Tuesday, November 14, 2000
Steamboat Springs In a decision applauded by some as a fair compromise and derided by others as a slap in the face, City Council directed city staff Tuesday night to move ahead with a plan of action that will push tubing companies downstream for one summer while a private group tests the effects of multiple-use on the river.
"Literally, you'll be putting us out of business," said Cookie Lockhart, the owner of Lockhart's River Ranch, which runs a tubing operation. "We can't operate under those conditions."
Lockhart said that because she purchased land upriver through which her tubers floated land that will be off limits to commercial tubing next summer but that she still has to pay taxes on she cannot afford to continue running her business. She said the downstream route beginning at Fifth Street would likely be shorter and less scenic than the upstream one and therefore less attractive to tubers. Those people who would have come to her for their tubing adventures will now go to a retailer, buy a tube and float down the upstream section of the Yampa.
Private tubers would not be affected by council's decision on this proposal but will be subject to stricter enforcement of existing regulations come next summer, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson said. Those regulations include banning the use of glass containers and alcohol on the river, as well as forcing pet owners to use leashes. Each of these regulations was already in place as of this summer but has not been enforced to a sufficient degree, Wilson said.
In a display of just how complex the issue of the multiple-use of Colorado's rivers has become, an avid fly fisher from Larimer County came to the meeting to argue the case of the tubing companies.
Others from the community, including a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School, urged council to study the river to make the healthiest decision. Sophomore Keegan Thompson explained how he had participated in a study with the Division of Wildlife on the Yampa and had discovered that in places where tubing was prominent, less species of fish and less fish in general were present. He urged council to find a fair compromise that would allow the user groups to enjoy the river but, most of all, would ensure the health of one of the region's most vital resources.
"I believe, with this issue, we need to look at both sides. The tubers have fun in the river, too, but I think that we need to save the river as much as we can for anybody else who needs to use it and for future generations to come," he said.
"We're going to endeavor to do just that," replied City Council President Kevin Bennett. Representatives of the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers said the city's remedy constituted a workable compromise.
"Our river's our best resource and it behooves us to work together as a community in Steamboat-fashion to solve this problem and move forward," said Duncan Draper, the vice president of YVFF.
Councilman Bud Romberg stressed council is not prepared to make any final conclusions on the health of the river until it has what it believes is objective information on the effects of a number of different variables. That objective information will be collected through a River Management Plan, which will likely be conducted by a private entity that will test variables agreed upon by the various user groups.
Wilson said his intent in bringing the proposal forward was not to curtail this debate but to keep the issue in the public forum, meeting with the user groups to decide on which variables will be tested and what will be addressed in the Request for Proposals for the river study.
Council's decision was prefaced by a number of meetings between city staff, City Council members and the various user groups, which include not only tubers and fly fishers, but also kayaking and canoeing companies. Those meetings were intended to bring the issue toward a workable compromise, which some eventually were able to accept.