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Tuolumne gets $70.4 million grant for Rim fire recovery and more

A burnt ashy landscape surrounds the area of the Stanislaus National Forest near the Spinning Wheel undeveloped campground off of the Cherry Lake Road in September 2013 after the Rim Fire passed through.
A burnt ashy landscape surrounds the area of the Stanislaus National Forest near the Spinning Wheel undeveloped campground off of the Cherry Lake Road in September 2013 after the Rim Fire passed through. The Modesto Bee

Tuolumne County has received a $70.4 million grant to restore part of the Rim fire zone, build a plant that turns wood into energy and building materials, and create a center for job training and other services.

Details on the locations and timelines for these projects are not yet known, County Administrator Craig Pedro said Monday. The county last year had sought $117 million from the nearly $1 billion program, aimed at making places across the nation more resilient to disasters. It is not yet known what was trimmed from each project.

Part of the grant will build on the tree planting and other restoration work already planned after the 2013 Rim fire, as well as creating fuelbreaks to slow future fires, removing invasive plants and enhancing grazing land. The Rim was the biggest blaze in the Sierra Nevada’s recorded history, burning across 250,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park and private land.

The plant will make electricity from wood culled from overdense parts of the forest and also will produce lumber, fenceposts and other goods.

The “community resiliency center” will provide job training related to the forest work, as well as quarters for work crews, a food bank, child care, economic development and shelter during disasters for people and livestock. The county sought to build one each in the towns of Tuolumne and Groveland; it is not known which was chosen for funding, Pedro said.

These funds will help us recover from the devastating Rim fire and continue to prepare for an uncertain future.

Gov. Jerry Brown

The grant was one of 13 awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through its National Disaster Resilience Competition. State officials chose Tuolumne County to represent California in the program, which mainly funded flood management projects.

“In California, we’ve experienced first-hand the impacts of extreme weather and a changing climate,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a news release. “These funds will help us recover from the devastating Rim fire and continue to prepare for an uncertain future.”

Local officials worked on the application with several state and federal agencies involved with emergency services, the environment and other fields.

“This is very exciting news given the challenges still before us and the tremendous effort put into our application by the project team,” county Supervisor Randy Hanvelt said in the release. “We hope to work with our federal, state and local partners to use the award as a building block toward becoming an example of healthy forest practices and community resilience.”

HUD is working with the Rockefeller Foundation on the grant program, which is designed to show how disaster-struck areas can build back in ways that reduce future damage.

“They’re looking for not just what was done in the past, but how to do things differently,” Pedro said.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

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