OPINION: It’s time we open the canal banks for rec use
Free Press Opinion Columnists
SHE SAID: It looks like some of the directors of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age. Their “long standing policy of NO TRESPASS and NO ENCROACHMENT or use of the canal or canal easements and rights-of-way” (quoted directly with capital letters from their mass mailing to those of us who get our irrigation water from their company) is a selfish and outdated policy.
While we do not own land on the canals, we are shareholders and have paid lots of money over the years to the company. I would like a chance to walk the miles of ditch banks my money has helped maintain through the valley. Kudos to those in Palisade and Fruita who have managed to allow hikers and bicycle riders on some miles of ditch banks owned by other, more progressive ditch companies.
Instead of using scary language to motivate private landowners to get involved in the decision-making on the proposed Comprehensive Master Trail Plan for the valley, why doesn’t GVIC enter into the process with an eye toward compromise and multiple use? Surely, there are stretches of the ditch banks in the county that are not owned privately or where the private owners would not mind sharing. Besides, the canal banks are so alluring that they are already used frequently by joggers and riders in spite of threats of prosecution for trespass. Surely, the time of ditch company employees would be better spent if they were not so concerned about chasing people off the ditch that runs by West Lake Park next to West Middle School right in the middle of town. If ways can be found to share the riverfront, surely ways can be found to share the ditch banks.
HE SAID: Isn’t it interesting that something that adds a positive value to our community is so difficult to do? There is a state statute that protects ditch companies that is widely used in the Denver metro area to allow all kinds of uses on the ditch banks with liability and compensation clauses if something goes wrong. Private property owners should, of course, control the banks. What if a property owner wants to allow the usage of the canal pathway through their property, especially if they are protected by the laws, the governmental insurance, and the desires of the community? How is GVIC helping them to make that happen?
The Riverfront Commission has been able, through cooperation, grants and other ways, to put together a trail system that has transformed the valley. Owners of the ditch banks could probably make more money out of giving permission through a conservation easement or grant to the city or county than they ever will trying to farm, own or prohibit trespassing on that ditch ground. GVIC should get out of the way and let the landowners decide for themselves, rather than rousing the masses to just say “no.”
Isn’t GVIC looking like a domineering big government? Farmers and property owners who have committed their resources to the future through conservation trusts and easements are slowing the rape and pillage of the resources and changing the face of the West. Property owners often are in favor of free enterprise. What is better for free enterprise — putting the limited ditch banks to a recreational use or just yelling “NO, NO, NEVER” forever? By cooperation rather than obstinacy, the GVIC could probably find out a way to reduce the annual assessments and find friends to help fight the Eastern Slope water grabbers. I guess the GVIC officials and board have no vision of what would ultimately benefit all their shareholders.
SHE SAID: Those who care about quality of life and enjoying nature here in our valley will send comments about the trail plan to the Grand Junction and Mesa County Planning and Transportation commissions. There is another public hearing on the master plan set for 7 p.m., Sept. 18, in the Grand Junction City Hall auditorium.
HE SAID: Recognizing where the ditch banks would be most appropriate for trail use is a positive first step for all involved. GVIC needs to also listen to the property owners who want to make the deals that will help the community grow, instead of behaving like the neighborhood bully.
The Skinners hope landowners, besides seeing the value of letting their property be used for ditch rights-of-way, will also see the value in sharing those narrow strips of their land with their neighbors. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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