Good News on the Ten-Mile Dunes:
Coastal Commission Rules "No Substantial Issue"
Breaking good news! On November 13, the Coastal Commission voted unanimously to uphold the 10-mile dunes project at MacKerricher State Park. This means that the funding is secure and we can all look forward to watching a recovering Dunes ecosystem.
Our report on the Ten-Mile Dunes last month left you with the news that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve Parks' Coastal Development Permit and to deny the appeal that brought it to the Supes. Good news!
Threatened Western Snowy Plover,
from Save Our Shorebirds; photo by Becky Bowen
After that approval, as expected, three individual appellants carried their opposition to the next level by filing an appeal with the Coastal Commission. The primary claim of the appeal is that Parks' proposed removal of old haul road remnants will deny them access to the ocean and to the dunes systems.
Our position is that the minor recreational use made of the continually disintegrating haul road through the dunes pales in comparison to the benefits that will accrue to protected wildlife species as a result of the planned restoration project. All access points into the Preserve remain open, as do the dunes. And most people continue to use the preferred Coastal Trail along the hard-packed sand at the shoreline - within sight of the ocean. Of course!
Both the Mendocino Group and the Redwood Chapter studied the project and submitted comments to the Coastal Commission in support. State Parks' focus on ecosystem restoration - that includes hand removal of invasive beach grass and ice plant and re-planting of native species - will create an additional 250 acres of critical wintering and nesting habitat for the Western Snowy Plover, restore rare native plants and dune vegetation, and, with the haul road gone, free two streams from the constriction of obstructive culverts. What's not to like?
Coastal Commission staff reviewed the appeal and issued a 500-page report, 40 pages of which were their "Findings and Declarations," including their analysis of the appellants' contentions.
Their conclusion: "Therefore, Commission staff recommends that the Commission find the appeal raises
no substantial issue with respect to the grounds on which it was filed." That's more good news!
Now that the Commission has agreed with Staff's findings, the permit is approved and Parks can go forward with restoration of this rare and precious piece of California's natural heritage.
Thanks to all for your letters of support that led to the Dunes being declared the winner!
Friday, Nov. 8: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to visit Point Arena
Located along Mendocino County's coast, over the 1,100 acres of Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands offer breathtaking scenic views, wind-sculpted cypress stands, wildflower meadows, and shifting sand dunes.
On Friday, November 8, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will be in Point Arena to discuss the future of Stornetta. Sierra Club and our allies are working to make it a part of the California Coastal National Monument, which would ensure that Stornetta's views and natural treasures are permanently protected.
Attend the public meeting with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell this Friday and speak out to protect this special part of California's coast.
WHAT: Public Meeting about the addition of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument.
WHO: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, environmental advocates -- and you!
WHEN: Friday, November 8, 2:00 p.m. (check-in begins at 1:30 p.m.)
WHERE: Point Arena City Hall, 451 School St., Point Arena (map)
We need to show Secretary Jewell that Californians like you want to see the California coast protected for future generations. Please join us on Friday!
News: September/October 2013
Ask the Coastal Commission to protect Ten-Mile Dunes
the Sierra Club is supporting a project to restore natural dune habitat at MacKerricher State Park.
The Mendocino Board of Supervisors gave the project (which will remove 2.7 miles of remnant sections of a former logging road paralleling the beach, two failing culverts, and large quantities of invasive European beach grass) a green light late in August, but their decision has been appealed to the Coastal Commission, which will probably consider the appeal in November.
Won't you please take a moment to send a letter to the Commission staff urging that they reject the appeal? Letters have to be handwritten or printed, signed (with contact info) and MAILED (no emails will be accepted) to Bob Merrill, California Coastal Commission, 1385 8th Street, Suite 130, Arcata, CA 95521.
A sample letter and additional talking points (all supplied by Mendocino Group activist Linda Perkins) are pasted below -- thanks in advance for your help.
California Coastal Commission
1385 8th Street, Suite 130
Arcata, CA 95521
RE: Commission Appeal A-1-MEN-13-241 - Oppose Appeal, Support Project
We urge that your staff recommend to the Coastal Commission that no substantial issue exists with respect to Mendocino County's approval of CDP #12-2012, California State Parks' Dune Rehabilitation Project at Inglenook Fen-10 Mile Dunes MacKerricher State Park.
We are in agreement with Mendocino County Coastal Permit Administrator's (CPA) approval of the proposed project and their findings and conditions as adopted in the June 11, 2013 CPA Staff Report, and amended by the Board of Supervisors at their August 26th, 2013 special hearing.
In regard to the proposed road removal, we believe the project to be in conformity with the public access and recreation policies of the California Coastal Act and the Local Coastal Program.
The ocean has washed sections of the remnant road away, leaving hazardous chunks exposed; other portions are covered with sand. The road is discontinuous with other roads, requiring a hearty walk of 20 minutes through sand to reach the remnant portions; current usage is therefore very low. Sea level rise will continue to undermine the remainder. It would be infeasible to retain or to reconnect this piece of road - both because of its impacts to natural ecosystem processes and endangered species habitat, and because maintenance would be nearly impossible in a naturally shifting dunes system.
After having carefully reviewed the issues, taking note that the Parks permit was specifically conditioned by the planning department to enhance recreational opportunities for hikers and bicyclists, considering that Parks has plans to upgrade and maintain the popular hiking and biking sections of haul road within MacKerricher Park south of the Preserve, and that Parks is helping facilitate development of a bike path along Highway 1, we believe that the restoration of these rare natural dune areas is a priority project of statewide significance that deserves our full support.
YOUR PRINTED NAME
YOUR ADDRESS AND PHONE NUMBER
Additional talking points:
Purpose of a natural preserve (PRC 5017.91): "The purpose of natural preserves shall be to preserve such features as rare or endangered plant and animal species and their supporting ecosystems, representative examples of plant or animal communities existing in California prior to the impact of civilization..."
Natural Preserve is one of few remaining intact, relatively pristine dune and wetland complexes remaining in California; estimated that only 3% of intact dune systems remain in northern CA
Project will restore ecosystem processes in a 1,285 acre natural preserve by removing 2.7 miles of remnant sections of a former logging road paralleling the beach, two failing culverts, and European beach grass
Project planning and design conducted in collaboration with a team of well respected scientists, including botanical experts, a PhD Coastal Ecologist, and California Geologic Survey Senior staff
Southern section of road began washing out in 1983; nearly 1 mile is completely gone and most of remaining sections are covered in sand; road has not functioned as a through trail for bicycles, or people in wheelchairs for 30+ years
Road base, asphalt veneer, culverts, and European beach grass block natural sand movement, altering natural ecosystem processes that are critical for endangered species
Habitat to be restored supports three federally listed species: western snowy plover, Howell's spineflower, and Menzies wallflower, and over eight additional special status species
Connecting the washed out sections of road would never be approved through the environmental permitting processes due to direct impacts to endangered species that cannot be mitigated to a level of insignificanc
State Park attempts to plan for multi-use trail development in dunes were abandoned in 2000 after a lengthy process determined that the project was not feasible based on engineering, cost, incompatibility with unit classification, and jeopardy to survival of listed species
Environmental document and permit approvals completed for the project include: an unchallenged Mitigated Negative Declaration, CDFW 1600 permit, Water Quality 401 certification, CDFW Incidental Take Permit, State Lands Commission permit, Air Quality Permit
County Coastal Planning and Board of Supervisors approved Coastal Development Permit; approval appealed to the State Coastal Commission based on misinformation formulated by local opposition
Project supported by CDFW, USFWS, Audubon Society, Sierra Club, CNPS, and political representatives Wes Chesbro, Noreen Evans, and Jared Huffman
Time is of the essence, as further State permitting delays may result in loss of Prop 84 funds to implement the project
Dunes Restoration: Stalled by Unfeasible Bike Trail Appeal?
The Mendocino Group is reviewing a California State Parks project at the Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Natural Preserve that aims to restore natural processes in the Preserve by removing 2.7 miles of an old logging road that goes through the dunes and by hand removing invasive European Beach Grass. The Preserve is part of the larger MacKerricher State Park.
The project continues to move through a lengthy review process. Having completed and gotten approval for a Mitigated Negative Declaration, the CEQA part of the process, Parks' next step was to apply to the county for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) needed to satisfy coastal regulations. This permit was approved by the planning department but appealed by the Westport Municipal Advisory Council (WMAC) to the Board of Supervisors. The BOS, on August 26th, denied the appeal, added some further conditions and approved the permit.
The project's current status is that it may still be on hold. According to the WMAC's website, "A group of concerned local citizens are appealing this permit to the Coastal Commission." We haven't gotten official notice of the appeal as yet or seen what its substance is. However, based on WMAC's appeal to the BOS their primary purpose appears to be the desire to build a bike trail through the sensitive dune habitat.
Here's what's at stake:
First of all, Parks is operating in a Natural Preserve with the goal of restoring the Dunes natural processes. A Natural Preserve is the most protective designation given to any State Park system unit. Protection of features such as rare and listed species is the paramount purpose of such a designation.
The Dunes, a rare feature in California, hosts its own specialized communities of plants and animals, wildlife that is precisely attuned to the ever-shifting, wind-blown sands. Because the Dunes support numerous rare and endangered wildlife species, it is considered an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, (ESHA) and is afforded special protections under our Local Coastal Plan.
Threatened Western Snowy Plover,
from Save Our Shorebirds; photo by Becky Bowen
Among those rare inhabitants, to name only two, is a tiny, imperiled shorebird, the Western
Snowy Plover, which over-winters, and sometimes nests, on these beaches. The beaches and dunes are officially designated as critical habitat for the bird. A second special inhabitant is the federally listed Howell's spineflower, found only in MacKerricher State Park.
State Parks' focus is to remove the unnatural features that are impacting the rare habitats.
The first of these, as mentioned, is the remnants of an old logging road - and its associated culverts - built in 1949 to replace the early-1900s railroad grade and to haul logs from the Ten Mile River forests to the Fort Bragg mill. However, a storm in 1983 washed away part of the road; the ocean has continued that destruction, and it will continue as sea levels rise. Currently, the road is disconnected by almost a mile from other portions of the road. The remnant road can't be reached from either end except by a hearty 20-minute slog through the sand.
The problem with having the road in the Dunes is that it interferes with the natural dunes processes of the Preserve by forming a barrier to wind-blown sand movement. On the west side of the road sand piles up
into steep fore dunes (those dunes nearest the beach) throwing up a wall of sand rather than, when unimpeded, creating the wider, low-gradient beach that the western snowy plover needs to move easily between the beach and the dunes vegetation. (Importantly, visitors also need a level escape route from unexpectedly high waves.) The benefits of removing the culverts is to help recover the hydrologic processes, including the naturally meandering forms, through the dunes and across the beach, of Fen and Inglenook Creeks.
Invasive European beach grass is another unnatural feature impacting the Dunes. Besides displacing native plants, European beach grass also alters natural dune processes, just as the road does, by trapping windblown sand and creating overly steep dunes. Sixty acres of beach grass will be hand removed. After the road and grass are removed Parks will re-seed and transplant native plants, and implement a monitoring program to help assure their recovery.
The result of all these efforts will be the restoration of ecosystem functioning, the recovery of over 200 acres of western snowy plover habitat and of 60 acres of habitat for native dune plants.
About 15 years ago -- at the public's request -- Parks considered rebuilding / reconnecting the parts of the road that the ocean had destroyed. However, it was soon discovered that the impacts would have been too great to endangered species, making the project not legal, aside from the fact that maintaining such a trail through shifting sands would have been economically impossible. Thus, an appeal based on the desire for a bike trail through this sensitive dune habitat seems unlikely at best.
After having carefully reviewed the issues, taking note that the Parks permit has been conditioned to add recreational opportunities, considering that Parks has plans to upgrade and maintain the popular hiking and biking sections of haul road within MacKerricher Park south of the Preserve, and that Parks is helping facilitate development of a bike path along Highway 1, Sierra Club believes that the restoration of these rare natural dune areas is a priority project of statewide significance that deserves our full support.
Stay tuned. We expect an appeal to the Coastal Commission to be filed. Check our website for updates and action items.
Along with amazing work done on the Mackerricher / Ten Mile Dune Restoration / Road Removal Project
(see below), Linda Perkins worked with CA Fish and Wildlife to call for a set aside of critical habitat for the Marbled Murrelet on a Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) logging plan on the lower Albion River.
Highway 1 at Navarro River
Mendocino Group Coast Committee Chair Rixanne Wehren wrote to Coastal Commission staff regarding a CalTrans plan to widen Highway 1 after it crosses the Navarro River and in response to public concern CCC staff prevailed upon CalTrans to alter the project as follows, "To protect sensitive visual resources, Caltrans has revised the project design to eliminate the addition of a guard rail along a low-lying stretch of the highway next to the river in response to public concerns about the potential visual prominence of a guard rail along the highly scenic flat" (Staff Report). This guard rail would have blocked the view of the estuary and the ocean.
ExCom member Carrie Durkee returned full of enthusiasm from a trip to the Democracy Convention in Madison, Wisconsin. Her report will be in the next Redwood Needles issue.
In Willits, regarding the Willits Bypass, there's been another injunction sought against CalTrans for failing to comply with conditions required by the Army Corps of Engineers for its Wetlands fill Permit. Legal action was brought by the Willits Environmental Center. A decision has not yet been rendered in the legal action brought against CalTrans by Sierra Club et al. That decision is due by the end of September.
News: August 2013
Board of Supervisors approves the MacKerricher Dunes Rehabilitation Project
We are delighted to be able to report that on Monday August 26 the Mendocino Board of Supervisors approved the MacKerricher Dunes Rehabilitation Project, as advocated by a number of local environmental organizations including the Sierra Club Mendocino Group.
Mendocino BOS Decides for the Dunes and the Plover
Dune Restoration Supported
Our group is reviewing a California State Parks project at the Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Natural Preserve that aims to restore natural processes in the preserve by removing 2.7 miles of an old logging haul road that goes through the dunes and along the beach, and by hand removing invasive European Beach Grass from the dunes.
The project continues to move through a lengthy review process. Having completed and gotten approval for a Mitigated Negative Declaration, the CEQA part of
Reportthe process, Parks' latest step was to apply to the County for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) needed to satisfy coastal regulations. This permit was approved by the planning department but is now being appealed by the Westport Municipal Advisory Council to the Board of Supervisors. The BOS will meet on August 13th in Fort Bragg to consider the appeal.
The appeal is aimed in large part at the impacts that removal of segments of haul road will have on public access and recreation. Our group believes that the value of these few remaining natural dune areas, home to rare plants and nesting habitat for the endangered snowy plover, far outweighs the relatively low level of recreational use of this segment, limited as it is by having been partly covered by sand and by having a large chunk washed out by the ocean. In addition, the segment to be removed is separated by almost a mile from the popular hiking and biking haul road that runs through MacKerricher State Park from Ward Avenue to Pudding Creek and that will not be affected by the project.
We urge Sierra Club members to attend the August 13th BOS hearing - check your local papers for time and venue - and/or write letters of support to the Supervisors. Please reference CDP #12-2012 or 10-Mile Dunes. Letters can be addressed to Board of Supervisors, County Administration Center, 501 Low Gap Road, Ukiah CA 95482 - or send via website email:
Willits Bypass Being Judged
The Willits Bypass has had its day in court and as of that day the judge had 90 days to render his decision. There was a very nice presence from the Willits community in the courtroom. Sierra Club representatives were present as were representatives from the Center for Biological Diversity and EPIC. After the hearing Ellen Drell went to the Commonwealth Club to confront the Director of CalTrans Malcolm Dougherty, who agreed to a sit down with her at a future date.
News: June 2013
Mendocino Redwood Company's Habitat Conservation Plan
We want to thank all of those who spent many hours over the last few months reading and commenting on Mendocino Redwood Company's Habitat Conservation Plan / Natural Communities Conservation Plan. This is the voluminous and convoluted 80-year road map for the future for the 213,000 acres of MRC's forestland in Mendocino County. It was 12 years in the making. The 4 volumes covering some highly technical information are 3,000 pages long. Plus maps. Impressive looking. What did the readers make of this behemoth?
There were about 30 individual comment letters submitted to the agencies -- long, detailed, analytical -- all written by people who had waded through big chunks of the proposal, all volunteering significant time from their busy lives. All found the size of the document and the short amount of time available for review daunting. Most were frustrated with vague proposals, omissions, and internal inconsistencies that had them continually flipping between different parts of the document asking, "Is this what is meant or that?"
All of them questioned the curious idea that a permit, good for 80 years, could be locked into place despite obviously accelerating changes in the earth's climate that might render meaningless many of its assumptions. And, having worked down to the seeming substance of the proposal, the readers raised numerous objections.
A major concern for all is that this is an 80-year (multigenerational!) plan with no allowance for further public input. A huge deficiency is that it is more like a best management practices regimen for timber harvests than a geographically explicit system of habitat reserves for multiple species. It fails to evaluate and mitigate for herbicide use; or to consider the cumulative effects of Sudden Oak Death in relation to the "hack-and-squirt" of tens of thousands of acres of tanoaks. It doesn't propose an alternative that doesn't use herbicides. Nor does it explain why monitoring, which is the basis for adaptive management strategies, is in some cases required, in some voluntary. Nor are plan measures sufficient to recover Water Quality standards or to meet anti-degradation standards of the Basin Plan. Independent scientific review that is required by law and that was obtained for the first draft only -- 10 years ago -- needs to be solicited again.
We are asking that the HCP be amended to address the issues raised and be reissued for public comment. The northern spotted owl - one of the central species addressed by the plan - is being considered right now for state listing by the Fish and Game Commission. If nothing else the plan needs to be delayed until that decision is made.
Gravel facility on Outlet Creek
The development application for the proposed gravel processing facility on Outlet Creek has been withdrawn by those seeking the permit for a facility which would almost certainly have major impacts for coho and other listed and threatened species in Outlet Creek, amomg many other issues. We think an application will be resubmitted in future. The community response was organized and terrific.
On the Willits Bypass front, there has been a delay due to CalTrans failure to adequately consult with a Native American tribe regarding protection of its cultural resources. This may involve another lawsuit. There is also a request to California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a stop work order because of violations of incidental take permit conditions. Want to learn more about the Willits Bypass? Check out this
ABC news video: