City to move ahead with waterfront improvement despite group’s protest

By: Laura Newell Telegraph staff writer
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City officials say they are moving forward on an almost $1 million project despite opposition from an environmental watchdog group threatening court action. Construction could begin as early as a year on a 2,400-foot-long lighted pathway and small personal watercraft landing space on Lake Natoma in Folsom if the project moves forward as planned. The expansion, located near Folsom’s historic district shops and restaurants, has the support of many business owners but is drawing criticism from members of the Save the American River Association. In October 2007, the city’s Parks and Recreational Department staff applied for a grant through the Proposition 50 California River Parkways Grant Program to fund The Lake Natoma Waterfront and Trail Access Enhancement Project. The project includes plans for a lighted, concrete pedestrian walkway project along Lake Natoma with a small-paddle boat landing space. In July 2008, the California Resources Agency awarded the grant in the amount of $757,800. The total project budget is $907,800. Robert Goss, director of the city’s Parks and Recreational Department, said local matching funds and the state grant program will pay for the project. Goss said, $132,000 of local matching funds, which is about 15 percent, will help pay for the project. These funds will be evenly split between city redevelopment agency funds and city tree mitigation funds. “There is a big interest to connect the Lake Natoma Waterfront with the community in the Historic District,” said Goss. “There is a dirt path along the water shore (underneath Lake Natoma Crossing near Lake Natoma Inn). If you are fully capable, you can take advantage of the path, but if you had any mobility challenges, you cannot take advantage of it. It was identified by hundreds of business merchants that the trail was not fully useable, so the city took a look into the challenge.” Goss said the project proposed a 2,400-foot long Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible walkway from Gold Lake Drive in Folsom’s Historic District to the water shore’s edge with three overlook areas on the path. “With this improved project, it benefits everybody,” Goss said. “That’s the beauty of ADA. Accessible routes on challenging terrain is not easy to do, but when done correctly, it can be amazing allowing everyone to use it.” The project also includes a modified shoreline 50-foot boat launch area for small paddleboats, kayaks and canoes. “The (boat launch) is for personal watercraft size paddleboats to pull up on the shoreline to walk up on the pathway and lock up to a tree,” Goss said. “It’s not envisioned for people to park in the Historic District and walk down to launch boats. It’s envisioned to launch boats at Negro Bar, Willow Creek and Nimbus Flat and paddle up to park and walk up to the Historic District to eat and shop.” Karen Holmes, the owner of and chef behind Karen’s Bakery Café and Catering in the Historic District, is glad to see the project move forward. “I think it’s awesome,” Holmes said. “The whole waterfront down there is an untapped gem and for the Historic District to have access to the waterfront will only add to the charm and character we already have here.” She also thinks the project will benefit her customers personally. “So many of the people who come to the Historic District are focused on outside activities, so to have this waterfront access will add so much to their experience,” Holmes said. The area landowner is the Bureau of Reclamation Federal Agency who contracts State Parks to manage the property, Goss said.. The city cannot take the project on by itself, because it’s not city land, he said. “The business owners met with the city to look out for an opportunity to better connect the shore path with the community,” Goss said. After finding the grant, they decided to apply. Stephen Green, Save the American River Association (SARA) director, is against the project and wants to see it put to a stop. SARA sent a letter to the city on Nov. 10, 2010 in opposition to the project contending, “the project would be totally incompatible with the existing natural area,” according to the letter. According to the letter, SARA claimed the project will encroach on protected federal lands and waterways, destroy valued riparian habits which host state and federally listed threatened species, conflict directly with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s General Plan for the area and violate the spirit and intent of the American River Parkway Plan, which has been incorporated into state law. “We have been opposing this from the start, and if we have to go to court, we will,” Green said. The letter from SARA also stated the grant was awarded as part of “a competitive process…Folsom’s grant application claimed a number of interested organizations supported the project. In fact, some of the organizations had never been asked to support the project, and/or had never agreed to support the project.” Goss said because the city worked quickly to put together the grant, some misrepresentations were made in that the city had the support of organizations when in reality, they only received individual support, not organization support. Goss said an amended proposal was made with those corrections clarified.