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10,653 acres protected

George Boardman

More than 10,000 acres of land owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in Nevada County will be permanently protected from development under an agreement with the state Public Utilities Commission.

Most of the land is used for PG&E power houses – two along Deer Creek and three at Lake Spaulding – and will either be donated to government agencies or nonprofit groups or protected through conservation easements that ensure the land won’t be developed for private use.

PG&E will continue to operate facilities on the land, even if ownership is transferred to other agencies, company officials said.

“These are tremendously important lands,” said David Sutton, Sierra Nevada program director for Trust for Public Land, which advocated for the land’s preservation. “It’s a really important contribution to parks and open space throughout the state.”

The land is included in a bankruptcy settlement in which PG&E agreed to permanently protect 141,729 acres of wilderness and provide $100 million for environmental programs.

“It’s good the public is getting something for the energy rates it was forced to pay during the power crisis,” said Janet Cohen, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League in Nevada City.

Cohen said negotiations have been going on behind the scenes to include the land in the bankruptcy agreement, and the utilities commission deserves some credit for the final agreement.

“PG&E has been a good steward of the land,” she said. “Now we have some assurances it will continue.”

More than 85,000 acres of the protected lands are in the mountain regions of Shasta and Plumas counties, with the third largest amount – 10,653 acres – in Nevada County. The land was acquired over the past century for PG&E’s hydroelectric operations.

The fate of the almost 1,000 parcels statewide will be decided by the newly formed Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, made up of 17 representatives from government agencies, industry groups and environmental organizations.

The council, which met for the first time in April, has three years to develop a plan for each piece of land and seven years to carry out the plan.

Under its bankruptcy reorganization, PG&E also agreed to create a $70 million fund – paid for by PG&E ratepayers – to restore and maintain the land. It will also provide $20 million to acquire and maintain urban parks and recreation areas and $10 million to help disadvantaged urban youths experience the wilderness.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Preserved acreage

Following are the top five counties where PG&E is setting aside land for wilderness protection.

County Acres

Shasta 47,462

Plumas 38,094

Nevada 10,653

Butte 8,029

Placer 7,962

Source: Associated Press


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