Bracing for the Fourth | SierraSun.com

Bracing for the Fourth

Karen McIntyre
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunBeach goers get an early jump on the Fourth of July weekend at Kings Beach on Monday.
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The National Weather Service predicts sunny, smoke-free skies with highs around 80 degrees for the holiday weekend. But with a shaky economy, record-high gas prices and an alcohol ban on the Truckee River, there is no telling how the Fourth of July weekend will pan out.

Whatever the weekend brings, Tahoe locals and tourists can expect to see a police presence larger this weekend than any other time of the year, Placer County Sheriff’s Lt. Allan Carter said.

“As always, we prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” he said.

Deputies and officers from a handful of agencies will be driving, biking and walking the Tahoe Basin, but Carter said the goal this year is for law enforcement to be community oriented, not heavy handed.

“We don’t want to be the occupying force,” he said.

Officers will concentrate on voluntary compliance, but will not tolerate drunk driving or possession of illegal fireworks, which is a felony.

“We will be taking some people to jail for that,” Carter said, adding that this is Tahoe’s driest summer in a century.

A recently-passed law banning alcohol on the river between Tahoe City and Alpine Meadows Friday, Saturday and Sunday will hopefully prevent deputies from using their water shoes.

“We’ve had a lot of problems on the river, and 98 percent are alcohol driven,” Carter said. “Emphasize the need for safe behavior and a good time will be had by all.”

Carter said the department is confident it can handle whatever evolves, and surrounding agencies are available to help maintain a safe weekend.

“It’s the biggest holiday of the year,” he said. “Everybody likes the Fourth of July.”

Richard Courcier, an owner of Truckee River Rafting with Mountain Air Sports, said he doesn’t think an end to the booze cruise will affect his business.

“I think we’ll be fine,” he said, despite the fact that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Monday making it illegal to possess alcohol on the 3-mile stretch of the river this weekend and next year’s Forth of July weekend.

The ban was sparked after drunk rafters created a public safety hazard, degraded the tourism experience and had a negative impact on the environment, according to a Placer County press release.

Truckee River Rafting can not have more than 100 boats on the river at once. During holidays, when many people take their time floating down, the company is forced to turn away families. A no-alcohol ban may ease the wait.

“Now we’ll be able to send the families down,” Courcier said.

Each of the company’s 30 employees will be on call for the holiday. There are about 50 reservations booked each day this weekend, and that number is growing quickly.

“It really kicks off this weekend,” he said.

Rafters will not have to worry about low water levels as 371 cubic feet of water is flowing from the lake into the river every second. The outflow is a little higher than normal, but will not have a significant effect on the lake level, said Chad Blanchard, chief deputy watermaster from the United States District Court Water Master’s Office.

The amount of water being released will lower the lake level 2.2 inches in a month. That is minimal compared to the amount of water that evaporates, which is about 3,000 cubic feet per second.

“On a hot day, the evaporation could be 10 times what we release,” Blanchard said.

Some local business owners are not sure whether business will be booming this Fourth of July.

“We’re sort of waiting to see what happens,” said Bric Haley, owner of the River Ranch Lodge in Alpine Meadows.

Tahoe has never had gas prices this high, an economy this poor and an alcohol ban on the river simultaneously, he noted.

“I’m counting on it being a little calmer,” Haley said about his restaurant, which sits at the end of the river rafting route. “I’m excited about that.”

The River Ranch has encountered problems in the past, with thousands of drunk rafters crowding its deck.

“It was getting very dangerous,” said Haley, who was involved in passing the alcohol ban.

“It probably won’t be adhered to 100 percent, but I’m expecting it to be much safer,” he said.

The River Ranch will be staffed to maximum levels, and the staff is expecting the best.

“I’m anxiously looking forward to it,” Haley said.

Patty Baird, owner of Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee, is also wondering how the weekend will unfold.

“My July is phenomenal in terms of booking, but it’s only this weekend that’s kind of slow,” she said.

Baird said she is usually booked for the holiday, and she suspects the few openings she has left are because of the many fires burning in the state.

Baird said she anticipates to sell out this weekend.

“People here book last minute,” she said.

Every other weekend this month is sold out at the hotel. Baird said that despite a suffering economy and the cost of gas, her bookings for June and July are up more than 25 percent from last year.

“I think we’re still gonna have a healthy summer.”