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"Cautiously optimistic" in Faulkner Park

trees_trimmed_for_cut_in_faulkner_park.jpg
Trees marked for trim or removal in Faulkner Park

November 15, 2021 — Community members working to save redwood trees in Faulkner Park met with PG&E representatives and Supervisor Ted Williams on Friday afternoon. 

Faulkner park is a small county-owned property on Mountain View Road, just a few miles outside Boonville. PG&E contractors have marked dozens of massive trees for removal, citing concerns that the trees will fall on the power lines and cause a fire. But a group of neighbors called the Friends of Faulkner Park has been vocal in its opposition, calling on the company to bury the lines underground, like the fiber optic cable that runs beneath the stretch of road alongside the park. Some have expressed support for direct action.

There is no written assurance from PG&E that they will not cut the trees without approval from the Board of Supervisors. County staff attempted to garner a written confirmation of reports that verbal assurances had been made as early as last Tuesday, but were unsuccessful.

However, on Friday, Alison Talbott, PG&E’s government liaison for Mendocino and Humboldt counties, told a group of about fifteen people, including Williams, that none of the contested trees would be cut this calendar year. 

The PG&E representatives  were not allowed to take questions from the media, so this reporter was not able to make follow-up queries at the community meeting. 

Talbott said there will be routine maintenance, like the removal of a large dead madrone right next to the road. Eric Haggerty, the supervisor of the local vegetation management program, said that efforts are underway to look into the possibility of burying the power lines, though some community members were skeptical about the feasibility of installing the infrastructure it would take to service such a system.

Williams said afterwards that he was satisfied with the company’s commitment not to cut the trees until the end of the year or, after that, following some collaboration. “Up to this point, I’ve been concerned that trees could be cut as a surprise and we would hear about it until after the fact,” he said.

But representatives made no assurances that any work was contingent on the consent of the community or its elected representatives. “I think they gave us as much as they’re authorized to do under their corporate policy,” Williams conceded, expressing his confidence that the workers, some of whom live in the community, “have heard enough community input and have been able to relay it to the point that their bosses realize we have a problem. I think that may escalate it adequate to ensure undergrounding.” Williams was also told he will receive regular reports about routine work being done in the park.

So if we hear chainsaws we’ve gotten assurance that they are just taking down the trees that look scary?
“I hope so,” Williams said, inviting anyone who hears otherwise to call his cell phone at 937- 3500. He does not know, and representatives did not provide absolute clarity, on the status of any permits for work being done in the park.

Clearing trees around power lines is legal under the Forest Practice Rules  and several sections of the Public Resource Code. The PRC also requires CalFire permits or exemption notices for timber operations, and lays out certain stipulations about the treatment of slash, winter operation plans, and how to conduct a timber operation around a waterway.

PG&E has received notices of violation from CalFire inspectors in multiple counties, including eight such documents from the Santa Cruz/San Mateo unit. According to one notice filed in October of last year in Santa Cruz county, the company had previously prepared utility right of way conversion exemption permits for this type of work prior to June of 2020, but not for more recent work meeting the same definition of timber operations.

KZYX has not yet been able to independently verify the permit status of the proposed work in Faulkner Park with CalFire. 

Though uncertainties remain, some community members, like Steve Wood, who was in the park with his puppy, are cautiously optimistic. “It feels better to me than it did a month ago,” he said. “I have a deep skepticism about PG&E’s veracity when it comes to things like this, so I think I’m encouraged about things a little bit...and I hope the promise of regular reports makes it possible to keep track of where they are with this. But I’m not going to go home and say, okay, it’s all taken care of. That’s for sure. We’re a long ways from that.”

 
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