By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
After almost a decade in the planning, the Granite Stewardship Project an ambitious plan, pilot project and national example of contractors working together for the good of a forest will not go through.
The giant proposal contained plans to thin 4,000 acres of brush and small trees, burn almost 5,000 acres with prescribed fires, improve 65 miles of forest roads, build an off-highway vehicle staging area and restore streams and meadows among other changes on the Stanislaus National Forest.
The project's uniqueness rested not in its intent to protect Groveland Ranger District's Granite watershed from fire, pollutants and other threats. Nor were the desired methods one-of-a-kind. Instead, the plan was to be a national model of one contractor heading the entire project, easing the U.S. Forest Service's responsibility, streamlining efforts and, ideally, saving money.
"There's a lot less work involved in granting one contract instead of negotiating for several different projects," said Stanislaus spokesman Jerry Snyder.
A team of community members spent years figuring out the details.
But in the end, the effort proved fruitless.
When bids came in, Stanislaus Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn said, they were more than two times higher than the Forest Service estimate nearly $5million for the total project.
After forest officials met with the bidders and tried to work out a lower price, Quinn said, the second round of bids came back even higher than the first.
"It's disappointing and somewhat puzzling for us," Quinn said. "It's a business decision on their part and the best they could come up with, but it's still just too high."
But Mike Albrecht, president of Sierra Resource Management, said the knowledge gained by awarding the project or a smaller version of it would have been worth the extra dollars spent.
Sierra Resource Management is one of two companies that bid on the Granite Project.