Neighbors, fire group clash again |

Neighbors, fire group clash again

The plot seems familiar.

Nevada County’s Fire Safe Council, a nonprofit set up to prevent wildfires, finds a spot to convert flammable, brushy material into mulch and other desirable products at no charge to residents.

The council gets permission from the landowner and applies for the permits.

Then, the neighbors find out. And they aren’t happy.

Property owners across the county – most recently along the Brunswick Road corridor east of Grass Valley – have kept the organization hunting for a home for the portable facility for well more than a year.

“I have no problem with (the Fire Safe Council) putting it somewhere, but I don’t think that site is appropriate because of the noise, the traffic and the residences,” said Carrie Cummins, one of several property owners protesting the facility’s latest location.

The council’s current plans call to set up the wood center at the site of the old Bohemia sawmill southwest of East Bennett Street and Brunswick Road.

If concerned neighbors triumph again, the latest location for the wood-use center could be its last.

Dwindling money

The council needs to have the facility – which would consist of an office trailer, a horizontal grinder, storage space, and a portable mill – operational by June 30 or it will lose a $312,000 grant, said Michelle Phillips, executive director of the nonprofit.

The grants are competitive, and the council has used up all its extensions, said Ken Hood, district fire and fuels chief for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which provided the grant.

If the Fire Safe Council can’t meet the deadline, it will need to reapply for the money and may not be selected, Hood said.

The wood center would support the nonprofit’s chipping program, which grinds brush for Nevada County residents at no cost. Last year, the program chipped nearly 101,000 cubic yards of material from 851 properties, according to the Fire Safe Council’s Web site.

Chipped material is now spread where it is ground, a practice that poses a potential fire hazard, said Tony Clarabut, regional chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A central location would also save money and prevent landowners from burning the material and worsening air quality, Phillips and Hood said.

Public grants, which pay for the chipping program, are becoming scarcer, Phillips has said.

“Money’s getting tighter,” Hood said.

Selling mulch and poles created at the wood center could pay salaries for the council’s three staffers and part of its free chipping program, Phillips has said.

But that won’t happen if the facility can’t find a home.

The new hope

After giving up on a proposed site off Old Auburn Road south of Grass Valley, the Fire Safe Council came across the old Bohemia mill location in February.

Burdened by debt, Bohemia closed the mill in 1991. Earlier this year, Sierra Pacific Industries, the property’s current owner, agreed to lease the Fire Safe Council a small part of the property for one year.

Eventually, SPI would like to develop the 80-acre site into a business park and industrial facility, said Tim Feller, district manager for SPI.

The Fire Safe Council also got a green light from Nevada County. In a three-page decision, Planning Director Randy Wilson said the council did not need new permits for the wood facility thanks to the existing permit for a sawmill.

The property housed a sawmill from 1958 until 1991. Permits run with the land and can apply to a use less intense than the original use. Wilson ruled the temporary wood use facility would be less intense than the sawmill, which at one point operated 24 hours a day.

The wood center would operate during regular business hours and close on weekends, Phillips has said. Between 10 and 20 utility-size chip trucks would service the facility on weekdays.

Neighbors, including Cummins, Marla Daley, Roy Anderson, and others, have filed an official appeal of Wilson’s decision and retained an attorney.

They have cited concerns with noise, traffic and property values.

A hearing before the Nevada County Board of Supervisors has not yet been scheduled.


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