City Council spares tubing temporarily

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— Commercial tubing on the upper Yampa River was saved from damnation by City Council Tuesday night at least for the time being.

Council effectively killed an ordinance banning commercial tubing in favor of undertaking further study about the health of the river.

In other action at its Tuesday meeting, Steamboat Springs City Council : Approved on first reading major; development permits for Christie Base Townhomes and the Bear Meadows subdivision; Approved Airport Manager Matt Grow's request to put out an RFP to solicit bids from private plane owners to build airplane hangars at the Steamboat Springs Airport; Instructed Planning Director Wendy Schulenberg to meet with service providers before drafting a wireless communications master plan.

As City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell read the council's unanimous decision, a series of audible groans emitted from the crowd of nearly 100 outdoor enthusiasts. Many of the groaners were likely fly fishers tired of waiting for the official word to restore the public part of the river to what they deem a more healthy public use.

"I'm disappointed, but not surprised," said Jim Curd, president of the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers. "I'm fearful of studying this thing to death again. We just want some more movement on this issue."

Council called for the city to undertake a river management study that it hopes will be partially paid for by a grant. The study would assess the impacts to the river from its various uses, including everything from tubing to commercial development. Council members agreed to put up city funds in the next budget to match a grant request for the study, which could cost more than $50,000. Much of the city money, however, would come from use fees already levied against commercial tubing companies. Other funds would come from the fly fishers, said Councilman Ken Brenner. The city had already applied for a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to undertake a river management study on two occasions and was turned down both times.

Waiting until the study is completed to make a decision on tubing, however, does not mean that the city will maintain the status quo in terms of river use.

The council considered banning tubing on the upper Yampa in tandem with another ordinance making river restrictions more easily enforceable and increasing use fees levied on outfitting companies which use the river. That second ordinance was approved on first reading, meaning that the decisions are still not set in stone until another reading.

Because many of the perceived abuses on the river are wrought by private users, the council decided to more stringently enforce river regulations on the public. Until now, the parks and recreation department had been relatively lax in enforcing the regulations on private tubers, said parks and recreation director Chris Wilson. Commercial tubing companies have rules that they self-enforce, tubing owners said.

Also, to make the tubing companies pay what council members believe to be their "fair share," they increased the use fee from a proposed 5 percent to 10 percent. As in the past, the use fee will be put to river restoration.

Brenner said the tubing companies should have to pay as much as the Howelsen Hill concessionaires, who currently pay a 20 percent use fee. Tubing company owners, although they were upset about the increase, said they understood the council's decision.

"It seems crazy. We're already paying 5 percent in addition to sales tax," said Peter Van De Carr, the owner of Backdoor Sports. "But we'll do whatever it takes to improve the river."

Van De Carr agreed with the council's sense that it needed more information about the health of the river.

Council's decisions followed about a half-hour of public comment on the issue, spurred on by tubing figures announced by Wilson. More than 10,000 tubers floated down the Yampa River this past July, Wilson said.

Council will continue to take public input on the issue and will decide on the final language of the second ordinance at an upcoming meeting.

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

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