On Wednesday, June 10, 2009, a three judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco heard oral arguments in the case River Runners, et al.
Julia Olson, one of two lawyers representing River Runners for Wilderness and its partners, argued that the National Park Service has not justified the need for motorized commercial services in any management plan, which is a legal requirement. While granting that some people do need guide services to raft the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Olson pointed out to the Court that those services are available by non-motorized means.
The three judges appeared to be very interested in the case, at one time questioning whether motorized river travel is safer than oar-powered. Both Olson and the National Park Service attorney agreed that studies prove there is no substantial safety difference. In discussing the Grand Canyon’s wilderness history, Judge Michael Hawkins joked that the Hatch Amendment--the 1979 one year appropriations rider that overturned the 1979 wilderness management plan--was management with a “two by four”.
Olson pointed out that while intervener Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association’s counsel characterizes the 2006 river plan as an improvement in noncommercial boater access, the law requires equity in access, not just an improvement. Olson also offered that if access were truly equitable right now, then the concessions should have no problem switching the seasons of use, with the motor free season in the summer instead of the winter.
The court thanked Olson for her arguments, and acknowledged this as a complex and important case.
To listen to the interesting, thirty three minutes of the Court proceeding online, go to this link (Windows Media Player is required):
The Court will issue a decision in the case, however, the time frame could be anywhere from a few weeks to many months.
Rivers Runners for Wilderness is joined in this litigation by partners Rock the Earth, Living Rivers, and Wilderness Watch. Ms. Olson, of Wild Earth Advocates, and Matt Bishop of Western Environmental Law Center, are representing the four Plaintiffs.
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