Placer Fish & Game panel asking supes to join Garden Bar dam opposition

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s Fish & Game Commission is adding its voice in opposition to a dam on the Bear River north of Auburn. And it wants the Board of Supervisor to oppose the project too. Sutter County’s South Sutter Water District has partnered with three Southern California water districts on a preliminary study on a dam between Lake Combie and Camp Far West Reservoir that could have a reservoir storage of from 245,000 to 400,000 acre-feet. The seven-member fish and game panel voted unanimously late Wednesday to have chairman Gary Flanagan write a letter to the Board of Supervisors expressing opposition to a dam. They’re recommending that the board take the same action. Flanagan said Thursday that while he realizes eminent domain would trump many of the points in opposition, Placer County, the non-profit Placer Land Trust and the Nevada County Land Trust have all invested funding into acquiring land that would be inundated. Much of that land was acquired as with mitigation funding by developers on projects elsewhere in the county, he said. “I realize there’s nothing certain but death or taxes,” Flanagan said. “But with the mitigations, the county said the land should remain in perpetuity. I’d like to think that mitigated property is close to death and taxes.” Representatives of the South Sutter Water District and consultant RMC Water and Environment presented an outline of the Garden Bar dam effort at Wednesday’s board meeting. Sierra Watch, a Nevada City environmental organization and dam opponent, had made an initial presentation in August. Auburn’s Rob Haswell, who represents District 3 on the commission, made the motion to have Flanagan send a letter to the Board of Supervisors recommending that Placer County oppose further work on the Garden Bar project. Haswell said there was “very strong” public feeling against the dam, with 17 speakers voicing opposition Wednesday and no one stepping up in favor. “From my perspective, the presentation provided not a single reason why it would benefit Placer County,” Haswell said. “It seems to be about harnessing and selling water to Southern California, with no benefit to the county at all.” While representatives of both the water district and RMC Water were unavailable for comment Thursday, South Sutter Board President Tom Cuquet said in a previous interview with the Journal that his district has had a long-held and well-known interest in developing Garden Bar water to reduce over-drafting of its limited groundwater resources. The district is now in the process of finding partners to develop a project description. Sutter has developed a timeline that would result in dam construction between 2019 and 2022. Vote notice not on agenda The Fish & Game Commission vote occurred without notice on the agenda that any action was going to be taken. Instead, the item was listed as a “presentation on the proposed Garden Bar dam.” Flanagan said that he was comfortable with the vote on an issue that hadn’t been placed on the agenda as an action item but if it was deemed to be a breach of the Brown Act, he would likely place it on the next meeting’s agenda. While no mention of a potential Garden Bar vote was made in the meeting notice, two other items on the agenda did list a possible vote – “approval” of proposed operating procedures and “review and approval” of a memorandum of understanding with the Central Sierra Association of Fish & Game Commissioners. Haswell said that he was under the impression that a vote on the dam was going to take place after the August meeting, when it was decided to give Sutter officials a chance to respond to Sierra Watch’s presentation. “There was certainly no intention to mislead anybody,” Haswell said. “We were moving forward on the assumption it was an actionable item.” Ed King, deputy agricultural commissioner, served as county staff member at the meeting. “In my interpretation, as long as the item was on the agenda, they could take action,” King said.