Grand Canyon!

Posted: 01/16/2002
by Jason Robertson

Overview & Background of Lawsuit

Following four years of planning and public meetings, American Whitewater and other river conservation and access advocates were sandbagged by an abrupt decision on February 24, 2000 by Grand Canyon Superintendent Arnberger to terminate river management planning. On this date Arnberger issued a press release announcing that the Park would cease planning efforts on the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP).

American Whitewater and many other organizations including affiliate club Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association (GCPBA) immediately began writing articles and letters expressing our strong concerns regarding the Superintendent's poor decision.

American Whitewater, the GCPBA, and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) then hired an attorney to drive the Park Service back to the planning table in order to solve dozens of outstanding management planning issues on the Colorado River. The initial overtures from our attorney to the Park were rebuffed by Superintendent Arnberger.

This left us with no recourse other than litigation. On July 6, 2000 we filed our suit in Federal District Court in Phoenix, AZ and sent out a press release announcing our objectives. A few days later we amended the complaint to include the American Canoe Association (ACA) as a co-plaintiff.

We asked for the following items in our suit:

  • An order to restart the CRMP.
  • An order to comply with applicable law: Organic Act, Wilderness Act, NPS Concessions Policy Act, Administrative Procedures Act, Management Polices, management plans, and Director's Orders.
  • The reduction or elimination of non-conforming uses in potential or proposed Wilderness areas (motorized rafts, helicopter exchanges).
  • The equitable reallocation of permits between the commercial and private sector and a mechanism for their distribution.
  • Payment of attorney's fees.
Shortly after filing the suit, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association (GCROA), which represents the commercial raft companies in the Grand Canyon, joined the suit as a codefendant on behalf of the Park Service.

Following a Park Service Motion to Transfer, which was denied, the court ordered all the parties into settlement talks. These talks began in earnest in Spring 2001.

Meanwhile, in June 2001, GCROA intiated discussion about an adverse legislative solution as an end-run around the Wilderness aspects of the suit; however Congress declined to pick up the prospective bill following our intense efforts to educate the Arizona delegation about the objectives of our lawsuit and the likely effects of the proposed legislation.

As of January 17, 2002 we have settled our suit! The settlement agreement is a fantastic first step to improving the public's river access while protecting the wilderness river resource. More information is available about what we asked for and what we won, and our press release of the event describes what this means to us as well as the boating and environmental community.

Now the real work begins. We look forward to working with Superintendent Joe Alston. Superintendent Alston is a boatman, has been down the Canyon at least three times, and has demonstrated a real interest in solving the management issues on the Grand.

Stay tuned for more CRMP updates on this website.

Jason D. Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349