Rafting issues linger
Choppy political waters have settled a bit on the South Fork of the American River, but it’s not completely smooth sailing for river rafters and their opponents in the Coloma Valley.
The commercial rafting companies scored a victory last November when Measure W was defeated by El Dorado County voters. The initiative sough to limit the number of commercial raft trips by half on the South Fork.
But there are lingering issues. What modifications, if any, will commercial rafting companies be required to make when the River Management Plan’s Environmental Impact Report is finally ratified? Will rafting opponents attempt to strike back in some way? And how is business, now that rafting season is back?
Some of those questions may be answered on Monday, when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cecily Bond is scheduled to make a ruling on the lawsuit being brought against the county’s General Plan. Tied up within that lawsuit is the River Management Plan’s Environmental Impact Report, which could mandate changes in the way that commercial rafting companies operate on the American.
“Everything is still pretty much status quo,” said Nate Rangel, owner of Adventure Connection in Coloma. “The county has extended our permits for three years, and we’re operating pretty much the way we always have.”
Rangel said that the county has decided to take a closer look at the EIR, and has appointed the River Management Advisory Committee to scrutinize capacity issues on the American.
Currently, the county’s 40 commercial rafting companies are issued 3,330 daily permits (one permit represents one rafter), although not all are used. About 85,000 rafters travel down the South Fork of the American during a typical rafting season – roughly the 15-week period from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“I am still of a mind that we should cut back on the numbers of people who raft down the American,” said Dr. Trent Saxton, a chiropractor who is the former mayor of Placerville. “That 22-mile stretch of the river carries 7,600 people per mile, annually. That has an impact on the environment.”
The voters disagreed, tossing out Measure W by a wide (60 percent) margin in November. But a final draft of the EIR could still cause the commercial rafters to cut back – if the General Plan lawsuit is ever settled.
Saxton emphasized that he does not hate the rafting community as a whole, but does take issue with some of its practices.
“For example, due to the possessory interest tax law, the rafting companies are only required to pay a use tax two days out of the week,” Saxton said. “In my business, I pay taxes on my building seven days a week. That’s a bit of an inequity.
“The 40 commercial rafting companies only pay $22,000 annually in county taxes. It’s ironic; the political arm of the rafting industry is anti-growth, yet they are not paying their own way.”
There are indeed lingering animosities. Saxton said that he was even tossed off of his favorite fishing spot on the South Fork not long after the election, by the owner of the property, a Measure W opponent.
“I’ve fished that spot for 18 years,” Saxton said. “I’m even not in politics anymore. This is an issue that won’t go away, I’m sure.”
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