Monday, April 20, 2009

HB 187: The Aftermath of Conatser v. Johnson

In an attempt to limit the broad public access granted in the Conatser v. Johnson opinion, Representative Ben Ferry (R-Corinne) introduced HB 187, entitled “Recreational Use of Public Waters,” during the 2009 legislative session. Under the bill, the public would be allowed to engage in recreational activities in rivers that cross private property only if the rivers are designated “public waters.” The bill contained an initial list of “public waters,” which included sections of the Bear River, Little Bear River, Logan River, Price River, Jordan River, Duchesne River, Strawberry River, Sevier River, Weber River, Provo River, Ogden River, White River, and Blacksmith Fork River. This initial list of public waters would be amenable to change. For this reason, the bill sought to establish the Recreational Access Board (“the Board”) within the Department of Natural Resources. The Board would provide recommendations to the Legislature regarding segments of rivers that should be added to the list of “public waters.” The Board would also provide recommendations to the Legislature regarding segments of rivers that should be removed from the list. Ultimately, however, the Legislature would have the final say on the list of public waters that would be open to recreation.

The bill received a favorable recommendation from the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee. The House amended the bill several times, resulting in several substitute bills. Ultimately, the bill was defeated in the House by a vote of 34-41. The bill was reconsidered, but was again defeated by a vote of 31-43.

Although HB 187 was defeated, there is already discussion regarding a bill to be introduced in the 2010 legislative session that will seek to strike a balance between the broad public access granted in Conatser and the private property rights of landowners whose property abuts rivers and streams. At this time, the details of the bill are unknown, and it is unclear if the bill will be a modified version of HB 187 or if the bill will present an entirely different scheme.

To read the full text of the bill, as originally introduced, click here.

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