The family that founded the Gap has offered to invest $200 million into reviving the bankrupt Pacific Lumber Company and to take control of its heavily logged Humboldt County redwood forests.The offer is contingent on a federal judge in Texas evicting the current owner, Houston financier Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam Corp., from the plot near Eureka.
The proposal from the Fisher family came Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Pacific Lumber sought Chapter 11 protection in January after missing a bond payment. The offer was one of several plans to reorganize Pacific Lumber.
To make its heavy debt payments over the years, Maxxam greatly increased Pacific Lumber’s harvest of redwoods, sparking environmental protests during the past two decades.
“We’ve been watching the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy since it started in January,” looking for a chance to get involved, said Sandy Dean, an officer with Sansome Partners, which is controlled by the Fisher family.
Environmentalists who have long been Maxxam’s most vocal critics welcomed the Fisher plan to have one of the family’s current holdings, the 9-year-old Mendocino Redwood Company essentially clone itself to take over Pacific Lumber.
“It would be a vast improvement over the current situation if Mendocino Redwood Company were to become the owner of (Pacific Lumber Co.’s) land,” said Sam Johnston, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Information Center in Humboldt County.
Pacific Lumber general counsel Frank Bacik said his firm stands behind its own reorganization plan and considered itself on par with the Fisher-backed company when it comes to logging practices.
“I would say that we are both good stewards of the land,” Bacik said.
The Fisher-controlled Mendocino Redwood Company won accreditation from an international group called the Forest Stewardship Council, which establishes environmentally sensitive logging practices and audits logging firms on an annual basis, according to Robert Hrubes, a forester with Scientific Certification Systems in Emeryville.
Hrubes and his firm have audited the logging practices of Mendocino Redwood as recently as September and certified them as meeting the stewardship rules.
“They are clearly a cut above the other redwood companies,” said Paul Mason, a Sierra Club lobbyist in Sacramento.