Casitas ordered to stop project
By Jesse Phelps
The Casitas Municipal Water District held
a special meeting of its board of directors Wednesday at its
offices in Oak View but quickly adjourned to closed session after
taking minimal comments from the gathered public.
The meeting was called in response to a cease-and-desist order
issued Feb. 21 by the Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau, upset
with a lack of response from Casitas to previous letters, ordered
the district to shut down construction on the Lazy River water
park, Casitas' latest addition to lakeside recreation.
"The purpose of this letter is to bring to your attention
serious concerns regarding unauthorized use of federal lands
by CMWD and to suspend such use until these concerns are adequately
addressed," wrote Michael Paul Jackson, deputy area manager
for the South-Central California Office of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Following receipt of the order, the district sent the requested
documents and also, according to local activist Larry Yuva, continued
construction on the project. "I noticed that construction
continued through Monday and only ceased Tuesday," said
Yuva, addressing the board it called for the closed session.
Reports of continued construction was of some concern to Jackson
but he said Casitas has made the effort to comply in recent days.
"I had received similar reports and sent Casitas a reminder,"
Jackson said. "They responded that they had indeed shut
the project down. Following receipt of the letter, they've been
Jackson said the issuance of a cease and desist order by the
bureau is unusual. He says the bureau made the call to do so
because he needed to be sure the district was in "compliance
with federal laws surrounding the National Environmental Policy
Act requiring federal agencies to review actions that may have
an impact on the environment."
Lazy River, if and when it's completed, will stand adjacent to
the current children's water playground. According to Casitas
board member Jim Coultas, it is meant to be the adult complement
to the playground, an adult swim area. Construction began within
the last month and Lazy River was slated to open for the July
"Lazy River is like three and a half feet deep and 15 feet
wide, like an artificial river," said Coultas. "People
can float around in it or swim against the current. It's got
little bridges over it and places for handicapped people can
get in. It's compliant with those standards and it and a little
beach access. As I understand it, it's going to be like 1200
Local activists are concerned with the placement of Lazy River
in the Teague watershed, which was obtained by the federal government
in 1979 through eminent domain. The watershed comprises hundreds
of acres surrounding Lake Casitas originally purchased with the
intention of protecting the lake from urban runoff, livestock,
and other forms of contamination.
"The Teague Watershed will not function as desired if development
is encouraged and accomplished south of the watershed boundaries
by CMWD," said Russ Baggerly of the Environmental Defense
Coalition. "That means that all of those people lost their
homes and land for nothing."
Baggerly and others also pointed out that with the advent of
Lazy River comes the advent of more parking spaces and thus more
traffic. Casitas representatives denied that they have plans
for any further parking accommodations.
Another concern voiced by activists was contamination level increases
due to more people in the watershed. Baggerly said this fits
a pattern of Casitas ignoring environmental impacts and supporting
potentially damaging projects.
"CMWD has always been ready to develop recreational opportunities
at the lake," he said. "They were favorably inclined
to support a golf course and hotel across from the entrance to
the Lake. They supported body contact at the lake for expanded
recreational opportunities and in the last two years, they were
inclined to open the Teague Watershed to enhanced recreational
Board member Bill Hicks confronted Baggerly and the two got into
a very public debate in the Casitas Municipal Water District
office parking lot following Wednesday's meeting. "We never
supported the golf course," said Hicks.
Baggerly insinuated that Hicks knew the developers and encouraged
the building of the course, but Hicks flatly denied this connection.
Hicks admitted to initially supporting body contact but said
the board has acted responsibly and never encouraged damage to
the lake's ecosystem.
The whole day got off to a rollicking start when the board determined
that a closed session was needed to discuss matters despite the
presence of the press and concerned citizens from the community.
David Pritchett of the Southern California Steelhead Coalition
voiced his disgruntlement with the board's decision to close
the doors. "I'm disappointed that you feel this meeting
is unfit for the public to hear," said Pritchett. "People
want to know how this board is going to react." Pritchett
added, "This is a rather stealthy meeting today. This meeting
should be in the bright light of public disclosure."
Coultas explained the closed session by saying, "There were
some legal issues and (district legal counsel) Jim Lobel felt
there was a reasonable chance legal action could ensue."
What those actions might be are unclear.
Coultas felt that despite the cease and desist order, the district's
relationship with the bureau is improving. "To Michael Jackson's
credit, he's been working with us on everything," he said.
"He 's really trying to get it straightened out."
And despite the difficulties obtaining documentation, Jackson
said he feels that Casitas has been a good steward of the area
up until now. "I've personally taken a visit down there
and the facilities have been well taken care of," he said.
"The lake is clean. It been a matter of providing us with
the information, making sure that they're complying with the
Baggerly had a different take. Pursuing any further development
near the lake, he said, "essentially undermines the fundamental
reason for the Teague Watershed Protection areas."
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