From Where I Stand: Revitalizing Crescent Mills, Indian Valley, and Plumas County through forest restoration

By Jonathan Kusel

Executive Director Sierra Institute for Community and Environment

 

In June, Plumas News published an article about “Competing Interests Vie to Revitalize Crescent Mills.” The Plumas News article described an issue put forth by Mat Fogarty, owner of the Crescent Hotel, who wanted Sierra Institute to relocate a planned chip storage shed. Unfortunately, the article was not clear about the timeline of site development relative to Mr. Fogarty’s hotel plans, nor did it accurately portray the many opportunities for Crescent Mills residents and others to be involved in project discussions.

 

Sierra Institute has been working to revitalize a 28-acre former Louisiana Pacific mill site in Crescent Mills for seven years for the purpose of developing a wood products campus. The campus would host businesses that utilize abundant material in our forests to reduce risks of catastrophic wildfire and create local jobs. This work is more important than ever as we face another daunting fire season with big fires already underway and record-dry fuels.

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For over 25 years, Sierra Institute has been guided by a mission of service to community and environment, and it is in that spirit that numerous public meetings were held to discuss our plans. Priority among these plans included clean-up of arsenic-tainted soils left from prior uses that blow from the site into Crescent Mills and elsewhere in the valley. As part of the cleanup work on the old mill site, local contractors hired by the Sierra Institute laid down soil to remediate arsenic-tainted surface soils. On top of this, in the fall of last year, another six-inches of crushed rock was laid that would be the foundation of a chip storage shed.

 

In November of 2020, Sierra Institute held a virtual meeting to discuss this remediation work. This was preceded by an in-person meeting held in Crescent Mills in October of 2019. Prior to these meetings there were at least two other in-person presentations and community discussions in Crescent Mills and another in Greenville. Never has a word been spoken in opposition to this work until very recently.

 

Despite the shed pad being laid down last fall, it wasn’t until April of 2021 that owner of the Crescent Hotel, Mr. Fogarty, demanded the Sierra Institute move it because it would conflict with his future business.

 

I met with Mr. Fogarty at the hotel site in May of 2021 to discuss his concerns. Despite Mr. Fogarty wanting an unobstructed view of Mt. Hough and Indian Valley across the site zoned for heavy industry, and stating that any industrial activity would likely conflict with his hotel intentions, I agreed to consider moving the shed. I made it clear that Sierra Institute first needed to research options and costs before committing to anything.

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Before Sierra Institute completed its cost assessment and review, Mr. Fogarty went both to Plumas News and the Sierra Institute Board. Mr. Fogarty demanded that we move the shed. Mr. Fogarty is quoted in the Plumas News article as saying the Sierra Institute has 30 acres and can place a shed anywhere on the property. Mr. Fogarty is also quoted a couple of times in the Plumas News article calling for moving the shed “only a few feet,” as if this implies simplicity or minimal cost.

 

Sierra Institute has determined the cost of moving the shed to a different location on the six buildable acres is $15,000 to $25,000. If the shed is relocated to another area of the site that has not been remediated the cost will be over $100,000 dollars, as it will require expensive grading and fill to raise the foundation above flood danger. This is because much of the old mill property lies in the 100-year flood plain. And it’s extremely expensive to raise property adequately to secure a county building permit. Currently, and after $2.5 million dollars have been spent, we have six acres on which to build.

 

The shed the Sierra Institute is building is the first of planned buildings on site. The shed is not any old shed; it includes novel trusses, glulam beams and cross laminated timber panels to display some of the newest wood products that represent part of the future of the wood products industry. The shed itself is to keep wood chips dry that are used to power the boiler at Plumas County’s Health and Human Services Center in Quincy.

 

The biomass-powered boiler sits in the very first full cross laminated timber building constructed in the State of California. It was built by local contractors. Both the boiler and building were paid for through the work of the Sierra Institute. The project put over one million dollars into the local economy. The boiler is powered by biomass from local thinning projects and hauled by J&C Enterprise, a local independent logger.

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In addition to the timber industry, the Sierra Institute is well aware of the importance of tourism to our local economy — it supports close to 40% of Plumas County residents and offers much more potential for growth than other economic sectors. That is one of the reasons Sierra Institute is hosting an event called “ForestFest” the last weekend in August. It is a revitalization of the hugely popular Solar Cook-off and Music Festival that took place in Taylorsville for 20-plus years, with a theme now focused on forests and regrowing businesses to manage them and utilize the byproducts of this management.

 

Immediately preceding the festival, on August 27th, Sierra Institute is hosting a day-long wood business development workshop to support the development of small business forest entrepreneurs. Participants will gain hands-on business training and learn from a Colorado-based community scale cross laminated timber company, and have the opportunity to meet a retired Forest Service leader who was key in launching the Forest Service’s Wood Innovations program and a world leader in cross laminated timber and other mass wood.

 

California’s forest restoration will not succeed unless we figure out ways of creating value for the trees that need to be removed. Our work at Crescent Mills is developing businesses that serve a forest restoration economy by utilizing tons of small diameter trees that are currently choking our forest and increasing the risk of hugely-destructive wildfires.

 

In addition to the shed construction at Crescent Mills, Sierra Institute is currently exploring biomass to energy, including hydrogen, to create innovative, forward-thinking solutions with the goal of creating local jobs, improving the health and wellness of our communities by reducing emissions from pile burning and wildfires and helping California meet the growing crisis in forest management. We all know Plumas County needs places to bring forest waste from local thinning and fuels reduction work. We’re planning on Crescent Mills being one of those places.

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Sierra Institute cares immensely about what our community partners think. We will continue to be good neighbors. To that end, we’re holding a public meeting July 21 at 5 pm. at the Crescent Mills Fire Hall to discuss the next round of Crescent Mills site remediation and buildout of the wood utilization campus. Please join us to learn more and share your perspectives on our work. Or feel free to call me directly at the Sierra Institute office: 284-1022.