Rafters, fishermen float alternatives to Colorado raft bill
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – Rafting and fishing supporters are floating last-minute compromises in hopes of avoiding a fight over a bill that was originally intended to protect rafters’ rights to continue using Colorado rivers.
Rep. Kathleen Curry, a registered independent from Gunnison, said Friday that groups from both camps are threatening to take the issue to the ballot box in November.
Curry said she hopes to force the Senate to back down on an amendment to the bill that would delay it for a year to study its impact. She said lawmakers should deal with the real issues: whether rafters should be allowed to use the rivers they have floated for decades, or whether landowners should be able to bar them to protect their property rights.
“I don’t support a study, but I do want to keep working on the bill. They’re going to have to vote up or down on a real bill in the conference committee,” Curry said.
Curry rejected one alternative that has been floated, invoking Colorado’s adverse possession law, which allows trespassers to take over land if they use it unchallenged for at least 18 years.
The law became controversial in 2007 after a Boulder couple seized a third of their neighbors’ vacant lot under an obscure “squatters rights” legal doctrine. The dispute was settled when they accepted a smaller plot.
Curry said that alternative probably won’t work because some of the landowners gave temporary permission to use their property for rafting.
“That nullifies the adverse element,” she said.
Ben Davis, spokesman for the rafters, said they have two versions of their initiative. One would grant rafters the right to float Colorado rivers, and the other would grant everyone, including boaters, the right to use them.
He said the rafters are willing to withdraw their initiatives if a compromise can be reached, but any compromise has to include the right to use the rivers.
“A study doesn’t keep our door open,” he said.
Property rights supporters declined to comment until their initiative is delivered to the Legislature, where a legal committee will review it for potential legal conflicts and certify it for the ballot. After the proposal is certified, the groups can begin gathering the 76,000 signatures needed to get it on the ballot.
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 after granting them permission last year. Lewis Shaw II, president of Jackson-Shaw developers of Dallas, threatened to file a lawsuit, contending the rafters interfered with fishing.
Supporters said North Dakota and Colorado are the only two states west of the Mississippi River that don’t have strict protection for commercial rafters.