Park Service rethinks rafting insurance jump

The National Park Service has backed off, at least for now, on increased insurance requirements for whitewater boating outfitters in Dinosaur National Monument after significant industry concern, including over their possible national repercussions.

Companies have been worried that a big jump in the liability insurance requirement and other changes could sharply drive up their costs and possibly even make it impossible for them to do business.

The concern being expressed by outfitters and others, including Club 20 and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, led to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, D-Colo., taking up the issue in a letter to the Park Service Monday.

“We are concerned these impacts may affect concessioners throughout the Park Service; therefore we are seeking a review of the impact of these new regulations in their entirety, beyond their impact on any particular concessioner or business,” says the letter, also signed by U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and John Boozman, R-Ark.

As it turns out, the Park Service on Friday canceled its solicitation for award of Dinosaur whitewater concession contracts, so it can determine if modifications are warranted to the new insurance requirements in the contract prospectus.

“We received a high volume of questions and we need time to work through those questions,” said Jennifer Parker, chief of concessions for the agency’s Intermountain Region.

As a result, 11 existing concession contracts due to expire Dec. 31 will be extended up to a year.

Companies complained that the Park Service planned to increase the aggregate liability insurance coverage to $5 million, which could raise premiums by 60 to 80 percent.

They also objected to plans to require things such as “total pollution coverage,” something they say isn’t generally available to them and isn’t warranted.

“If you were potentially doing fracking on your outfitting trip it might be justifiable. But outfitters aren’t into fracking,” said David Brown, executive director of the American Outdoors Association, an outfitter industry organization.

While the envisioned requirements are specific to Dinosaur, Brown said one concern is that they would be replicated elsewhere.

Parker said while the Park Service wants consistency, she thinks it’s a generalization to say that what’s required at one park automatically would be required at another.

“In general it’s our policy to evaluate the insurance requirements for each business opportunity that comes out, so I think each one is analyzed and customized for that specific opportunity,” she said.

Brown said the insurance requirements included a long list of what appear as if they could be standard conditions to be applied in other situations, even if some can’t apply in Dinosaur.

For example, what’s known as a Longshoreman and Harbor Workers endorsement on workers compensation coverage for raft guides was listed as a requirement for navigable waters. While the Yampa River in Dinosaur isn’t such a river, the requirement could apply in other parks and drive up premiums, companies fear.

“This endorsement would apply on the Colorado River around Moab since the river there is federally navigable,” Utah-based Western River Expeditions wrote in a letter to Hatch.

Thomas Kleinschnitz, president of Adventure Bound Inc. in Grand Junction, wrote to Udall, “If these NPS policies become standard for other land managing agencies, small businesses providing outdoor recreation services to the public could be forced off public lands.”

Parker said the decision to review the issue doesn’t necessarily mean the new insurance requirements in the contracts prospectus will be modified.

But Brown is taking heart in the second look and the possibility that the Park Service will retreat from rules he believes would be devastating to the industry.

“We’re hopeful that this will be resolved after they get further review,” he said.

In his letter to Udall, Kleinschnitz wrote that the Park Service reduced a general liability insurance requirement from $5 million to $2 million in Grand Teton National Park after complaints from the industry and insurance experts.

“This is why we were so surprised by the dramatically higher insurance requirements for Dinosaur National Monument,” he wrote. “Why outfitters in Wyoming can have lower liability insurance limits than outfitters in Colorado and Utah is a puzzle to us.”

In a news release Thursday, Udall and Bennet thanked the Park Service for reconsidering its Dinosaur requirements.

“This decision will ensure that small businesses in northwest Colorado will be able to continue to bring thousands of tourists to raft the Yampa and Green rivers through this stunning national monument,” Udall said.


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