Grand Canyon Colorado River Lawsuit Settled

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   January 17, 2002
Contact:   Jason Robertson, American Whitewater, 301-589-9453
Randall Rasmussen, National Parks Conservation Association, 505-280-7788
David Jenkins, American Canoe Association, 703-451-0141 ext. 20
Willie Odem, Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, 928


Grand Canyon Colorado River Lawsuit Settled

Flagstaff, Ariz. - Four conservation and boating groups announced the settlement of a lawsuit today regarding management of the Colorado River and proposed wilderness within Grand Canyon National Park. In the settlement, 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 settlement is a victory for all people who care about the Grand Canyon," said Willie Odem, former president of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association. "It allows the public to regain their voice concerning the future of the Grand Canyon."

The settlement was filed today in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona, and resolves a lawsuit filed in July 2000, by the conservation groups and four individuals. The plaintiffs had challenged former park Superintendent Rob Arnberger's February 2000, decision to abandon work on a wilderness plan and a revised Colorado River management plan the park had begun in 1997. The settlement includes a list of issues the Park Service must address in the renewed planning process, such as the use of motorized boats and helicopters to transport river passengers in proposed wilderness and ways to improve access to the river for non-commercial boaters.

"This agreement is vital to preserving over 100 years of river-running tradition," said Jason Robertson, access director for American Whitewater. "Citizens deserve a fair shot at a self-guided wilderness-quality float trip through the Grand Canyon and a quarter-century wait for a private boater permit is unreasonably long."

"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."

"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."

The settlement commits the Park Service to restarting the Colorado River Management Plan within 120 days and completing the plan in 2004. Although conservation groups pressured the park to merge the river plan with the park's 1998 Draft Wilderness Management Plan, the Park Service retained the option to prepare these plans consecutively.

"The Colorado River forms the backbone of the park's 1.1 million acres of proposed wilderness" said Kim Crumbo, an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit and the park's former wilderness coordinator. "We feel strongly that the river and wilderness management plans should be combined into one cohesive document. To do otherwise does not make sense because river issues are tied directly with wilderness issues and vice versa."

"The settlement is significant because all the parties to the lawsuit-conservation and private boating groups, the Park Service, and commercial river outfitters-agree it is important to restart a public planning process now," said Randall Rasmussen, program manager for National Parks Conservation Association. "We have confidence in the current park superintendent to guide the public through what no one doubts will be a controversial process concerning the future of the very heart and soul of the Grand Canyon."

Three Arizona residents and one resident of Oregon also were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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