By JOSHUA WOLFSON
Anyone looking to the Tuolumne Utilities District to help solve a dispute over access to trails along the main canal and other ditches will need to turn elsewhere.
District directors last night said they have no authority to intervene in disagreements between private landowners and the public over trail access.
"The TUD does not have the right to grant anyone access to walk along the ditches," said board member Ralph Retherford. "Access to the ditches is between the public and the property owners."
The board unanimously passed a resolution, based on the legal opinion of TUD's attorney, stating that the district does not have the right to grant access for "any public use or enjoyment" on portions of trail that run through private property.
"A lot of people have looked to us to grant the right but we can't do this legally," Retherford said.
The resolution stems from a dispute over a dirt trail that runs alongside the main canal a 12.7-mile ditch that carries water from Lyons Reservoir to the Phoenix Penstock. The canal feeds a series of smaller ditches that serve thousands of district customers.
For decades, hikers, bicyclists and anglers have used the trail. But this spring, property owners Karl and Carol Laier put up fences and signs that stated their portion of the trail was private.
The move was prompted by concerns over unleashed dogs, inconsiderate ditch users and the possibility of litigation if someone got hurt on his property, Karl Laier said in a June interview.
In response, some Cedar Ridge neighbors began a petition drive to keep the trail open to the public. They also wrote letters asking the district and PG&E which operates the main canal for their position on the issue.
"We are vitally concerned about how this change will affect our usage, properties and the considerable traffic along the canal," the Cedar Ridge residents wrote.
With the passage of yesterday's resolution, the district will send the neighbors letters informing them of its position, said district General Manager Gary Egger.
In June, a PG&E spokesman said the company has no position on the public access issue.