Steamboat Springs The tubing debate "eddied out" Wednesday night.
The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Com-mission wants to confer with its attorney before acting on a recommendation to ban commercial tubing on the Yampa River above Fifth Street. In effect, the commission pulled out of the white water into a calmer eddy until it can get legal advice.
As many as 9,000 people paid $12-$15 apiece last summer to tube the river from Rotary Park several miles downstream to Eleventh Street. Many more people floated on their own, without benefit of a tubing outfitter. Each tubing outfitter must operate within daily caps on their numbers, which are specific to their business.
The commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday night to table the recommendation until they can get an opinion from City Attorney Tony Lettunich. Specifically, they want to know if the city's contracts with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to accept Fishing is Fun grants could lead to lawsuits or penalties if commercial tubing is allowed to continue in its present form.
Members of the Yampa Valley FlyFishers contend the contracts contain language that specifies the grant money is to be used only for recreational fishing access and improvement. If the city converts land purchased with the grants to other uses, the city must refund the money to the federal government. One of the Fishing is Fun projects is at Rotary Park, the put-in point for commercial tubing outfitters. The FlyFishers say that's an improper use of the grant monies.
Tubing outfitters say under the three-year-old city regulations, they perform a valuable public service by policing and educating their customers.
Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation Chris Wilson recommended this week that the commercial tubing be banned from the stretch of river above Fifth Street effective Sept. 5. For practical purposes, that means by the summer of 2001. Private tubing by individuals would not be affected by the change. Wilson told the commission that, if it agreed, he would suggest that City Council take the regulation a step further than the "city managers rule" that has governed commercial tubing since 1998, and formalize the measure in the form of an ordinance.
Wilson said his primary motivations include protecting the health of the river and spreading out the impact of the increasingly heavy use of the Yampa for recreation. Second, Wilson said, he would rather invest the community's energy and resources in finding a permanent solution to the conflicting uses of fly fishing and tubing, rather than expend those resources settling civil actions.
However, after hearing comment from about eight members of the public, most of the commissioners were not ready to make that recommendation this week.
"I'd like to see us maintain the status quo until the rest of the river is improved and satisfactory for tubing," Pete Wither said.
Kathi Sabel was ready to take action.
"I think it's been coming for three years," she said. "I think it's unrealistic to wait. I'm all for the businesses in town. But if they want their businesses to go, I think they need to take the initiative. I don't think it's right for them to wait for the city to pick up the ball. We're either going to do the litigation, and we don't know where that's going to go, or we're going to work together."
Commission Chairman Larry Wheeler said he would prefer not to move the commercial tubing companies downstream until all of the implications of that move are understood and a thoughtful plan is in place.
Gary Engle said he couldn't understand why the commission wasn't supplied with a clear legal opinion on the impact the Fishing is Fun contracts might have on its decision.
"Tubing is one of the best experience that people who come here to recreate have," he said. "I am greatly troubled that some action could deprive this community of tubing. I am greatly troubled by the lack of a legal opinion by the city attorney. Tubing is going to have to move, and other commercial uses may have their day. I will move to table this until I can understand the legal ramifications."
To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail email@example.com