Friends of the Van Duzen River
A Grass Roots community organization comprised of residents and visitors to the Van Duzen Region. We are Dedicated to helping to restore the river for future Generations

Palco's Permit Approvals Snubbed by State Water Board
Daniel Mintz
The Independent

The zig-zagging decision making process on the Pacific Lumber Company's controversial plans to log the impaired Freshwater and Elk River watersheds has taken another sharp turn, as the state's Water Resources Control Board has reversed local timber harvesting permit approvals.

A critical June 16 state board hearing on two petitions by the Humboldt Watershed Council demanding overturns of previous logging allowances ended with a 5-0 vote in favor of the permit reversals. This came after a state board attorney issued an opinion that said the local North Coast Regional Water Quality Board acted improperly when it authorized its executive officer to approve logging permits last December and March.

Pacific Lumber had gained previous approvals from the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and sought permits from the local water board to proceed. But residents of the watershed and environmental groups objected, saying the two flood-prone watersheds are impaired and can't absorb additional logging-related impacts.

The company gained a permit to log 50 percent of the CDF allowance last winter, and the amount was raised to 75 percent in March. But the state board agreed that allowing the regional board's executive officer to issue the approvals did not meet public comment requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Though Palco's managers have depicted the state board's decision as an ominous over-rule of local control and will challenge it, logging in the watersheds is again frozen. But Humboldt Watershed Council President Mark Lovelace said the decision negates the possibility of allowing interim permits ahead of a more comprehensive watershed-wide permit process expected to play out this summer.

Palco: 'Bad Decision'

Chuck Center, Palco's communications director, said the impact of the state board's decision goes beyond the company itself. "It took away the autonomy of the regional board, and its authority on a local level," he continued. "This decision will impact every timber harvesting company in the state. We think this is a bad interpretation of the law - it was a bad decision to overturn the authority of (the CDF) and this is a very bad decision for timber harvesting in California."

Center said company will look into options for challenging the decision.

A Palco press release said the decision "virtually assures that the problem of duplicative and costly regulation of the timber industry will increase, further destroying the competitiveness of this important segment of California's economy . it also sends a very strong signal to Regional Water Boards throughout the state that their decisions will not be supported by the State Water Board."

The company had proceeded with logging under the interim permits, and Center estimated that seven million board feet worth of previously-approved timber remains in the watersheds. Lovelace estimated that Palco has already logged 60 percent of the 1,100 acres that had been permitted by the CDF in the watersheds.

He said the idea of issuing administratively-approved "interim" permits ahead of the more definitive watershed-wide reviews is dubious - and has been deemed as a violation of CEQA by the state board. "This brings finality to the back and forth process of interim permits, appeals, petitions and all of that," Lovelace continued. "It tells the regional board not to approve any more (interim) permits."

No More Impacts

The concept of using what's called General Waste Discharge Requirements to establish interim logging has been struck, Lovelace said. "They absolutely cannot be used here and the (regional board) knew that when it directed its executive officer to enroll (allow) Pacific Lumber's timber harvesting plans."

The regional board's basis for allowing the interim approach was the inclusion of mitigations or impact reductions, which included flood control measures. But the state board agreed with its attorney, who had said that a public CEQA review process should have been put in place to determine whether those mitigations would be effective enough.

Despite Palco's logging under the interim permits, Lovelace said an important precedent has been established. "For us, the issue is not necessarily the percentage of logging itself, but whether there is a scientific process and proper public process for approving that percentage . these watersheds are impaired and it is illegal to cause any further impacts to them."

A draft watershed-wide permit is expected to be released by the regional board this week or soon after. After a 45-day public comment period on it, the regional board will begin approval deliberations.

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