EBMUD to Build Middle Bar Access on Mokelumne (CA)
December 3, 2001
Contact: Katherine Evatt or Pete Bell, 209.296.5734
"We're delighted to see East Bay MUD moving to build facilities that will help people use the Middle Bar reach of the Mokelumne River," said Pete Bell of the Foothill Conservancy, regarding the East Bay Municipal Utility District's action of November 27. On that day, EBMUD's Planning Committee directed utility staff to move forward with review steps that will likely lead to construction of a boating takeout, parking, and sanitary facilities near the Middle Bar Bridge in 2002.
For decades, EBMUD did its best to keep the public from using the river between Highway 49 and Pardee Reservoir, while river access was pushed by river conservation, fishing, and paddling groups, including the Foothill Conservancy. In late 1999 and early 2000, district attorneys in Amador and Calaveras County refused to prosecute kayakers who had paddled down to the Middle Bar Bridge. By then, the State Attorney General's Office had also become involved in the river access issue on behalf of the State Lands Commission. In 2000, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors and the city councils of all five cities in Amador County expressed strong support for Middle Bar access.
In June 2000, the EBMUD board adopted a set of principles to guide its staff on this issue. A series of meetings and continued pressure from the Attorney General's Office and Foothill Conservancy led to the decision last week. Riverside trails, which the Foothill Conservancy supports, are not part of the proposed boating takeout facilities. While EBMUD chose to consider the trails separately, the Conservancy is not discouraged.
Conservancy President Katherine Evatt said, "When you consider how long people have worked to gain access to the Middle Bar reach, it's amazing how far we've come in the last two years! We're very grateful to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Trankley and to the organizations, citizens, and officials who helped move things to this point. We do want to see trails, but they introduce additional management issues and there are some legitimate concerns to address. However, we're confident that the issues can be worked out to everyone's satisfaction, and then birders, hikers, and anglers will be able to enjoy this beautiful section of the Mokelumne."
But no new hiking trails in the worksBy Francis P. Garland
Lode Bureau Chief
Reprinted with permission
Hikers, however, won't see any new trails -- at least for a while.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which owns the property along the river, said this week that it will pursue plans to build a boat takeout facility at Middle Bar but held off on the idea of carving a trails network.
The district planning committee's decision to begin the environmental review process for the takeout area was cheered by state officials and by recreationists who long have sought legal access to Middle Bar, about two miles downstream of the Highway 49 bridge on the Amador-Calaveras county line.
Middle Bar has been legally off-limits to anglers, boaters and others but has been used nonetheless. Over the years, groups have asked East Bay MUD to provide public access to the area, and several cities have adopted resolutions asking for as much.
More than a year ago, the state attorney general's office, representing the state Lands Commission, also became involved in the access issue, and that prompted a series of community meetings this year to discuss how the area might be used.
Those discussions led to East Bay MUD's plan to build a gravel parking lot big enough to accommodate about two dozen cars and trucks, trash receptacles, a vault toilet and a boating takeout area, all on the Amador County side of the river. The cost of the project, including environmental review, is estimated at $120,000.
Rob Alcott, East Bay MUD's water-supply manager, said environmental review work should begin within a few weeks, and the district hopes to have the facilities in place sometime next year.
The district views the project as "nothing glamorous," Alcott said.
"But we think there's a segment of the community that will very much appreciate it -- the segment that enjoys moderate, basic river recreation opportunities," Alcott said.
Lisa Trankley, a deputy attorney general working on the access issue, said the utility district "did the right thing" in separating the boating takeout facility from the trails issue. That's because the trails issue is more controversial, and waiting to sort that out could have delayed work on the takeout.
The controversy surrounding the trails proposal stems from East Bay MUD's concerns that hiking in that remote area could compromise water quality, present wildfire problems and harm American Indian cultural sites.
Water quality is a concern because Middle Bar is upstream from Pardee Reservoir, a drinking-water storage facility. Alcott said the district's permit from the state Department of Health Services considers Pardee a "nonbody contact" body of water.
Pete Bell of the Foothill Conservancy, which wants to see trails in the area, said East Bay MUD's concerns are valid. But Bell said continued discussions could yield a workable plan for trails -- just as it did for the takeout.
People already are hiking in that area, and a designated trails network could "direct people away from where you don't want them to go," Bell said.
Bell said the area certainly would make a beautiful hiking spot.
"It's a place you can go to see a functioning riparian zone of a river," he said.
Bell said part of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s relicensing agreement for its hydroelectric power plant upstream calls for building a takeout and parking facility near the Highway 49 bridge. Bell said he'd like to see a trail connecting that new facility and Middle Bar.
"That would be very nice," he said. "It's not a steep section of the river, so it is not a difficult walk. It's the kind of hike that people could do who couldn't go to the high country and hike some of the steeper trails."
Although recreationists like the idea of Middle Bar access, some property owners told East Bay MUD officials in August that a takeout facility would cause more traffic on narrow, bumpy Middle Bar Road and ruin their peace and quiet.
But Carol Darrow, who lives on the road, said Thursday that she isn't opposed to the takeout facility.
"I think boaters have as much right to that water as anyone," she said. "It would increase traffic, but we get a lot during fishing season anyway, because people like to use the bridge.
"Maybe with more traffic, the county might fix the road a little. Something good might come out of it."
* To reach Lode Bureau Chief Francis P. Garland, phone 736-9554 or e-mail email@example.com