October 2004. Details of Grand Canyon National Park's just released Colorado River Management Plan are beginning to emerge that show the park's preferred alternative is a thinly veiled "gift" to the park's own river concessionaires.
While there is no increase in user days to river concessions, there will be a substantial increase in commercial passenger exchanges at the controversial Whitmore Helipad, located on the river shore. "We have used the park's own figure of an average $250 per day per person cost, and combined that with the park's proposed increase in Whitmore exchanges of at least 3,500 people. That's a $875,000 gift to the river concessionaires" notes Jo Johnson, Co-director of River Runners for Wilderness. "What's more, they're actually prohibiting hiking in or out at Whitmore during the summer, thereby assuring no future commercial transition to hiking exchanges in lieu of helicopters, even if concessionaires were inclined to abide by wilderness rules. That the park would institute this prohibition is beyond comprehension."
Johnson goes on to point out that the park intends to have the increase in exchanges be from commercial river passengers both flying and hiking in or out at Whitmore. "The park's own data shows that these folks going in and out will increase the number of days helicopters are flying away from and back to the river at Whitmore will result in an increase of 50 days. So much for natural quiet."
"This is all smoke and mirrors" notes Tom Martin, the other co-director of RRFW. "If you didn't look at the details, the preferred alternative looks like an increased restriction on the motorized concessions season. In actuality, the river concessions today don't run motor trips from Sept 15 to late March anyway, so banning motors on the river from September 1 to the end of February does not impact the river concessions one bit."
Martin goes on to note the preferred alternative says it may decrease commercial motor trips by 43, but notes the language used to define this reduction is "probable." The plan states it will cap the motorized user days at the present level, while decreasing the maximum group size from 43 to 36. "As the park points out, 10% of the present motorboat trips will be impacted by this reduced group size. The actual number of concessions motorboat trips will actually increase slightly to accommodate the smaller trip sizes, as shown in a table of probable use in the plan."
Other reductions that are in reality no-change include reducing the concessions motor trip length to 10 days. Martin points out "The park's data shows the average motorboat trip is only 6 nights long, and presently there are no motor trips longer than 8 nights."
Long time river advocate Jeff Ingram, author of Hijacking A River, A Political History Of The Colorado River In The Grand Canyon, notes the plan is trapped in failure. "The plan proves the 1980 political settlement, to keep the concessions and motors in place still rules. This plan has no real change in it. The political settlement is still based on serving the concessions who run short, fast motor trips and make a lot of money. This plan proves the NPS is still trapped in the politics of the 1970's."
To see the park's plan, visit http://www.nps.gov/grca/crmp
To see RRFW's plan, visit rrfw.org/compare.php
RRFW encourages everyone interested in Grand Canyon to comment, and comment often. Write a letter. Then attend a meeting. Then write another letter. Your comments count!
A 90 day comment period will begin October 8, 2004,and end January 7, 2005. You can send your comments in writing to CRMP Project, Grand Canyon National Park, PO Box 129, Grand Canyon AZ 86023, or comment on-line at http://www.nps.gov/grca/crmp
Public meetings will be held at the following locations: Las Vegas, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Phoenix, Arizona; San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C; and Flagstaff, Arizona. Exact meeting locations and dates will be announced in early October.