Residents at Thursday’s Mokelumne River Task Force meeting agreed the accident that killed 11-year-old Tommy Farnsworth and critically injured his father, Tom Farnsworth, 44, was a tragedy, but they didn’t agree on what action San Joaquin County supervisors should take in response.
“It was a very unfortunate accident, and that’s what it was — an unfortunate accident,” said Lodi native David Borth, 60.
Borth said additional safety measures aren’t needed, including the removal of trees and other obstacles in the river.
“Leave it nature’s way,” Borth said.
Opinions during the three-hour meeting ranged from requiring a 5 mph speed limit for all boats and banning power boats and personal watercraft to not having any limits on river use.
“I don’t see this as a paddle boat versus motorized boat kind of issue,” said task force member Jay Bell, who uses kayaks and canoes on the Mokelumne River.
The feeling was hardly unanimous.
“Jet Skis do not belong there, and 5 mph should be the limit for all other craft,” said Moe Gritsch, who lives on East Turner Road.
Dale Edens, a Lodi resident since 1954, disagreed.
“Personal watercraft is safe,” Edens said. “It’s the idiots who are not safe. You can’t legislate common sense.”
Task force members emphasized the need for extensive public comments from a wide range of residents before making recommendations to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
“I hope by year’s end, we can get through this process,” said San Joaquin County Planning Commissioner Pat Stockar, chairman of the seven-member task force.
Linda Martin, a cousin of Thomas Farnsworth who lives on Harney Lane, was skeptical about the task force.
“When a let’s-form-a-committee-to-study-the-issue is set up, it’s to avoid taking a stand on controversial problems,” Martin said.
Donna Phillips, who has lived near Lodi Lake since 1983, said she noticed while flying over the river that it is not very deep, has sand bars, obstacles for boaters, blind curves and erosion.
“It is unsafe for anything but passive uses,” Phillips said.
Tom Vallem, who has lived near the river for nine years and boats on the river three or four times a week, said extra patrol is the answer, especially on weekends.
“We have the laws in place,” Vallem said. “We don’t have the enforcement in place. If the patrol is out there, that will take care of it. Word gets out there fast.”
Winifred Mitchell, who said she was speaking on behalf of the Friends of Lodi Lake board, said the board has had a long-standing position against water skiing and to restrict all boats to 5 mph.
Resident Bonnie Raingruber suggested trying a 5 mph speed limit for one year to see how it works, but she doesn’t see a need to ban power boats.
“I think that everyone has the right to use the river,” Raingruber said.
The task force was appointed recently by Supervisor Jack Sieglock to thoroughly examine safety issues on the Mokelumne River between Highway 99 and Woodbridge Dam.
In addition to Stockar and Bell, the task force consists of Dave Vaccarezza, Don Walters, Robin Sanborn, Tony Alegre and Erick Albert.
The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 9 at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St.