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The battle between a land developer and two rafting outfitters on the Taylor River in Colorado has been settled, clearing 20 initiatives from the November ballot and prompting a new river-use mediation process in Colorado. The outcome is of note for two reasons – the first is the good news that the long-standing friction between commercial rafters and private property owners has a means for resolution. The second is that the resulting removal of initiatives demonstrates how easily the Colorado ballot can used as a political tool rather than a thoughtful, effective means of evolving our state constitution.

Gov. Bill Ritter announced the deal yesterday as rafting and landowner groups simultaneously withdrew initiatives that outlined who can float on rivers running through private property.

The conflict was illustrated by the actions of Texas-based developer Jackson-Shaw who bought land along a 2-mile stretch of the Taylor River more than a year ago and told two neighboring rafting companies they could no longer float through the property. The developer vs. rafters confrontation spiraled into a contentious legislative battle to define a right to float and prompted the deluge of initiatives.

Ritter lauded the compromise that avoids a costly ballot battle. Ritter also promised to establish a Governor’s Office and Department of Natural Resources-led panel to review future conflicts between commercial river users and landowners.

The two Taylor outfitters agreed to limit the daily number of rafts and to float only certain hours and when water flows are high enough to prevent damage to the river bottom. They also will be able to briefly land on the banks to bypass dangerous obstacles in the river.

The settlement does not, however, resolve long-standing sources of legal confusion about who has a right to use rivers running through private land and in what capacity. Colorado law has caused feuding between both sides for decades because of the unclear rights.

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