Commissioners vote to support Curry’s Rafting Viability Act

Measure passes the House 40-25

Legislation that would protect commercial rafters from being prosecuted for civil trespass for incidental contact with private property is gaining ground in the state legislature, after the Colorado House of Representatives passed the measure Tuesday, February 16.

 

 

The bill, H.B.10-1188, passed through the subcommittee after three readings on a 7-3 vote and made it out of the House with 40 votes in favor and 25 votes against.
Now it is up to the Senate, which hasn’t yet assigned the bill to a subcommittee, to turn Gunnison Rep. Kathleen Curry’s so called “Commercial Rafting Viability Act” into law. And that might be the highest hurdle to clear yet, according to Three Rivers Resort owner Mark Schumacher.
At a regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday, February 16, Schumacher told the commissioners that the bill was, a response to a conflict that has been brewing between the owners of the Wapiti Ranch near Jack’s Cabin Cutoff and rafting outfitters that have run commercial trips on the Taylor River for several years.
“The Wilder on the Taylor is the issue up there and basically two or three years ago we were given notice that [the developers] planned to keep us from going through there,” he said, referring to the development that runs along a two-mile section of river that has been billed as a first-class private fishing community.
The bill proposed by Curry would only protect commercial outfitters that are using sections of river that have been run in the last two years. Schumacher said the bill is conservative in that regard, but that it does what is necessary to save a vital local industry.
“We approached our representative to figure out how we could legislate it through so that we’re able to keep our businesses going,” he said. “Since we’re a licensure of the state, we have something to lose. We’re licensed by the state, so while we don’t think we’re a separate class of people, we are by state statute required to hold a river outfitter’s license.”
The only stretches of river locally that have been used by outfitters historically and would be affected by the bill would be the Lake Fork from Lake City to Curecanti, the Taylor River from Lotus Creek to Almont and the Gunnison River from Gunnison to Blue Mesa Reservoir.
The bill not only allows commercial rafters to make incidental contact with the river bank or bottom, as long as the boat is making forward progress, but it also clarifies the right for boaters to portage around obstacles in the river. The property on the Wapiti Ranch has a low bridge that would qualify as just such an obstacle.
“There are probably only seven places in the state that commercial outfitters have to portage and very few of them are controversial,” Schumacher said.
The bill would also add more protections for landowners against liability concerns. But the major concern expressed in the bill is finding a way for commercial outfitters to continue running stretches of river that have historically been run.
“If this bill doesn’t pass and this gentleman succeeds in blocking the river, you’re going to see a lot more landowners jump on that bandwagon,” Scenic River Tours co-owner Matt Brown told the commissioners. “The portaging is a really important part of the bill because if we didn’t have that in there, landowners could block the river somehow and then you’re guilty of trespassing to get around the blockage.”
The commissioners voiced broad support for the rafting industry and the bill and asked what kind of support the outfitters would like to see from the commissioners.
But County Attorney David Baumgarten said that, “This is the third round of this conversation in the last 15 years. And the board has historically tried to take the position of facilitator, mediator of conversations and gatherer of information and all of those previous attempts have failed to generate a viable solution to the problem.”
“I can also tell you that the opposition to this is going to be incendiary, both inside and outside of the county,” Baumgarten continued.
So far, the bill has received stiff opposition from private property rights advocates as well as the agriculture community, including the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association.
But the opposition wasn’t enough to change the commissioner’s direction.
“I’m pretty strongly supportive of this, quite frankly,” commissioner Hap Channell said. “The way we treat rights of way in this state is pretty archaic and I see this as a positive step in the right direction for the citizens of the state.”
The BOCC said they would quickly draft a letter in support of the bill and send it to all 35 state senators as well as the local delegation of elected officials.

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