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Boaters fighting lake closure

Funding shortfall threatens Clementine recreation
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Threat of closure is roiling the normally placid waters of a popular haven for boaters near Auburn. A destination for kayakers and powerboaters, the smooth-as-glass Lake Clementine is in the middle of a tug-of-war between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation over recreational funding. Pointing to recent correspondence between the two over renewal of a recreation management permit for the lake that expired this year, John Brun, president of long-time user group the Auburn Boat Club, said he and other boaters are shaking the political tree to keep Clementine from closing. The group is involving state legislators like Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock on the federal side, in a bid to save lake access from being gated and docking facilities removed. Brun said the issue comes down to money, with the Bureau of Reclamation threatening to pull the plug on funding from the state Parks Department-contracted management. At the same time, the corps hasn’t come up with any money in answer to the bureau’s request to shoulder some of the financial burden, he said. The smoking gun for Brun is a March 31 letter from the corps Sacramento District deputy for project management to bureau area manager Michael Finnegan stating the desire to continue to have recreational opportunities available to the public at Lake Clementine but also alluding to the possibility of closure. Deputy Christine Altendorf’s letter states that if the corps can’t find additional funding or an “alternate solution, we are prepared to work with both the Bureau of Reclamation and the state to create a closure plan that will work for all agencies.” Brun said that is setting off warning bells with recreational users, who three years ago enlisted the support of former 4th District Congressman John Doolittle to successfully oppose plans to drop speed limits on the lake to 5 mph. The boat club, with a membership of 55 families, operates the docks and gas concession on the lake while state parks collects the recently increased $10 parking fee on the shoreline. Mark Root, a Colfax kayaker who also uses the boat-in campground at Lake Clementine, described the lake as the most pristine one in the area for kayakers. “It would be closing a great resource for the community,” Root said. Officials with both the bureau and the corps maintained this past week that the two sides have no intentions of closing the roads into the lake and removing docks and other facilities. Jill Swett, chief of the corps operations technical section in Sacramento, said the bureau request for funding has gone “back and forth” while the corps was denied requests in the 2009 or 2010 budget year for funding part of Clementine recreational operations. A further request has been lodged for the 2011 budget and the corps will find out in February whether it’s included in the president’s budget, she said. “The bureau and the corps desire to continue to manage lands for recreation,” Swett said. Pete Lucero, bureau public affairs officer, said his office is not considering the possibility of closure. The bureau has held the permit with the corps for recreational use of the lake since 1979. It’s part of the Auburn State Recreation Area but the lake and operation of the North Fork Debris Dam the reservoir it sits behind are separate. The lake, located about 3 miles east of Auburn, is within federally held land reserved for potential construction of an Auburn dam. The bureau pays the state Parks Department $1.4 million annually to patrol and maintain the recreational area. “It’s very premature to suggest Lake Clementine is going to close for any reason,” Lucero said. Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.