Herger encouraged by interior secretary

Legislators, excited by the possibilities of the new, Republican administration, are seeking the ears of kindred spirits in Washington, D.C.

Congressman Wally Herger, R-Marysville, came away from an April 25 meeting with Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton encouraged that she would look into issues facing Butte County—mainly, projects held up by environmental regulations.

“We had a 10- to 15-minute meeting scheduled and she did spend 30 minutes with us,” Herger said. “It was a very good meeting. She listened very intently. I felt like we had a very sympathetic ear. However, we do not have any firm commitments other than she will look into each and every one of our issues.”

Key among them is the construction of Chico’s bond-funded fourth high school, which is on hold while government agencies determine how much the school and an adjacent housing development insisted upon by the property owner would affect the environment. Herger believes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking an “unfair” and “unrealistic” stance when it comes to the Endangered Species Act, particularly the required protection of Butte County meadowfoam and fairy shrimp.

Meadowfoam and other species are also the issue at Highway 149, where a road-widening project is planned. Herger said 67 people in the last 10 years were killed in head-on collisions on that small stretch of road, and the government needs to find a balance between the environment and safety.

“We feel that we can work within the language of the Endangered Species Act,” Herger said, hoping that once she settles in Norton can influence the workers in regulatory agencies, most of whom were in place under the previous, Democratic administration.

“She did not minimize the challenge that we have,” Herger said. “We got almost nowhere with the last secretary of the interior.” Bruce Babbitt, he said, was “very biased in an extreme environmental way.”

Herger also took the opportunity, punctuated by way of a letter, to tell Norton about safety needs along Highway 70, the drought in the Klamath Basin and other water issues, the CALFED Bay-Delta Program and the Sierra Nevada Framework.