Residents hit a limit over river issues
Officials brief neighbors on progress in dealing with Animas 'explosion'
by Garrett Andrews
Herald Staff Writer Article Last Updated; Saturday, August 01, 2009
As bottles and flip-flops pile up south of town, unleashed dogs fight and become intimate near the put-ins. Wispy clouds of pungent gray smoke can be detected far down the streets. Young people openly curse their elders, and one 33rd Street resident even claims to have caught subjects smoking meth in her front yard.
Things have gotten so bad on the Animas River this summer, fly-fishermen report they can't even cast without hitting a floating body.
"We've now hit a breaking point where we need to be thinking about other options," said Durango Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Metz.
More than 20 residents and three dogs came to an informational neighborhood meeting Friday afternoon at the 33rd Street put-in to exchange horror stories and meet with representatives from the Durango Police Department, city government, commercial rafting companies, the Animas River Task Force and Trout Unlimited. Metz wanted to brief residents on the progress the city has made dealing with an "explosion" of river traffic in the last three years, particularly that of the ringed, galvanized variety.
Alcohol emerged as perhaps the No. 1 problem, and the idea of a curfew was breached.
She estimated she saw about 500 people along the Animas on a recent weekend bike ride through town. Other residents echoed the feeling that summer river recreation in Durango has blown up of late and many revelers are making life difficult for those who live along the river.
"I'm really sick and tired of it," said resident Tim Wolf. "By the time they get downstream, a lot of these kids are drunk out of their minds. It's like having a bar in town where you don't have to be 21, you can do anything you want, you can be abusive, you can get in fights and no one's going to do anything about it."
The city began a marketing campaign this summer called "T is for Tubing" to persuade more tubers to use the free public trolley, or the "T," to get upstream. The city has also set up a compressor station near the 29th Street put-in for inflating tubes, in the hope of dispersing river traffic and cutting down on drunken driving.
Durango Fire & Rescue Authority public information officer Dave Abercrombie said DFRA typically doesn't see fatalities on the Animas below Bakers Bridge north of town, but his department has been called on to deal with a growing number of stranded tubers who get stuck or decide too late not to try their luck with Smelter Rapid. Many, he said, are unversed in basic river safety.
In response to complaints, the Durango Police Department increased its presence at the put-in. Capt. Jim Spratlen said the department added 290 extra patrols in the last two months and dealt with 451 calls to the area, many of which were initiated by patrol officers.
As a result of the extra patrols, Durango Police wrote six underage alcohol consumption tickets, seven for disturbing the peace, eight speeding tickets and 27 open-container citations. Code Enforcement officers wrote 43 parking tickets near the put-in.
"We've been trying to throw as many officers at this area as possible," he said, shortly before officer Rob Haukeness pedaled by and said hello. "My officers have been knocking this place out. They love it."
Spratlen left the meeting briefly to speak with two shirtless tubers who passed the crowd with an 18-pack and a plastic bag full of crushed cans, offering the beers for $5 a piece.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc said the meeting helped him prioritize resident complaints. Alcohol, he said, seemed to be the primary issue, a factor in most calls to police. The city of Durango already has an open-container policy, but city councilors could vote on an ordinance sometime before next summer that would prohibit even unopened bottles and cans on the river.
After alcohol, LeBlanc said the city might tackle the matter of a curfew. The city set a curfew for the skate park in response to complaints, and LeBlanc said the city might also consider posting signs near the put-in and closing it down at dusk to cut down on after-hours partying.
As if to underscore the complaints, the passenger in a small sedan rolled down his window and hollered at assembled residents at the meeting during a lull in conversation.
"River power," he said.