Colo. Rafting Bill in Murky Waters

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Bringing the issue of Hosue Bill 1188 to the forefront is a Class III section of the Taylor River, which, like many other Colorado rivers, passes through private property. While commercial outfitters have floated the stretch for years, landowners don’t want them there.

In an issue pitting these and other private landowners against commercial rafting companies and private floaters, outfitters, who contribute $142 million to Colorado’s economy every year, won their first battle in securing their right to float rivers in Colorado as the bill made it through the House.

The bill then passed the Senate, but only after being amended to move forward as a six-month study by the Colorado Water Congress, with a report due back in October. It now sits in the queue for House Appropriations…eddied out, if you will, without much hope of progressing downstream.

And there are still plenty of rapids to negotiate…

“This essentially kills the bill, because nothing will happen and the CWC has already taken a strong opposing position on the issue,” says AW’s Nathan Fey, adding that the Colorado River Outfitters Association opposed the CWC amendment. “I don’t think it makes any sense to have a bill hit the governor’s desk that he will not sign.

“1188 has us all really struggling,” he adds. “Studying the issue is a delay tactic, and reflects the legislature’s general misunderstanding of the issues at hand. The Governor’s office has told the outfitters and landowners on the Taylor to resolve the issue this year. Governor Ritter does not want to see a Right to Float Bill on his desk, and would prefer a local solution. That’s great, but does nothing to clarify our rights statewide. It looks like we may have lost this one, and are now talking with CROA about the Ballot Initiatives and whether we can rally the troops for signatures and funding. We still have a long way to go.”

Murkying the waters even more: In March, groups representing private landowners and rafters filed a record 24 proposed ballot initiatives to try and get issues on the November ballot. Rafters, says the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels, feel they should be allowed to use the rivers theyhave floated for decades are are upset the Senate turned a bill on the issue into a study. Landowners, meanwhile, feel they should be able to protect their property rights.

“We knew this was coming, but not 20 measures,” Rep. Kathleen Currey (U-Gunnison), who sponsored the bill, told Bartels.

The 2010 River Outfitters Viability Act (HB 1188) protects Colorado’s tourism industry by clarifying the rights of commercial guides to operate on Colorado’s historically run rivers.
“It is a very important step in a sensitive issue,” says guide and river advocate Danny Andres. “If this bill does not pass this will affect us all in some way. If you’re a private boater or commercial rafter, there’s the potential of losing access to many of Colorado’s rivers; if you’re a retailer selling paddlesports gear there’s a possibility that your sales will be impacted due to fewer rivers to paddle.”

Still, both sides face an upstream battle. Citizens wishing to put an issue on the ballot have to go through a series of filings and hearings and then colleect more than 75,000 signatures to be checked by the secretary of state…