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The state agency rejects Willamette Riverkeeper request and states preference for current process to update rules

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Willamette Riverkeeper organization wanted a ban on wakesurfing boats over 3,500 pounds but the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected that request.

The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) decided not to ban medium and large wakesurfing boats (over 3,500 pounds) in the Willamette River, which was requested in a petition by the Willamette Riverkeeper nonprofit organization.

In a letter sent to Willamette Riverkeeper representatives, DSL Director Vicki Walker stated a preference for the current process for reevaluating Willamette River rules, which is led by the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB). The OSMB recently opened rulemaking in both the upper Willamette River (the Newberg Pool) and the lower Willamette River.

The DSL is tasked with regulating state owned lands while the OSMB regulates waterways.

"The concerns raised by Willamette Riverkeeper touch on the jurisdiction of several state agencies, not just DSL, and it is important for the agencies to work together on addressing the issue," Walker wrote. "DSL believes the most appropriate approach to addressing this issue is to assist OSMB as it considers how to regulate recreational boating on the Willamette River. Therefore, DSL staff has recommended against imposing the land use closure requested by Willamette Riverkeeper."

The Riverkeeper group submitted the petition because members believe wakesurfing activities create large wakes that damage docks, accelerate erosion and disrupt natural habitats.

"It is unfortunate that the Oregon Department of State Lands failed to protect the public domain by not taking appropriate action on our request," Willamette Riverkeeper Executive Director Travis Williams said in a press release. "Instead, the DSL took no action and seemingly caved to the wake boat industry, with such craft routinely costing over $100k."

On the other hand, wakesurfing proponents have said some of Willamette Riverkeeper's claims haven't been scientifically proven and that further restrictions could hinder the boating industry, among other concerns.

"The issue has nothing to do with a sport. It's the wave that's coming off of the boat. What about fishing boats, cruisers and other boats that weigh more than (wake activity boats)? It's unfairly targeting watersports families," Active Water Sports President Matt Radich told the Spokesman in November.

Walker also stated that the DSL would participate in rulemaking processes and recommended that Marine Board staff invite the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to engage as well.

Willams told the Spokesman that DEQ and ODWF haven't been responsive to his requests to participate in these conversations in the past but is optimistic Walker's request will lead to more involvement.

"While we have a bit of disappointment about their overall answer I think the positive thing is that DSL is going to be at the table for these RAC (rules advisory committee) meetings and I also think that their asking the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Quality … (it) will be very helpful to have their perspective of some of the concerns that have been expressed about artificial waves," he said.

Williams has been unsatisfied with the OSMB's attempts to address issues related to wake activities, which is why the Riverkeeper group sent the petition to the DSL.

"The DSL utilized a familiar scapegoat, casting aim at another State Agency as having the power in this situation. In this case, they placed the public domain in the hands of the Oregon State Marine Board, an entity that has proven again and again it is ill-equipped to act on this issue," he said.

Williams doesn't forsee further actions by Willamette Riverkeeper other than continuing to participate in the committee processes. At a meeting in December, the Newberg Pool rules committee looked at a wide range of ideas including banning wakesurfing, rejiggering wakesurfing zones and tweaking zonal markers.

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