Michael Jackson of the Bureau of Reclamation chose a different analogy. “I know we are coming into the lion’s den tonight, but that’s OK. We didn’t expect to be greeted necessarily with open arms,” said Jackson, whose agency is one of the collaborators on the project. “But we’re here because we thought it was the right thing to do.”
Right or not, it was a tough room to work for reclamation representatives, who grappled with more than 50 speaker cards and spontaneous chants of “No gates, no gates, no gates.”
“Why don’t you just tell the truth?” shouted out one audience member. “It’s the water supply, not the smelt, you’re interested in.”
The public forum, held in the Discovery Bay Elementary School gymnasium, was the second of three informational meetings hosted by the Department of Reclamation (the other meetings were held in Fresno and Stockton) in an effort to gather input from the public as well as present information on the $80 million proposed operation.
The 2-Gates project is a five-year experimental program designed to save the Delta smelt by rerouting them away from the water pumps on Old and Middle rivers in Bryon.
The project is a joint venture by the State Department of Water Resources, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation and the Southern California Metropolitan Water District, and plans to install gates at Old River between Holland Tract and Bacon Island, and at Connection Slough between Mandeville and Bacon Island. The automatic gates would be closed at various times of the year for as much as 10 hours per day, depending upon flood tides.
Many of the residents who spoke at the forum voiced their concern over how the gates might affect boating in their recreation-based community. “There are good reasons not to do this,” said David Rhoads, Discovery Bay Yacht Club commodore. “Discovery Bay is a waterfront community … We (the Discovery Bay Yacht Club) will not support this.”
Local business owner David Travers said the gates project’s intermittent closures would steer business away from Discovery Bay: “My business relies on boating traffic for a significant amount of my business. This (gates project) will impact an area already hard hit by the housing market. Boating in California is a major industry. Make no mistake, we are not naive; this is not about saving the smelt; it’s about taking away our water. If you want to protect the Delta smelt, stop pumping our water south.”
Pete Lucero, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the public forum was designed to do just what it did: elicit community comment.
“Overall, it (the meeting) was as expected,” said Lucero. “We expected people to be passionate and they were. We know that these folks want to be heard and they had some really great information for us to take back to add to our decision-making process.
“Last night was really about listening. What really came out of this was that we got some information that we might not have been completely privy to. We knew that people had questions about the process, and we wanted them to ask questions about the program, and they did.”
There is still time for the public to weigh in. According to Lucero, permit and environmental criteria await approval by a number of agencies before implementation of the gates project can begin. They include, among others, the Army Corps of Engineers, the State Historic Preservation Office, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
If approved, in-water construction is slated for December to August of 2010.
The Discovery Bay forum was part of the 30-day environmental review public-comment period, which remains open until Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. Residents should send their comments to Mario Manzo, Bureau of Reclamation, 2800 Cottage Way, MP-730, Sacramento, CA 95825, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or send a fax to 916-978-5094.
For additional information or a copy of the Draft EA/FONSI, call 916-978-5060. To be added to the Demonstration Project mailing list, call 916-978-5112 or e-mail email@example.com.
A copy of the draft EA/FONSI report can be viewed at www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_projdetails.cfm?Project_ID=4472.
If you have problems accessing the document, contact Public Affairs at e-mail mpPublicAffairs@usbr.gov or by calling 916-978-5100. Additional information on the Demonstration Project is available at www.usbr.gov/mp/2gates/.