FAIRFIELD — Solano County continues paying about $186,000 annually on maintenance and other expenses at the former Fouts Springs Youth Facility as it tries to end the 54-year-old venture.
The county closed the camp for juvenile delinquents in Mendocino National Forest in 2011. But it can’t simply walk away from its special use permit with the land owner, the U.S. Forest Service.
“It’s definitely kind of a slow-moving process,” county spokesman Stephen Pierce said. “But we are on the Forest Service’s timetable.”
Solano County opened Fouts Springs Youth Facility in 1959 on 74 acres in Colusa County, working with Colusa and Yolo counties. The U.S. Forest Service issued a special permit to build, maintain and operate the camp. Other counties across the state sent youths there, helping to pay the operating costs.
Fouts Springs Youth Facility served its purpose for decades.
But by 2011, a camp built to hold 162 youths and with a staffing level for 60 youths had only 38 youths. Fouts Springs in 2009-10 cost $3.9 million to run and brought in revenues of $3.3 million for a deficit of more than a half-million dollars.
A 2010-11 grand jury report called Fouts Springs “an inefficient use of taxpayers money.”
The Solano County Board of Supervisors in the summer of 2011 decided to close the ranch and send the youths who would have gone there to local programs. The county set about trying to end the Fouts Springs venture.
Possibilities are demolishing the buildings or finding another tenant for the property, Pierce said.
The idea of transferring the Fouts Springs permit and facilities to another tenant has come up before. Possibilities mentioned have included the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection using the facility as a training camp and Vision Quest using it as a camp for juveniles. But nothing has happened.
Meanwhile, Solano County has $1.5 million budgeted to “decommission” Fouts Springs, which would include demolishing the buildings. Among the buildings are three dormitories, offices, a fire department building, a water treatment plant, a recreation hall and classrooms.
The county has had an environmental report done on the site. Pierce compared this to doing an environmental impact report for a building project, but in reverse to return the site to its original condition. The county submitted the report to the Forest Service in March and the agency asked for more details, he said.
The environmental report found no major problems at the site. Because of the age of the buildings, lead paint and asbestos could be present, though no indications of either were observed, it said.
Meanwhile, the county must keep up the septic system and infrastructure on the property. Pierce said a maintenance person is at the former youth facility about 20 hours a week.
Another part of the Fouts Springs story is Deafy Glade. The county in 1999 wanted to own Fouts Springs and bought 160 acres called Deafy Glade a few miles away for $190,000. It intended to swap the land in the Mendocino National Forest for Fouts Springs.
But the Forest Service later decided it wanted to keep Fouts Springs because it is near a popular off-highway vehicle staging area. The county in 2009 tried to get Congress to pass a bill forcing the swap, but the legislative process never got completed.
Deafy Glade may or may not play a role in the decommissioning of Fouts Springs, Pierce said. The U.S. Forest Service expressed interest in the land before and might do so in the future.
For now, Solano County continues to own what amounts to its own private forest some 100 miles to the north. The property has a mix of Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, sugar pines, incense cedars and grasslands. The 3.2-mile Deafy Glade trail passes through it.
The county also continues to pay to maintain Fouts Springs even as it seeks to break all ties with the property.
“Fouts Springs is part of our history,” Pierce said. “We need to fully close that chapter.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.