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A new House bill would create a 4,000-pound weight limit for towed water sports in the portion of the Willamette River that includes Wilsonville.

COURTESY PHOTO - New bills proposed in by House legislators could lead to increased regulations of wake sports.

This story was updated from its original version

The Oregon state Legislature will consider a trio of bills that could limit towed water sports soon and create pathways for future restrictions.

If approved, the bills would limit the size of wake boats in the Newberg Pool portion of the Willamette River, roughly between Newberg and West Linn, while also restructuring the Oregon State Marine Board seemingly to include more voices that favor increased restrictions and beginning a study on the possibility of imposing an excise tax on wake boat sales.

Imposing a weight limit

House Bill 2555, chief sponsored by Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, and sponsored by Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, and Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Portland, would require that boaters who receive a boater safety education certificate (which is required to perform towed water sports in the Newberg Pool) could only do so with a boat that is 4,000 pounds or less in that portion of the river. The weight includes the "factory-specified dry gross weight of the motorboat and the factory-specified maximum factory ballast capacity of the motorboat."

When the process for formulating new rules for the Newberg Pool was under deliberation in 2019 and 2020, some hoped the board would limit the size of towed water sports boats to 2,500 pounds. Proponents hoped the smaller boat sizes would reduce harm on local docks and curb erosion and negative effects on wildlife populations. Detractors said the idea was too restrictive and would effectively eliminate wakesports in that section of the river. The board instead imposed a 10,000-pound weight limit.

Matt Radich, the president of Active Water Sports, said none of the boats he sells that could be used for wakesports weigh in under the 4,000-pound threshold. Therefore, in his view, the legislation would bar wakesports from the Newberg Pool. Radich was frustrated that, according to him, bill sponsors did not contact two of the largest boat dealers in Oregon — Active Water Sports or Northwest Boat Sports — to provide input prior to the introduction of the legislation.

"I would agree that all the boats we sell shouldn't have unlimited use of this space. How to come up with the compromise, that takes sitting down and talking about it and not just putting a 4,000-pound weight restriction that will get all (wake) boats off the river," he said.

Travis Williams, executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, felt the bill could impact a heavier class of wake boat. He supports the legislation but noted that it could evolve throughout the session.

"This is another change that could be made that could save people a lot of money (from lessened dock damage) and save the ecological function of the river," he said.

In 2019, the board limited wakesurfing in the river to particular zones in the Newberg Pool and then reduced the number of zones from five to two last year.

The bill also stipulates that the Oregon State Marine Board may conduct a study on whether to increase the aforementioned weight.

The "scientific and peer reviewed" study would identify if increasing the loading weight would adversely affect the "waters, beds and bank of the state," and if it would violate state or federal turbidity limits.

"Before making a determination, the board shall consult with and receive comments from the Department of State Lands, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Quality," the bill reads.

Additionally, the bill would require the board to present findings from the study to the Legislature.

Revamping the Marine Board

House Bill 2695 would mandate that the Marine Board, which determines waterway policies in Oregon, include representation across interest groups.

It would mandate that the board consist of: a member with "academic or professional expertise in riverine ecology, fisheries biology or environmental conservation," one who owns a floating home and representatives of a recreational boating organization, as well as members from a water paddling organization, a recreational fishing organization, a Native American tribe and the general public. It would also require that two non-voting members from the Department of State Lands and Department of Environmental Quality (or the directors' designees) be appointed to the board. Currently, the board consists of five members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate.

Williams felt that the current board is too boater-friendly and has been unhappy that legislation allowing the board to consider erosion in its rulemaking hasn't seemed to influence policy.

"It does point to a broken process in terms of how they do their appointments," he said.

Radich felt that the board should be a boater-advocacy agency and that the legislation was a way to tilt the board against wakesports.

"I know they are trying to stack the deck against recreational tow boats and what we have access to," he said.

Excise tax for wake boats

House Bill 2734 would require that the marine board study "the feasibility of imposing an excise tax on wake boat sales," and submit a report to the Legislature that may include a recommendation.

Radich posited that a wakesports fee could be sensible but was wary about the intent behind the bill and how drastic the tax could be.

To read the bills in their entirety, visit oregonlegislature.gov.

Matt Radich's title was incorrectly identified in a previous version of this article. He's the president of Active Water Sports


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