The 9th Circuit Court has set a court date for oral arguments to be heard in the litigation over the 2006 Grand Canyon National Park Colorado River Management Plan.
The litigation, filed by wilderness and access groups River Runners for Wilderness, Rock the Earth, Living Rivers and Wilderness Watch, is challenging the legality of the Park Service’s decision to allow motorized uses of the river and to allocate the vast majority of summertime river access permits for commercial river concessionaires.
The Park Service is required to manage the river for Wilderness character. Since 1977, when the Park Service recommended Congressional action be taken to preserve wilderness characteristics of the river corridor, natural soundscapes and visitor experiences have been severely compromised by the continued use of motorized commercial river boat services.
The 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, made up of a three-judge panel, will hear oral arguments on June 10, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 2 of the James R. Browning courthouse at95 7th Street. This hearing will be open to the public.
The Court will rule on the merits of the litigation. If the plaintiffs succeed, the case will be remanded to the district court to address what kind of remedy may be appropriate.
At issue is the National Park Service’s (NPS) obligation to preserve park wilderness resources and values under the Organic Act and the Concessions Act “necessary and appropriate” standard.
The court will decide if the Colorado River in Grand Canyon must be preserved for its wilderness character and whether commercial services allowed in a potential wilderness like the Colorado River in Grand Canyon must adhere to wilderness values while providing for visitor enjoyment.
Also in question is the fact that the Park Service did not base the commercial allocation of river use on any actual determination of need. The court will have to decide if the 2006 river plan abides by an earlier 9th Circuit Court decision holding that the NPS must allocate use fairly so that both commercial and noncommercial users have equitable access to the river.
The earlier ruling noted the method used for fairly allocating use under any system chosen must not be arbitrary. To date the NPS has not refuted the litigation claim that the key criteria used to develop allocation alternatives had no standards for fairness or equity in use.
The three judge panel will have to rule on the plaintiff’s argument that without using any appropriate standard of fairness, the NPS “arbitrarily plucked the “roughly equal” split of user days in an attempt to create perceptions of equity in the preferred alternative”.
Intervening in the case in support of the current plan are the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association and the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association. In 2005 these groups entered into a confidential agreement containing a ten year strategy to uphold the present plan and agreed not to challenge the current plan, despite the inequitable public access and resource damaging nature of the plan.
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