Yosemite's Merced River Plan
The arguments have been made. Now, let the waiting begin.
That's where we are in the latest chapter of Yosemite National Park's efforts to get an acceptable Merced River Plan in place. And that's not been an easy task. As I understand things, three previous plans have been struck down in court, and the park is 16 years past the time-line for when it should have had an acceptable plan in place.
Yesterday U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii spent the better part of the afternoon listening as attorneys for the park and for Friends of Yosemite Valley debated a list of construction projects the park wants to move forward on, and which FYV wants put on hold until a valid Merced River Plan is adopted.
"We have opposed all of these which might impact the values for which the Merced was protected as a Wild and Scenic River. Because of its centrality in Yosemite, the Merced touches upon many values and many areas, and potential projects impact the river's values over and over," Greg Adair, FYV director, tells me.
"We felt -- and argued yesterday -- that the court should not assume the mantle of government and begin to say which projects, or parts of projects, or parts of parts of projects might be OK to enact, but rather should exercise its jurisdiction to say that the litany of ground-disturbing activities should cease until Yosemite has a plan to protect the river first."
Now, I haven't been to Yosemite in about two years, but I'm told that there's quite a bit of construction equipment sprawled about the valley floor.
Park officials want to move forward with phase 1 of the redesign of the Yosemite Lodge complex, a project that involves reconfiguring four buildings; they want to replace 89 of the 353 campsites washed away by the 1997 flood and add four bathroom units to the area; they want to replace the Happy Isles footbridge; remove the abandoned El Portal water treatment plant; make improvements to the Loop Trail; upgrade the valley's utilities, and; make improvements to the Loop Road.
If you want all the details on these projects, you can find them here.
Judge Ishii took most of the matter under advisement yesterday, though he did give the park permission to make improvements to the Loop Road, including the cleaning and installation of some culverts and repaving of the road before winter. How long it takes him to rule on the rest of the matter will be interesting...almost as interesting as how he rules on it.
"I think that what is sort of extraordinary about the current moment is that, despite a crystal clear ruling that the Merced Plan is invalid and must be re-done, the government is not conceding that even one single construction project should stop. This is new since two years ago, at which time they conceded that several projects should not proceed without a plan (the very SAME projects the government now proposes to build!!)," says Adair.