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Supervisors to ban alcohol on river
Drinking alcohol likely will be banned on the Sacramento River this Labor Day.
Glenn County supervisors said it is time to try such an ordinance — at least for this year — to see how it works.
The board introduced the ordinance on Tuesday and will take a final vote at the next meeting in April.
This decision follows the death of a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Brett Olson, 20, of Lafayette, last year from an accidental drowning related to alcohol intoxication. Evidence of cocaine use also was found.
Sheriff Larry Jones said it was the first death during the Labor Day float to his knowledge.
A similar ban failed to gain approval two years ago on a 3-2 vote after Supervisors Steven Soeth and Dwight Foltz voted against the ordinance. Passage required a four-fifths vote since it was an emergency measure.
This time the four-fifths vote was not needed.
Board Chairman John Viegas brought the issue back for board consideration, and while he did not specifically discuss Olson's death, he did say he brought the ordinance back to help law enforcement and rescue personnel curb some of the expense and dangers associated with the event.
Olson disappeared Sept. 2 and his body was discovered by a fisherman a week later following an intense search by Glenn and Butte County Sheriff's patrols and his family and friends in Chico.
Rampant alcohol consumption, fights, major littering, sexual assaults and other problems associated with the float have cost both Glenn and Butte counties thousands of dollars as law enforcement and emergency medical personnel patrol the river during the holiday.
Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, authored a bill (AB 494) in 2011 that would have allowed both counties to ban alcohol consumption on the Sacramento River during specific holidays such as Labor Day.
It was approved by the Legislature, and Butte County supervisors adopted a local ordinance in August 2011.
However, Soeth and Foltz said they did not believe such a ban would work since students and others could go to more isolated parts of the river to drink and enter its waterways — making enforcement negligible.
They also expressed concern property owners along the river might be penalized for drinking on their own land.
Foltz and Soeth again voiced concern about the proposal.
Murray said the problem is not Glenn County's as the majority of the participants migrate to Glenn from the university and community college system with a minority of non-students.
"Glenn County is in reality a victim of the Labor Day float," Murray said.
However, he agreed to support the ordinance for one year as long as the academic community creates sanctions for students involved in alcohol-related incidents such as academic probation or expulsion if there is more than one offense.
He added perhaps a strict alcohol abuse policy "would lessen the number of deaths suffered by Chico State students not related to the Labor Day float."
McDaniel said the "bottom line is this is a nightmare for Glenn County in that area and for the residents of Hamilton City."
Cars parked along the roadways impact travel on that weekend, he said, and the river is left decimated by metal cans and other debris in its wake.
Jones said the majority of the river — 90 percent — is Glenn County's responsibility and falls on his department.
"I don't know if it will work," Jones said. "But we can give it a try and evaluate it after Labor Day."
Dan James, chief of the Hamilton City Fire Department, also supports the ordinance.
"Mr. Soeth, Mr. Foltz, I know I am not going to change your minds," James said, adding this event affects many other people.
"My neck is as red as yours." James said. "I don't like regulation any more than you do."
But, he added, it time something is done.
James noted he almost lost a rescue team member from his department last year, and it is becoming more and more difficult to send people out there from the volunteer department.
Willows resident Kevin Flannery was the only person to speak against the ordinance.
Flannery said his 22-year-old son uses the river to "blow off steam," and such a ban infringes on young people's rights to recreation as they are not drinking and driving on the roadways.
He also said budget cuts to the Sheriff's Department should not influence creating such a law because it is not the students' fault he does not have enough staff.
At the same time, Flannery expressed respect to Jones for the work he does.
Butte County still has its Labor Day anti-alcohol ban on the books, according to Deputy County Administrator Sang Kim.
"It is still in effect," Kim said on Monday along with the state law authored by Logue.
However, the state law can only be effective if both counties pass a similar ordinance, he said.
If Glenn approves the ban, Butte County will be ready to use it, Kim said.
AB 494 prohibits people from possessing alcohol, selling it or consuming it in the area of the Sacramento River from the Highway 32 bridge to the mouth of Big Chico Creek. This includes along the banks and on the river itself for specific summer holidays.
Those who violate the law would be cited with an infraction.
The river also will have signs posted on its banks in time for the float, Jones said.