River bill hits turbulent water
March 7, 2010
A bill that could buoy or sink Colorado’s rafting industry and affect hundreds of thousands of river enthusiasts and landowners may have floated through the House, but it’s on the rocks in the Senate.
The bill would guarantee the right of existing commercial rafters to float through private land, a practice now threatened by a conflict between a developer and outfitters on the Taylor River near Almont.
Opponents of the bill have upped their lobbying firepower, started a full-court press on committee members scheduled to hear the legislation later this month and made the vote much tougher for some lawmakers who once favored the legislation.
The turning tide has bill-backers threatening to put the question directly to voters with a 2010 ballot initiative if they fail in the legislature.
House Bill 1188, which would also allow portage in dangerous waters, passed easily through the House with a 40-25 vote that saw pro-property rights lawmakers like Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, side with rafters.
Rafters argue that without the bill, courts could decide in favor of landowners who buy both sides of frequently rafted rivers and then bar boat passage. That precedence could threaten the industry statewide, they say.
Landowners say granting rafters the right to float would devalue expensive, riverside property and potentially harm river improvements and private fishing businesses. The legislation also would remove any incentive for outfitters to compromise with property owners, they argue.
HB 1188 landed in the judiciary committee, which focuses on the legal aspects of bills, instead of the business affairs committee, which may have been more sympathetic to arguments that the bill would save business owners and protect tourism.