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Montecito Fire Board Considers Future of Proposed Station 3, Strategic Plan

Board members vote to collect cost estimates for 'fixing' the project's environmental documents and then revisit the matter in August

After having the environmental documents for a new fire station invalidated by a judge, the Montecito Fire Protection District may ask the consulting firm to redo them, after discussing the situation at a board meeting Monday.

Plans for a third station around 2500 East Valley Road were challenged in court by neighboring property owners. Judge Thomas Anderle’s April ruling ordered the district to undo its previous approvals of the environmental impact report, so the board will decide the next steps — if any — for the project.

The firm that conducted the EIR, AMEC Earth and Environmental Inc., has offered to address the Superior Court’s concerns and write a new draft, according to Susan Basham, counsel for the fire district from Price, Postel and Parma.

AMEC would only charge for printing and circulation costs, about $8,000, and foot the rest of the bill, Fire Chief Chip Hickman said.

“If you can fix the EIR for $8,000, I’m not quite sure why you wouldn’t,” he said. “We have a lot of money on the table.”

The district has already spent upwards of $700,000 in planning and litigation fees for Station 3.

Director John Powell had strong words for the consulting firm, saying the report was “botched heinously” and that the district should negotiate for a completely free redo. Some decisions —  such as overlooking the agricultural impacts of building a fire station on the land, which is currently a lemon orchard — led to the court defeat, he said.

Powell suggested the legal “defeat” warranted a conversation with Price, Postel and Parma for some kind of arrangement for reviewing the new documents, as well.

No action was taken Monday, but the board voted to get cost estimates from AMEC and legal counsel for “fixing” the EIR, and then reconsider the matter at next month’s meeting.

Many residents still want fire protection for the eastern end of Montecito, and the board hasn’t given up just because of the court ruling, according to Director Roy Jensen.

“I just don’t want this to die,” he said.

The decision about Station 3’s future comes at a time when the board is soliciting proposals for Strategic Plan consulting firms.

Directors want to conduct a study about the standard of coverage with a risk analysis, including stakeholder input from the community. The study would make recommendations on how to spend resources, analyze the budget and make funding projections.

Directors Powell and Susan Keller are on the Strategic Planning Committee and said the district is at a turning point, particularly with the loss in the Station 3 EIR legal battle.

They want to design the district around the needs of the community, and the district has never had a comprehensive Strategic Plan, Powell said.

Keller stressed that the request for proposals doesn’t cost anything and will solicit bids from various companies. Once they get cost estimates and specific proposals, the board will decide whether it wants to move forward, she said.

The board also changed its flag policy since Hickman technically has to get board approval to lower the flag to half-mast when the situation is not pre-approved, such as holidays or the death of someone in the department.

Hickman had to call each board member to get permission earlier this month to lower the flag for the death of Sean Misner, one of the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona.

Misner, a Santa Ynez Valley native, was the nephew of Montecito District Chief Terry McElwee and grandson of the late Fire Chief Herb McElwee.

The chief now has discretion to lower the flag to half-staff.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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