It's time for a special spring edition of Bravos & Barbs, The Union Democrat's occasional compendium of the good, the bad and, once in a while, the ugly, here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
Because our April list is only four items long, we'll get right to it.
• To Comcast Corp., franchised cable provider to most of Tuolumne
County, for launching an improvement project that will benefit
thousands of local customers.
In a briefing before the Sonora City Council last week, Comcast
spokesman Philip Arndt said the company will bring high-definition TV
and high-speed Internet to all its local customers. Between now and the
end of the year, Arndt said, the company will lay down 390 miles of
The network will range from Jamestown east to Mi-Wuk Village and
cover Sonora, Columbia,Twain Harte, Tuolumne, Soulsbyville and Cedar
Although many will no doubt enjoy the new Comcast system's 100 HD
channels, the promised 100 mbps Internet speed could provide the local
economy with a major boost. New horizons and opportunities will open up
to tech-dependent firms, on-line entrepreneurs and telecommuters.
Comcast's work and ongoing wireless improvements by Golden State
Cellular and AT&T will leave this county poised to prosper in the
21st Century economy.
• To the Calaveras County Water District, which to a few Valley
Springs-area customers must seem like the U.S. Cavalry in one of those
These people. living along Cassidy and Da Lee roads in Rancho
Calaveras subdivision, really were in peril. Most of their wells had
either failed or were yielding "cruddy," orange-hued water that
required several rounds of filtration.
Enter CCWD, which at residents' request and vote, formed an
assessment district and launched an $835,000 plan to bring piped water
to 56 parcels. The work was completed in late October, and residents
for the first time in a decade enjoyed clean, plentiful water.
But that wasn't all: Because the job was done early and well under
budget, the district could have kept the surplus cash for unspecified
future maintenance. But, to its great credit, CCWD instead gave
residents either cash refunds or reduced assessments.
Even the calvary didn't do that.
• To the Groveland Community Services District, which late last month got just what it didn't need: another sewer spill.
Yet there it was, reported on Big Oak Flat's School Street March 30
and giving out a strong, characteristically unpleasant odor. On the
plus side, GCSD crews contained the spill the next day and the district
staff, faulted for being less than forthcoming in disclosing earlier
spills, vowed to report this one "to everyone, including the governor
and probably Obama."
On the minus, GCSD Board President Joe Riley admitted the School
Street leak "was not a minor spill." Already under investigation by
State Regional Water Quality Control Board for possibly mishandling and
underestimating a Pine Mountain Lake-area spill last August, the new
incident only deepens the district's troubles.
But it does make it clear that the district's trouble-prone sewer
system - which relies on a series of lift stations to carry sewage to a
treatment plan unfortunately located at a higher elevation than most
customers - may be in need of a serious overhaul.
• To the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sponsors of California's costly and illogical elderberry bush racket.
Calaveras County was the scheme's latest victim. Its Board of
Supervisors paid an architect $12,500 to redesign the county jail so it
would miss three elderberry bushes on the project's Mountain Ranch Road
Earlier, Tuolumne County paid $28,000 to remove a few bushes in the
path of a guardrail project on Old Priest Grade Road. And last year,
the Sonora Lowe's store paid more than $40,000 to remove a pair of
bushes from its Old Wards Ferry Road site and transplant them in a
French Camp preserve.
The reason? The bushes are have been deemed habitat for the
threatened valley elderberry long-horned beetle - or VELB to those in
the lucrative trade.
But virtually no beetles live here in the foothills. None of the
bushes above-mentioned bushes actually hosted real beetles. On the
other hand, valley populations of the insect have prospered so
dramatically that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended
removing the species from the threatened list - four years ago. But
nothing has been done.
Bottom line? Habitat protection for the VELB has become an
expensive, impractical, joke that benefits only a few environmental
consultants and bureaucrats and costs the rest of us dearly. It's time
for it to end.