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Pine trees

Representatives from the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project expect to hear back on their forest-thinning contract bids for work above the base of Mount Elden within the next 3 to 4 weeks.

The Flagstaff Watershed and Protection Project was funded through a 2012 proposition that allocated $10 million to thin the surrounding forests to protect the city from high-intensity wildfires and post-fire floods. At a community meeting on Saturday, project managers also announced that they expect their work on Observatory Mesa will be completed next spring.

The Mount Elden phase two contracts include a lot of “moving parts,” according to city operations manager Matt Millar. He explained that due to the difficult terrain, they sent out four separate contracts for four separate types of forest thinning.

“We sent out contracts for cable logging, helicopter logging, steep-slope that would use specialized ground-based equipment and traditional steep-slope equipment,” Millar said. “In addition, we have hand-thinning already working in phase two to mitigate risks.”

FWPP managers expect to hear back on those open contracts, and will likely have more information in the next month. In February, city officials announced they had hit a budget shortfall due to unexpected realities like the value of the city’s trees and the scarce options for the steeper slope logging.

Millar was hesitant to go into further details on those contracts before the bids were returned.

Phase one, the section of land at the base of Dry Lake Hills and Mount Elden logging, has been given new life after Phoenix-based Dakota Logging picked up the timber sale contract in late June.

Originally, the phase one contracts hit a snag when logger Terry Hatmaker defaulted on contract after failing to realize the resources it would take to process wood from a timber sale.

Phoenix-based Dakota Logging has picked up an updated version of the same timber-sale contract. The timber sale contract allows the loggers to use their logged trees for industry use.

A key difference in Dakota Logging’s contract from Hatmaker’s contract is that Dakota Logging cannot take on the entire 642 acres of land in one go. The 642 acres have been divided into 13 sections of land, and Dakota Logging can only work in three of those sections at a time.

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Before Dakota Logging can move on to a fourth section of land, they must complete — cut and clear — one of the three sections they’re currently working on. FWPP hopes this focused system will allow citizens to recreate in the safe sections of the phase one area while increasing the ability for Dakota Logging to complete their contract.

The caveat is that all 13 sections must be completed by late June next year.

On Saturday the American Conservation Experience, a group that has led hand-thinning efforts and helped with grant writing, alleged that they have helped FWPP leverage $5.2 million through different grants and cost-saving alternatives.

However, Flagstaff officials in February estimated that the cost of the coming phase two bids would place the FWPP well over their expected budget. At the time, it was estimated that the work on the steep slopes of Dry Lake Hills could be two to five times more expensive than previously anticipated.

Whether or not the contracts were successful in reducing the city’s cost estimates will have to wait until bids on the contracts return next month.

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Scott Buffon can be reached at sbuffon@azdailysun.com, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.

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Senior Reporter - Cops, Environment

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