Updated Feb. 28, 7:51 a.m. During its mid-year budget review on Feb. 22, the Mono County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to fund the entire requested amount of $60,000 to the Conway Ranch pipeline project.
Supervisors Bell Diversion Pipeline vote not legit
At Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Supervisors, by a 3-2 vote, thought they had committed to taking $60,000 from the County’s contingency fund to help pay for a pipeline to keep fish from freezing at Conway Ranch.
By Wednesday, they learned they hadn’t committed anything at all.
In an email on Wednesday morning, County Assistant Finance Director Roberta Reed pointed out to the Supervisors that “even though the Motion passed to remove these funds from contingency for the Bell Diversion, Government Code section 29125 requires a 4/5’s vote in order for me to legally take this money from contingency.”
Supervisors Larry Johnston and Vikki Bauer had dissented on Tuesday.
When asked by The Sheet why she hadn’t brought this up at the meeting when the Supervisors were taking their vote, Reed said, “I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t know the code section off the top of my head. In hindsight, I should have said something.”
So now it’s back to the drawing board for the pipeline funding, after a more than two-hour discussion of the issue at Tuesday’s meeting. The funding will have to be reviewed as a policy item and voted upon again during the County’s mid-year budget review, which begins on Feb. 22, according to Reed.
Supervisor Hap Hazard, who made the motion Tuesday, didn’t feel that the setback was detrimental to the project.
“It is not an error that can’t be corrected,” Hazard said on Thursday.
The pipeline is a small piece of a bigger issue. Dubbed the Bell Diversion Pipeline, it needs to be installed at the Conway Ranch in order to keep fish from dying. An extreme freeze on Dec. 31, 2010 resulted in the destruction of the majority of Inland Aquaculture Group’s fish inventory. IAG runs the Conway Ranch under an agreement with Mono County.
IAG went to the Supervisors in the fall of 2011 to request help in funding the pipeline. In addition to the Supervisors’ support, the Mono County Fisheries Commission was going to supply approximately $25,000 toward the project from some leftover grant money it had.
Bids for the project came in higher than the County was expecting, so Supervisors denied installing the pipeline. IAG, not wanting to repeat the slaughter of 2010, took all the fish out of the problem ditch this winter, according to Fisheries Commission Chair, Steve Marti.
Marti explained that the ditch is lined with willows. In the winter, the willows become bent over with snow and create a dam, not allowing the water to flow freely to the raceway containing the fish. The water freezes, creating even more of a problem.
“The pipeline eliminates the issue because it makes the water accessible,” Marti said. “The willows don’t get in the way.”
He went on to say that now would be an ideal time to install the pipeline because the fish are not in the raceway and won’t be until April when fishing season opens.
Supervisor Byng Hunt also pointed out that this year’s light winter would make for an ideal opportunity to install the pipeline because there is less snow than usual.
Tip of the iceberg
The need for the pipeline is just one thing among many needed at the Conway Ranch and within the general Mono County fishing industry.
In recent years, the Department of Fish and Game has greatly decreased its fish supply to the County, according to many at the meeting. At one point it went from 33,000 pounds of fish stocked to 1,000 pounds. The decrease in supply from the state agency highlights the need for Mono County to become self-sufficient. The Conway Ranch is a critical piece of that independence.
“With DFG falling further out of the picture, Conway is filling a void,” Marti explained.
However, until the Ranch can act as a true hatchery instead of just a pass-through facility, it cannot live up to its full potential. Currently, because of grant restrictions that are being negotiated with Caltrans, Conway Ranch is not allowed to build a barn where it would be able grow fish from egg to adult. The Ranch is simply purchasing fish from out of the area, bringing them to raceways, and then selling them to local waters for stocking. It is a costly process for the Conway Ranch and is not sustainable.
By being allowed to grow their own fish, the Ranch could not only stock more in local waters, it could also reduce the price of the fish to its customers, which include Mono County.
The most recent meeting between the County and Caltrans was held on Jan. 25. According to Raven Angeles of IAG and the Conway Ranch Foundation, at that meeting, “we made a little headway.”
One request made by the public was to have the County simply buy-out Caltrans from the grant. The Board wasn’t sure that was economically feasible and said it was something that should continue to be discussed.
In the audience on Tuesday was Ronnie Kovach, a fishing marketing guru from Southern California who has fished Eastern Sierra waters all his life. His stance on the state of fishing in the Eastern Sierra was alarming to more than one person in the room.
“Right now you have product failure,” Kovach said. “Southern California is marketing, ‘Save money, save gas.’ Why go to the Sierra for 8-10 inch fish when you can get trophy trout of 5-20 pounds in Irvine.”
On the heels of a dry winter, a below-average fishing season could further degrade the local economy.
“You need economic sustainability,” Kovach said. “You are in a 911 situation and you need all hands on deck. You will lose the people if you don’t have the product. The cache you once had is like Cinderella’s coach — it is turning into a pumpkin.”
“If you’re going to have Conway, make it a showcase,” added former Supervisor Ed Inwood. “If you nickel and dime it, it won’t work. Set your priorities and get with it. We’re way behind.”
While none of the Supervisors felt that the resolution that the Fisheries Commission had put before them was the correct mechanisms for awarding the $60,000, Supervisor Hazard, who had been under the impression that the money had already been approved and allocated last fall, strongly supported taking action to allocate money for the pipe.
He moved to open the bidding process for the project once again; to allocate $60,000 from the County’s contingency fund, and to review the resolution in eight days when the County began its mid-year budget review process.
Board Chairwoman Vikki Bauer said she could not support any action right now due to looming budget issues, which she could not discuss on Tuesday, and simply said, “things have changed,” before voting no. Supervisor Larry Johnston voted no as well.
As mentioned earlier, the monetary portion of the vote did not have enough support to be upheld, and will have to be taken up once again next week.