Colorado River planning:<br>Big issue will be motors

GC VILLAGE — The issue of motorized boats going down the river through Grand Canyon should be a big topic when the public process resumes over the Colorado River Management Plan.

In a lawsuit settlement two weeks ago, the National Park Service agreed to restart a public planning process for the 277 miles of the Colorado River and 1.1 million acres of proposed wilderness within the park. The use of motorized boats on the river is an unresolved issue.

Joe Alston, Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, has been on a few river trips himself and agrees that motorized boats is one of the big issues. "It’s an issue that’s been controversial for 30 years," Alston said.

Looking at all alternatives will be one of the advantages and objectives of restarting the public process. "All alternatives need to be looked at, otherwise, it’s not a complete process," Alston said.

"The impact of commercial motorized trips through the Canyon is a serious concern that affects both the availability and quality of float trips for the public," said David Jenkins, director of conservation and public policy for American Canoe Association. "We expect the Park Service will undertake an open planning process that legitimately addresses this issue and takes public sentiment into account."

The settlement directs planners to study the impacts of motorized water craft and potential mitigation of those impacts, including technological improvements to motors. A reasonable range of alternatives will be presented.

"A public process is the appropriate forum in which to resolve issues concerning motorized uses within the Colorado River corridor while preserving the Canyon’s unparalleled wilderness character," said Liz Boussard, an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit. "We are glad the Park Service agreed to address these issues in the upcoming plan. After two decades of impasse, it is time for the American people to have a voice in resolving the debate over the use of motorboats and helicopters in proposed wilderness."

Mark Grisham, executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, said his organization looks forward to reviewing all the issues.

"We’re looking forward to tackling long-standing issues and finding solutions," Grisham said. "It’s time to move forward. This agreement is an example of what can be accomplished through constructive discussion. We hope the pattern of respectful dialog and mutual consideration can continue throughout the planning process."

The Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association is a nonprofit trade group whose members include the 16 river running concessioners licensed by the National Park Service to conduct public whitewater river trips within the Canyon.

All parties agree there are potentially contentious issues to address, but that the latest news of resuming the process is a step in the right direction.

"We recognize the issues presented in the CRMP will be potentially contentious and hope the parties and other interested public will work construtively to meet the intent of the CRMP, which is to address and resolve major issues surrounding the management of recreational-use activities within the Colorado River corridor ... and to mitigate the environmental impacts associated with those activities," Alston said in a prepared statement about the settlement.

"While there are difficult and potentially contentious issues to address, this agreement represents a solid beginning for a process that will require the continued good faith and constructive participation of all the concerned parties and the public at large," Grisham said.

The negotiated settlement among the plaintiffs, federal defendants and intervenor requires the initiation of a process within 120 days to update the park’s 1989 Colorado River Management Plan. The NPS will issue a document complying with the National Environmental Policy Act no later than Dec. 31, 2004.

Whatever the issues, one thing seems clear. All parties have an interest and love for the river and a full range of opinions will be expressed in the upcoming process.

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