Bolton residents ask marine board to tighten noise restrictions on Willamette
This article has been updated from its original version.
Tired of the noise from a competition-grade jet ski on the Willamette River, and met by local law enforcement who say they cannot enforce the noise ordinances of West Linn, Gladstone and Clackamas County, a handful of Bolton neighborhood residents have pushed the Oregon State Marine Board for a change in policy.
Mike Arthur and his neighbors said the loud revving from a two-stroke engine jet ski at Meldrum Bar Park (in Gladstone across the river from the Bolton neighborhood) can be heard for several hours nearly every day of the week from spring until late fall.
They described the noise as "someone starting a chainsaw" over and over.
While not opposed to people enjoying the river on paddleboards, kayaks, boats or even normal jet skis, Arthur said the problem with this particularly loud jet ski (he said the Marine Board and Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Marine Unit had gauged it at over 80 decibels) is that its driver stays in one spot, revving his engine to flip the jet ski over and over again.
Other jet skiers and boaters create noise, but typically don't overburden one area with ceaseless noise, according to Arthur.
Arthur said the jet skier stays in the same spot practicing flips due to the need to refuel the jet ski at his truck and trailer every five to 10 minutes.
"Because he's doing flips, his revved engine is above the water, not below it, amplifying and sling-shotting an already deafening noise," Arthur wrote in an email to the Bolton Neighborhood Association. "Even if two-stroke motor boats were to generate a similar amount of noise as the PWC (personal watercraft or jet skis), their engines are submerged in water, and most importantly, they just pass through creating a nuisance for seconds."
Two-stroke jet skis are banned from many waterways in the United States because of the excessive pollution they emit. They have not been widely manufactured since 2006, when the Environmental Protection Agency updated its fuel efficiency standard. However, some manufacturers still offer two-stroke jet skis, billing them "for competition only."
Nowadays, Arthur said jet skis with four-stroke engines are much more common because they are quieter, cleaner and more fuel efficient than the two-stroke.
According to the California Division of Boating and Waterways, the two-stroke engine does not burn all its fuel and emits 25% to 30% of its fuel into the water and air.
To address the issue, Arthur and others in the Bolton neighborhood have partnered with local attorney Bert Krages to ask the marine board to lower the sound level limit on Oregon waterways from 84 decibels to 75 decibels and to add a "narrative standard" to the rule.
The narrative standard would take into account the context (location, duration and type of noise) of someone possibly violating the noise limits.
Other states, including Washington, have adopted 75-decibel sound limits based on a recommendation from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
The stricter limits in other states mean that people with two-stroke jet skis and other noisy watercraft travel to Oregon where their crafts don't violate state rules.
When Arthur and his neighbors first complained to local officials about the noise from the jet ski, they learned the local jurisdictions were unable to enforce their own noise ordinances on the river because the Willamette is a state waterway.
"Because the state rule does not currently have a narrative standard as it pertains to noise, the narrative standard of the city/county cannot be enforced," Arthur wrote in his email. "The result is, local law enforcement is getting bombarded with noise complaints, and even though the complaints are violating local city (and) county laws, police are unable to act due to the state rules."
In November, Krages sent a petition to the marine board, asking the body to consider the rule changes. A separate community-based petition Arthur and his neighbors have circulated online includes a video depicting the noise nuisance created from the jet ski and has over 240 signatures.
The board is accepting public comments on the petition through Jan. 5 and is expected to decide on the proposal at its meeting Jan. 26.
"We're aware that a handful of operators are causing these issues," Mulhollem said. "We've had extensive communication with local law enforcement on ways to address this and at least at this point, the activities generating all these complaints and this animosity are within the law."
Mulhollem said he was unsure what actions the board would take at the Jan. 26 meeting, but added it was possible to accept the petition but not use the proposed rule changes it outlines, accept the changes as proposed, or deny the petition altogether. He also said the board could simply decide to encourage better behavior from recreationists on the water.
If the board adopts the changes but the problem still persists, Arthur said they would push for an all-out ban on two-stroke jet skis.
"Changing state law (with a two-stroke jet ski ban) could take a while, and our communities need relief soon," the online petition read. "This is one reason why the current proposal with the Marine Board is an option to take care of many of the public nuisance problems, without being too restrictive on responsible operators."
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