Bill to regulate rafting on Colo rivers dies
DENVER – A bill to settle a dispute between Colorado rafters and fishermen and avoid a battle in the November election died in the Legislature on Wednesday.
The bill was originally drafted to guarantee commercial rafters access to Colorado rivers that pass through private property, but the measure was watered down to a study.
Opponents said even a study was unacceptable, and both sides have drafted dozens of initiatives asking voters to decide in November.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, said disputes over landowner liability for fisherman and use of riverbanks by rafters can still be worked out and there is no need to take it to voters.
She said adding amendments to the state constitution will make it almost impossible for lawmakers to find solutions next year if rafters and fishermen can’t agree to a truce.
“I’m disappointed that the bill is dead, but it’s not over. I regret that we were unable to find a solution. I don’t think the ballot process is going to solve the problem,” Curry said.
Curry said she believes voters will side with rafters, who have exercised their rights to use Colorado rivers for decades and have become a symbol of Colorado’s outdoor life.
Eric Anderson, who represents a coalition of property owners including fishermen who barred rafting this year on their property, said the coalition is glad the legislation died. He said he believes fishermen will win in the court of public opinion because their property rights are being threatened.
“We felt this bill would upset the delicate balance that has existed between property owners and rafters for years in Colorado. It was a one-sided solution to a complex issue,” Anderson said.
Anderson said both sides could avoid a protracted and expensive election battle if they agree to sit down and negotiate.
The dispute began when landowners who developed a fishing resort on the banks of the Taylor River near Gunnison tried to bar rafters, claiming their trade interfered with fishing. Lewis Shaw II, president of Jackson-Shaw developers of Dallas, threatened to file a lawsuit.
Rafters said they are afraid to challenge the ban because Colorado law is vague on rafters’ rights and potential damages if they lose a civil lawsuit.
Supporters said North Dakota and Colorado are the only states west of the Mississippi River that don’t have strict protection for commercial rafters.
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