Here’s a story of government regulatory agencies grown so big the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, and they don’t really care so long as you follow the process (and pay the costs in fees and time spent). It’s a guest post on Coyote Blog by a fellow that runs a campground near a river, which is also near the coast. That tree fell from his property into a river, and thus fell under the regulatory purview of the California Coastal Commission. He tries to do the right thing, and pays a big cost:
I used to think there wasn’t much a hole in the ground could do. The hole could get bigger, or it could get smaller. And that’s about it. But I’ve recently learned that a hole in the ground can not only suck an enormous amount of money, time and energy from a fellow, it can drive him to the edge of madness as well.
I run a small campground on a river in northern California, and one winter day a big old fir tree blew over into the water. It’s fairly common for trees to fall here on the heavily wooded, storm-battered Mendocino Coast. But this particular tree was a bit different than most. For it fell under the benevolent gaze of the California Coastal Commission.
The Coastal Commission came into being in the 1970’s as part of the Coastal Act, a law enacted primarily to stop the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay. In retrospect, stopping this project was probably a good thing. For they have since discovered that building a nuke plant on Bodega Head may have been unwise, what with the San Andreas fault running directly beneath it and all.
But like all commissions, boards, bureaus and departments in California, the Coastal Commission soon grew like some weird bureaucratic bacteria culture into something far beyond their original charter. So instead of only reviewing construction projects west of Highway1, they now rule vast stretches of the state reaching miles inland. They are forever overruling the plans of counties and cities, and they have become a real thorn in the side of homeowners throughout the state. And right at the bull’s-eye of their target group are commercial property owners.
As part of my job I try to stay abreast of the continuous changes in the countless pages of codes and regulations that affect our business. So I knew that on this river, once a tree hits the water it is considered a salmon habitat. And if you want to remove it, it must be extensively permitted first. Permitted California-style.
If I just left the tree where it lay, it would have eventually torn out of the bank and floated downstream, where it would have hung up and kept the boats from getting in and out. I would have to buck it up and get it out of there before things got worse. So I armed myself with a permit application from the California Coastal Commission, and marched blindly and boldly into the arena.
I have filed many, many permits over the years, so I have it down to an art. All the various federal, state and county agencies laying claim to the river were advised of the project and their approval requested. Two or three dozen adjacent landowners were notified and their input encouraged. Photos of the project site were compiled, maps and diagrams put together and detailed description of the work involved and materials used were written. Then multiple copies of this stuff was assembled and shipped off to Eureka. After a few follow-up e-mails and phone calls, I was given a date for a pre-approval inspection. The whole process went rather smoothly, and I congratulated myself on having my act together.
When the Commission people showed up they immediately determined that there was in fact a tree lying in the river. Then they surprised me by saying that I didn’t need a permit to remove it. Apparently there was a clause in the law that stated the tree didn’t actually become a salmon habitat for 60 days. So I could do what I wanted with it.
I did not know of this clause. Nor, I suspect, did the salmon. But it was good news to me. I would have the thing gone in a day. The tree was not a problem after all. But the hole in the ground the tree had left behind was a different matter entirely.
Read the rest of the sad tale: Another California Coastal Commission Horror Story | Coyote Blog.