Consider facts before taking away river rights
Willamette River users need to be aware of discussions to potentially strip boating rights on the river.
So many of us enjoy the river, from anglers, paddle boarders, beach swimmers, sport, luxury and casual boaters and more. We can come together to create an inclusive definition of safety for all river activities.
However, there are a few riverfront homeowners and groups that do not like some water sports on the Willamette River. Unfortunately, a majority of river users are not aware of their complaints that have resulted in our state Legislature passing new boating regulations including HB 2352 in the Newberg Pool (Newberg to near Hebb Park, river mile 30-50).
This new law, Towed Watersports Endorsement, with additional fees and educational requirements, now only applies to boats towing wakeboarders and wakesurfers because at the last minute, tubing, waterskiing and all other towed water sports were exempted.
Additional boating rules and restrictions are under consideration by the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB) as part of the current rule-making process.
Discriminatory regulation of the Willamette River is a dangerous precedent to set for the State of Oregon, especially when based on the opinions of a few rather than the large number of people who enjoy Willamette River recreation.
The Willamette River is a busy urban, commercial and federally navigable public river. "The Willamette River Recreation Guide," created by the OSMB and Oregon State Parks to assist boaters determining the best place for their activities, clearly states the nature of the Willamette River: "Boating Options: Best for propeller-driven craft and jetboats. Canoes, sculls, kayaks, and other small craft are allowed on localized areas away from congestion."
Many of us do paddle sports and understand our responsibility to make safe choices based on river location, traffic and our skill level.
Why are the public's boating rights taken away based upon unsubstantiated claims of one user group? All of us who enjoy the Willamette River want to work together to define safety needs, for all motorized and nonmotorized uses on the river.
Willamette River crowding is a population and safety issue, not a "wake boat issue." The sheriff testified with the OSMB that the new restrictions in the Newberg Pool already have made congestion downriver worse.
Wake boats are unfairly blamed for our busy river and any wake incident. All motorboats create wake and generate artificial waves. Commercial boats, cruisers and yachts all create large wakes.
One of the incidents highlighted in the attempt to restrict only "wake boats" actually was caused by a Bayliner boat, so wake sports restrictions would not have prevented that incident.
The Willamette Riverkeeper organization recently advocated to completely ban only "wake boats" (wakesurfing, wakeboarding) weighing more than 3,500 pounds on the entire stretch of the Willamette River. This biased approach ignores all other boats more than 3,500 pounds, including commercial boats, cruisers and yachts, which can be upward of 40,000 pounds.
Regarding any environmental questions, we must listen to the Oregon State University wave experts who testified that long-term, site-specific studies are needed to truly understand both the natural and artificial effects at work on the Willamette River, including the extreme river rising on our banks, debris and high rainfall.
Instead of pursuing the necessary scientific studies, special interest groups are making unsubstantiated claims about erosion being caused by only one type of boat.
Our rights to access and recreate on public waterways are being taken away without any factual basis or consideration for all user groups.
We can work together and respectfully ask to inclusively define safety for everyone. Let's conduct site-specific research before taking river rights away. As we speak, the OSMB is considering more boating restrictions on the upper and lower river.
Please join me in reaching out to the OSMB and your local state representatives and senators to show your support for equality in public access to the Willamette River.
For the latest updates on river rules and lawmaking, follow the Willamette River Community Coalition public group on Facebook.
Chris Mitchell is the chairman for the West Linn River Association
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