From WILL PARRISH
Early last year, four US Bureau of Reclamation officials came to Anita Lodge’s seven-acre property deep in the San Joaquin River gorge, 33 miles northeast of Fresno. They explained in careful detail the legal process by which the federal government forces people to abandon their homes to make way for new infrastructure. A childhood picture of Lodge’s mother, who is buried on the land, loomed over the kitchen table where Lodge served her guests freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Lodge’s property would drown under three hundred feet of water if the state and federal governments construct Temperance Flat Dam, a roughly $3.3 billion undertaking sought for several decades by San Joaquin Valley agribusinesses, real estate developers, and Central Valley politicians. The 665-foot-high dam, which would be the fifth tallest in the nation, is one of several proposed water infrastructure projects that have gained popularity during the state’s epic four-year drought.
But Lodge, 59, has no interest in leaving, nor do other family members who reside just down the road. Seven generations of the Lodge and Woody families have lived on their riverfront spread, which is part of a much larger homestead that Lodge’s great, great grandparents acquired in the mid-19th century — most of which now resides in a federal wildlife reserve. For several summers in the 1950s, while Lodge’s father was building the house where she now lives, she camped out under the branches of a sprawling fig tree, listening to the roar of the river as raccoons nibbled on figs at the foot of her bed.
Whenever the government removes someone from a home, they are required to provide one of equal market value. But Lodge rejects the idea.
“How do you put a price tag on something like this?” she asked during a recent interview. “The family history is something you can’t replace.”