Union Democrat staff

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

fiber-optic cable.

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

old Westerns.

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.