Meeting attendees at the September 29th Chattooga River management meeting endured a confusing and challenging day.
The meeting was set up to refine the USFS’s 6 alternatives, however two days prior to the meeting the USFS released a staggering new set of 9 alternatives. The alternatives were a disorganized and redundant collection of management components that generally had no clear connection to one another, to objectives, or to the scientific study that is supposed to underlie the analysis. The USFS spent most of the morning trying to describe these alternatives. Most similar analyses look at 3 or 4 alternatives with clear objectives and differences.
Paddlers represented at least 75% of the 97 meeting attendees – representing a groundswell of support for allowing paddling on the Chattooga River. We would like to thank all the paddlers that attended. Public participation is vital to securing nationally consistent and responsible management of the Chattooga River. Paddlers have done a great job of staying engaged in this process and maintaining the sole voice for fair and responsible management of the Chattooga within an extremely frustrating and confusing process.
Two days prior to the meeting the USFS
also released a memo calling for a ban on the upper 2 miles of the river in ALL alternatives
because they had failed to study that section and to protect private property owner’s
interests. While every official asked gave a different response, the Forest Supervisor was
clear that this decision was made outside of the analysis. This is obviously
unacceptable for a host of reasons - not the least of which is that we successfully appealed the
ban on that reach and the Washington Office of the USFS ordered the Sumter National Forest to
study it in a user capacity analysis. At the same time they arbitrarily decided to propose
a ban on floating the very few very small tributaries of the Upper Chattooga in several
alternatives. We are unsure of why these new boating bans are being proposed so late in the
process - or on what basis.
There is one encouraging element of the new alternatives. A modified version of AW's recommended alternatives is among the 9 alternatives. Referred to as Alternative 8, this alternative (without the USFS modifications) would equitably and responsibly protect the Chattooga River and the experiences of all current recreationists as well as non-commercial boaters. The appearance of this alternative in the analysis is a direct result of the overwhelming public support for such an alternative by the paddling community during the NEPA scoping period. Any fair analysis of the alternatives will have to conclude that this alternative is the only one that truly protects the River and the experiences of all users.
Following the morning briefing on the alternatives, the USFS asked participants to fill out assessment forms that were so confusing that the USFS afterwards acknowledged that they could not use the information. Many people elected not to fill out the forms. During the lunch break, roughly half of the meeting attendees left. Those that remained weighed in on how to improve the 9 alternatives during the afternoon session. Paddlers uniformly commented that seasonal limits are untenable because the prevent enjoyment of rare but spectacular summer high flow events. Paddlers also noted that any selected alternative must provide opportunities to continuously float the river from the uppermost put-in at Grimshaws Bridge to Lake Tugaloo.
In a few weeks the USFS will release their Environmental Analysis with their preferred alternative, and ask for public comment once more. It is extremely important that paddlers take the time, once more, to send the USFS their thoughts on this document.
Thank You to all the paddlers that endured the meeting and to those that sent in comments that successfully brought the only reasonable alternative into the USFS analysis.
Full description of the 9 revised and new alternatives for Chattooga River management, released on 9/27/07.
Chart depicting the 9/27/07 revision of alternatives
Memo from the USFS stripping the upper 2 miles of the Chattooga River from the NEPA analysis and instituting a ban in all alternatives.