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Farr faces hot seat over wilderness bill

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: June 17, 2011

A BILL proposed by U.S. Rep. Sam Farr that he says would protect Big Sur’s environment, but which has drawn criticism from residents who say the legislation will make it harder to defend their homes from wildfires, will be the subject of a meeting Saturday, June 18, at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

The congressman is planning to attend the event, his staff confirmed this week.

The bill — which is officially known as H.R. 4040 or the Big Sur Management Unit Act — would create a division of Los Padres National Forest with its own funding source. Other goals include adding portions of five local rivers (Arroyo Seco River, Big Creek, Carmel River, San Antonio River and San Carpoforo Creek) to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and adding 2,287 acres to the Ventana Wilderness.

At the heart of the opposition to the bill is the contention by some residents that wilderness designations slowed the response of firefighters during the 2008 Basin Complex Fire. “It appears that forest service officials [are] concerned about being criticized, or sued, for authorizing the use of heavy equipment in the wilderness without sufficient justification,” the Coast Property Owners Association suggests in a letter it sent to Farr in February.

Farr, though, told Pine Cone readers no such delays happened. “Their argument is not shared by anybody in the fire protection business,” he said.

Residents have also voiced their concern that the bill will lead to more land acquisitions in Big Sur by the federal government, which they claim doesn’t have the resources to manage the land it already oversees.

Other locals, meanwhile, would like to see the bill address Big Sur’s workforce housing shortage.

Stoking the debate over the bill is the recent appearance of a website (www.farrsbill.weebly.com) that includes an in-depth examination of the bill and land use politics in Big Sur. The author of the website is well informed but remains anonymous.

Farr told The Pine Cone he wants to hear residents’ concerns about the bill and he’s open to making changes in it. But he also defended the bill, saying it offers locals “more local control” of their wildlands. “We’ve always been part of somebody else’s forest,” he added.

The Big Sur Lodge Conference Center, which is located inside Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, will host the meeting, which starts at 10 a.m.