River Plan Update

By Brad Fuqua
Grand Canyon News Editor

July, 2003.

The National Park Service's process to create a draft environmental impact statement for Colorado River management should be ready for the public sometime this fall. That's the word from lead planner Rick Ernenwein. Officials are busy putting together alternatives after stakeholder workshops were staged on the issue June 24-25 in Phoenix. The process will update or replace the current river management plan, which dates back to 1989.

"After we develop the alternatives, we'll go through the approval process and evaluate the impacts of all of those," Ernenwein said. "Then we put a draft environmental impact statement out to the public and it's up to the public to tell us how we did." Ernenwein said it's been quite the journey, considering how many people provided comments. During a public scoping period last year, the NPS received 55,000 comments from 15,000 sources. Officials then scrambled to analyze them all. Now, a range of alternatives are being developed for the draft EIS. Ernenwein said those options will cover a lot of territory. "There will be a full range of reasonable alternatives," he said. "That means there will be quite a broad range. I'm telling people, 'you will see alternatives you won't like.' But in order to get the full range, there will be nobody who will like all the alternatives." The alternatives are being developed out of those comments and other public sessions, such as the series of stakeholder workshops. Scoping meetings were held in six cities in the Southwest and on the East and West coasts. Even comments dating back as far as 1997 have been incorporated into the process.

"We received a lot of comments," Ernenwein said. "It's not easy to try to seriously consider that many comments, but we've done a lot of work to do that." The range of issues is vast, but Ernenwein admitted there are two that stand out above the rest. One issue involves "the allocation of recreation use, which is not entirely but primarily private vs. commercial allocations," he said. Another involves "the motor issue, how much motorized use if any should be allowed." In all, the public gave the NPS about two dozen major issues to review in the river plan. "We have a 360-degree spectrum, not just two sides of issues on most of these," he said. "The comments were all over the board on most of these. Motors, anti-motors, that's just to name one issue." At the stakeholder workshops last month, representatives from 10 groups participated. Outfitters, commercial trip passengers, non-commercial boaters, wilderness advocates, environmental groups, researchers, the disabled, tribes, river guides and educational groups took part. The event was facilitated by the Mary Orton Co. As Ernenwein indicated, the two big issues were allocation of recreational use and the use of motorized rafts. Wilderness designation has been a big part of the process with politicians sending a letter to interior secretary Gale Norton urging her to remove the Colorado River from any wilderness recommendation. Non-commercial groups responded with their own letter to Norton, outlining several objections. The timeframe on the Colorado River Management Plan update calls for everything to be wrapped up by the end of next year. When the draft EIS is released this fall, there will be another series of public meetings, much like the ones held last year during scoping. "We'll release it electronically and in paper form. We'll encourage people to get it electronically, which is faster and cheaper," Ernenwein said. "We'll print a lot of paper copies; it will be a pretty thick document. We'll have meetings in a number of places. There will be lots of opportunities to get information and provide comments. "The draft EIS will go through a 90-day public review period, most likely to occur over the winter of 2003-04. After comments are reviewed, officials will then revise the plan and put out a final EIS. Another public review period will be associated with that, Ernenwein said, prior to a final record of decision. The timeline calls for the ROD to be issued by the end of 2004.