For more than a year, Nevada County's Fire Safe Council has been hunting for a place to sort and process brush, scrappy trees and pine needles.
After investigating 14 sites, none of which seemed right, the nonprofit council found the 106-acre parcel owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management off Old Auburn Road.
Relatively large, potentially available, and more than 500 feet from the nearest residence, the site provides the space and insulation the council needs to operate its wood-reuse center, Executive Director Michelle Phillips said.
They developed a business plan, selected six centrally located acres within the larger parcel, drafted an environmental report and sent out a letter to about 150 neighbors in the Sherwood Forest subdivision and on Hidden Valley Road, Phillips said.
The letter infuriated Stuart Naramore and Susan and Clint Walker, who live near the BLM property.
"Our main concern is that this sawmill, chipping mill, is going to make a lot of noise, and we have a very quiet neighborhood," Naramore said. "We're quite opposed to this."
"What's being proposed here is a commercial enterprise in the middle of a residential neighborhood," Clint Walker said.
But Phillips, a native Nevada County resident, said she would be willing to live near the facility and will be working in an onsite trailer everyday.
"We're trying very hard to work with the neighbors," Phillips said. "It's not going to look like a commercial sawmill."
The loudest component of the project will be the 10 to 20 utility-truck size chip trucks that will service the facility during weekdays, Phillips said. The loudest piece of equipment, the econimizer mill, will generate 80 decibels, less than half the noise generated by the hunting guns currently used on the property, according to the Fire Safe Council.
The facility will not be open to the public, will have only the 10 to 20 trucks a day, and traffic will be rerouted during events at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, Phillips said.
Clint McKinley, for one, doesn't believe Phillips.
"That kind of thing doesn't belong there. I don't care what kind of promises they make, those kind of promises are always broken."
The neighbors' protests will be heard by the BLM, which has the authority over the property.
"Ultimately, we are managers of public land. We're not going to do something that's not representative of the public," said Krisann Kosel, a fuels management specialist with BLM.
She called the dispute "a classic not-in-my-backyard situation."
"I would like to see the project go through," Kosel said. "The more support in general we can get for fuels reduction, the better off we will all be."
The center will support the Fire Safe Council's chipping program, which chips brush for Nevada County residents at no cost. Last year, the program chipped 101,000 cubic yards of material last year from 851 houses, according to the Fire Safe Council's Web site.
It will also process material generated by the fuel break projects sponsored by the council, Phillips said. Last year, the council finished a 30 acre break near Owl Creek area and a 270 acre break near Columbia Hill.
Creating a wood use center will allow the council to rely less on grants and donations to fund its projects, Phillips said. She expects sales of processed wood products will pay for the council's three staff members and most of its free chipping service.
In addition, it will find a use for the county's brush. After processing, the material collected will be sold as posts, peeler poles for construction, mulch, and wattles. The council would also like to partner with local businesses to provide raw materials for their enterprises, Phillips said.
For more information on the wood use center, visit the Fire Safe Council's Web site at www.firesafecouncilnevco.com or call 470-9193.
The next public meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Grass Valley's Fire Station Two off Sierra College Drive.