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  • Dylan Anderson

Does Steamboat's process to permit outfitters on the Yampa River need an overhaul?

The practice since 2004 has seen outfitting companies buy each other seeking more tubing permits while preventing any new tubing operation from entering the market.

Steamboat Springs City Council showed a willingness to explore changes to how the city permits commercial recreation on the Yampa River, a move that could lead to more commercial tubing outfitters operating on the waterway.

The current process was established by the 2004 Yampa River Management Plan and allocated a certain number of tube allotments to five different outfitters. Since then, two of the outfitters have been bought out by Backdoor Sports, which now holds the largest share of tubing allotments.

Outfitters view these permits as property and argue upending the current system could harm their businesses. City Attorney Dan Foote disagreed with that argument, saying they were renewable permits and the code doesn’t specifically say how they should be handled.

“My view is that is not a property right because it can be revoked or a renewal denied by the city at any point,” Foote said.

The Park and Recreation Commission recommends putting in place a completely new system that would establish a transparent process to determine how permits for tubing and other river recreation are allocated. There would also be a clause that says these permits should not be viewed as real property.

Starting in 2025, the city would allow all interested outfitters to apply for a three-year permit on the river. Quotas would then be distributed based on a variety of factors, giving preference to outfitters with a history of compliance and river stewardship practices.

“We would like to establish a process where we can audit the program every three years to help us understand better what the quota allotments we need based on some for the changes we are making for tube sales,” said Rob Burdine, the city’s deputy parks and recreation director.

Council members indicated support for continuing the conversation about changing river permitting processes, asking Parks and Recreation Commission to suggest ordinance language to Council for more discussion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, outfitters that currently hold tubing allotments spoke out against the proposed changes.

“The city has understood and condoned the transfer of those allocations and now the city doesn’t want to transfer the allocations. They want to have a much more loose situation,” said Pete Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports. “Those allocations are real property and it has been precedent that we have been able to buy and sell those.”

While none were present during Tuesday’s work session, other local outfitters that have permits for other river activities but have been prevented from renting tubes have asked for an opportunity to receive allotments as the Parks and Recreation Commission has discussed permit allotments.

The tubing allotments are already set for this year. If council decides to implement changes to the permitting system, it could be considered as part of an ordinance that would be implemented in 2025. The ordinance language has been reviewed by the Parks Commission, but the specific criteria used to divide permits are still being considered.


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