Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Blasted Settlement Conference

As someone who loves hiking, it is strange to be fighting the construction of a trail. Placer County has approved a 12.6-mile multi-use trail up the North Fork canyon, from the Confluence, below Auburn, up to Ponderosa Bridge. I joined with several others to file suit against The County, to force an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on this trail.

The County named this proposed new trail the "North Fork American River Trail," which has the unfortunate acronym, NFART. NFART is meant to accomodate hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. It is to be a minimum of four feet wide. In effect, a new road would be built up the canyon.

The County avoided doing an EIR, by performing a "Mitigated Negative Declaration," which is much less costly. In the MND, The County asserts there will be no significant adverse impacts, and that the inevitable mobilization of sediments consequent upon making a bench cut in the canyon wall, miles in length, can be "mitigated," softened, offset, rendered insignificant.

For many reasons I oppose this new trail, but near the top of my list is that it is, in fact, Phase One of the proposed Capital-to-Capital Trail (CCT), which would link Sacramento to Carson City. In Placer County, major construction of the CCT was split into three "phases," Phase One being from The Confluence to Ponderosa Bridge.

The CA Dept. of Parks advised The County that it should break the CCT into parts and pretend that Phase One was a "stand-alone" trail project. The County acted swiftly to establish this pretense, and suddenly the proposed trail was no longer called Phase One of the CCT, but rather, NFART. Even tho The County is still pursuing the larger goal of the CCT, everyone swears up and down that NFART is a "stand alone" project.

When the BOS approved NFART, we filed suit. Since our suit is based upon CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), a mandatory "settlement conference" occurs between the parties, before trial. We had our Settlement Conference with Placer County yesterday. I was unable to stay for the entire meeting, but my sense was that we were not close to a settlement.

I had expected The County to offer to certify (somehow) that NFART is indeed a stand-alone project, and would never be extended farther up the canyon. However, they refused to do so. Apparently there is no kind of contract which could be entered into, such that future Boards of Supervisors could not act to extend NFART.

Hence, as many of us have feared, "stand-alone" NFART remains an arrow pointed right up the North Fork canyon.

The County also flatly refused to remove mountain bikes from the equation. It is bicycle use which forces the proposed four-foot width of the blasted trail. If NFART were to be a foot trail, it could be made much smaller, much narrower, much less vegetation would be cut out, and it would have very very much less impact upon the North Fork canyon. Even a combined foot and equestrian trail might be OK.

Perhaps a settlement dialogue can be maintained with The County for a time, but prospects seem slim for a compromise which satisfies either us or The County.

Such is the news about our lawsuit.

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