Supervisors vote to end participation in Elk River program

Supervisors Rex Bohn, far left, and Mike Wilson hear a presentation on the Elk River Watershed Stewardship Program from Yana Valachovic of UC Cooperative Extension and Hank Seemann of Public Works.
Supervisors Rex Bohn, far left, and Mike Wilson hear a presentation on the Elk River Watershed Stewardship Program from Yana Valachovic of UC Cooperative Extension and Hank Seemann of Public Works. Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday received a report on the Americans with Disabilities Act consent decree that the county signed with the federal Department of Justice in September 2016. The supervisors also voted to discontinue involvement in the Elk River Watershed Program.

ADA issues

The county entered the ADA consent decree Sept. 13, 2016.

“The consent decree specifically identifies over 50 facilities that contain barriers to accessibility,” according to a county report.

Over a three-year period, the county has outlined how it will address accessibility issues in county maintained buildings.

“This is a significant cost to the county and we have to comply,” County Administrative Officer Amy Nilson told the board Tuesday morning.

“When will we know a total for this?” 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg queried.

Deputy County Administrative Officer Christopher Shaver stated that would occur around “the 33-month mark,” meaning three months ahead of the Sept. 13, 2019 compliance deadline.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said the work being done to the facilities would be a boon for local construction industry.

“When you look at $17 to $20 million involved, that’s going to be a lot for local contractors.”

County reports suggest the final costs will come in at more than $17 million to the county.

“Current cost estimates range upward of $17 million for the course of the consent decree,” one report states. “The estimated $17 million does not include the costs for replacement and new construction of buildings, such as the Public Defender and Garberville Veterans.”

Elk River watershed

The supervisors received a report from Public Works outlining the intent of the Elk River Watershed Stewardship Program — which was initiated in May 2016 — and was urged to end participation in the program.

The program was designed to support projects and activities that are beneficial to the watershed and was a coordinated effort from multiple agencies including Humboldt County Public Works, University of California Cooperative Extension, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, CalTrout and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Public Works and UC Cooperative Extension decided this year “irreconcilable differences” were straining the cooperation and opted to end participation in the program.

During Tuesday’s meeting, 3rd District Supervisor Mike Wilson made a motion to sign a letter from the supervisors requesting a termination of the agreement. While supervisors Estelle Fennell and Virginia Bass were not present for that portion of the meeting, there was no immediate second on the motion.

“This just doesn’t look or smell good to me,” said Bohn.

Public Works deputy director Hank Seemann said the issues between the agencies was in the approach.

“The fundamental difference was how we envision public participation,” said Seemann. “We envisioned a very robust public involvement. We encourage stakeholders to be as involved as possible. ... We have very different approaches to viewing stewardship.”

Seemann said cooperative efforts have worked in other areas of the county, citing the Salt River Restoration Project in Ferndale as proof of that.

“This current effort was not successful,” he said.

“I am more than disappointed,” said Bohn, who stated he grew up around the Elk River. “They have no dog in the fight. They just want to make the situation better,” he said of the work of participants from Public Works and UC Cooperative Extension.

Wilson again made a motion to sign the letter.

“I am not happy,” said Bohn. “This is the staff’s recommendation and I do think you have the resources to do better.”

He gave what he called an “extremely reluctant second.”

The motion passed unanimously 3-0.

Sundberg, who was acting chairman, asked Matt St. John, an executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, who would help continue the program.

“We don’t know yet,” St. John said.

He added that the water quality agency is committed to continuing to participate in the stewardship program.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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