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Industry moving out of downtown

Darin Olde, Sierra Sun

Al and Karla Pombo have worked next to the tracks along the Truckee River for so long that when the trains clang by, cutting the air with their horns, they’re merely background noise.

The trains are frequent and familiar downtown because they are a big part of the area’s economy, dating as far back as the late 1800s.

The first lumber mill in Truckee was located between the area once known as Brickelltown and Hilltop, said Jim Smith, former president of the Truckee Donner Historical Society.

The lumber was shipped to mines in Carson City and Virginia City by train. Ice, cardboard – even beer from Truckee River Brewery – were also transported to the outlying areas by rail.

Industrial businesses have a long-standing history downtown, right next to the Truckee River.

But as the Interstate replaces the railroad and local commerce continues to grow, industrial businesses along the Truckee River such as Al Pombo, Inc. are looking to relocate.

The Pombos, long-time Truckee residents with a successful top-soil business, have been working on an application with Nevada County that would allow them to move their industrial business from the Truckee River to their property at Hobart Mills.

The proposed development – located near what is now a prairie trailer park – may set a precedent for redevelopment in an area that has seen little activity for a long time.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Hobart Mills once contained a successful lumber mill and a small community that nearly blossomed into its own town.

“There is quite a history there,” said Karla Pombo last week. “At one time there was a hundred or more people who lived there … There was a thriving little town there for quite a while … There was a post office and a school. There was all kinds of stuff.”

One 24-year resident of Russel Valley said that more people lived around Hobart Mills when it was operating than lived in the Town of Truckee at the time.

“Russel Valley was wild ranching country and U.S. Forest Service land,” he said.

After the mill closed, Hobart Mills and Russel Valley drifted back to their rural environment.

The Pombos seek a use permit to rezone their property at Hobart Mills from Interim Development Reserve to allow 30 acres of Light Industrial, 33 acres of Recreation, and 69 acres of Open Space.

So far, preservation groups have been quiet. But the Pombos have taken a “wait and see” attitude.

“I talked to Sharon (Arnold of the Truckee Donner Historical Society). She knows, and she’s never said anything,” said Pombo. “I asked Stefanie (Olivieri of Mountain Area Preservation Foundation) and she said she would take a look at it.”

Planners with Nevada County did say they received comments from residents of Russel Valley, but the responses have been non-controversial.

Open space is a big chunk of the property, said Karla Pombo. Alternative forms of development will be considered if people in the community feel other projects are more suitable for the site.

The Nevada County Planning Commission supported the project in a preliminary hearing held in Truckee Town Hall on Thursday, May 10, said Stephanie Wagner, a planner with the county.

The permit would allow relocation of the top-soil processing plant and a new concrete batch plant.

Review of the project will be continued until June 28 in Nevada City.

“There is lots of things that could happen out there. It’s such beautiful property,” said Pombo.

A campground or even an outdoor recreation space for cross country skiers and snowmobiles has been mentioned for the property, Pombo said. But for the present, the plans call for a small industrial development.

“We hope it will be a place where other people can go,” said Pombo.

Other industrial businesses may take them up on it, especially since the town has made a push to move the industrial businesses off the river.

“That’s been a contention for a long time,” said Dick Atkinson, owner of R.S. Atkinson and Sons since 1976.

Atkinson’s construction and trucking business is based on the north side of the Truckee River along East River Street, just a few yards down from Al Pombo, Inc.

“You see those stakes over there?” he said pointing to wooden markers on bare ground next to the river. “Those are lots.”

The lots have been the focal point for development, which Atkinson said became controversial when the Town of Truckee was formulating plans for the downtown area and local industrial developers hoped the property would be available for expansion.

But although the pressure to relocate has been felt by some businesses, some feel content where they are, and don’t feel the town has made plans to push them out.

“We’ve been here for 50 years and there’s been a lot going on around us,” said Ken Caple, a plant manager for Berry-Hinckley Industries on West River Street. “I think the town wants us to move but we’ve never felt any pressure.”

Caple said his company was looking at new locations for a while but nothing panned out.

“West River Street is a nice location (but) it’s an old plant and we’d like a new location.”

The problem, said Caple, is finding a suitable place to go.

“We happen to agree that we don’t belong where we are,” said Karla Pombo. “There is residential stuff moving in all around us so it’s just a matter of time.”

She added that she feels everybody gets their feathers ruffled when they talk about the river and who is supposed to be there.

As for the train, it’s no longer the umbilical cord for industry in Truckee. The Interstate has made transportation via truck more convenient.

Residents along the tracks complain about train noise, but as far as Karla and Al are concerned, they aren’t complaining.

For them, the romanticism of the train fell silent a long time ago.


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