Fire crews, road crews, trail crews and cannabis
Fire crews, road crews, trail crews and cannabis, what do these things have in common? They were all discussed at the board of supervisors’ meeting May 16, and then some.
The board discussed the upcoming fire season, a safety award for county road crews and the economic benefits of trail building and bicycling events.
The board also discussed cannabis, Internet services — or lack thereof — and pending budget negotiations.
The 2017 fire season
Because of heavy rain this winter, Sue McCourt, Plumas County Office of Emergency Services fire prevention specialist, said the fire community is predicting the fire season in the northern Sierra to be delayed this year, not really beginning until July or August.
The National Interagency Fire Center announced May 1 that, “The exceptional winter and early spring precipitation is leading to the development of a substantial crop of fine fuels in the lower and middle elevations. The heavy loading of fine fuels could become problematic when they cure out in July.
“In the higher elevations, the mountain snow pack continues to melt at a normal to slower than normal rate. This should produce a delay in the onset of significant fire activity in the high elevations.”
Fine fuels, like grass and small shrubs, carry fires along the ground surface. If heavy amounts of coarser fuels — small trees and dead and downed debris — are present, fires can climb up into the canopies of trees and become catastrophic.
If only grass and litter is present, the fire remains at the surface. Repeated surface fires can keep the amount of accumulated coarser fuels in the understory of a forest, live or dead, at safer levels.
Public Works wins trophy
The Plumas County Public Works Department won the northern California Golden Grader Trophy for the second year in a row based on the department’s superior safety record.
The trophy, from the 15-county Northern California Engineers Association, is given each year to the county with the best safety record.
The trophy was displayed at the board of supervisors meeting May 16. Bob Perreault, director of public works, told the audience that the trophy is “fairly coveted if you are a director of public works.”
Supervisor Jeff Engel, who has had experience working with road crews, explained, “I don’t know if everybody knows how dangerous this work is.” Supervisor Sherrie Thrall added, “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes for all the money in the world.”
The Golden Grader trophy dates back to 1956. Joe Blackwell, deputy director of public works stated that the department averages 100,000 working hours per year. He also said that the department does most of its own work, including construction, paving and chip sealing, thus making the award all the more deserving.
The topic came up as to when the county should hire new people in order to administer cannabis operations for the county.
The state finally came out with its proposed regulations for medical use of cannabis April 24.
The Plumas County Cannabis Working Group is beginning to incorporate those regulations into its proposed county cannabis ordinance.
Once those regulations and the county ordinance are in place, there will need to be approximately three people onboard for the county to deal with incoming applications.
Board Chair Lori Simpson, expressed some skepticism about the high hopes raised by cannabis production in Plumas County, the so-called “Green Rush.”
Simpson said she felt uncomfortable bringing on staff when she didn’t know if there would be the revenue from cannabis production and sales to pay for those positions.
“I want to see the money before I put people in there. Show me the money,” she said.
Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship
Greg Williams, director of Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, gave a presentation to the board outlining the benefits to the county of both the trail building and special events that his organization administers.
Williams pointed out that his organization gets people employed again with good wages of from $20 to $35 per hour. He noted that his organization had a payroll of $600,000 in 2016 and has put in for $500,000 in grants for 2017.
Williams said it cost $10,000 to $53,000 per mile to build a dirt trail and that most of that money goes into labor.
“We hire all local people and use all local talent,” he said.
In terms of the biking events that the stewardship puts on, Williams said Grinduro had a thousand participants and sold out in just 10 hours.
He said that most of the participants have excess income and bring a lot of money into the county from throughout the world.
In order to keep these events going, Williams said, “What we really need is for everyone to work together,” because, he said, “We live and die by our partnerships.”
Williams added, “We need long-term planning.” Williams pointed out that events have come close to being canceled, even for this year, because his organization needs to get permits renewed with the U.S. Forest Service every year.
That takes so long that the Stewardship often doesn’t have time to get the word out to participants.
Williams said, “We really need the district rangers to be onboard.” However, with the continual coming and going of new district rangers, Williams said, “It only takes one new person to come in and stop things.”
On a brighter side, one new district ranger recently gave the stewardship a five-year permit. Williams said that was great, “Our event participants can plan their summers around that.”
New social services position
Social Services Director Elliott Smart appealed to the board to allow him to hire an additional employee to reduce the workload of the seven people who currently screen applicants for eligibility for public assistance programs.
Smart pointed out that the number of CalFresh (food stamps) and Medi-Cal applicants have doubled and tripled, respectively, in recent years.
Smart said that current eligibility specialists handle over 450 cases per month per person. He said he would like to bring those caseloads down to more manageable levels of less than 400 cases per month.
Smart also pointed out that the new position would be paid entirely from federal and state funds, with nothing coming from the general fund.
The board agreed to allow the new position and for the county to begin the hiring process.