Conservationist Bill Center remembered

By From page A1 | September 27, 2017

Bill Center

Bill Center, a former member of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, longtime conservationist and community activist, died Sept. 18 at Kaiser Hospital in Roseville from cancer, according to his longtime friend and associate Alan Ehrgott.

Born in Berkeley, Center grew up in Fort Bragg. He spent a year as an AFS exchange student in New Zealand before attending, but never graduating from, Stanford University, Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State.

Later Center became a river guide, and then operations manager, for the American River Touring Association in the early 70s.

In 1976 he moved to El Dorado County and married Robin Magneson. They had a daughter and son.

Together the couple started the river companies ARTA California and California River Trips in 1978 and later bought Camp Lotus, an enterprise his son now runs.

In 1990 Center was elected to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors where he served for one term representing District 4.

Involved in a variety of non-profit environmental organizations, he was a founding member of Friends of the River, American River Recreation Association, the American River Conservancy and the Great Valley Center. He was a past president of the Sierra Nevada Alliance and Planning and Conservation League and was a member of Rural Communities United.

One of the biggest environmental battles Center successfully engaged in was against the South Fork American River (SOFAR) Project, a battle that took place in the mid 1970s to early 1980s. SOFAR would have resulted in the building of a series of powerhouses, reservoirs and diversion dams extending 41 miles above Placerville to 20 miles below it.

Jack Sweeney, who served on the Board of Supervisors with Center, said the two of them never agreed on the SOFAR project or on how land should be used in the county. “But he was a good supervisor as far the county was concerned,” recalled Sweeney.

“He was also an ardent supporter of the rafting business and one of the leaders in passing Measure A,” he said.

Another measure, Y, was enacted by county voters in 1998 and re-authorized for another 10 years in 2008. It required developers of residential properties to fully fund road improvements to keep traffic levels below Level of Service F (gridlock).

Another of those who knew Center well was Alan Ehrgott, who is the executive director of the American River Conservancy.

“He helped found the organization and served on its board for many years,” said Ehrgott, adding that he believes parts of Center’s DNA came from the South Fork of the American River.

“There’s something very soulful about being on a river and it was very important in his life.

“He wanted it left intact. He helped found the land trust that became the ARC in 1988-89,” said Ehrgott. “He championed protecting the river and building trails, which is why the ARC has been active in acquiring land to do so.

“He was not opposed to development, he just wanted it done in the right place.”

Calling Center a “classy person,” Ehrgott remembers Center as someone with a natural ability to get along with other people and who helped bring them to the middle. “He was a diplomat in that regard. He also did well as a supervisor.”

An active man right up to the time when he became ill, Center only recently retired, Ehrgott said.

“He was just a wonderful man with a genuine concern for the community and its people. He always made peace with people, even those he disagreed with. He was an honest and good man and extremely likeable figurehead in this community who had a very down to earth approach to problem solving.

“The community is going to miss him. He was a good friend and I’m one of hundreds who will miss him.”

Dawn Hodson

Discussion | 1 comment

  • ellen van dykeSeptember 23, 2017 - 7:21 pm

    we miss Bill from the bottom of our hearts, and are so hurting for that loss, and for his family. thank you for publishing this and letting people know.



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