BATTLE OF THE RIVER RATS
Fishermen, rafters, boaters, campers, scientists, people whose houses would be submerged if new dams are built, even actor Richard Chamberlain, have been scurrying around Washington trying to save rivers. Specifically, they told Representative John Seiberling (D-Ohio) and his Public Lands and National Parks subcommittee that they don't want the Tuolumne River in northern California, which has a bountiful trout fishery and rapids comparable to those of the Colorado, to be developed any further. They said it was high time something was done about enforcing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a 16-year-old law that has gotten little exercise.
Wild and Scenic, as it's known, has had small impact partly because wild rivers have never been a big cause on the agendas of the powerful. "Rivers have been sort of the orphan item," admits deputy counsel Hope Babcock of the National Audubon Society. Although Wild and Scenic speaks clearly of preserving a river's "free-flowing condition," fewer than 2% of the rivers in the contiguous states are in that condition, and only one in 12 of those few is now protected. No river has been added to the Wild and Scenic list since 1980.
The "river rats," as the loose network of river supporters is known, are concentrating on the Tuolumne for a specific reason. The issue seems clear-cut. In 1976 the city of San Francisco and the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation districts applied for federal permits for new dams on the Tuolumne. They met instant opposition, and by 1979 the river rats had won a major battle. The National Park Service, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management all recommended that the Tuolumne be included in Wild and Scenic. San Francisco finally bowed to the pressure, its supervisors voting 11-0 last spring to support efforts to ban further development on the river. (Five dams and powerhouses are already on the Tuolumne, including one in Yosemite Park that is the only dam ever built within a national park; 90% of the river's potential has already been tapped, and only 83 miles of the 158-mile-long river remain free-flowing.)
But the irrigation districts fought on, which led to the hearings in Washington and an anticipated debate on the House floor later this year. There are some 60 other rivers on the docket, and the Tuolumne supporters see renewed life for waterway protection if their efforts—"breaking the logjam," John Amodio, executive director of the Tuolumne Trust, calls it—succeed.
The river rats haven't won many battles since the first dam was completed on the Tuolumne in 1922, but they feel that wild rivers are about to stage a comeback. "We look at the Tuolumne as a test case," says Audubon's Babcock. "If this effort fails, the system is in serious, serious trouble."
When Texas Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, was opened in 1971, 170 luxury boxes in the elaborate structure were sold for $50,000 apiece, a sum that seemed wildly extravagant at that time. Today, a Cowboy fan willing to sell a luxury box can expect to get $500,000 for it (one particularly choice box recently went for a cool million). "Not a bad investment," noted Gary Myers in The Dallas Morning News. "More lucrative than a condominium."
The gilt-edged value of the boxes has moved new Cowboy owner H.R. (Bum) Bright to contemplate construction of 90 new luxury boxes that could be ready for the 1986 season. Bright heads the consortium that paid some $60 million to Clint Murchison for the Cowboys, and he himself also bought (for another $20 million or so) the Texas Stadium Corporation, which holds the operating agreement to run the stadium for the city of Irving. Bright has indicated that construction of the new boxes might require removal of two or three rows of seats at the top of the upper deck. But, he says, because each box would be priced at around half a million, their sale could bring in more than $35 million in revenue.
However, Bright says, the added revenue would just about equal his costs: roughly $400,000 lost in ticket sales if the top rows of stadium seats are removed; a required payment of 8% of the new boxes' purchase price to Irving; annual interest payments of $3 million on the money borrowed to buy the club; $8 million in construction costs for the new boxes; and the $20 million to buy the Stadium Corporation. "It's a wash deal," Bright says. "Everybody understands that."