Fly fishers threaten river use investigation

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— Three weeks after City Council effectively killed an ordinance that would have banned commercial tubing on the upper Yampa River, an angry group of fly fishers are threatening the city with what could become a federal investigation of grant money.
Members of the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers were instrumental in getting grant money for the Yampa River through the federal government's Fishing-is-Fun program. Now that money, which has helped ensure the health of the river for more than a decade, may be in jeopardy. The fly fishers have the ability to instigate an investigation of those funds because of what they believe is the improper multiple use of the river, said YVFF President Jim Curd.
For instance, a handicapped access ramp at Rotary Park paid for with Fishing-is-Fun dollars is used as a put-in for tubers. The fly fishers have already alerted the Division of Wildlife, through which the federal money is funneled, of these developments. The DOW has conservation easement agreements with the city on parts of the land the city acquired through Fishing-is-Fun funds and therefore has some control over what activities take place on that land.
An investigation, said Councilman Ken Brenner, could put the city in jeopardy of losing its Fishing-is-Fun grant money.
"We don't want to be known as the city where the user groups got together and ended all of our funding," Brenner said.
At the same time, tubers have their own rights. For instance, the Supreme Court of Colorado has ruled tubers are allowed to float through private property if they do not touch ground. The "right to float" is presently being reviewed by the state Attorney General's office but may apply to this case, City Attorney Tony Lettunich said.
Depending on the DOW's reaction, reverberations from an investigation could reach as far as Washington, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department could join the investigation, said DOW Area Wildlife Manager Susan Werner. Werner discussed the issue on Thursday with the DOW's attorney, Brad Cameron. Cameron is planning to meet with the city and the YVFF in upcoming weeks to determine how the groups want to settle this issue. Werner said the DOW is interested in solving this conflict on the local level rather than getting the federal government involved.
Lettunich is intending to cooperate fully with the DOW to resolve this issue.
"We're looking to take a cooperative approach," Lettunich said. "We feel as though the city is the steward of the river and must help mediate this conflict."
He believes that based on the language of the easement agreement, the city has been allowing appropriate uses of the river.
"We're supposed to maintain recreational habitats and fishing habitats, and I think we're doing that," Lettunich said.
Fishing-is-Fun money comes to the city for two specific purposes the acquisition of private property and river restoration. The YVFF has only been involved in getting the river restoration grants, said City Grants Analyst Winnie Delli Quadri. And much of the conflict, Delli Quadri believes, has to do with the land acquisition grants.
The fly fishers have warned the city in recent months about their ability to instigate the investigation, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wilson said. But while the fly fishers may be hanging the investigation over the city's head as a recourse to get their way, they have not yet offered the city a direct ultimatum, Curd said. They have no intention of causing harm to a resource they depend on as long as the city plays ball, Curd said. Curd would not specify what the city could do to appease the YVFF, but he said they would support the council revisiting an ordinance banning tubing on the upper Yampa above the Fifth Street bridge. Tubing, proposed the YVFF, could continue below the Fifth Street bridge to the Stockbridge Center.
But will the city play ball?
Wilson, in cooperation with the YVFF, put the question of banning tubing and other outfitter and guide services on the upper part of the river to City Council on Sept. 19. Council, after reviewing a position paper from the fly fishers and hearing public comment, balked at the idea in favor of conducting a River Management Plan to assess the health of the river. The city has already applied for grants for a River Management Plan from Great Outdoors Colorado twice in the past but was denied both times. That study is scheduled to get under way next year and has been earmarked for $75,000 from the 2001 budget.
The fly fishers, however, feel the study will not help the city come to any conclusions because of all the variables involved, such as the effect of construction and development on the river. Angered by the council's decision to kill the ordinance, they presented their argument to council Tuesday.
"You chose to align yourselves with a group of concessionaires that never ever in five and a half years voluntarily regulated themselves or lived up to a single agreement," Curd said during public comment at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. "You chose to ignore the public's ability, the public's right to use resources acquired by federal dollars for public enjoyment, in favor of commercial for-profit operators. As a volunteer organization dedicated to the health of the single greatest asset in this community, we feel betrayed. As public citizens we are outraged."
As Curd, visibly shaken, left the room, many of the residents in the audience applauded.
About two hours later, while reviewing a minor ordinance on regulating river outfitting services, council decided to table it until Nov. 14.
Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner called for city staff to resubmit the ordinance banning tubing and other activities from the upper Yampa. And just like that, a dead issue came back to life. On Nov. 14, fly fishers and tubers alike will present their arguments once again to City Council at that meeting.
In the meantime, council members will be meeting with both the fly fishers and the tubers to determine what the best course of action is in this dispute. Councilmen Bud Romberg and Jim Engelken have been appointed to aid in negotiations between the fly fishers and tubing operators.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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