Supervisors to meet on clear cutting issue

September 29, 2011 6:24:08 PM PDT
A project in Richmond that was meant to help the environment has ended up harming a grove of trees. In fact, dozens were chopped down just outside Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Park. Now, the county and everyone involved, is trying to figure out why it happened.

The work has stopped, but the damage has already been done. A review is now underway to find out why the century-old tress were leveled as part of a project to help the environment.

Only the stumps are left of 85 eucalyptus trees and 12 oaks that once stood on the property owned by Contra Costa County. The trees bordered the entrance to the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Park. Some park goers said the land now looks like there was a forest fire.

It wasn't an act of nature. The trees were deliberately chopped down to make room for solar panels to power the nearby detention center. The project was approved by the county last year, but Supervisor John Gioia says clear cutting was not in the plans.

"If this wasn't so serious and horrible, it would be comical because here were all trying to create more green energy and in the process destroying green environment," said Gioia. When asked why not put the solar panels on the roof, Gioia responded, "In this case, it's a function of where's the most efficient place to place the panels and security issues around the jail."

Gioia said the Board of Supervisors had no idea a pile of chips would be the result. It appears to be a case of one hand not knowing what the other was doing.

"The communication was happening at probably too low a level with not enough high level review," said Julia Bueren, the Public Works director.

Solar company officials say they're surprised by the controversy. Main Street Power Senior vice president Jonathan Postal said, "We do apologize for the community impact. We were authorized to go into that site by the county and we were not asked to involve the community."

Officials with the nearby park weren't given a head's up either.

When asked if he had any say, park visitor Norman Spencer said, "No. We had no notification. We just found it. The machines arrived and that was it."

Eucalyptus trees can be fire-prone, but thinning is the solution not clear cutting and those who now have a clear view of the jail are shocked.

"I don't know why they did it. I just prefer the trees," said park visitor Norman Spencer.

The supervisors will meet to figure out who is to blame and where they go from here. They will have to figure out if they go ahead with the solar project or if they have to replant some trees.

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