Printed letters, March 7, 2010
Rafting bill needed
to protect our waters
I’d like to address some of the misinformation in the Feb. 26 column by Ken Spann and Rebecca Frank, “Impractical rafting bill threatens Colorado’s property rights.” They tell an imaginary tale of unlimited numbers of rafts going down a river all day long and damaging diversion structures and fences.
The truth is, House Bill 1188 is moderate, practical and sensible. It simply allows commercial rafting companies to continue rafting on stretches of river where they have historical use. Virtually every stretch of river being commercially run requires a permit from a government agency such as the Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service or Colorado State Parks. These permits require strict adherence to specific launch times, maximum numbers of clients and boats that can be launched. These restrictions on commercial rafters are intended to help other river users to know when and where rafts will be on which section of river.
In my 25 years in the commercial rafting business, I am not aware of any damage to fences, diversion structures or private property caused by the commercial rafting industry. HB 1188 specifically states that commercial companies will be liable for any damage they cause. The legislation actually adds liability protection for the landowner and clarifies existing law. That’s why the Colorado District Attorneys’ Association supports HB 1188.
Mr. Spann and Ms. Frank suggest rafting companies should reach common-sense agreements with landowners. Commercial rafting companies have done just that many times in the past.
I have personally worked with Mr. Spann on access issues on the Gunnison River. Yet now we are in a situation where a new landowner has said there will be no boating allowed.
This isn’t just about the Gunnison Valley. This is a statewide issue, and there are several rivers where landowners are trying to stop rafting on public waters. If HB 1188 does not pass, you will see many more landowners blocking river use for all.
HB 1188 just clarifies our ability to continue doing business as we have in the past. That’s why the Colorado Tourism Association supports it. Colorado is one of only two states that have not clarified the right to float. Now is Colorado’s time.
Scenic River Tours, Inc.
Avoid ‘navigable waters’ in any state legislation
Colorado House Bill 1188 has certainly drawn comments from a wide variety of interests — all a healthy dialogue that, in the long run, will hopefully result in some solution to a troublesome issue.
However, our state legislators need to be careful in their wording of such legislation. Most of the published comments I’ve read throw one very dangerous term — included in the proposed legislation — about with apparent abandon. That term is “navigable waters.”
My understanding is that Colorado currently has no “navigable waters,” according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, therefore, more importantly, to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is extremely important.
For many years, congressional legislation (Senate Bill 787) has been repeatedly introduced to amend the federal Water Pollution Control Act to “clarify” the jurisdiction of the United States over waters of the United States. The “clarification” would include “all” waters — replacing the term “navigable waters.” Once more, there is an attempt by the federal government to intercede even further into state’s and individual’s control over property.
Today, Colorado is spared the federal intervention and dictatorial control of the EPA over our streams and rivers because none of them are “navigable waters.” However, if our own Legislature decides to include and define certain Colorado streams and rivers as “navigable,” that could open a box much more dangerous and interceding than Pandora’s Box ever was.
Be very careful — replace the term “navigable water” with “raftable stream,” “deep stream” or some other term that doesn’t include “navigable” or “floatable.”
My family has owned “navigable” riverfront property in both Arkansas and Idaho. I have personal experience with the way those states handle this issue facing Colorado. Nothing is simple, but it’s much, much simpler to resolve if the federal government isn’t involved.