DENVER (CBS4) – As Jeff Shoemaker walked through the plaza on Confluence Park named after his father, he sounded harsh warnings on what might happen to the rivers and creeks that run through Denver if the ‘Right To Survive’ measure, Initiative 300, is passed.

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“Measure 300 is a river killer, and in my mind, a city killer,” warned Shoemaker. “You want me to say it again? It’s a river killer.”

He believes the measure, that would overturn Denver’s 2012 camping ban, would undo the decades of work that it took to clean up the South Platte River. His father, Joe Shoemaker, started the Greenway Foundation in 1974 to reclaim the South Platte which was heavily polluted at the time.

Jeff Shoemaker (credit: CBS)

Shoemaker, who now runs the Greenway Foundation, predicts if the measure passes, large encampments of homeless crowding the banks of the South Platte, with no sanitary facilities, will release human waste into the river.

“Imagine the volume of human waste, liquid or solid,” flowing into the South Platte watershed said Shoemaker. He said lifting the camping ban would mean “tent after box after tent after sleeping bag” along the river.

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If passed, Initiative 300 would allow the homeless to camp on sidewalks, in parks and any public spaces. Shoemaker believes that would lead to an influx of camping along the banks of the South Platte with no facilities to support them.

Raffi Mercuri, who manages the pro-Initiative 300 campaign, didn’t dispute a potential upswing in Platte River camping and acknowledged human waste could be a problem.

“Good question. That’s a big problem, but the problem is not theirs,” said Mercuri.

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He said if large numbers of homeless opt to camp along the river, the city should then provide facilities, like portable toilets and dumpsters, where they set up their camps.

“Why do we not have the same expectation for the city to provide the same services to these people that you receive at your home? These people exist. They’re going to be somewhere,” said Mercuri. “My question is with not enough shelter, spaces where are they supposed to go?”

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Shoemaker said property along Denver’s rivers and creeks is some of the most desirable, and expensive, in the metro area. He became emotional talking about the work his father started, and what might become of it if the Right To Survive measure passes.

“If it again becomes a toilet, all that work is undone. I don’t know how this city will ever be the same.”

Ballots for the May 7th election are being mailed out this week.

Brian Maass