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Rules panel to send Oregon Marine Board input on water sports on the Willamette River between Newberg and Wilsonville

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Newberg Pool section of the Willamette River has been at the center of controversy between wakesurfers and owners of property along the river.

When the Oregon State Marine Board decided to revisit rules in the Newberg Pool portion of the Willamette River — roughly from Newberg to West Linn — at a meeting in October, they stated a preference for incremental rather than sweeping changes.

But during at a Dec. 11 meeting at the Historic Butteville Store, a slight majority of the members of the Rules Advisory Committee (RAC) told the board they want more drastic alterations to the rules.

Specifically, four of the eight members stated a preference for banning wakesurfing entirely in the Newberg Pool, while three objected to that idea.

"I sympathize with people wanting to be able to use their boat, but it's not sustainable to have wakesurfing in this portion of the Willamette River," riverfront homeowner Joanne Criscione said at the meeting.

The new rulemaking process began less than a year after the state established new rules establishing zones where wakesurfing is allowed in the Newberg Pool and creating distance-from-shore requirements for river users.

During a recent work session about the rules, testifiers reported that the laws often were broken and difficult to enforce and that wakesurfers overcrowded areas where the sport is allowed.

The next day, the board agreed to open the rulemaking process. The RAC will meet one more time before the board considers potential changes at a meeting in January.

During the RAC meeting last week, the committee discussed potential rules proposed by Marine Board staff, including disallowing wakesurfing in some zones, changing zonal boundaries from specific mile markers to physical landmarks, removing wakesurfing from the Newberg Pool entirely and establishing that wakesurfing boats can only travel in one direction.

Riverfront property owners who live along parts of the river make up half of the committee. Most of them are in favor of forbidding wakesurfing in the Newberg Pool because they say the waves that are generated can cause dock damage, erosion and endanger other river users.

"It (a full ban of wakesurfing) would be safer, make things not as congested and is simple to understand," said Evelyn Galloni, who lives along one of the wakesurfing zones.

The committee's lone watersports industry representative, Matt Radich, said eliminating wakesurfing in the Newberg Pool would be detrimental for the industry, would be "anti-boater" and "not a cooperative solution."

Riverfront homeowner Elizabeth McCord surmised that the ban would simply clog up other areas of the river.

Alternatively, Radich said he would prefer eliminating the surf zone from river mile 41.4 to 42.4 (Butteville area), which some called the "hell zone" due to considerable activity, and adding the one-direction rule for wakesurfers.

"It (the one direction rule) would be easier to keep wave energy in the middle of the river," Radich said. "You have less variables when you know towed water sports are going this way."

However, most of the committee members objected to the unidirectional idea. Willamette Riverkeeper Executive Director Travis Williams, for one, said the idea wouldn't reduce wake impacts while Galloni said wakesurfers would continue to break the rule requiring them to be 300 feet from a dock because of the narrowness of the river.

Other than mile 41.4 to 42.4, board staff proposed eliminating wakesurfing in the portion of the river from Hebb Park near the Canby Ferry to river mile 37 (closer to Wilsonville) and eliminating a small surf zone near Rogers Landing in Newberg.

Rules Advisory Committee member and fisherman Don Clark said eliminating too many zones wouldn't be ideal.

"I want to give them (wakesurfers) some place to go," he said.

After seeing many recreators confused about where they were supposed to go last summer, Marion County Deputy Scott Kometz said changing the zone boundaries to physical boundaries would make following the rules easier. Most of the committee appeared to agree with that idea.

Other potential policy changes listed by board staff include removing the distinction between wakeboarding and wakesurfing in the river (meaning wakeboarding also would be prohibited in certain areas) and creating a boating weight restriction for activities in the no-wake-surfing zones.

After the committee's work is finished, Marine Board staff will gather input and provide a list of advantages and disadvantages to each potential policy change stated by the committee. The board then will make a decision on what, if any, rule changes will be adopted.

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