April 2003. Grand Canyon National Park officials announced today that the draft Colorado River Management Plan will not be released this June, but will be released this fall. RRFW has learned that the park hopes to have the draft released for a 90-day public comment period by the end of October.
The announcement notes the park received 15,000 submittals containing more than 55,000 individual comments in response to the initial public scoping meetings in Flagstaff, Arizona; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada, Denver, Colorado, Baltimore, Maryland and Oakland, California. More than 1,000 people attended all these meetings. The release also notes the delay will provide the NPS planning team and environmental consultants adequate time to thoroughly incorporate the public input into the development and analysis of alternatives, which is the next step in the EIS process.
"If you weren't looking closely, you might miss the mention of the role of the National Park System Advisory Board" notes Tom Martin, Co-director of River Runners For Wilderness. "That's where the action is. It's a brief mention about the role the Board will now play in steering the direction of the draft plan."
The National Park System Advisory Board is an independent twelve-member board appointed by the Secretary of Interior. The Board is considering a process to help facilitate stakeholder involvement on two core issues - use of motors on the river, and allocation of recreational river use among user groups. This Board routinely advises the Director of the National Park Service and Secretary of the Interior on matters relating to the National Park System.
According to Martin, the Board will oversee a subcommittee made up of invited stakeholders who will gather in May to draft their advice to the Board, who will pass this recommendation on to the Park Service. "We know that the river concessionaires trade association has been pushing for this and advising the Board as to the makeup of this subcommittee. We are concerned this group will not represent the full spectrum of stakeholders involved in this issue."
"The park will rely heavily on the Board's recommendations in how to deal with these two key issues. The continued use of motorized watercraft on a river protected for its wilderness character, and allocation of use between the general public and the river concessionaires who act as middlemen brokering public access, demands the broadest representation of stakeholder by-in" notes Martin. "We have been encouraging the park to invite all the players to the table, but the park says the Board can invite who they want. Does this have us worried? You bet," says Martin, "especially if a majority of the subcommittee is made up of folks with a vested interest in maintain the 30 year old and highly contentious status quo."
Martin notes River Runners For Wilderness is participating with over twenty five other conservation and or boating groups that advocate for the protection of the wilderness character of the Colorado River. "Our flexible proposal provides continued commercial boating services and will provide the general boating public with over two times more access to the river as compared to the current allocation while reducing recreational impacts and gradually phasing out powerboats. These are reasonable solutions to the contentious issues regarding public access to the river that have prevented the Grand Canyon Proposed Wilderness (1.1 million acres) from being designated. We hope the Board recognizes that including all interested stakeholders in this subcommittee is of critical importance."
The Grand Canyon National Park Press Release is at http://www.nps.gov/grca/crmp/documents/press/10apr03.htm