Not in our back yard was the chorus of more than 100 neighbors of the proposed Old Auburn Road wood re-use center Tuesday night. At a public meeting, they shot their hands into the air in opposition to the Fire Safe Council's proposed project - a five-acre operation to sort, grind and store woody material.
Faced with overwhelming opposition, the nonprofit council bent to the neighbors' wishes and agreed to drop its plans.
"You're pulling the plug?" someone from the crowd called.
Quick glances between board members Jeff Dunning and Ed Arnott confirmed the decision, leading many neighbors to abruptly leave the meeting.
Council Executive Director Michelle Phillips admitted she was not surprised.
"We've heard a lot of concerns from the neighborhood," Phillips said.
Neighbors were informed of the project in a Dec. 2 letter. They rose in opposition to the project planned for the 106-acre Bureau of Land Management property off Old Auburn Road, citing concerns with noise and traffic.
The project would have processed nearly 200 tons of wood waste on some days using a horizontal grinder.
The decision to discard plans jeopardizes a $312,000 grant the council received more than a year ago to operate a facility to store, process, and re-use brush and wood scraps.
If the project isn't operating by the end of May, the money will disappear, Phillips said.
The loss will endanger the nonprofit's complementary chipping service for Nevada County residents, its fuel break clearance projects, and the free defensible space program for seniors and disabled residents.
"It's unfortunate," said Tony Clarabut, regional chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "We have to find a place to put this ... we just need to work together to find another site."
Clarabut said spreading the chipped wood on the ground at the same place it was cleared - currently the practice of the council - poses a fire danger.
The council wants to open a wood processing operation to ensure that its chipping and clearance services - which are currently financed with temporary grants - become self-sufficient.
The facility would also house a trailer for office and meeting space for the council.
The five-acre site off Old Auburn Road south of Grass Valley was the 14th site the council has investigated in its year-and-a-half long hunt, Phillips said.
She said some of the previously eliminated sites may be reconsidered.
"We just need to get on the ground so people can see what it really is," Phillips said.
The Fire Safe Council was created in 1998 to ensure that Nevada County is groomed for fire safety.
For more information on the Nevada County Fire Safe Council, visit its Web site at www.firesafecouncilnevco.com or call 265-2547.
Seeking a new home
To continue protecting Nevada County residents from wildfires, the Fire Safe Council needs to find two to five acres of land for a wood processing center. The project needs to be operational by the end of May or the council will lose over $300,000 in grant money.
To help, call the council at 265-2547.
Supervisor John Spencer, who serves on the board of the council, urges county residents to send letters in support of the wood processing center to:
Supervisor John Spencer
Eric Rood Administrative Center
950 Maidu Avenue
Nevada City 95959