An SPI press release this week was critical of being left out of earlier planning.

“As (Callaway) well knows, SPI was not involved in the three-year process until two months ago when we were contacted by (COG),” it said.

“It´s been a public forum both in Alpine and Calaveras,” Callaway said. “It was noticed (advertised) in the newspaper. I didn´t invite people. It was publicly noticed. Other businesses showed up and I didn´t call any of them. They probably read it in the paper. Should (SPI) be treated any differently than the Camp Connell store or the Tamarack Inn, who were not contacted personally but they were there? Why should (SPI) be treated any differently in terms of being contacted? This has been going on for a long time.”

“We´ve made considerable concessions in our operation over the past four years in Calaveras County,” SPI´s press release said.

“I don´t want (SPI) getting the issues mixed up,” Callaway said.

Callaway and community members in the Ebbetts Pass corridor have taken a stand on the volume of SPI´s clear cuts, Callaway said.

“I´m hoping (SPI) is not trying to get back at the community for their position. That is a separate issue,” she said.

SPI has control of the decision now, Callaway said, explaining, “Paul Stein made it clear: ‘I´m just concerned about how SPI feels.´”

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click: