Communications and Press

ACCG communications are handled by the group’s Administrative Workgroup. For press inquiries, please contact:

Economic Component Representative



Social Component Representative

Cathy Koos-Breazeal, Amador Firesafe Council or 209.295.6200


Environmental Component Representative

Katherine Evatt, Foothill Conservancy or 296-5734


The ACCG recently adopted a communications policy, which is linked below.  Additional work will be done by the Administrative Workgroup to finalize details associated with communications delegates and other issues.

ACCG Communications Policy

Recent News Articles

CCWD approves concept of CHIPS buy

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat September 29, 2011 02:56 pm
    Calaveras County Water District directors approved in concept the use and purchase of surplus property near West Point for use by the nonprofit Calaveras Healthy Impact Products Solutions.
CHIPS wants to use the 30 acres to produce wood chips for power generation and landscaping; sawmill and kiln operation; producing firewood, posts and poles and developing a native plant nursery for reforestation.
The CCWD board vote allows CHIPS to take the project forward to county planning staff for review.
CHIPS representative Rick Breeze-Martin told directors the organization is seeking funding from a variety of federal, state and private grants with county planning approval for a zoning change from public service to manufacturing expected within two years.
CHIPS and CCWD officials are to negotiate purchase details for the remainder of the year. CHIPS will have the land appraised and expects to pay the fair value of the property to CCWD.
“We want to get this done as fast as possible simply because (contractors) are ready to work,” Breeze-Martin said.
Though not yet planned, Breeze-Martin gave a warm reception to Director Dennis Dooley’s mention of using biosolids CCWD could provide for conversion to fertilizer. Dooley pointed to Jamestown Sanitary District as an outfit having success with such a process.
“There’s a million good reasons to move this forward,” Breeze-Martin said.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of the conceptual purchase, with Director Bob Dean not present. CCWD assistant general manager Larry Diamond and board president Jeff Davidson were quick to note the vote does not constitute any form of obligation on the district’s behalf. Contact Sean Janssen atsjanssen@uniondemocrat.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view itor 890-7741.


Biomass plant gets go-ahead in Lode
Settlement means dozens of new jobs
The Record
By Dana M. Nichols
Record Staff Writer
May 25, 2011 12:00 AM

SAN ANDREAS – The settlement of an environmental lawsuit means that the long-awaited Buena Vista Biomass Power plant will soon begin hiring workers and gearing up to generate 18.5 megawatts of power, a Calaveras County official announced Tuesday.

Calaveras County Supervisor Steve Wilensky, whose forested district in the West Point area is expected to help fuel the plant with wood chips from thinning projects, said he helped mediate the settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and Buena Vista Power.

Wilensky said that Buena Vista Biomass Power has posted 24 job openings, and that a number of other jobs also will be available to workers who chip forest slash and transport the chips to the soon-to-open plant on Coal Mine Road between Ione and Valley Springs.

Wilensky’s district, once home to several lumber mills, now suffers from high unemployment as well as fire-prone, overgrown forests. Wilensky spoke during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, making it clear he wanted his message to reach unemployed county residents.

The meetings are broadcast on public access cable television.

“Get down to Mother Lode Job Training,” Wilensky said. “Apply for those jobs.”

Wilensky also said he believes the settlement is the first of its kind in the nation.

Using wood chips and other plant matter to generate power is referred to as “biomass,” and it is a promising but controversial alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Advocates say that biomass offers the hope of being carbon neutral, because it reduces the amount of open-pile burning after logging operations in forests or tree removal in orchards.

Burning the wood in a controlled system creates less air pollution, they say.

But the Center for Biological Diversity and other critics say biomass plants create a powerful incentive to simply cut forests down for fuel.

“Wide-scale biomass energy generation poses a real threat to the forest,” said Kevin Bundy, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are seeing this in other parts of the country where forests are literally being mined for energy right now. And that is going to be an increasing concern in California.”

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made biomass power a key component of his plan to have a third of California’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.

Bundy said his group settled its lawsuit because Buena Vista was willing to agree to restrictions on how it takes fuel from forests, and because local environmental groups have been part of a regional effort to improve the health of forests, including finding economic ways to remove overgrowth that now makes forests prone to catastrophic wildfires.

Among other things, Wilensky and Bundy said that monitors will soon begin visiting and cataloging slash piles.

In addition to forest waste, Buena Vista officials also anticipate fueling the plant with trees removed from orchards and with wood waste collected in nearby cities.

Bundy said the agreement isn’t perfect but that it addresses most of the concerns that his organization had.

“It recognizes that burning biomass is not harmless to the environment,” he said. “It does have an impact.”

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 607-1361 or Visit his blog at


Restoring forests, changing lives

By Joel Metzger
Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 11:21 AM CDT
The sounds of hand crews working in the forests near Glencoe have not been heard since 1938, and for many, those sounds represent hope for a better future.Getting workers back into the forests after a lengthy exodus has been a long time coming, according to District 2 Supervisor Steve Wilensky, who led the effort.“What’s most important are the communities here in the upcountry,” he said. “We are a set of communities that came here for the forests, but our forest is in desperately bad shape.”
In working to restore the health of the forest, those who have been out of work for years will have the opportunity to get a fresh start, Wilensky said.“Families will be able to support themselves. The money earned is going to diapers, formula and gas. It’s going to feeding your family, getting a roof over your head and having some pride in your life. These are fundamental things that change lives.”“It changed my life,” said crewmember George Williams, 28, West Point. “I’m a better person now that I have a job. I can pay my bills when they need to be paid. Before I did this, I was going in and out of correctional facilities. I have an honest job working – make an honest living, go home every day tired.”
The work is part of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which has been implemented in the Glencoe area over the summer and fall. The group that organized the collaborative effort is the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group, which is a community-based organization that works to create fire-safe communities, healthy forests and watersheds and sustainable local economies.“This is about putting local folks who have no job back to work in the forest,” said Rick Breeze-Martin, project manager for CHIPS (Calaveras Healthy Impacts Product Solutions) and ACCG facilitator. “A lot of the timber industry forest industry has gone dormant. The idea here is to start looking at what used to be considered as waste … taking the product from that harvesting of biomass and adding value to it.”As of early October, workers had thinned more than 50 acres of unhealthy, overgrown forest, creating a fire-resistant border between the Mokelumne River canyon and vulnerable structures in Glencoe.Hand crew members approach their work with great care, as they strive to restore the forest to a healthy and natural balance. In some areas, loggers clear-cut large swaths of land, leaving ponderosa pine plantations behind. The trees were planted so close together that none were able to flourish and it resulted in acres of impassable forest covered in undersized, unhealthy trees.Wilensky said that in one 40-year-old plantation near his house, the trees were less than one-tenth the size they should be.That section of forest has now been thinned significantly by hand crews, and Wilensky is eager to see how the area responds.
The concerns of local Indian tribes, environmentalists and private industry are all taken into account by those working in the forest.Crews are careful to use low-impact heavy equipment with rubber tires only and shun track-driven machines. Special training of each employee teaches them to leave standing rare trees like sugar pines, madrones, elderberries and oaks (which are sacred to the Miwok Indians).Large and small dead trees (snags) that would usually be removed by traditional loggers are left in the forest as habitat for woodpeckers and other wildlife. What trees are left have their lower branches trimmed up to prevent a ground fire from reaching the canopy.Much of the underbrush, composed mostly of manzanita and other shrubs, is removed and stacked carefully in tightly packed piles. These piles may eventually be sold to generate power, but many of them will be burned in the wet season, as the Miwoks did historically.
Walking through the areas cleared by hand crews has a park-like feel. Mountain misery and pine needles cover the ground and an even mix of deciduous and coniferous trees tower high above.“One of the big challenges has been that political leadership in this area has often pitted environmental concerns vs. economic,” Wilensky said. “Everybody agrees that they love the forest. Everybody wants to be a part of the restoration. Everybody agrees that the burning of forest and communities is a bad thing.”
He added that the forest restoration effort not only creates jobs and combats unemployment, but it may soon be profitable.What was once viewed as forest waste is already generating income. Small trees that have been thinned are being sold to an animal bedding plant and truckloads of thinned forest material will soon be sold to the new Buena Vista Biomass power plant slated to open in Ione next year, Wilensky said.
Breeze Martin said that there are a number of ways to add value to the material including: chipping it up and selling it to the cogeneration energy plant, making poles and posts for agriculture, making mulch, composts and soil amendments.“We are not making profits, but we are bringing in project income,” Wilensky said. “We are moving away from grants to revenues coming from work itself. We’ve stockpiled some biomass. We’ve chipped up some wood and stockpiled it for the plant. The plant is the missing piece. We want to use every last piece of it.
“Look at the triple bottom line,” he continued. “Economic impact; environmental and scientific issues reconciliation; and social equity and recovery, which is taking unemployed and getting them back to work.”Funding for the forest restoration and fire safety project comes from several private landowners, the Fire Safe Council, Bureau of Land Management, Calaveras Healthy Impacts Product Solutions and the Calaveras-Mariposa Community Action Agency through Mother Lode Job Training. In addition, the Midnight Sun Alaskan Hot Shot Crew worked for a couple of weeks, which was an in-kind contribution, Wilensky said.
He sees good stewardship of the neglected forests as a way to revitalize the stagnant economy in his district, which has been listless since environmental concerns shut down the timber industry.Robert Smith represents the private partnership with public agencies. He owns a small business called Smith’s Grinding, and was unable to find much work before getting involved with the forest restoration project.Smith got involved with the Amador Calaveras Consensus Group, a public-private partnership. He said that working to thin out and restore the forest kept him busy and put food on the table, adding that his wife has also gotten involved.
“My wife works with Indian Manpower and Mother Lode Job Training to coordinate the crews. She’s done quite a bit of the background and paper work.”Ronnie Rummerfield had been unemployed for six months before he got a job working for CHIPS.“Once I got the job, it started really helping me out with my family. I was able to feed them,” he said, adding that he has now been working for three months and takes pride in his job.
“If you do economic development at the expense of the environment or environmental work at the expense of people, you will never actually get much done and in the end we have unsound forests, towns that will burn and people out of work,” Wilensky said. “We think we have a better route. We’ll have a lot of people back to work. We won’t be arguing about whether the environment or the economy is more important n we’ll be paying close attention to both with good social outcomes for our towns.”Steve Herman Sr. of West Point, crew foreman, said he lost his job as a timber-faller six years ago and was unemployed before CHIPS gave him a new opportunity.“It helped me out a lot n kept me out of trouble,” Herman Sr. said. “They treat me with a lot of respect. They treat me like a person n a lot of places they don’t; they just treat you like a number. I think it’s helping out the community a lot.”
“The CHIPS project … in partnership with the Forest Service … has created enough jobs to drop the unemployment rate by 1 percent and we are looking at monitoring that and getting more people to work out here doing this making a healthier fire safe forest and taking what used to be trash and making it into value added stuff,” Breeze-Martin said.For more information on ACCG visit Joel Metzger at

Cooperative effort thins growing problem in Calaveras County

By Dana M. Nichols  Record Staff Writer  August 17, 2010

GLENCOE – Hotshot fire crews from Alaska and local forestry workers teamed up last week for a historic effort to thin overgrown forests.

For as much as a half century, public forests such as the 70-acre Bureau of Land Management site along Highway 26 have been left as unmanaged tree plantations. As a result, they have become a deadly threat to nearby homes and towns.

“The big worry is the fire races up (Mokelumne River Canyon) and burns out all three towns (Glencoe, West Point and Wilseyville) at the top of it,” said Calaveras County Supervisor Steve Wilensky, who represents the Glencoe area.

For years, fire safety officials have wanted to thin overgrown forests. Only recently have loggers, public agencies, environmentalists and local leaders in the West Point and Glencoe area figured out a way to get the work done.

Wilensky said the 70-acre project launched this week required financial support from the Mother Lode Job Training program, from the Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions program, from the Bureau of Land Management, and from the Calaveras Firesafe Council. Then, the Department of the Interior helped by sending one of its Alaska-based Hotshot fire crews.

Forests in much of the American West are in bad shape for a number of reasons. Decades of fire suppression have eliminated the periodic low-intensity fires that once kept underbrush down. And, after the areas were clearcut a half century or more ago, many were planted in dense, single-species plantations that resulted in small trees and fire-prone forests.

Wilensky and others have worked to make peace between loggers and environmentalists to allow forestry crews to thin the forests, and to allow some economic use of the resulting chips, such as selling it as fuel to electrical generation plants.

Still, the politics of logging have left many environmental groups wary that what sounds like a thinning project is really a backdoor effort to resume clearcutting.

The project near Glencoe is designed to address those concerns by proving that well-trained crews can conduct the work to rigorous specifications, leaving large trees and a diversity of species while also controlling undergrowth. Wilensky said he and others took representatives of the Center for Biological Diversity on a tour of the forest before the clearing operation and will bring them back again after the work is done.

“They are going to check on whether we were truthful about our methods,” Wilensky said.

That’s key because the Center for Biological Diversity has objected to plans to sell chips from thinning operations in the area to a biomass-fueled electricity plant near Ione. Such wood chip sales are a major component in making forest maintenance economically viable.

Once the methods are proved, Wilensky and forest officials said they anticipate writing contracts to thin 50,000 acres or more of BLM and Stanislaus National Forest lands in coming years.

That would be good news for Robert Smith of Smith Grinding, a Mountain Ranch-based contractor who has the heavy machinery to grind dense undergrowth and trees into wood chips. If the larger contracts come through, Smith anticipates he would be able to expand his firm from the two employees he has to six or more for years to come.

“It would help quite a bit,” he said. “We have quite a few people I’ve talked to who are ready to go.”

The Alaska Hotshots, for their part, said they enjoyed their week in Glencoe even though most of them developed rashes from poison oak, a plant they say they never encounter in their state.

“It’s a nice visual,” Hotshot Seth Reedy, 30, said of the open forest with widely-spaced tall trees that results from the clearing operation.

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 607-1361 or Visit his blog at

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