By Nick Worth
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Supervisor Jim Zornes had some good news for the members of the Real AZ Corridor regarding funding at their monthly meeting last Thursday in Snowflake.
“We know that the national forest, if we don’t treat it, it will burn,” said Zornes. For the past 10 years we have been the beneficiary of the White Mountain Stewardship Contract (WMSC), but in 2011 it started downward and we were unable to do what we needed to treat the forest.”
Zorne said Navajo County, Real AZ, people from the wood industry and congressional staffers began to raise their concerns over meeting industry demands for wood and biomass. He noted that Regional Forester Cal Joyner came to the Apache-Sitgreaves in February, which paved the way for a meeting between National Forest Chief Thomas Tidwell and Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain.
The result, said Zornes, was that Region 3, which encompasses the Apache-Sitgreaves and 10 other national forests, realized the need to fund the forest treatment programs once the WMSC ran out.
“The region took a stance and realized we needed to do something,” said Zornes. “There are 11 forests in the region, so each of them gave up 10 percent of their budget.”
The money, which totals $7.9 million, went into a “pot” to fund the 4FRI, Jemez and Zuni restoration projects, with the 4FRI forests receiving the biggest share of the combined funds.
Added to that, the Apache-Sitgreaves received $3.7 million to make a total budget of approximately $7.7 million for fiscal year 2015.
“Right now it looks like we have enough money to fund a base program,” Zornes told those at the meeting. He said about $1.1 million is allocated to hazardous fuels removal, $589,000 goes to range, $1.5 million is set to be spent on fixed costs for ecosystems and $1.9 million is slated to finish up the Rocky Arroyo project, which is treating the forests bordering the town of Pinetop-Lakeside.
The remaining money, about $2.5 million, will go to treating 20,000 acres for industry use.
Zornes said all hazardous fuels money went to the WMSC in the past. “Now we can do more controlled burns,” he said. “We went from a downward trend … really struggling … to a base program. This is very good news,” however he added that there is also some bad news in that the Vaagen Brothers Lumber Mill in Eagar is shutting down until wood supply issues can be addressed.
In other business, the group:
* Heard a report on the progress of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) from Snowflake Town Manager Paul Watson.
“NACOG (Northern Arizona Council of Governments) is the mechanism for disseminating economic development funds from the Economic Development Administration (EDA),” Watson said. He noted that the CEDS is a five-year plan that goes to the EDA to meet the requirements for getting EDA funds.
Show Low City Manager Steve North added that anyone can apply to the EDA for funding, but in order to get NACOG support, the CEDS must be completed.
Watson said the CEDS for the Real AZ area is comprised of several factors, including energy, both renewable and existing, natural resources, transportation and infrastructure.
“It’s important to be a participant in the CEDS,” said Watson. “We have to have a plan pretty much completed by September. It will go to NACOG and it all has to be completed by December.
* Heard a presentation by Andrea Harings, Jennifer Smale and Tamie Chamberlain of the Navajo and Apache Counties Workforce Partnership. The three told those attending the meeting about the Workforce Investment Act and the programs they run for the unemployed in the two counties.
“We try to get people schooling or training, or whatever it takes to help them get work,” said Harings.
“We just finished a summer employment youth program for young people aged 16 to 21,” said Smale. “We place them in job sites so they get job experience in a career.”
She said eligibility for the program is based on income.
“They have to be at the poverty level,” Smale said, noting that young people in the program were placed in summer jobs in Winslow, Holbrook and Snowflake. The program participants also receive additional training throughout the rest of the year. In 2015, the eligible ages will change to ages 16-24.
Harings said the partnership also has dislocated worker and adult programs in which it splits a worker’s wages 50-50 with an employer, with the goal of having a worker eventually become a permanent employee.
* Heard an announcement by North, who told the meeting the City of Show Low is putting on a three-day business boot camp, which is open to any anyone in the area to attend. The program will provide information on the basics of starting up a business.
* Heard from Trent Larson of the Navajo County Planning and Zoning Department, who said the county has been approached by a person who wants to grow wine grapes and open tasting rooms in Show Low and Payson. Larson said Navajo County would need to amend existing zoning codes in order to allow the person to manufacture wine on his property.
* Heard a report from Watson, who said progress is being made on getting a loan from the federal government to pay off the Apache Railway. He said the railway is currently storing and repairing railcars as a means of generating income.
* Heard an announcement from Watson regarding a highway closure in Snowflake. Watson told the meeting that portions of Highway 277 in Snowflake would be closed over the next couple of months in order to put in large drainage culverts. The affected portions are roughly located across from the Fairway Manor Apartments and the LDS Stake Center on Highway 277.
Watson added that there will be detours through residential areas, so drivers will be able to get through, but the main highway would experience some closures.