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Fight on to keep Lake Clementine from being ‘lost and gone forever’

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The fight is on to keep a scenic lake near Auburn open. And it’s boiling down to coming up with about $60,000 a year in funding. Lake Clementine had been threatened with closure next year because of a potential cut in federal dollars. But high-profile support to keep it open from U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, and other elected officials is now putting that possibility into question. McClintock said Thursday that he has asked the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – which is responsible for the lake’s recreational funding – to find another $60,000 in its multi-billion-dollar budget to keep the lake open in the next fiscal year. The congressman said that, as a member of the congressional water and power subcommittee, he would volunteer to find it for them if they were unwilling to do so. Another option McClintock said should be considered in finding funding for lake operations would be to lease out a concession. Located in the Auburn State Recreation Area on the North Fork of the American River the 280-acre lake is 3.5 miles long and beloved by boaters, kayakers and anglers for its quiet isolation and glassy surface. The lake, 3 miles east of Auburn, is within federally held land reserved for potential construction of an Auburn dam. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation pays the state Parks Department $1.4 million annually to patrol and maintain the recreation area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, has jurisdiction over the reservoir and the North Fork dam it built in 1939. The two have been in a funding tug-o-war over Clementine for several years, with recreational users sounding the alarm twice in the past five years over the imminent threat of closure. Most recently, the Auburn Boat Club announced on its Web site that the lake – including a boat launch ramp, marina and 15 boat-in campsites – was slated for permanent closure Sept. 30. The date is the end of the bureau’s current budget year. Facilities on the lake close on Labor Day and open again in the spring. John Brun, president of the Auburn Boat Club, said that Monday’s meeting – which also drew state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, as well as Placer County Supervisors Jennifer Montgomery and Jim Holmes – was promising. The bureau now has 45 days to come up with a way to keep the lake’s roads and facilities open, he said. “We don’t want a year-to-year reprieve,” Brun said. “Let’s just git ‘er done. I’ve got my fingers crossed.” Pete Lucero, bureau public affairs officer, said everybody involved wants to keep the lake open “and fix this budget problem.” “We’re looking for ways to keep this open the best we can,” Lucero said. “Hopefully, we’ll come back in about 30 days with solutions and alternatives.” Current discussions will have no impact on regular operations of the lake this summer, he added. For Auburn’s John Lusty, the lake has become a convenient getaway from the bustle of urban living. A sign shop owner who docks a houseboat on the lake, Lusty said he’s hoping the uncertainty will soon be over and the lake will be permanently open. “It’s just beautiful down there,” Lusty said. “It’s 8 miles from my front door. I can work all day and be there in minutes.” Lusty said he’s not convinced the lake’s access is out of jeopardy. “But it shouldn’t even be an issue,” he said. “They spend billions on nonsense. This is a real jewel, particularly if you like water sports and don’t mind the road down.” Montgomery, whose district includes the Clementine area, said the federal agencies now have a number of questions from key players that they need to answer. “The intent of everyone there (at Monday’s meeting) was to keep it open but the level of detail wasn’t there,” Montgomery said. “The Bureau of Reclamation and corps will now get the information so we can come up with a plan of attack.”