Tubers float could be dry

Unless they can figure out a way to catapult their six-packs (and we don’t mean abdominal muscles) across the Irvine Finch River Access, tubers may not be quaffing beer or any other alcohol for this year’s annual Labor Day tube-jam down the Sacramento River.

The Irvine access, located in Glenn County off Highway 32, just on the west side of the river, has long been the most popular spot for tubers to enter the river for the day-long float. The area is state-park land and local officials are waiting for word from Sacramento on the legality of forbidding alcohol on the property. Glass containers and consumption of alcohol is already illegal there, but simple possession in closed containers is another story.

Mike Fehling, local superintendent for state parks, said he does not know of any precedent for making alcohol possession illegal for a limited period on state property, but thinks the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control may have the authority to do so.

“This time next year I think you’ll see a lot of laws in place to control these things,” he said, noting that there has been thought of holding some form of entertainment elsewhere in the area as a means of attracting the crowds away from the river.

“This is a unique Chico tradition and we’re just trying to take it down a few notches,” he said. “It’s gotten out of control in recent years.”

But local attorney Mike Bush said the idea of alcohol being banned from a defined piece of state park property for a few days out of the year could be problematic.

“You mean there’s going to be laws in the campgrounds around Lake Oroville saying ‘no beer,’ or tell guys camping on state property in the mountains that they can’t drink beer?

“Selective enforcement of the law raises red flags and the notion of discriminatory treatment. But that is the climate these days—trying to shut down these kids.”

Fehling, who graduated from Chico State University in the early 1980s, has served as local state parks superintendent since 2000.

“I used to do this myself, and I remember we’d have a barbeque and hang out with friends,” he said. “But the commercial element moved in a few years ago and sort of spawned this frenzy.”

He said this is the third year that Chico State’s Associated Students and the Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center have been involved in trying to educate students about the possible consequences of thousands of drunken young people navigating the river on inner tubes.

The effort to deflate the crowds that show up for the Labor Day float follows similar efforts by the city of Chico to tame St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, two traditional days/weekends of alcohol-fueled revelry that have helped put Chico on the map. The events grow beyond local participation and attract partiers from across the state.

Fehling said he expects tubers will launch from other spots, including private property, to avoid the alcohol ban.

This year Mayor Scott Gruendl, acting on behalf a university-city advisory committee, sent letters to Senator Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and Assemblymen Rick Keene, R-Chico, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, asking for some suggestions as to how to control the Labor Day mayhem on the river.

Gruendl said the problem is complicated by the fact that controlling it calls for multi-jurisdictional cooperation. The state Department of Fish & Game patrols the river, the Highway Patrol keeps an eye on the routes leading to the river access and Chico Police set up DUI checkpoints for drivers coming back into town.

Gruendl said he got a response from LaMalfa’s office but heard nothing from the other two.

Josh Cook, who works for Aanestad, said Gruendl “advocated a serious crackdown [on tubing] and was looking for state resources, laws, or agencies to help the city fight this problem” and Cook said he was looking into the matter.