El Jebel: Taylor River rafting rift sufaces at the Colorado River District’s ‘State of the River’ meeting

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From the Aspen Daily News (David Frey):

State Rep. Kathleen Curry said she “didn’t get it right” in trying to craft a right-to-float bill on Colorado rivers, but strong emotions on both sides of the issue suggest crafting any kind of bill to address the issue will be tricky. “It creates a situation with not a lot of room or even motivation for middle ground,” said Curry, speaking at a State of the River conference hosted by the Colorado River Water Conservation District on Tuesday night…

“We met a great deal of opposition, really from all sides,” Curry said. “I didn’t get it right. We thought we had basically gone down a path of trying to create a compromise.” With no legislation passed, 20 proposed ballot initiatives are pending to resolve the issue on the November ballot. Sixteen were proposed by landowners. Four were proposed by river outfitters. Two of those include language for anglers. Two don’t…

Glenwood Springs water attorney Scott Balcomb argued that if the state wants access through landowners’ properties, it should pay for rights of way, much as governments do for roads. “I’m not against the boating industry. You can tell,” Balcomb said, pointing to a boating logo on his shirt. “I am for respecting the constitutional rights of landowners and getting it done in a proper organized way. Both sides of this controversy badly need to know what the rules are so that the incidents that Ken brought out stop.”[…]

Sitting in the audience, Frying Pan Anglers’ Warrick Mobray said he understood both sides of the argument. As an angler, he wants floating rights. As a landowner, he wants protections. The two sides should sit down and hammer out a compromise, Mobray said, but he admitted, that’s not very likely. “Both sides are nuts,” he said…

Water experts said Tuesday night that Ruedi Reservoir will fill completely, thanks to spring showers which have helped maintain the snowpack.

Meanwhile, here’s an update on the agreement between Wilder on the Taylor and the two outfitters that will allow them to run the river this season, from Seth Mensing writing for the Crested Butte News. From the article:

The offer: follow six rules ranging from timing of the trips to respecting water levels in the Taylor, and take a few trips through the property this summer. Then the two sides can take time to talk about the future…

…Gunnison Rep. Kathleen Curry, who championed the bill in the state house, said she probably will not pursue a similar bill next year, if she is re-elected. “I don’t plan to run legislation next year because … the issue was so contentious the personal toll this bill took was too high. I don’t see the point in working on a ‘compromise’ proposal just to have it killed next year in the legislature by the big money landowner interests,” she says. “If both sides were willing to agree to a solution and then stick by their word when the time came, then I think it would be worth pursuing this issue further. But, based on what happened this year, I have little hope for that.”

Now, outside of ongoing mediation, Shaw is saying he won’t press trespass charges against either Three Rivers or Scenic River Tours if the rafters limit the timing and number of trips, cover Wilder’s liability in the event of an injury and keep their angling flies out of the water. In a statement Shaw said, “While mediation between Jackson-Shaw and the two Taylor River rafting companies continues, Jackson-Shaw recognizes that Three Rivers and Scenic are at the threshold of their commercial rafting season and that it will take time to finalize any formal agreement. Accordingly, as a show of good faith, Jackson-Shaw has decided to give Three Rivers and Scenic permission to float through Wilder on the Taylor this summer.”

As long as boaters have been running the Taylor freely, they have had to take out and portage around a bridge on the Wilder property. Shaw’s offer gives them the permission to continue doing that. The two rafting companies will have to decide how to share the four commercial trips that will be allowed through the property each day, with two going through between 9:30 and 11 a.m., followed by the others between 1:30 and 3 p.m. And even inside the three-month window, Shaw says the rafters shouldn’t float through Wilder when the water level is below 200 cubic feet per second below the Taylor Dam…

According to the release, scheduling conflicts have delayed a second mediation meeting at the Judicial Arbiters Group in Denver, which was started at Governor Bill Ritter’s request. The two groups will meet again May 26. “So long as Three Rivers and Scenic are willing to accept Jackson-Shaw’s permission and follow these simple terms, Jackson-Shaw will allow the rafting companies to conduct rafting trips through the property this summer,” Shaw concluded. “Acceptance by these two rafting companies of these terms will not prevent mediation from continuing. However, it will give the two companies some certainty as the rafting season begins.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More whitewater coverage here.

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