Rafter-private land bill looks sunk this session

DENVER — A bill that would have allowed rafters to traverse private land was effectively killed in the Colorado Legislature on Tuesday.

That happened when a conference committee of House and Senate members couldn’t agree on whether to alter the measure back to its original version, send it to a nonlegislative panel to be studied or allow voters to decide the matter.

As a result, the lawmakers who introduced House Bill 1188 are expected to let the bill die without action, which will happen when the Legislature ends the 2010 session later today.

“What we tried to do with this bill was relate the statutes with reality,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, the unaffiliated Gunnison legislator who introduced the bill with Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. “What unraveled the legislative process was the fear of litigation and how the courts would interpret (it). We had a bill that looked reasonable when you read the bill, but the opposition felt like … the courts would make a broader finding and open up everything.”

When Curry introduced the measure in January, it was designed to allow rafters to float down Colorado rivers through private land, touching the riverbed and banks only in cases of emergencies.

But when it reached the Senate, lawmakers there said the idea constituted a taking of private property. As a result, that chamber turned it into a study, but sent it to a nongovernmental organization made up of landowners and water companies, not recreational river users.

Curry said without the bill, a slew of ballot questions may be placed before voters this fall to decide the matter one way or the other. There are 16 pro-landowner measures pending, and four designed to open private land to all rafting.

Regardless of what gets on the ballot in November, Curry predicted the uneasy peace that has existed between rafting companies and landowners will end, and a heated war will erupt this summer between the two sides. She said she already is hearing reports of rafters cutting down fences that property owners have erected to stop them from traversing rivers that cross their land.

“The tensions are really high because we didn’t get this thing resolved,” Curry said. “Folks will have a chance to vote on the issue in general terms, but it doesn’t answer a lot of the on-the-ground details. The guns are out, and the wires are being cut, and the fight is on back home.”


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