From the April 25, 2012 edition
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DIER) of the county’s General Plan Update has been extended by 30 days and the Board of Supervisors will begin a definitive decision-making process in mid-June.
The DEIR’s contents and process were explained during a workshop session at the April 19 Planning Commission meeting.
But before it started, Dave Varshock informed commissioners that attorneys for the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights had sent the county a request to extend the DEIR’s comment phase from 45 days to 90 days.
County planners said that several similar requests had been received and announced that the comment period would be extended to 75 days. The comment period began on April 2, when the DEIR was released.
The Planning Commission will make recommendations on the DEIR and hold public hearings on it on May 10 and May 17. Planning staffers said that oral commentary will be transcribed in minutes and be part of the record, but they encouraged the submission of written comments.
Under state law, public comment periods are required to absorb written comments but public hearings are optional, planners told the commission.
With the extension, the public comment period closes on June 15 and the DEIR will be introduced to the Board of Supervisors at its June 12 meeting. Supervisors will begin their deliberation on the Update and its DEIR a week after that.
Once supervisors have defined what their preferences are for the update, a Final EIR will be written and will include responses to the comments on the draft version and a 30-day public comment period.
If supervisors make substantial changes to the update or if new information is introduced, all or part of its EIR will be re-circulated with a new public comment period.
The county’s population is expected to increase by about 12,500 people by 2030. The population of the unincorporated area will increase “very slightly,” said Supervising Planner Tom Hofweber, from 53 percent of the county’s total to 54 percent, most of it in the greater Humboldt Bay area.
Development pressure on farmlands and timberlands has been a major issue in the update and during the workshop, John LaBoyteaux represented the county’s farmers market associations and said the DEIR’s estimate of prime ag soils – 42,000 acres – is based on a “partial definition” and will be outdated once new surveys are completed.
Hofweber outlined update policies that seek to reduce conversion of farm and timberlands such as establishment of “buffer areas,” a “no net loss” standard for farmlands and reduced subdivision allowances on timberlands.
Still, the update’s development expansion renders loss of farmland and timberland as “significant and unavoidable impacts” in the DEIR.
Impacts on water supply, county roads, fire and earthquake risks, historic resources, scenic resources and air quality are also defined as significant and unavoidable in the DEIR. But that level of impact is allowed if a finding is made that the project’s benefits outweigh its risks.
Impacts to biological resources – forests, riparian areas, wetlands and sensitive habitats – are deemed in the DEIR as less than significant after mitigations.
The update’s four alternatives include varying levels of impact. The Planning Commission’s consensus-derived version forms a fifth alternative.
Senior Planner Michael Richardson said that with the expected build-out of Alternative A, the update’s most environmentally protective option, the unincorporated area of the county will have 16,420 residential units. That’s 20 percent less than the commission’s version.
Alternative B, the staff-recommended option, is a compromise that preserves less farmland and timberland than Alternative A. After its build-out, the county would have 20,534 housing units, about the same as the commission’s version. A “high residential capacity” would be realized with Alternative C, which includes development of both urban and rural areas. Its build-out would bring the number of housing units to 22,990, which is 112 percent of the commission’s version.
Alternative D, a “no project” alternative, would keep the county’s current General Plan in place and would see 19,856 residential units at build-out, said Richardson, which is 96 percent of the commission’s version.
The DIER also includes a greenhouse gas analysis. The update’s increases in residential, commercial and industrial uses translate into 549,268 more metric tons of carbon emissions.
State law requires emissions to be capped at 1990 levels. Richardson said that in 2008, the county’s emissions were much less than in 1990 so a reduction of the difference, only 28,729 tons, is needed by 2020.
The loss of industrial facilities like pulp mills has made up much of the county’s emissions reduction since 1990.