Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Rio Grande rafting battered, vessels destroyed

Published:Wednesday | January 10, 2018 | 12:00 AMGareth Davis Sr/Gleaner Writer
Lynvale Bloomfield (left), member of parliament for Eastern Portland, shows solidarity with Lawrence Chisolm (centre), president of the Raft Captains' Association and Owen Waugh, a raft captain.
The remains of rafting vessels on the Rio Grande in Portland.

BERRYDALE, Portland:

Portland's premier tourist attraction, Rio Grande Rafting, has been plunged into turmoil following three days of torrential rainfall that destroyed approximately 95 per cent of the bamboo-fashioned vessels operated by raft captains assigned to that industry.

Approximately 124 out of 130 rafting vessels owned and operated by 65 registered captains were washed away Saturday night after the nearby Rio Grande overflowed its banks, while dumping sand and debris on the rafting ramp at Berrydale. Several houses were also inundated.

"This is arguably the worst loss suffered by us," commented Lawrence Chisholm, president of the Raft Captains' Association at Rio Grande Rafting.

"Every raft captain owned at least two rafts, and those were washed away by the rushing waters from the river. The rafts were secured overnight and tied to trees, but with water overflowing the banks of this river, everything in its path was washed away. The only thing that remains on the beach is a few rafts that are unstable and are not fit to carry passengers."




According to Chisholm, it is the fourth time that raft captains have been hard-hit in the last three years, as they suffered heavy losses in 2016 twice, but were assisted by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett and West Portland Member of Parliament (MP) Daryl Vaz with monies to replace their vessels. He argued that last year they suffered a similar loss, but that no assistance was provided to them.

"This is our livelihood and the only financial income for many of us. We are totally dependent on this industry, but without the proper tools and equipment, we won't be able to earn from it.

"I am making a special appeal to the tourism minister and Mr Vaz to see how best they can assist us in rebuilding our rafts, so as to get our lives back on the road."

One of the concerns expressed by the raft captains is that the loss of their vessels might very well create an opportunity for those actively involved in illegal rafting to step up their illicit activities, which could have a negative impact on the future and operations at Rio Grande rafting.


Government urged to help raftsmen quickly


Meantime, Eastern Portland MP Dr Lynvale Bloomfield is urging the Government to provide assistance to the raftsmen in the shortest possible time, so as to ensure that operations at Rio Grande Rafting are not disrupted.

"This is where tourism started, and the Government now needs to prove that it is serious about reviving tourism in this parish," Bloomfield argued.

He added, "There are other concerns as it relates to the future of this rafting industry, as the road leading to the raft stand at Berrydale is in a deplorable state. A section of the roadway is now undermined, and if left unattended, it could result in that roadway collapsing, especially with the inclement weather settling in."