River Concession Sale Possible

Grand Canyon, AZ

October, 2003. A Grand Canyon river concessionaire has initiated the process of being purchased by another rafting concession, according to park officials. The river concession contract, owned by High Desert Adventures, has two years left on its present contract extension. The purchaser, if approved by the park, will be Arizona Raft Adventures. High Desert Adventures has 3,323 user days, while Arizona Raft Adventures has 10,368. There are currently 16 river concessions contracts today, with one company holding two contracts. If the sale is approved, there will be 16 contracts held by 14 companies. The contract period is now up to 10 years, with three-year extensions allowed beyond the 10-year period. All river concessions are presently operating under an extension that will expire December 31, 2005.

Grand Canyon National Park will be renewing the river concession contracts based on the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP), now in the midst of an Environmental Impact Statement review. The final management plan will set the stage for river use for another 10 years.

Jo Johnson, River Runners For Wilderness Co-Director, is hoping for a change in the way the park distributes these permits. Johnson notes that 21 businesses become river concessionaires in the fall of 1971, with the initiation of 5-year contracts. At that time, all government agencies were to be following the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA. Though federal law requires public review and scoping of such activities, these have never been conducted, and river concessions contracts have since been awarded based on requirements found in the CRMP. "Today, the split-allocation system has resulted in the do-it-yourself river running public waiting in a projected 20 year backlog of permits for river access while river concessionaires are slashing prices on river trips to assure their river trips fill." Johnson adds "We question the continued usefulness of a split allocation system."

According to Johnson, there are only two ways to shift user-days from the river concessions back to the public. The first is if the CRMP identifies a decreased need for commercial concessionaire services as they are presently offered. "The other way would be for the CRMP to adopt an allocation-free access system like the one at Boundary Waters or at Grand Canyon for backpackers. This completely eliminates the need for concessions to have a fixed allocation base." Johnson points out that de-regulating the concessions would move them from an oligopoly with fixed subsidies to an oligopoly "that could compete for market share. The park could terminate the concessionaire contracts and award any number of qualified Incidental Business Permits for guided river services."

"A number of businesses have been thriving for over a decade servicing the non-commercial river running public without any allocations whatsoever" Johnson noted. "These businesses provide a wide array of great services at low cost to the public. Allocation-free access plans hold the only hope for a contention free future for the river."