Cal Fire addresses endangered tree concerns
Enterprise photo by Joel Metzger
“You can't build a project like this without taking down some trees,” explained Steve Foster, an environmental planner with Cal Fire. “We replant those that we cannot save.”
“A little more than 40 trees will be taken down,” said Steve Hollet, Cal Fire's Tuolumne Calaveras division chief. “Sixty more will be planted. We want to make sure the site is at least as good as it was.”
“This is the No. 1 station to be replaced (on a list of 14),” said Mike Noonan, Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras unit chief. “We're ready to build – we are ready to go. There is $5.4 million set aside to build this station. We are excited to infuse that into the economy. We are trying to be good stewards and be part of this community.”
Stewardship is a big issue with some community members who became concerned with the project when word was spread by Angels Camp resident Tim Folendorf that a large redwood tree planted in the 1950s was on the chopping block. He asked the California Department of General Services, the agency in charge of designing the new station, to adjust the plans to save the redwood and was told that such an adjustment would cost $500,000 and delay the project indefinitely.
It was revealed Tuesday by Steve Chambers, a Cal Fire civil engineer, that the actual cost of a redesign would be closer to $30,000, with the total cost rising to about $200,000 after construction costs are reevaluated.
According to a group called “Save the Altaville Trees,” in 2005 DGS estimated that it would cost $5,200 to change the site plan to move the barracks closer to the apparatus building, which would retain more trees. The changes were denied.
The grassroots group will hold an opposition rally concerning removal of the trees from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Old Altaville Schoolhouse.
“This parking lot, where this redwood tree is, is my biggest concern,” Folendorf told planners Tuesday. “I think it's ridiculous that they can't change these plans a little bit. If we could just save that redwood tree and oak trees and eliminate that parking lot, I'll walk away.”
Chambers said the parking lot is required by the state and there must be a published accessibility route for the disabled.
“Handicapped ADA accessibility kills us at fire stations,” Chambers said. “That decision (about the parking lot) was made 10 years ago. I'm not trying to throw something back in your face, but this site plan was developed 10 years ago. It's not something we threw together yesterday with the goal of destroying the historical integrity of the site and gunning for that tree.”
Julie Hutchinson, Cal Fire battalion chief, told Folendorf that moving the parking lot would require the removal of about 10 native oak trees on another portion of the property, which the plan has set aside to be preserved.
According to Foster, the community had an opportunity to voice its concerns at the appropriate time, which was in 2003 when the project was going through the California Environmental Quality Act process.
“This isn't anything against Cal Fire,” Folendorf said. “It's the department of DGS. I think they did everything right in 2003. I'm sure they did it right. It's just that nobody read that stuff.”
Foster reiterated that everything had been done properly. There was simply little or no community response at the time of the CEQA process.
The relationship between Cal Fire and the community has a long and rich history.
The proximity of the schoolhouse to the fire station caused Cal Fire planners to work around the historical site, which limited their options, planners told the crowd.
While Chambers and his counterparts said they appreciate the community's concern, they also warned that if the protesters stir things up too much, the station construction could be delayed indefinitely.
“Right now we have 14 projects in the state that are shovel-ready. Because finance doesn't like to see changes, especially this late in the game, the process would dictate that we would go to the bottom of the stack to make an example of us.”
“We are working with a bureaucracy,” Chambers said. “This thing was originally funded in 1999 at $1.5 million. It's now $5.4 million for three buildings. That's ridiculous. I could build a town for that if I didn't have the state on my back.”
Reasons identified supporting the need for a rebuild of the Altaville station, built in 1950, are: inadequate electrical systems; deteriorating water pipes; insufficient apparatus bays; lack of insulation in buildings; a poor heating and air-conditioning system; and the need for separate male and female sleeping quarters and facilities. The rebuild will also provide access to disabled people, widen the driveway and make all the buildings earthquake-safe.
Such improvements will cost taxpayers $5.4 million, which some community members say is too much.
According to a press release from Save The Altaville Trees, “We've been told by Cal Fire that it is too late to make any changes. This community doesn't believe that it is ever too late. We are ordinary citizens trying to make a difference for the future. We are trying to preserve this small part of our local heritage.”
Source: http://www.calaverasenterprise.com - Article Link http://www.calaverasenterprise.com/articles/2009/11/13/news/news01_calfirealtaville.txt