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Before giving approval, Marine Board wants to consider effects of recent major rule changes

PMG FILE PHOTO -  The 'Newberg Pool' section of the Willamette has long been a favorite for boaters who enjoy wake sports and going fast. Substantial rule changes passed by the Oregon State Marine Board that govern the portion of the Willamette River near Wilsonville will remain intact — at least through the summer.

The Oregon State Marine Board voted unanimously to reject a petition to repeal rules approved this year in the Newberg Pool, a portion of the river from Newberg to West Linn including Wilsonville, during a meeting Wednesday, June 19.

The rule changes abolished the ban on wake enhancement devices, which are used by boarders and surfers to create bigger wakes, disallowed wakesurfing in certain sections of the river and, in zones where wakesurfing is allowed, required that wakesurfers must remain 300 feet from the shore and wakeboarders must remain 200 feet from the shore.

Most of the petitioners live in Aurora, including Leslie Harris, who resides along a section of the river that allows wakesurfing. She told the Spokesman earlier this year that Oregon River Preservation Alliance, which includes many Wilsonville residents and helped influence the rule changes, designed the rules so that wakesurfing would not be allowed in the Wilsonville section of the river, while her section would be crowded with wakesurfers.

"These people, ORSPA, have made a deal with the devil," Harris told the Wilsonville Spokesman in January. "They save their own homes and put it (wakesurfing activity) in front of ours. Our place is a 1-mile area where all the wakesurfing is going to be horrendous. It's not one boat going down the river. There's going to be multiple boats all concentrated here."

The petition also posits that the previous wake enhancement device ban did a better job mitigating wake impact than the current rules, that the rules are too complex and challenging to enforce, and that they create safety hazards due to boaters being confined to narrow lanes.

According to a news release, board members chose to deny the petition because they wanted to see how well the rule changes work this summer before considering whether to repeal them. Marine Board Public Information Officer Ashley Massey also said the board felt that suddenly repealing the rule changes would be confusing to boaters.

"The Marine Board agreed that they wanted to see if signage, buoys and increased enforcement would help," said Marine Board Member Vince Castronovo at the meeting. "We need to give these rules a chance and boaters time to learn them."

Additionally, the Marine Board asked staff to give a presentation about the effectiveness of the rule changes in October and has asked petitioners to be a part of the newly created Mid-Willamette Waterway Safety Committee, a group with various river stakeholders who will evaluate the rules and provide input to the Marine Board. The group has yet to meet.

"We enact rules quite often, but this is a unique situation where we are having a committee to evaluate the implementation of the rules. That's a new concept, and that's because this is a rather difficult issue," said Josh Mulhollem, the Marine Board policy and environmental program manager.

Mulhollem said he has heard conflicting views on how the new rules are going, so far, and said the Marine Board will try to accumulate some objective data on boating activity in the Newberg Pool this summer.

"We've heard things on both sides of the coin. Some are saying they're working well, not causing issues and others have said they're exacerbating problems and causing increased congestion in the area," he said.

Mulhollem also said the Marine Board has implemented buoys indicating where wakesurfing is and isn't allowed on the Willamette River — though he said there will not be buoys that distinguish wakesurfing and wakeboarding zones — more signage and that Clackamas, Marion and Yamhill County police departments are increasing their presence along the river.

"The Marine Board is really committed to evaluating these rules and the board itself is open to tweaking the rules," Mulhollem said. "We're aware this is a fairly congested area with a lot of diverse uses, so it's something we're taking special attention to it to make sure we get it right."

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