Chattooga Process Determined, Meetings Scheduled
On Friday, May 25th, the USFS released their plan for wrapping up the user capacity analysis and updating their management of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, located in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The USFS stated that they have completed the data collection phase of the user capacity analysis, and that the full findings will be released later this week.
The user capacity analysis was triggered by American Whitewater’s successful appeal of the 2004 decision to continue a 30+ year old unjustified ban on paddling the uppermost 21 miles of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River. The analysis is decades overdue and marks the first integrated collection of environmental and recreational data for the upper Chattooga. The USFS now aims to publish and implement a revised river management plan for the Chattooga in December of 2007. They have released the following schedule for reaching a new decision based on the data collected through the user capacity analysis.
June 1: Sumter National Forest to release all user capacity analysis reports at http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/fms/forest/projects/reports.shtml. AW has filed detailed technical comments on each of the sub-reports, and will be filing comments on the forthcoming reports as well.
June 18, 19, 21: Open House Meetings to present the findings of the user capacity analysis and present the plan and schedule for the decision making process.
July 10: Formal Hearing to document public comments regarding specific suggestions for managing the Upper River corridor.
July 14: full-day Standards Workshop on Saturday, July 14 where the public will be asked to provide input on proposed standards for all resources along the Upper Chattooga and management actions that might be needed to ensure those standards are met.
Early August: Scoping Letter published, in which the USFS will propose several alternatives addressing all capacity related issues and uses on the Upper Chattooga (without stating a preference for any alternative). This letter will initiate the formal legal decision making process under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act).
Early September: Public Scoping Meeting where comments will be accepted
Late October: USFS to release a “Pre-decisional” Final Environmental Assessment including their preferred alternative. This document will attempt to wrap the findings of the user capacity analysis, legal and regulatory guidance, and public comments into one analysis supporting a single alternative. A 30 day comment period will be initiated immediately, and extend though November.
December: A new decision will be reached and management will potentially change immediately on the upper Chattooga.
You can help:
Paddlers are encouraged to attend all possible meetings, and submit comments on the scoping letter and the Environmental Assessment. The hearing and standards workshop are paddlers’ best chance to contribute to the process in-person, whereas the June open houses are a chance for paddlers to learn more about the process.
While the USFS claims to have finished their data collection process – and some good information has been collected – there remains significant data gaps. While AW has not yet reviewed the final integrated report or the biophysical report, it is clear that no information was collected on the upper half of the Chattooga Cliffs reach. The USFS is thus in the unsupportable position of reaching a legally mandated management decision on a section of river they have no data on. Other gaps exist as well that we have pointed out through our comments. AW believes that the user capacity analysis will likely form an adequate basis for some management actions – but not others.
The Chattooga has become a nationally significant project for the Forest Service and obviously for American Whitewater. Critical issues affecting Wilderness Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and many Forest Service rivers are being addressed on the Chattooga. American Whitewater remains committed to bringing nationally consistent river management to the Chattooga. Such management will protect the river while ensuring the ability of the public to enjoy the river in whatever wilderness complaint way they choose.
Specific meeting times, dates and locations:
Open House Meetings
Monday, June 18, 5 pm-8 pm,Rabun County Civic Center, HW 76 West (across from Courthouse), Clayton, GA
Tuesday, June 19, 5 pm- 8 pm, Highlands Civic Center, 600 North 4th Street (US HW 64, Highlands NC
Thursday, June 21, 5 pm-8 pm,St. John's Lutheran Church, 301 West Main Street, Walhalla SC
Tuesday, July 10. St. John's Lutheran Church, 301 West Main Street, Walhalla SC
Saturday, July 14, St. John's Lutheran Church, 301 West Main Street, Walhalla SC
For More Information: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Wiki/aw:chattooga