Rafting inititative goes on county ballot
El Dorado County Supervisors voted 3-2 last week to put on an initiative the November ballot that would reduce rafting on the American River.
The vote on the El Dorado County Streams and Rivers Preservation Act came at the request of Supervisor Walt Shultz, whose district encompasses much of the rafting territory along the river, specifically the Coloma Valley.
The action came after a draft of a new Environmental Impact Report was issued. However, according to Supervisor Sam Bradley, the EIR stating rafting on the American River had no significant impact on the river system. Bradley said the final report will be out next month.
Supervisors Shultz, John Upton, and Mark Nielsen voted put the initiative on the ballot while Bradley and Supervisor Ray Nutting voted against it. The initiative, if passed by the voters in November, limits the number of rafting days for commercial rafting guides.
About 90,000 people raft down the American River along U.S. Highway 50 each spring and summer. The initiative would reduce that number to 45,820.
Shultz said many of those who support the rafting status quo believe the initiative will pass although he hasn’t seen data for anyone to make that assumption. He also said, if the initiative passes, a decrease in rafting could add value to the experience and allow rafting companies to charge more money.
An Aug. 3 letter from Shultz to the Board of Supervisors said he had been to several River Management Advisory Committee meetings and found rafting to be a problem for the river.
In the letter, Shultz said increased river rafting will lead to erosion of the public trust, the quality of life and vegetation along the river’s banks and the quality of the experience for recreational tourism.
“Most people, I’m sure, believe the surfaces of our treasured river banks should look like serene pastures, not trampled feed lots,” Shultz wrote.
Shultz said the property owners along the stretch of the river that runs through Coloma Valley must also be considered. He said property owners have heard rafters stop and shout to them, “Your property is not private.”
Upton said he supported the initiative because of potential ecological damage and because it is unsafe to have so many people on the river at one time.
He said he felt the EIR only dealt with rafting and not other activities that may affect the river’s ecology.
Upton said the scope of the report was limited.
“When we spend that much money ($300,000 for the EIR), I would think more would come out of the process,” Upton said, saying he agreed with Shultz that there was the potential for rafters to overuse the river.
The rafting industry had to pay to update the EIR after losing a 1994 lawsuit to Bernard Carlson, who at the time was chief executive officer of the friends To Preserve the American River. The lawsuit was based on the county’s issuing of rafting permits in accordance with an antiquated EIR.
According to Upton, if one were to stand at one point along the river, he would see an average of 150 rafts an hour.
“That’s one every 24 seconds,” Upton said. “That’s not enough spacing to be safe.”
According to Bradley, even though it looks like a cut in half, the initiative would reduce rafting by more than 60 percent because some of the rafting trips which weren’t previously counted, such as Boy and Girl Scout ventures, will also be cut.
Bradley said the initiative to cut rafting was not done for environmental reasons, but rather as a “vengeful, petty payback,” by Shultz for losing his seat in this year’s primary election.
Shultz refused to retort Bradley’s comment, but did say, “If I looked at it through their prism, I might make the same cracks as Bradley.”
“I don’t think the county has ever sunk so low,” Bradley said, likening the decision to “back room payoffs.” He said he was surprised to see Upton vote to limit rafting.
Upton said the decision to vote to put the initiative before a vote of the people was not an easy one, but something he felt he had to do. He said he felt 51 percent good about it and 49 percent bad.
“Obviously there’s something in it for him in the future,” Bradley said. “Who’s next, if this can be done to the rafting community?”
Upton said, while he will be looking for employment because he is leaving office, he has no prospects at this time and is not acting on behalf of any private interests. He said Bradley repeatedly has slandered him as well as other supervisors.
Upton and Shultz will both be replaced on the Board of Supervisors in January. Upton chose not to seek re-election. He will be replaced by South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Dave Solaro. Shultz will be replaced by Penney Humphries.
“There’s no way to settle this unless the entire county looks at it,” Shultz said. “Without question, water is our most precious natural resource.”
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