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BIA Approves Chumash Camp 4 Fee-to-Trust Application; Farr Says County Plans to Appeal

A federal agency has approved a request from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to place a large parcel of land near the tribe's reservation into federal trust, but one Santa Barbara County official says an appeal of the decision is imminent.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has approved the tribe’s fee-to-trust application for the 1,433-acre agriculture parcel known as Camp 4, where Chumash officials have said they plan to build homes for tribal families.

The Chumash bought the land along Highway 246 from the late Fess Parker in 2010.

Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta lauded the decision Tuesday, but Third District County Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley, said the Board of Supervisors would appeal the Notice of Decision, which was officially issued last week.

The controversial fee-to-trust process has drawn ire from neighbors of the reservation and county officials, who worry about the impact of removing the land from the county's tax rolls and planning-processes oversight.

The Chumash have also tried to bypass the county on the matter, with the introduction of the HR 3313 bill into the U.S. House of Representatives a year ago.

“The (Notice of Decision) places us one step closer to getting our Camp 4 land placed into federal trust,” Armenta said in a statement. “The sooner the land is placed into trust, the sooner we can move forward on building homes on Camp 4 for our tribal members and their families.

“We have simply run out of room on our reservation to build homes for our tribal membership," he said. "Currently, only about 17 percent of our tribal members and lineal descendants live on our reservation.

"Placing our Camp 4 land into federal trust would provide us with an opportunity to build a tribal community that would accommodate current and future generations of Santa Ynez Chumash.”

The BIA decision, which features a 36-page explanation, comes more than a year after the trust application was submitted in July 2013.

Farr said a county appeal would come within 30 days — not surprising, since the Board of Supervisors already has vowed to fight the BIA’s initial finding saying the planned housing project would have “no significant” environmental impacts.

The supervisors voted 3-2 in a November closed-session meeting to fight the BIA finding, although a finding cannot be appealed, according to the federal agency.

A final decision could be, however.

“I will continue to advocate for the health, safety and general welfare of my constituents, as well as work to protect the environment of the Santa Ynez Valley,” Farr said. “Thank you for your interest in this critically important issue and please do not hesitate to contact my office with your comments, questions and concerns.

"We will continue to keep you informed of new information and updates regarding this issue.” 

The BIA cited the need for additional land to preserve the reservation and proposed land use as reasons to approve the fee-to-trust request.

The agency said removing Camp 4 from the county tax rolls would have no significant impact given the small amount of tax revenue assessed on the subject parcel and financial contributions provided to the local community by the tribe through employment and purchases of good and services.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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