A normally routine matter of updating the Trinity County Board of Supervisors’ annual list of board appointments to some 36 committees, regional boards and commissions sparked a clash last week as one newly sworn supervisor challenged a third-term supervisor for his seat as a voting member on the Trinity River Management Council (TMC).
District 1 Sup. Keith Groves has held the seat for several years. However, District 3’s newly elected Sup. Liam Gogan argued he is the candidate with the most experience on river restoration issues, having worked for over 30 years as a Trinity River fishing guide and participating in thousands of hours of stakeholder input on the Trinity River Restoration Program to the TMC that oversees it.
Prior to the agenda item for committee appointments, the board heard via Zoom from Tom Stokely, Trinity County’s retired natural resource planner who continued his career of working on Trinity River restoration issues after his departure from the county in 2008.
He said prior to Gogan’s election to office, it was logical for Keith Groves to serve as the board’s representative on the TMC because of his knowledge on statewide water issues, “but he’s a lake guy, not a river guy. The Trinity River Restoration Program has failed to restore fish populations despite millions spent and a whole lot of water down the river. There are many factors, but one has been lack of public involvement. Liam will bring a fresh set of eyes, engage the public and keep the board well-informed.”
Stokely presented the board with a petition he said contained 300 signatures in support of Gogan’s appointment to the TMC now because “few people know the river better than Liam who has worked over 30 years as a licensed and bonded fishing guide, owns a business in Douglas City open 365 days a year and served as past president of the Trinity River Fishing Guides Association.”
Board Chairman Jeremy Brown, currently the board’s alternate TMC representative after Keith Groves’ primary position, advocated for stepping aside from the alternate role so Gogan could take his place, at least for the short-term of six months.
“I want him to get more experience before becoming a voting member,” Brown said.
Groves agreed, saying he wants to keep the primary position, at least for the short-term, and believes that as a team, he and Gogan “would be pretty powerful and bring a lot of strength to Trinity County. It is not only a river issue. It is a Trinity County issue and very complex. It is the lake, recreation, fish and power. You can’t fix one issue without looking at all the other problems that would cause. Remove the dam, and sure, it would improve fishing, but you’d lose $8 million in power. We need a strategy and I totally welcome his input and experience on the river in that process.”
Gogan argued for the primary position, saying that after 30 years on the river, there is nothing on the list of committee appointments he is more familiar with or better suited for.
“I know more and I would like a vote. Waiting doesn’t help anything. It gives the public the perception that we’re just going to wait it out. I have worked with everyone and I don’t need to get up to speed. I know everything about this council and I’m pretty adamant about this,” he said.
Groves said he didn’t want to start a fight on Gogan’s first day, but said some of his views on the river program “are extreme views compared to past board policy. You have lobbied a U.S. representative, Jared Huffman, to remove monies from this group and that is not the political view of the county at this time.”
Groves acknowledged Gogan’s experience on the river, but advised against “just charging in without having any idea what two new supervisors think or the two others. Not once in five years did you ever come to me with ideas on what we could work on together. You need understanding of the county overview before just stepping in without the board’s input and support.”
“If the county has a stance, why do none of us know it?” Gogan said and Groves responded that one is to not defund the program below $4 million annually “which is one of your recommendations. And you will find out in closed session the stances we’ve taken that are not made public.”
Gogan said he is in full support of restoration and wants to see more fish in the river, but he is also supportive of defunding the program as it is “because they continue to get $10 million annually and keep plowing ahead with their projects. They had deadlines and scored an ‘F,’ yet they continue to get funded. There couldn’t be a more upside-down restoration project in this country.
"It’s going to be tough to turn around restoration as long as they keep getting funded annually.”
Groves said Gogan’s arguments hold “a lot of merit, but you’re missing the point. It is not your position to take. You are 20 percent of this board. The board as a whole has to work to come up with policy.”
Brown closed the topic by standing behind his recommendation for Gogan to take his place on the TMC as alternate and let Groves continue as the county’s primary, voting member for at least the next few months while the rest of the board receives information to bring it up to speed on the restoration program. His motion to that effect was approved 4-1 with Gogan opposed.