Judge Hears Grand Canyon River Litigation Case

Arizona District Court Judge David G. Campbell held two hours of oral argument on litigation pertaining to the new Colorado River Management Plan in Grand Canyon National Park. The hearing was held Friday, October 26, 2007, in Phoenix, Arizona.
The court hearing addressed the merits of the case, including Grand Canyon National Park’s concessions use of motorized tour boats and helicopter exchanges that continue to destroy the river’s wilderness character.
The case also contests the Park Service’s commercialization of the river. At present, 14,385 concessions passengers travel with only 2,270 self guided river runners during the same summer season—a ratio of over 6 commercial guests to each do-it-yourself river runner.

Matt Bishop and Julia Olson, attorneys for the four Plaintiff nonprofit organizations River Runners for Wilderness, Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch, and Living Rivers, both answered the judge’s questions on various aspects of the case with sound factual and legal points.
Julia Olson was queried by Judge Campbell on what was the significance of the fact that the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association (GCPBA) thought the River Plan was fair. Ms. Olsen replied that there was no legal significance, that there was no data to show that splitting the user days 50-50 was either fair or that the percent of disappointment in obtaining a river trip would be fair in that case.
Ms. Olson also pointed out that one of many measures of fairness could be to flip use patterns year to year, with one year of concessions trips happening in the winter and the majority of summer access going to non-commercial river runners, then swapping seasonal use patterns the next year.
The Defendant in the case is the Department of Interior, while the Defendant Interveners are the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association (GCROA) and the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association.
When asked by Judge Campbell, neither counsel for the Defendant nor the Defendant Interveners could tell the Judge exactly where a determination was made in the Management Plan that the present level of concessionaire motorized tour boat use was calculated to be necessary and appropriate.
The Plaintiffs requested, and Judge Campbell agreed in October 2006, to separate the merits phase of the case from the remedies phase, a legal procedure called “bifurcation”. Read more about the legal procedures at RRFW’s website at: https://rrfw.org/node/229.
Friday’s hearing was attended by ten staff members from Grand Canyon National Park, eight representatives from the various Plaintiff and Defendant Intervener groups, and four law students.
Judge Campbell closed the hearing by stating he would make a decision on the case in the next few weeks.