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Area will reap the benefits of mountain snowpack

    It was an announcement that surprised no one.
 Gov. Jerry Brown last week proclaimed California’s three-year drought officially over.
 Knocked on its heels by last season’s above average storms, the drought was buried by an avalanche of Sierra snow this year. Brown made his announcement Wednesday, after a state crew measured the mountain snowpack at 165 percent of normal.
    The drought’s demise is hardly news here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
    Those living at 3,000 feet or above have spent much of the winter chaining up or digging out. At higher elevations, snow totals have been truly spectacular:
    Dodge Ridge has accumulated more than 600 inches — that’s 50 feet — since the season began, the most in three decades. Bear Valley, with 544 inches, is not far behind.
    Lower elevations have been hammered by floods and slides.

Courthouse site-selection process flawed, inefficient

    A new $70 million dollar courthouse will ideally be the centerpiece of Tuolumne County’s planned law and justice center, off Old Wards Ferry Road near Sonora.
 So it may come as a surprise to many that the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which determines the building’s location, has not yet agreed to the county-owned site. Although the Board of Supervisors voted to buy the 50-acre center property in November of 2009, the state shortly thereafter began an exhaustive and time-consuming courthouse site selection process of its own.
    Even now, the AOC “has a number of issues” with the Old Wards Ferry site and will likely not make a final decision until the end of this year. In December 2010, the county-owned site was recommended over two others — one on Sanguinetti Road and the other on Hess Avenue — in an evaluation completed by a local Project Advisory Committee.  

Cooperstown Quarry project deserves approval

    To say the least, the proposed Cooperstown Quarry is an unusual project.
    It’s big: The 135-acre west county open-pit operation would by the end of the century turn out 56 million tons of rock in a 24/7 operation that will include blasting, heavy equipment and Sierra Railroad trains to haul out the aggregate.
    Yet Jack and Tricia Gardella’s project enjoys almost universal support in Tuolumne County. It has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority, the County Business Council, the Me-Wuk Tribe, the Building Industry Association and the County Planning Commission.

Rise in county’s opiate drug use is alarming

    When the older among us were growing up, the mere mention of heroin would have our blood running cold.
    It was the most addictive and most dangerous of the wide spectrum of drugs that began permeating our culture in the 1960s.
    But it wasn’t the province of hippies, college students or those searching for spiritual enligtenment. Heroin addicts were instead inner-city derelicts whose minds and bodies were being eaten alive by a drug pushed in the darkest corners of society.
    On the other hand, we didn’t worry much about heroin. It wasn’t in better parts of cities, it wasn’t in suburbs and it certainly wasn’t in the Mother Lode.
    Until now.

Distracted driving a matter of life and death

    Cell phones have become such an integral part of our culture that we react without thinking.
 The phone rings and, even though you’re going 50 mph on a curvy, back road, you begin searching for the phone. You rifle through the cluttered console or reach into your jeans pocket while negotiating a left-hand curve, somehow convinced there is some urgency to the incoming call.
    Two things usually happen: You answer the bleating cell phone without incident, and the call is not at all urgent. In fact, it is never urgent enough that the 30 seconds it might take to pull off the road and return the call legally makes the difference between life and death.

Jamestown solar panel project worth exploring

    When it comes to generating bad news and costing taxpayers cash, it’s tough to top Tuolumne County’s landfill site off Campo Seco Road.
    The 1974 purchase of the Jamestown-area acreage as a dump was itself controversial. But operating it was nowhere as costly as the repeated and largely unsuccessful attempts to seal off the 1.5 million cubic yards of potentially toxic garbage dumped before the landfill shut its gates in 1995.
    In the years since, these closure attempts have cost the county more than $14 million, have brought ultimatums and fines from the state, have generated lawsuits and have forced the county to borrow millions to finally do the job right.

New chancellor is the right choice for YCCD

    Eighteen applicants vied to become the Yosemite Community College District’s new chancellor. A committee then narrowed the field to two finalists, who then answered questions at public forums at Columbia College and Modesto Junior College.
    But the board’s eventual choice for the important and challenging job likely surprised few: Former Columbia College president and Interim Chancellor Joan Smith won a three-year contract to head the two-college, 21,000-student district.
    She was also, clearly, the right choice for the job.

Full disclosure, full compliance expected of GCSD

    The state’s notice of violation, to say the least, is startling.
    It finds that the Groveland Community Services District reported that an August 2010 sewer spill amounted to only 10 gallons when in fact it was between 10,000 and 15,000 gallons and flowed into Pine Mountain Lake before the leak was halted.
    The State Regional Water Quality Control Board’s notice also reports that the district did not report other leaks. It concludes that the “recurring spills from the district’s sewer lines and the district’s failure to comply with notification requirements” violate  more than a half dozen state or federal laws and standards.

Our community acts deserve a full helping of bravos

    Within a month, we went from the bottom to the top.
    In late January, a vandal did nearly $90,000 in damage to Sonora’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, upending and breaking numerous century-old marble tombstones.
    But just two weeks later more than 130 volunteers, many of them high school students, came out for a cemetery cleanup organized by the Odd Fellows. If anything could restore our faith in mankind, this community effort was it.

Fire Districts should support working group concept

    They are the heart of local control.
 With their elected boards and largely local funding, Tuolumne County’s fire districts are the essence of taxation with representation. Board members and constituents are often friends or neighbors and, at least ideally, trust and communication prevail.
    So you can understand why leaders of a few of our districts are skittish about being part of a joint powers agreement aimed at improving fire protection countywide.
    “It’s not going to work,” said Charles Wagner, a Mi-Wuk-Sugar-Pine Fire District board member. “It’s going to be a failure from the get go.”

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