ALBANY - A New York whitewater company broke state law by sending clients down the upper Hudson River with unlicensed rafting guides, a judge has ruled.
Judge Richard Giardino also upheld state claims that the Hudson River Rafting Co. of North Creek broke the law by shuttling customers to the river with unlicensed drivers. He had ordered the company in October to temporarily halt guided whitewater rafting trips, an order that he recently extended.
After a client drowned last September and the company's staff had been issued 13 tickets by rangers for unlicensed guiding over the previous five years, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a civil lawsuit seeking to permanently shut down the company. He also accused the company of repeated illegal business conduct, another allegation Giardino upheld.
Hudson River Rafting is one of the Adirondacks' original whitewater companies. Its owner and founder, Patrick Cunningham, an entrepreneur with a winter ski rental business, helped establish the now-popular river outings run by a dozen companies from spring through fall. They carry thousands of visitors on big rapids through deep backcountry in New York's northern mountains. Many of the region's whitewater guides once worked for him. Several were trained by him.
Attorneys for Cunningham and the state are scheduled to argue over allegations of persistent false advertising Tuesday in Hamilton County. In his recent ruling on the other issues, Giardino said questions of fact and credibility about the company's ads still needed to be resolved before he could rule.
"The court will then conduct a hearing to determine whether and to what extent injunctive relief will be granted, as well as the amount of restitution, damages, civil penalties and statutory costs, which petitioners are seeking to impose," the state Supreme Court justice wrote.
Attorney Jason Britt, who represents Cunningham, declined to comment Friday.
Giardino noted that the attorney general initially claimed 13 instances where Cunningham's guides were ticketed by rangers for guiding without a license. However, one was a duplication, another was a guide actually cited for failing to comply with a ranger's order, six resulted in convictions, and the others were dismissed, he wrote.
Hudson River "submitted proof that several of the guides who were convicted received their license shortly afterwards," the judge added. The state requires passing a written test, first aid training and proof of having made at least five trips on the whitewater river someone wants to guide.
The Department of Environmental Conservation lists parts of 10 rivers statewide, most in the Adirondacks, where canoeing or rafting guides for hire need whitewater licenses.
In January, a Hamilton County jury acquitted Cunningham of misdemeanor reckless endangerment for sending a father and daughter down the Indian River without a guide. The inexperienced whitewater kayakers quickly fell out of the two-person boat and were rescued by guides from other rafting companies. Cunningham argued that the kayakers knew the risks and chose to go.
In November, Hudson River guide Rory Fay pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and two other charges following the Sept. 27 drowning of client Tamara Blake, 53, of Columbus, Ohio. State police said both fell out of their raft on the Indian River, which flows into the upper Hudson, and that Fay was drunk.