There's a better way to share the Willamette River
Our family looked for years to find a house on the Willamette River to watch our kids grow up and learn skills and confidence while paddling, tubing, surfing and waterskiing. This past year, with COVID-19, online school and no camps, being able to get outside was even more important.
Unfortunately, the latter part of those dreams has changed since the Oregon State Marine Board imposed the gravest restrictions yet on public access and recreation.
As of May 1, towed sports are restricted on 10 miles of the Lower Willamette. In addition, the entire Holgate Channel, an unprecedented 3.9 miles, has been made a slow, no-wake zone for the benefit of a few, including private paddling clubs, greatly impacting access for the hundreds of families who enjoy towed sports. The OSMB has designated an area on the Willamette to do towed sports; however, it is contaminated and a major commercial shipping area.
Most concerning, these rules were made based on special interests including private paddling clubs and homeowners who do not like waves on the river. This is the same river that sees barges, commercial boats, jet boats, and yachts that make large wakes. Yet, these large boats are allowed to continue on the river. These rules were made under the guise of protecting safety and limiting erosion, yet only target towed sports.
The wide-ranging claims used to impose these restrictions are not fact-based. There is no site-specific research on erosion, and its causes are multifaceted. Claims about safety have repeatedly been debunked by river safety experts including Portland Fire and Rescue's harbormaster saying the safety data did not support the claims, and these zone restrictions would create safety issues.
Even the OSMB's's own 26-member Rule Committee unanimously identified that increased education, greater law enforcement and better signage were what was needed. Instead, the OSMB chose sweeping regulations, leaving actual safety needs unaddressed.
These rules also were enacted despite the OSMB hearing testimony about the devastating impact on many local businesses and dangerous precedent set statewide on restricting public recreation.
The motorized boating community collaborated with other user groups, including paddlers, on a fairer plan to better share the river and protect public access and safety. This plan offers additional protection for motorized and nonmotorized users launching from Willamette Park, floating homeowners, and Oregon Yacht Club members. Protections are retained for Oaks Park Boathouse and Waverly Marina. In addition, paddlers are prioritized in the morning hours.
Erin Patterson is a West Linn resident, avid boater and paddler. She is a member of Oregon Families for Boating, the West Linn Riverfront Association, and Willamette River Community Coalition.
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