Colorado Senate delays plan to protect river rafters
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – The Colorado Senate torpedoed a measure Friday that would have guaranteed rafters the right to float the state’s whitewater rivers.
Instead, the Senate amended the bill to study the issue first. The report is due Oct. 31, which means it will be next year before lawmakers can take up the issue again.
Sen. Bruce Whitehead, a Democrat from Hesperus in southwestern Colorado, said the debate has sharply divided Colorado’s whitewater tourism industry, which brings in millions of dollars a year from fishers and rafters who are finding it increasingly difficult to share the rivers. He said it also pitted sportsmen against sportsmen.
“This is really a difficult issue that has split my community,” Whitehead told the 35-member Senate.
The study provided an easy way out for Democrats and Republicans who were conflicted over how to solve a long-standing problem that would force them to decide between protecting property rights and water rights, two of the toughest issues lawmakers face every year at the state Capitol.
The dispute began when landowners who developed a fishing resort on the banks of the Taylor River near Gunnison tried to bar rafters from interfering with fishing. Lewis Shaw II, president of Jackson-Shaw developers of Dallas, threatened to file a lawsuit, saying the rafters were disrupting fishers who pay hundreds of dollars a day to enjoy their sport.
Opponents said changing the law would unleash waves of rafters on property owners who have a right to use their land as they choose as long as they follow the law.
Sen. Mary Hodge, a Democrat from Aurora who sponsored the bill, said lawmakers have studied the issues for years and another study won’t resolve the conflict, it will just delay a difficult decision for lawmakers.
“A study gets us nowhere,” she said.
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At the onset of a special legislative session designed to address the extraordinary and ever-worsening devastation wrought by COVID-19 in Colorado, many elected Republicans chose to go maskless Monday inside the Capitol.