I had the pleasure of attending Supervisor Tom Wheeler's Town Hall meeting in Oakhurst on Oct. 29. One of the topics discussed was the use and development of emergency road exits throughout our community. Many of the local citizens who attended expressed concern their safety and security.
During the meeting, Robert Bradford of Cedar Valley, noted that there is no reasonable means of escape for the north end of Cedar Valley. To create an escape route would require the use of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land.
The gentleman representing the USFS explained that using this land was out of the question as the USFS does not build, maintain or provide roads for private use. I believe the USFS response to Mr. Bradford, without any debate or discussion, was unacceptable.
In January 2001, the USFS adopted a new road management policy, which directs the agency to maintain a safe road network that is responsive to public needs. To develop or reconstruct a road that would aid in allowing nearby property owners and emergency equipment to enter or exit is a safety and security concern, which is in accordance with their policy "responsive to public needs."
The national forest (public lands) belongs to the people. I believe that the use of forest service land for public safety is allowed by their own policy. This use of national forest land should not be considered "private use."
Our sheriff has the duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Madera County residents. Our next sheriff and local public officials must work with federal agencies, such as the USFS, to ensure that citizens are safe and secure. It is imperative, then, that our public officials meet, question and challenge the USFS position on this issue.
We must not allow people living in Washington D.C., who have never stepped foot in our area, to make determinations that adversely affect our safety and security.