Plumas Corporation talks of layoffs and walking away
Will Plumas Corporation wipe its hands of the county and its multi-million-dollar role in watershed restoration?
The nonprofit organization has channeled tens of millions of dollars into the county over the past 27 years through its work on behalf of the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management group (CRM), a collection of federal, state, county and nonprofit agencies and organizations that cooperate on restoration projects in the Feather River watershed.
But in July, it was officially no longer under contract to Plumas County for its founding goals of economic development and jobs creation.
The chamber of commerce and visitors bureau representatives were then dropped off their board of directors, and those remaining focused solely on watershed restoration via the CRM group and their forest health work with the Plumas County Fire Safe Council.
Now, the angst of ranchers, fisheries groups and others is threatening to stop restoration projects to the point that Plumas Corp. directors have talked about walking away from the group they fostered into formation all those years ago.
“This was a knitting together of resources by an entity who is now questioning whether it needs to keep knitting and be tied in with all the others,” Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson said. “Where are you going to go from here?”
He posed this question during a joint meeting of the Plumas Corp. and CRM executive committee Wednesday, Nov. 7.
They were supposed to be clarifying their roles, yet conversation often strayed into other areas.
When one argument was over the importance of keeping the grant money coming in for watershed restoration, executive member Jeff Carmichael rescinded his previous decision approving the Yellow Creek project.
“I don’t want to approve the project just to keep Plumas Corp. in business,” he said.
The Yellow Creek and Upper Dotta Neck projects were approved with consensus during the committee meeting Wednesday, June 27.
Plumas Corp. director and attorney Michael Jackson let loose with an explanatory tirade at this, explaining some of the complexities dealt with to get the Yellow Creek project to the point of construction, including navigation of the project’s relationship with the FERC relicensing requirements for Lake Almanor, of which Yellow Creek is a tributary.
“If you want to open a can of community whoop-ass, then you want to reopen the Lake Almanor Lake level,” he exclaimed.
“Are we going to be able to go ahead with the two previously agreed-on projects?” Jackson asked. “If not, then we need to close our doors.”
Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson, chairwoman of the meeting, reminded them consensus had already been reached on those two projects.
According to Jackson, it doesn’t matter what the CRM board does anyway.
Because of its autonomy and contractual responsibilities, Plumas Corp. can step away from the CRM and act independently, Jackson said, in order to meet its obligations and complete projects already approved through the public processes of the California Environmental Quality Act and National Environmental Protection Act.
“So the future existence of the CRM should be the focus of the next meeting,” Wilson suggested.
Although they did not make much more progress in clarifying their roles during their meeting together, members of both boards said they thought the memorandum of understanding that forms the CRM needed to be updated, in what would be the seventh time since 1980.
They also answered some questions from previous meetings, such as who is responsible for the projects.
“We have to either execute these projects and quit when they are done and go away, or find new programs,” Jackson said. “We are the ones responsible if we did something wrong, so they should come to us and not the employees.”
He also attempted to clarify what he thought was the role of the executive committee — to provide overall guidance and dispute arbitration — and said that its decisions should be based on what is best for the CRM.
One such arbitration recently accomplished was to restart the Last Chance Phase II project in order to take a fresh look at the area with even more stakeholders involved, including ranchers, fisheries organizations and others.
John Hafen, on the Plumas Corp. board since the early years, recognized the executive committee for doing a terrific job of getting everything back into focus.
He reminded members of the procedure these watershed restoration projects should follow, with first landowner contact going to the resource conservation districts to be vetted before going to Plumas Corp.
In the end, the only agreement really made was to have another meeting, though the date will be set later, so it will not conflict with other CRM and Plumas Corp. meetings like past meeting dates have.