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July 2004

SRCAF Good Neighbor Policy: Not So Neighborly

Despite the stated commitment from the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum (SRCAF) to work to develop a Good Neighbor Policy that will address and promptly resolve any loss or harm resulting from activities within the Conservation Area, little progress has occurred. Meanwhile environmental projects move forward at a rapid pace, without the necessary safeguards to protect neighboring production agricultural operations.

The Landowner’s Assurances Committee (LAC) was created to draft a set of policies, appropriately named the "Good Neighbor Policy" (GNP), to prevent, minimize, and mitigate natural resource conflicts arising from ecosystem restoration projects in an attempt to create a continuous riparian corridor from Keswick to Verona. The goal of this group is to build the fences needed to make good neighbors. However, progress on the document has been slow, agencies have balked at the implementation of the policies expressed therein, and stakeholders have become, understandably, increasingly frustrated.

To date, little progress has been made in regard to the actual implementation of the GNP. Policies one and two have been approved by the SRCAF Board, yet little has been done in terms of incorporating these policies into restoration projects. As to the remaining policies (3-6), it has become clear that the state and federal agencies are reluctant to participate in furthering these goals, despite the fact that they have been intimately involved throughout the process and they are signators on the Memorandum of Understanding that formed the SRCAF. The agencies are fully supportive of furthering the environmental goals of ecosystem restoration, yet appear unconcerned with the negative impacts invoked by their goals, ignoring the Constitutional protections to private property.

A growing number of stakeholders have expressed the feeling that commitments have been breached and that the concerns of flood control and agricultural are being ignored. As a result, interested landowners and other stakeholders along the Sacramento River have withdrawn from the process, leaving a committee that is primarily made up of and attended by members of environmental organizations and employees of state and federal agencies. The problem is, this has the potential to result in a loss of local control over issues affecting land use and the natural resources that are so vital to our primary industry of agricultural.

The SRCAF promotes a concept called "Consensus", which basically keeps everyone talking until they overcome all opposition. No democracy, no voting. Private property rights organizations throughout the country have pointed to this very process as the means to "the end". Unfortunately, these predictions seem to be coming true.

Basically, the SRCAF consensus process has resulted in endless discussions and analysis of these conflicts, without any satisfactory resolution. Presently, attendance from the agricultural sector has increasingly diminished, resulting in a committee dominated by environmental organizations and state and federal agencies. Once all of the naysayers have been run-off (those concerned with the negative impacts this restoration is clearly having on production agricultural, flood control, and rural communities), the remaining parties, environmental organizations and state and federal resource agencies, will have their consensus and be calling the shots, despite overwhelming opposition from local interests.

Family Water Alliance has, and will continue to, attend the Landowner Assurances Committee Meetings, including all of the numerous breakout meetings, to assure that the interests of landowners, farmers, ranchers, and people living in rural agricultural communities are heard and addressed. We are dedicated to working to assure that the proper safeguards and assurances are provided for as promised. Also, we believe that local control of this process must be maintained; otherwise the process must go.

Accolades must be given to those who have actively participated, particularly Ben Carter, the dedicated Chairman of the LAC, (the SRCAF landowner representative for Colusa County) and Shirley Lewis (the SRCAF landowner representative for Butte County), both of whom have patiently toiled to shape the GNP document to protect agricultural and flood control. However, more input from those likely to be affected is necessary to assure that we maintain local control over the resource decisions that affect our communities. The "Good Neighbor" Policy must be developed by those who have, and will continue to, live and work in this neighborhood; not multi-national environmental organizations and state and federal agencies.

In closing, it must be stated that there is some hope for optimism, albeit guarded. Presently, the Cal. Dept. of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are providing feedback on the Voluntary Dispute Resolution Process that hopefully will bear fruit. Moreover, the SRCAF Landowner Assurances Committee recently received a grant to work towards a solution on the GNP policies addressing "incidental take" and "self mitigation".

Family Water Alliance considers these next couple of months as a crucial test for the SRCAF, to see if they can provide the benefits called for in the SRCAF Handbook and set forth in the GNP. It is time to stop the endless discussions that have resulted in an empty Forum. It is time to finalize and implement the GNP policies that were promised before any more ecosystem restoration projects proceed without the necessary safeguards and assurances.

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