The following is a press release issued by the City of Fort Bragg:
The Fort Bragg City Council started meeting in July of 2019 to discuss acquiring the remaining acreage owned by Georgia Pacific (GP) on the south end of the Mill Site. The conversation started with the Mill Site Ad Hoc Committee and Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo (SVBP). The thought was to acquire the property and work together to complete the final remediation required by Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and to go further and restore the Mill Ponds, tributary creeks and estuary. The additional property would also provide land to both entities for housing, economic development, open space and public facilities.
Prior to discussions about acquiring the southern Mill Site property, the City and GP had conversed regarding GP donating the parcels on and surrounding Pudding Creek. The City of Fort Bragg had pulled together a group of entities interested in removing the remaining dam and restoring the creek so that the property could be used as a public open space or park. The group included the City of Fort Bragg, Nature Conservancy (TNC), Trout Unlimited, California Fish and Wildlife (CFW), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and California State Parks.
From the Mendocino Railway (aka Skunk Train), City officials learned that the Skunk Train was negotiating with GP for the remaining southern portion of the Mill Site and was interested in acquiring at least a portion of the Pudding Creek parcels abutting the train. The Skunk Train shared its preliminary plans with the City for both properties. The City Council consensus was that the Skunk Train’s proposed development was not in the best interest of our community and directed staff to continue to pursue acquiring the Mill Site property and include the SVBP in those conversations. The City is still negotiating with GP and as a public entity, any agreement reached will be public and require a public vote by the City Council.
A substantial roadblock to the City and GP finalizing an agreement is the lawsuit (21CV00595) filed in Mendocino Superior Court by the Skunk Train asserting eminent domain to acquire the entire 210 acres still owned by GP on the southern portion of the Mill Site and five parcels or 82 acres owned by GP on Pudding Creek including the north and south sides of the creek. Eminent domain is the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use. Under California law, a railroad that qualifies as a public utility has the right of eminent domain for property necessary for the construction and maintenance of its railroad.
GP has answered the lawsuit asserting that the Skunk Train’s eminent domain is not for a public use; that the Skunk Train does not have the power to condemn the property and that the property being sought in the action is not for construction and maintenance of its railroad; that the Skunk Train failed to establish the necessity of the property for that project or what that project is; and that it failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
While the eminent domain lawsuit moves through the court system, the City continues to negotiate with GP, work onmthe environmental assessment, evaluate environmental liability insurance to protect the taxpayers, and research grants and other financing available for remediation, housing, economic development, open space and public facilities on the GP properties. The City has included $3.5M in its upcoming pension debt issuance for costs associated with the acquisition, environmental remediation and development of the Mill Site.