Second district supervisor Estelle Fennell's choice for the planning commission is generating controversy among some county environmentalists.
At the Humboldt County board of supervisors meeting Tuesday, Jan. 15 Fennell appointed Bob Morris, a forester who lives in Blocksburg, to serve a four-year term. Morris is the treasurer of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights, a private property rights organization that currently has two lawsuits against the county of Humboldt. He replaces Mel Kreb.
HumCPR chairman Lee Ulansey praised Morris as a strong choice for the board.
”He's been a pragmatic, thoughtful, forward-thinking kind of person with a positive outlook for Humboldt County's future,” Ulansey said.
He said that Morris' role with HumCPR won't interfere with his new role at the county. “I don't think there's any relationship whatsoever between the planning commission and the lawsuits HumCPR was forced to file against the county,” Ulansey said.
Friends of the Eel River executive director Scott Greacen disagreed.
”It's hard to say that there's much of a worse choice,” he said, adding that he was surprised that Fennell selected Morris. “I don't expect it's going to lead to any increase in our community to get the hard decisions made.”
Greacen pointed to a 2004 lawsuit in which Morris and the Pacific Legal Foundation sued the federal government, claiming that preventing Morris from cutting old growth redwood protected by the Endangered Species Act on his property amounted to a federal “taking.” The case was dismissed by the United States court of appeals, saying that it was unclear if the cost of applying to cut the trees exceeded the value of the land, which was the basis of Morris' argument.
”We thus cannot reach the Morrises' novel theory that a compensable taking can arise from the cost of complying with a valid regulatory process where the government has never actually restricted the use of the property in question,” the court decision reads.
Fennell said she believed Morris will make a good commissioner because of his experience as a forester, and his knowledge of rural land rules and regulations.
”The most important thing is that the issues concerning rural properties definitely have someone who understands them,” she said.
Fennell said Morris pursued the Endangered Species Act lawsuit because of unfair costs to small landowners - not environmental reasons.
”(It was) an argument about property rights and taking more than anything,” Fennell said.
Greacen called environmentalism a “core value” of Southern Humboldt, and said Morris' stance on old growth was a “radical, dangerous and extreme theory.”
”There were a certain number of people who supported (Fennell's) candidacy that were in the active campaign to save old growth,” he said.
Ulansey said he was looking forward to having Morris serve as a planning commissioner.
”As a rural resident of the county, he will represent a constituency that's been less than perfectly represented,” he said.
Morris could not be reached by press deadline.
Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or gscott-gofor email@example.com.