Smoothing troubled waters

Gov. Bill Ritter

Gov. Bill Ritter’s announcement last week that he will create a River Access Mediation Panel offers hope that some of the most contentious disputes between boaters and private landowners can be resolved without legal action.

But, because the panel will only be advisory, and participation in its mediation will be voluntary, there’s no guarantee it will be able to resolve all such conflicts.

Still, the mediation panel is a worthwhile endeavor as part of an effort initiated earlier this year by Ritter to address river-access conflicts.

After the Colorado Legislature considered and ultimately killed a bill that would have created explicit rights for rafters, kayakers and canoeists traveling on streams that pass through private lands, Ritter created a task force to come up with recommendations to alleviate such conflicts.

In fact, there have not been large numbers of such conflicts in Colorado. But a few that have occurred led to lawsuits and have garnered considerable media attention. They have also left unanswered several key questions regarding recreational boating on streams that traverse private land.

In addition to the mediation panel, Ritter’s task force came up with a handful of other recommendations, such as more consistent law enforcement and clearer liability protection for landowners, that may also help reduce disputes. The Legislature would do well to consider legislation to adopt those recommendations.

But in the end, it is common courtesy and respect for each other’s rights — by both boaters and landowners — that has prevented conflicts in the past and will most likely keep them from occurring in the future.


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