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The State

Judge Rejects Challenge to Merced River Plans, Allows 7 Yosemite Valley Projects

March 30, 2004|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge rejected a legal bid that could have undercut more than half a dozen projects meant to reshape Yosemite National Park's popular mile-wide valley, officials announced Monday.

Judge Anthony Ishii in Fresno rejected an attempt by two environmental groups to toss out preservation plans for the Merced River, the scenic tributary that meanders through the heart of Yosemite Valley.

Park planners worried that rejection of the river plans would undermine the long-delayed effort to roll out a variety of refurbishment projects meant to modernize visitor services in the valley while easing the effect on nature.

Ishii, in a ruling handed down Friday but delivered to the various parties Monday, declined to block seven projects planned in the valley, most of them slated to begin this summer or in the fall.

Among the projects that could have been affected were reconstruction of Yosemite Lodge, a redevelopment project in Wawona, new employee housing to replace dorms washed away during a 1997 flood and an effort to improve the valley's aging system of utility pipes.

"It's great news," said Scott Gediman, a park spokesman. "The public has been waiting for this work to get started."

The two environmental groups, Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth, challenged the planning document for the Merced River out of concern that park officials had failed to establish visitor limits to ensure that the river and traffic-choked valley were not harmed by overuse.

Joyce Eden of Friends of Yosemite Valley said she is "greatly disappointed" and feels the ruling amounts to "a double whammy" -- increasing river degradation while boosting development in the valley.

She said the plans include bulldozing a new road near the river and erecting 27 buildings in the river corridor at a time when backed-up maintenance projects in the valley continue to be ignored.

The court challenge put the two groups at odds with several other environmental organizations that had worked for years to usher through new planning blueprints for the river and valley floor.

"One has to realize that the valley floor isn't wilderness, it's an icon of the national park system, and you have to accept that and work within that reality," said Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society. "What they were seeking seemed to me to be unreasonable demands of what were very sound plans for the valley and the river."

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