Lawsuit thrown out, paddlers pledge appeal
Hikers, fishermen and environmentalists won a small victory last week in an on-going tug-of-war with paddlers over the upper Chattooga River — a Wild and Scenic River that tumbles off the Cashiers plateau.
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by American Whitewater calling for the lifting of a 30-year-old ban on paddling. Meanwhile, Friends of the Chattooga — a coalition of hikers, fishermen and environmentalists — claim lifting the ban would ruin the solitude and wilderness experience along the upper stretch of the river.
In addition to the lawsuit, American Whitewater appealed the ban to the U.S. Forest Service. While the local forest service defended the ban, higher-ups decided data to justify it was lacking and ordered an analysis to determine whether the ban was warranted.
The judge who threw out the case said American Whitewater needed to wait for the forest service to conduct the analysis.
“The ongoing study may reveal that opening the Chattooga Headwaters will substantially interfere with other recreational users or that the Headwaters pose too great a risk for inexperienced floaters,” the judge said.
It would be foolish to lift the ban pending the study, only to have the ban imposed again upon completion of the study, the judge said. Therefore, even hearing such a case would be a “waste of time and effort,” the judge said.
“We applaud the wisdom of this court,” said Joe Gatins, a spokesman for Friends of the Upper Chattooga. “The case was a needless and costly distraction to Forest Service efforts to try to resolve this issue via a fair, deliberative process.”
American Whitewater disagreed. The ban should not be considered the status quo while the study is being conducted, they claimed. Instead, the ban should be lifted pending data that proves otherwise. It is unknown just how long the forest service study will take. A decision could be at least two years away, possibly longer. In the meantime, the forest service is violating the Wilderness Act, which recognizes paddling as an acceptable form of recreation in wilderness areas, American Whitewater claims. American Whitewater will appeal the judge’s decision.
“Any court decision that allows the law to be broken without recourse must surely be a faulty decision,” said Mark Singleton, Executive Director of American Whitewater. “We are confident that through appealing this decision we can finally bring nationally consistent management to the Chattooga River.”
Three individual kayakers and five groups had joined the American Whitewater lobby in filing the suit – American Canoe Association, Georgia Canoeing Association, Atlanta Whitewater Club, Western Carolina Paddler and Foothills Paddling Club.
Friends of the Upper Chattooga is a coalition of individuals and conservation and recreation groups in North and South Carolina and Georgia.