Tuolumne County officials are clearing some regulatory snags before work begins on an upcoming state-assisted effort to remove thousands of dead and dying trees in the region.

Deputy County Administrator Tracie Riggs, District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan and District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt have been working behind the scenes to get an exemption from prevailing-wage requirements for tree-removal contractors, hopefully allowing more to participate in the local projects.

California law typically requires state-government contractors to register with the state Department of Industrial Relations and pay their workers locally prevailing wages for projects in excess of $1,000.

However, the DIR determined last month that tree removal work completed as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Oct. 30 executive order on tree mortality will not be subject to prevailing wage, meaning contractors who aren’t registered with the DIR will be able to participate.

“That actually opens up the field more,” Riggs said. “There are many who might find it very cumbersome to work under prevailing wages.”

Brown’s executive order covers 75 percent of the cost for public entities to remove hazardous trees threatening critical infrastructure, such as roads, facilities and water systems.

Private individuals are not eligible for assistance to remove dead and dying trees on their property.

An estimated 9,000 dead and dying trees will be removed under the countywide tree-removal plan approved by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 5.

The anticipated cost is about $9 million, meaning the county will be on the hook for $2.25 million.

Caltrans has asked the county to file a request that would allow the agency to remove hazardous trees up to 200 feet from sides of state highways, rather than just those adjacent to the roadways.

“That’s tree-removal work that we would not have to do,” Riggs said.

The Federal Highway Administration has also granted a request from Caltrans to provide assistance for projects along state and local roadways. That assistance will reduce the county’s share of the cost for such projects from 25 percent to 6.25 percent.

“That’s huge for us,” she said, adding that 44 percent of county roads qualify for the federal assistance. “It’s not as good as a presidential proclamation, but we’ll take it.”

Riggs said the county is still advocating for President Barack Obama to declare an emergency in California over the tens of millions of dead and dying trees throughout the state, a result of the state’s multi-year drought and related bark beetle epidemic.

A presidential declaration would reduce the county’s share of the cost to 6.25 percent for all work.

The board approved a $440,000 budget for tree removal work through June 30, of which the county will have to pay $110,000. Mike Albrecht, owner of Sierra Resources Management, was contracted to serve as project coordinator.

Riggs said the goal is to get registered professional foresters and certified arborists on the ground starting this month to identify hazard trees and record the GPS location of each.

Notices will also be sent out soon to private landowners with dead and dying trees on property near public infrastructure to let them know inspectors will be in the area assessing trees.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s guidelines require the county to report the GPS location, height, diameter and how each tree was disposed, in order to be eligible for reimbursement if the president approves an emergency declaration.

“It’s not just assessing, identifying and marking trees, it also involves writing down all of that other information so we have it,” she said.

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