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Ripon leaders wary of nearby refuge expansion

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POSTED March 7, 2013 1:57 a.m.

Ripon’s elected leaders are going to make sure that the US Fish and Wildlife Services clearly understand concerns they have over expansion of the nearby San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

The City Council wants to make sure that the plans for the 22,156 acre expansion along the lower San Joaquin as well as Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers won’t prevent Ripon from execute their general plan that serves as a blueprint for growth. Part of Ripon’s future city limits could be within the refuge expansion. The city is also hoping to eventually build a river crossing to the west of the current Highway 99 bridge. That crossing would be in alignment with the future Olive Avenue Expressway.

Council members plan to meet with the federal agency during a gathering at the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau office in Stockton on March 21.

The land acquisition is just half of the equation affecting the expansion plan. The other half involves funds that would be needed to purchase the private properties as they become available. The expansion project will rely on two funding sources: the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund which would involve the sale of avian-themed stamps with the blessing of Congress, and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

At the Lathrop input-gathering open house in December, among the concerns raised by those opposed to the proposed expansion were “loss of water rights,” public access near the refuge property, and the need for “more dialogue with landowners and farmers.”

Others wanted to know how farmers can be assured that “new restrictions would not be placed on neighboring lands” and on farming practices - such as crop dusting and spraying - on lands adjacent to the refuge. One suggested creating “more easements” rather than going after fee title acquisitions to achieve the expansion.

The proposed refuge expansion would give the Fish and Wildlife Service the green light to acquire lands and develop agreements with willing landowners.

One of the two alternatives, which calls for the acquisition of up to 22,156 acres, would “connect the refuge with the Grasslands Ecological Area, a 160,000-acre mosaic of Central Valley floor habitats located in the historic floodplain of the San Joaquin River,” according to a report.

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