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Grants towards future of eastern Madera County announced at Wheeler’s town hall meeting

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler speaks to the audience during his town hall meeting on Aug. 30 at the Pines Resort in Bass Lake. Among the topics discussed were fire safety and some future road renovation projects.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler speaks to the audience during his town hall meeting on Aug. 30 at the Pines Resort in Bass Lake. Among the topics discussed were fire safety and some future road renovation projects. wramirez@sierrastar.com

With the memory of the Ferguson Fire fresh in the community’s mind on, fire safety was the focus of Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler’s latest town hall on Thursday.

About 40 people packed The Pines Resort’s Conference Center for a variety of updates and announcements from Wheeler and a number of different spokespersons from organizations and departments within the community.

Grant awarded

Brittany Dyer, Wheeler’s chief of staff, announced the county had recently received a $3.6 million California Climate Investment grant from Cal Fire to install fuel breaks throughout eastern Madera County.

Fuel breaks are designated areas that are cleared of all or most of their fuel in an effort to stop a wildfire from burning any further.

The project would go from 2019 until 2022 and would install fuel breaks where they are most needed. Fire behavior models, federal and state officials, and qualified agencies will help the county decide where the 40 miles of fuel breaks belong.

“The fuel breaks really provide fire safety mechanisms for both firefighters and communities in the wild urban interface,” Dyer said. “That means when fire comes through the landscape, we’re able to defend it better.”

Cal Fire spokesperson Jeff McCarroll was there to remind residents of the required defensible space around their homes.

Road work planned for 2018-19

The Madera County Transportation Commission had maps on display showcasing the county’s planned road projects for the coming year.

Two of the five projects would affect eastern Madera County. Renovations and repairs are planned for Road 222 and Road 426.

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A map of the $380,000 renovation planned for Road 426 that was discussed at District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler’s town hall on Thursday, Aug. 30. The renovation is just one of five planned for Madera County’s fiscal 2018-2019 fiscal year. WILLIAM RAMIREZ wramirez@sierrastar.com

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A map of the $615,000 renovation planned for Road 426 that was discussed at District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler’s town hall on Thursday, Aug. 30. The renovation is just one of five planned for Madera County’s fiscal 2018-2019 fiscal year. WILLIAM RAMIREZ wramirez@sierrastar.com

Wheeler stressed the importance of Senate Bill 1 for these projects. The bill, which was signed into law in April 2017, allotted “$54 billion over the next decade to fix roads, freeways and bridges in communities across California and puts more dollars toward transit and safety,” according to the state of California.

“Our first check from (SB1), we got $1.3 million for just our roads. It’s a check that we haven’t had in Madera County for three or four or five years, because when all the propositions run out, there’s been no money for Madera County, for our roads,” Wheeler said.

Proposition 6 on the November ballot could repeal SB1. The proposition would make it so that any gas-, diesel- or vehicle-related fee or tax be voted on by the state electorate.

Both Wheeler and representatives for the Madera County Transportation Commission openly opposed the proposition.

Sheriff’s office to raise tobacco awareness

Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney used his time on the podium to announce his department’s success in obtaining three grants through Proposition 56. The proposition increased the tax on tobacco by $2 per pack.

The grants will all be used to make some local school campuses safer and raise awareness on the dangers of tobacco. School resource deputies will be sent out to Yosemite Unified School District, Chawanakee Unified School District and Golden Valley School District.

The deputies will be educating students on tobacco and its effects.

“It’s really kind of shocking, or surprising, I guess, how much kids are vaping and using things that are related to tobacco. And it’s then pulling them towards drug-related things,” Varney said.

Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Services had a pair of spokespersons in attendance who informed the audience on the tree mortality the county was contracted to address in May.

Neal Bolton, president of Blue Ridge Services, took the audience through their step-by-step process that the company is following to get the approximately 11,000 dead trees removed. Some of that process includes mapping out where each individual dead tree is before cutting it down.

The priority for the company remains to protect the county’s infrastructure.

“We have a priority matrix that says ‘first we protect the structures.’ Any county and community facilities; sheriff’s facilities, county yards, we protect those first,’” Bolton said. “We’re working through a priority matrix, so if we don’t get to your tree first, it’s because it just didn’t rank as high in priority as some other areas.”

PG&E will also be working to mitigate the danger of power lines near dead trees.

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