Legislator amends bill targeting Wilsonville section of the Willamette aiming to protect river banks from excessive wakes

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Some residents along the Willamette River claim that extreme wakes are causing damage to their docks and erosion to the banks. While City of Wilsonville staff and a few concerned citizens scatter across the council chambers at the typical City Hall meeting, most seats sit unoccupied.

But, at the most recent council meeting Feb. 5, citizens filled the seats and lined the walls to opine about two Oregon State Legislature bills proposed during the short February session that some believe favored the interests of property owners while hindering boaters along the Willamette River.

Initially, House Bill 4099 proposed increasing penalties, including fines and potential jail time, for boaters who violated the existing rules against using wake enhancement devices and causing wakes while boating within 200 feet of docks in the Willamette from river mile 30 to 50 — which encompasses all of Wilsonville.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The majority of citizens who spoke at the city council meeting Feb. 5 opposed the initial bills targeting boaters Rep. Richard Vial proposed.

During the council meeting, some members of the public said regulations increasing penalties for the use of wake enhancing devices are necessary due to the increasing size of boats in recent years and damages to docks caused by extreme wakes.

Rep. Richard Vial, who represents Wilsonville, proposed the bills and attended the city council meeting.

After attendees made their point heard, Vial spoke before the council and quelled tensions a bit by announcing that he would introduce an amendment to House Bill 4099 that would scrap increased restrictions in favor of a comprehensive study.

And later in the week, he introduced the amendment. If passed, it would create a task force to conduct a study that would assess the "conflicts between boaters, shoreline property owners."

As proposed, the task force wouldn't just study the section of the Willamette River near Wilsonville.

"We want the task force to look at the entire waterway system in the state," Vial told the Spokesman after the meeting. "If they decide to (tell

us to) regulate one section, they would also have to tell us the impact on other sections."

However, House Bill 4138, which would allow the Oregon Marine Board to impose regulations related to the use of motorboats in order to reduce erosion at the request of the Oregon Department of State Lands, will be put up for a vote this year.

The majority of the audience members who spoke opposed both bills, while a few expressed support.

Vial said at the meeting that he had received 400 calls and 2,000 emails about the bills, most of which expressed opposition.

It appears that he took the decries to heart.

"Part of the reason you introduce bills is to give folks the opportunity to be heard and that definitely worked in this case," Vial said. He said he expects his amendment to go into law but added that finding funding for the task force could prove challenging.

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said the council was not aware of the initial bills until recently and would not support or oppose bills that would decide Willamette River regulations hastily. But he supports the decision to study the matter.

Supporters of the bill emphasized the increasing size of boats in the area in recent years.

"In the last 3 to 5 years we've seen that the advent of these big boats producing monster waves is significant," Wilsonville resident Mike Farrell said in the public comment portion of the city hall meeting. "It's a fun sport but it has consequences to other people that want to use the river."

Vial and others say the mere restriction of wake enhancing devices hasn't dissuaded boaters from using them, mostly due to the lack of enforcement along the water. Vial says the task force would study enforcement mechanisms.

"There is supposed to be a system in place now to strike some sort of balance but it's not working. Much of the area of the river that is of concern has a no-wake zone with little or no enforcement," President of Friends of Historic Butteville Ben Williams said. "There are lots of people who take advantage of that. It's like working a tax loophole with the IRS."

But most of the attendees at the council meeting believe that increased restrictions would be oppressive.

"The reason I'm in opposition is this is my livelihood. This is how I provide for my family. I'm on the river all summer long and every chance I get. It's the environment I chose to be in to raise my daughter in. I grew up on the water and I want the same thing for her," Wilsonville resident Greg Waters said.

"I think it's going to negatively affect the tourism aspect of the city because a lot of people do come from neighboring areas to partake in the activities. It's not just us. There's a lot of folks that know that stretch of water and enjoy it thoroughly," Kelly Gilmore said.

And a couple people raised concern that such strict policies from mile 30 to 50 could congest other areas of the Willamette River.

"They're going to be pushed to the outer limits to do wakeboarding activities that are so dangerous for them it's going to scare me and the whole family," Keeley O'Brien said.

Wilsonville resident Angie Gibson wondered why this bill targets the Wilsonville area rather than other areas along the Willamette River.

"I just want to know the facts. Why are we specifically being targeted? Because that's how it felt to me," she said.

Vial said that particular portion of the Willamette River was chosen because he represents constituents who raised concerns about the supposed increasing size of wakes in the area. But he said that his co-sponsors of the bill received similar complaints.

"Yes, it started with this stretch of the Willamette but it's (the problem) not limited to this stretch of the Willamette," Vial said.

Sue Duemling ended the public hearing with the most middle-of-the-road stance provided. She enjoys the river but says wakes have caused costly damages to her dock.

"Honestly, we're torn," she said. "We just want it to be considered 'how big is too big?'"

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