Marine Board makes permanent sound limits for Jet Skis on Willamette
This story has been updated from its original version.
The Oregon State Marine Board unanimously voted at its summer meeting Thursday, July 28, to permanently implement a rule limiting noise from Jet Skis on the Willamette River between West Linn and south Portland.
After a comment period beginning in September, the permanent rule will likely take effect in October, before the temporary rule expires.
The rule will prohibit personal watercraft (Jet Ski) operators from exceeding 75 decibels when measured from the shoreline. The rule only applies to recreators on the Willamette River between Willamette Falls and Waverly Marina in south Portland.
Though the neighbors complaining of noise thanked the board for its April decision limiting Jet Ski noise in the area, the petition they sent to the agency asked for further noise restrictions.
The petition requested for the 75-decibel noise limit to apply to all watercraft, not just Jet Skis, and to all Oregon waterways. Additionally, petitioners wanted to restrict personal watercraft activity that they felt caused excessive noise, specifically engine-revving, flips and other aerial tricks.
But the petitioners claim their requests were misconstrued, arguing that the marine board staff implied they had asked for statewide rule changes when this was not the case.
The petition also requested the addition of a "narrative standard" that would allow law enforcement to enforce the sound rule based not only on the decibel level, but other context like the location, duration and type of noise.
However, the board learned that the Oregon State Sheriffs Association opposed the narrative standard, "saying that equitable treatment of people is undermined by subjective interpretation," according to a marine board summary of the sheriff association's opposition.
This means the narrative standard would likely not be enforced, staff explained.
"It (the narrative standard) would, however, surely generate more complaints and requests to law enforcement to intervene when a boater disturbs someone else," staff wrote.
The board received several letters from local officials in West Linn, Lake Oswego, Gladstone and Milwuakie supporting the more comprehensive rules outlined in the petition. Three state representatives from the area also voiced support for the petition. However, 10 representatives from across the state expressed opposition for the petition, which they said went too far in limiting recreation for people who were not causing a nuisance.
Rep. David Brock Smith, R- Port Orford, said if there is a statewide issue to be addressed, the Legislature should look at it. Others who expressed opposition to the petition also felt it would be an overreach of the marine board to apply the decibel limit and narrative standard across the state.
Some of the petition's opponents seemed pleased with the decision.
"We commend the board's decision to reject the citizen petition," Matt Radich, president of Active Water Sports and board member of Oregon Families for Boating, said in a statement provided to Pamplin Media Group. "Demanding statewide limits to solve a hyperlocal issue was highly inappropriate. I sincerely hope this is the last attempt to restrict public access on Oregon's waterways. It's imperative that the Willamette River community find ways to work together, respectfully share the river and make it safer."
Though thankful that the noise limit was put in place for Jet Skis, the petitioners felt that business and recreation interests were still being prioritized over public health.
"The head of Action Watersports is not concerned with the public health and quality of life of West Linn residents. His focus is on building his business selling Jet Skis," the organization ShareTheRiver.org said in a statement. "After hearing the marine board's discussion around this issue of noise, it seems they may also more concerned with selling Jet Skis than public health.
They also emphasized that their petition had been misconstrued.
"Despite how the issue was conveyed, this wasn't a statewide rule change request," the statement read. "The measure motioned and adopted by the marine board in April was only for 'dense population zones' like the lower Willamette river. It wasn't about access to our public waters, it was about safe and responsible watercraft operation and rules promoting reasonable co-existence in specific noise sensitive areas.
"The OSMB is woefully unqualified and un-incentivized to deal with public health issues, as they are not public health experts and do not answer to voters. What's troubling, is that the OSMB did not seek input from public health officials once during this process in order to guide their decision making. The OSMB should be the authority around issues of boating safety, navigation, and registration. LOCAL public health issues impacting LOCAL communities should be able to be solved with LOCALLY elected officials and public health experts. The marine board's rules prevent that, which is the issue we attempted to address, as this specific over reach by the OSMB is harming our community."
The statement concluded by calling for vigilance from both the public and local enforcement.
"The responsibility now lies with the public to partner with (Clackamas County) Sheriff Brandenburg and her Marine Patrol to report activity that likely violates the rules put in place to the Clackamas County Sheriff's office," the statement said.
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