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County seeks share of Moonlight settlement

Debra Moore
Staff Writer
9/12/2012

When thousands of acres went up in smoke during the 2007 Moonlight Fire, so did the potential for millions of dollars in revenue for Plumas County roads and schools.

Now the county is taking action to recoup some of that loss — $7,028,664 to be specific.

The Board of Supervisors will send a letter to the Forest Service asking for a portion of the $147 million it received from Sierra Pacific Industries in the Moonlight Fire.

During the board’s Sept. 4 meeting, Bill Wickman, the chairman of the Plumas County Economic Recovery Committee, encouraged the board to seek its fair share.

In a three-page letter, he outlined why the county and its schools have a claim to some of the proceeds.

“There is a strong possibility that this board, as well as the school board could receive  large settlements,” Wickman told the supervisors. He encouraged the two entities to send a joint letter because it would have greater impact than one body working alone.

The supervisors voted unanimously to make the request and the school board was scheduled to discuss the issue at its meeting tonight.

Wickman said the county and schools could base their joint request on the two-fold impact the Moonlight Fire has on potential revenues.

“First, there were projects planned in the Moonlight Fire boundary that were not implemented,” Wickman wrote in the letter. “If this project had been approved and implemented, there were 14,200 acres of treatment that would have produced 15 million board feet of sawlogs and 36,000 bone dry tons of biomass. This was all green timber and the value cannot be recovered.”

He said that had a direct impact on the 25 percent receipts that should have been returned to the Treasury.”

That 25 percent in timber receipts, which was implemented in 1908 to help resource-dependent counties with high percentages of federal lands, is what helps fund rural schools and roads.

When timber production was high, schools in Plumas County were among the richest in the state, but as timber harvesting dwindled through regulation and lawsuits, the schools ranked among the poorest.

“Secondly, because there was not any salvage and restoration within the majority of the fire area, it will be decades before the schools may see any revenue from this area,” he wrote.

“The county won’t see revenue for 70 to 80 years from this land,” Wickman told the supervisors.

The Secure Rural Schools Act of 2000 and its two extensions have provided some school financing in the face of dwindling timber receipts.

In his presentation, Wickman showed financing from the legislation dropped from a high of $6.75 million in 2008 to a low of just over $4 million this year, representing a cumulative loss of just over $7 million and that is what he said the county should request.

In addition to the impact of the fire on Forest Service land, Wickman addressed the loss of 22,500 acres of private timberland that is believed to be part of the settlement.

“If this involved properties within Plumas County being part of that exchange, then we stand to lose more in the fact that this will take these areas off of the County’s tax base,” he wrote.

Supervisor Lori Simpson said there is also an impact to the county’s tourism, which impacts tax dollars and the local economy.

“Pretty soon all of our lakes will be burned up,” Simpson said, referring to Butt Lake Reservoir, which was devastated by the Chips Fire and Antelope Lake impacted by the Moonlight Fire. “Who wants to camp in a burned-out area?”

Wickman said the county could make such a good case that if the Forest Service turns down the request for funds, both the county and schools should consider involving their attorneys.

“This county will lose potential for decades,” he said. “You should press this.”

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