Nevada County hopeful it’ll get grant money for fire break project | TheUnion.com

Nevada County hopeful it’ll get grant money for fire break project

Sammie's Friends has vegetation on its property like most any land in Nevada County.

It's an abundance of vegetation that worries county and fire officials. Tree limbs and overgrowth can help fuel wildfires.

The McCourtney Road animal shelter sits in a unique spot for fighting those blazes. It's one of 3,000 improved parcels in the Ponderosa West Grass Valley Defense Zone Project.

"Obviously, we are all for the safety of our animals and our community," said Lorie Hennessey, shelter director.

That project, if funded, would create a 1,237-acre shaded fire break that runs from a portion of Squirrel Creek Road south across Highway 20 and past McCourtney Road.

County officials caution the project area isn't finalized and could change. They haven't yet contacted area landowners, because project approval isn't final.

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County officials are hopeful they'll learn by next month whether they'll receive over $3.2 million in grant funding for the project. If granted, the money would pay for management and administration, a professional forester, the treatment of hazardous vegetation fuel, equipment, community outreach and education. Grant funds would pay for initial treatment. Agreements with landowners would address maintenance over the following 10 years.

The county would bid out the project late this year and start removing fuels in 2020. The schedule calls for project completion by March 2022.

The Board of Supervisors must vote to accept the grant. Public comment would occur when the project appears before the board.

"It decreases the potential for devastating fire," said Mary Eldridge, public information officer with Cal Fire, of the project. "A line has been cut."

The shaded fire break would leave healthy trees which provide shade, making it difficult for future fuels to grow, Eldridge said. Jenn Tamo, administrative analyst with the county's Office of Emergency Services, said no clear cutting would occur.

"We're really hopeful," Tamo said. "We have support from Cal Fire for that project, but it hasn't been green-lighted yet."

Fire break

Nevada County in December submitted six grant applications to Cal Fire's prevention program. One of them was the Ponderosa project.

Ponderosa is the top priority of the county's Community Wildlife Protection Plan. It's one of 35 priority projects listed in a Cal Fire report sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Local officials are optimistic they'll receive grant funding for Ponderosa.

"It's part of our effort to help reduce the speed of wildfire in this area," Tamo said.

According to Tamo, the county must gain landowner approval and ensure compliance under the California Environmental Quality Act before work could begin. County officials will work with the Fire Safe Council, which will hold public meetings to explain the project to neighbors.

"Eminent domain would not be utilized at all in this project," Tamo said in answer to a question.

The grant money would remove ladder fuels, create a defensive space firefighters could use and establish routine maintenance for the fire break.

The project is within a mile of several fire stations, government buildings and shelters, including the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

"We look forward to working with the county and the Fire Safe Council on any project that supports the protection of the fairgrounds and our ability to serve the community as an evacuation center or fire camp during times of emergency," said Patrick Eidman, fairgrounds CEO, in an email.

Hennessey, director of Sammie's Friends, wants to learn more about the project.

"We're interested in hearing more about what this entails," she said.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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