Trees to be cut at fire lookout |

Trees to be cut at fire lookout

Trees surrounding Banner Mountain’s fire lookout are expected to be removed and topped by next spring, four years after a project to improve visibility at the tower was abandoned, fire officials said.

A project to remove trees obscuring views at the lookout was halted three years ago by Tony Clarabut, former Nevada Yuba Placer Unit chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Though trees continue to obscure visibility at the lookout, the project has become a low priority this year because foresters and natural resource staff are busy with hundreds of wildfires raging across the state, said Case Butterman, deputy chief for the Nevada Yuba Placer Unit.

“It’s not a front-burner item for us,” Butterman said. Getting the work done remains a goal, and assessments of the area should begin in October, with work following soon after, Butterman said.

Tops of conifer trees block views of downtown Nevada City, Grass Valley and parts of Cascade Shores, said longtime volunteer lookout Igor Raven. Smoke rising from upscale Banner Mountain neighborhoods is also blocked by as much as 50 percent, Calfire Capt. Troy Baker has said.

To a certain degree, obscured views at Banner Mountain affect how other towers work, Raven said.

“Trees cut down visibility in some areas. It would be nice to have them trimmed,” Raven said.

Last fall, Barbara Coffman, a pro-tem judge in a small civil claims case, found Clarabut, forester Don MacKenzie and division chief Gary Brittner “negligent in the manner in which they performed their jobs as employees of (Calfire) in relation to the Banner Lookout Fire Removal project.”

In the case, MacKenzie and Baker testified they believed the project was “necessary and urgent” and gave verbal go-ahead to Bill Gassaway of Gassaway Enterprises to do the work.

Clarabut stopped the project when he discovered there was no written contract.

Last year, Clarabut told The Union he stopped the project because he knew the “people in the community are sensitive to Banner Mountain from a visible perspective.”

Brittner is now unit chief of Nevada Yuba Placer and Clarabut, who retired from that post in 2006, is the interim fire chief for the City of Grass Valley.

CalFire was ordered to pay Gassaway Enterprises $7,000 for breach of contract and to make up for costs he incurred before the logging project was stopped.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail or call 477-4231.

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