The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors received a status update Tuesday from the Public Works Department concerning the proposed McKay Tract Community Forest and its potential costs and benefits for local communities.
After listening to comments from a generally supportive public, the board directed staff to gather more information on funding sources, future county expenses and to arrange a third public meeting for late January.
The proposed 1,002-acre community forest would be located southeast of Eureka near Myrtletown and Cutten. Similar to the Arcata Community Forest, the McKay Tract Community Forest would balance public recreational uses with sustainable timber harvesting. The proposed area is in a section of nearly 7,600 acres of land on the McKay Tract owned by the Green Diamond Co.
During his presentation to the board, Deputy Public Works Director Hank Seemann touched upon topics such as transportation, logging infrastructure, county costs and revenues, and concerns addressed by the public -- ranging from public safety to funding and maintenance.
”It has potential for significant benefits to the Eureka area,” Seemann said.
Some of the mentioned benefits included more land for recreation use, logging and timber revenue, enhancement property value near the park and volunteer opportunities.
Seemann said the county would be “making a commitment to maintain and manage” the area if the supervisors were to pass the proposal.
”It's going to take time to make it a recreational area,” Seemann said.
Public Works hired the Arcata forestry consulting firm Baldwin, Blomstrom, Wilkinson & Associates to conduct an economic analysis on the forest, which found there are 831 harvestable acres in the area located fairly close to processing mills. However, uneven terrain and unkempt roads are costs that would need to be considered, according to Seemann.
A transportation analysis of the area showed that the level of service in seven major intersections near the forest would not drop below standard levels until 2040, if the community forest went forward. Seemann said access points to the forest as well as maintenance of about 17 miles of existing road are other transportation-related issues that will need to be further addressed.
The community forest would be a “long-term investment” for the county, according to Seemann. Initial county costs would most likely exceed timber revenues for the first 10 to 20 years.
”The goal is it will be economically self-sustaining through time,” Seemann said.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said he believes that the community forest will greatly benefit the county in the long run.
”We're looking for the long-term sustainability, but we're going to have to look at short-term funding to make this work,” Bohn said. “I have no doubt that the resolve of the people of Humboldt County are going to get together and make this work for the community.”
National nonprofit The Trust for Public Land is working with Green Diamond Co. and the county to pursue state and federal funding needed for the county to acquire the land.
Funds allocated so far include nearly $1 million from the State Resources Agency and about $900,000 from the State Coastal Conservancy, according to Seemann. The Wildlife Conservation Board is considering whether to allocate $4.5 million for the community forest sometime next year.
The next board update on the McKay Tract Community Forest will take place on Jan. 14.
Earlier in the meeting, the board directed county staff to sign an agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. that would provide the county with residential energy use data to be used for a potential High Energy Tax -- like that in Arcata -- for unincorporated areas of Humboldt County. If implemented, residents that use more than 600 percent of baseline electrical usage would be subject to a 45 percent tax on their energy bill.
The board directed County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes to find a source of funding for the $500 to $1,000 that PG&E is charging for the data.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston