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Clean up begins in river

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Workers clean up the river bottom after a fire destroyed two homes last week.


For two Madera families, it may be too little, too late, but crews from the City of Madera and Madera Irrigation District began removing debris and cutting down vegetation in the Fresno River to make it safe.

Two families lost their homes during a May 17 fire that was originally started in the river and high winds pushed it into the residential neighborhood on Riverview Drive and Orchard Avenue.

Residents openly complained to Madera city leaders at the Madera City Council meeting the next day, and work has since begun to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

After the fire, Madera City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez was on the phone with the California Fish and Wildlife, who own property in the Fresno River. The city and county have been working with Fish and Wildlife to obtain a permit to clean up the Fresno River, but have been hit by red tape.

“I had not been in direct communication with Fish and Wildlife, but the county has been in contact with them for two years to obtain a 1602 permit,” Rodriguez said. “There was a consensus between the various agencies that the county would take the lead and we would all partner on utilizing that permit. Madera County has been working on getting that permit.”

A 1602 permit would allow the county to manage areas in the Fresno River under the umbrella of Fish and Wildlife.

However, the Fish and Wildlife aren’t the only owners of property in the Fresno River. In fact, the City of Madera owns a 20-foot sliver in the section that was recently burned.

“The Fish and Wildlife don’t own the property in the Fresno River, either,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of the property is owned, in the city limits, by Madera Irrigation District, some by the fairgrounds, some by the county and some by individual property owners. Where the fire happened, between 99 and Granada, the city owns a 20-foot sliver. The city controls very little of it.”

However, the fire on May 17 got the ball rolling a little faster to get work done in the river.

“My direct conversations with fish and game came on Wednesday, right before the city council meeting,” Rodriguez said. “I told them this is an emergency. We need your help and need to act immediately. We don’t have a week to wait. There’s an emergency permit and, in my discussion with Fish and Wildlife, was to go ahead and apply for an emergency permit. I told them my plan was to go to the river, along with the MID, and try to minimize as much fuel as we can to prevent another disaster.”

After a contract crew went to the river Thursday to clean up debris from the fire, City of Madera crews and crew and from the MID were in the Fresno River to begin clean-up with equipment. They worked on Saturday and will work throughout the week to clean it.

Rodriguez and the City of Madera have been trying to clean up the River. In fact, the city removed 136 tons of trash over the past few months.

“We have been relocating the homeless away from the river,” Rodriguez said. “If you talk to individuals that walk the trail are live by the trail, they have seen a difference in the past couple of months. What happened on Tuesday was extremely unfortunate. We have been very patient and have been following the process. We haven’t been involved in getting the permit, but we were working towards that. It is very challenging to get permits even though it’s a government agency to another agency. we have to follow the rules like everyone else. We’re still going to get an emergency permit, but it will be after the fact. I did receive a verbal approval based on the plan I laid out to them after the fire.”

Rodriguez is saddened that it took a tragedy of two families losing their house to get the ball rolling on the clean up and he vows to make sure it won’t happen again.

“The County has been working for this permit for the past two years,” he said. “What happened was the fire highlighted the issues. While I was on the phone with Fish and Wildlife, I told them we lost two homes, multiple fences and multiple animals. We’re talking about lives, potentially, next time and property. None of us want that on our conscience. We owe it to our community to do everything we can to prevent it.”

Rodriguez has been working to beautify the river for some time and recently received a grant worth more than $800,000 to do just that.

“My goal all along was to beautify the river and make it accessible,” he said. “We’ve been working towards that. Unfortunately, we had this fire that’s devastating. It put a spotlight of some of the challenges we have been having in the permit process.”

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