May 17, 2011 — Two strong opinions have surfaced recently at Lassen County Board of Supervisors meetings regarding the future of the Local Reuse Authority properties acquired by Lassen County during the Defense Department’s Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) process. The first and louder view is we’ve already spent too much money, gotten too little return and now’s the perfect time to just jettison the excess property and walk away. The second, quieter view is we should look forward rather than backward, stay the course and continue to explore the many economic development opportunities in the South County.
Truth be told, District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick’s frightening cost projections probably aren’t too far off the mark — since about 2003 the county has spent something like $800,000 in an attempt to develop the properties into something positive near Herlong.
Most of the members of the board seem to agree with Wosick that the financial hemorrhage and the heavy drag on the general fund have to stop immediately. Given the hard economic times facing the county, the state and the nation, it doesn’t make much sense to throw good money after bad.
Some insiders criticize the Army and say it just dumped useless, old buildings and other real estate because they knew they could never be productive or useful in the first place.
But that’s not so. Just look at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Herlong. It proves with the right effort and commitment by the right people, these buildings can be both beautiful and productive.
Let’s not forget it has taken years for vital infrastructure improvements to mature such as a water system. With something like $13 million in assets in the community, the Herlong Public Utility District is finally up and running, providing that important service to everyone in the area, except for those who opted out — West Patton Village residents and the U.S. Army. The district is currently negotiating with the Army to supply water to the base.
And it recently obtained a $4.5 million grant from the Untied States Department of Agriculture for a wastewater treatment facility so it will be able to offer those services to customers other than the Federal Correctional Institute, Herlong — a facility that is currently the district’s only wastewater customer. Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine how any serious developer could possibly come forward without a water and wastewater service provider. Such infrastructure is vital to economic development projects in the Herlong area.
Other BRAC parcels also could be excellent prospects for development. The county received hundreds of acres of ground near Amedee Field and a 350-acre parcel of that property has been planned for job-producing, light industrial warehouse development, given its proximity to the airfield and an existing Union Pacific rail line. Possible future development of the airstrip and its use for commercial purposes will spark economic boom.
While it might be easy and even satisfying in a way to throw the whole LRA process overboard, the board of supervisors should seriously consider what could be lost if they make a hasty or emotional decision. The area could be crucial to our economic future.
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