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Bill to give marine board authority over erosion awaits Gov. Kate Brown's signature

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The section of the Willamette River near Wilsonville is said to be one of the more congested parts of the Newberg Pool.  The Oregon state Legislature is considering bills that would address erosion prevention and boater education.

Just as the boating season ramps up, two bills meant to address riverbank erosion and water sports education are cruising through the legislative process.

Here's what you need to know about each bill.

House Bill 2351

Wilsonville residents who live along the Willamette River have long been concerned about their riverbanks eroding and their docks deteriorating due to what they believe are large wakes caused by wakeboarding and wakesurfing activity. The property owners are frustrated that the Oregon State Marine Board can't do anything about it due to its lack of authority to prevent erosion.

"We have watched the boat size and design generate larger and larger wakes, in particular, (in) the last five years. These larger and larger wakes have had a huge impact on safety of people on the docks, erosion and dock damage," said Wilsonville residents Ken and Barbara Verboot in public testimony. "The increased erosion at the summer months water level is breaking down the bank structure and integrity at the very foundation. As the lower water level line deteriorates, the entire bank above that foundation level is at risk. This greatly increases the potential and has resulted in entire banks sloughing off."

House Bill 2351 would allow the board to impose regulations within the Willamette River Greenway "for the protection of the shoreline, public and private property, fish and wildlife habitat and vegetation."

"We understand the importance of the greenway. We want to do our part to protect it. This allows us to consider the greenway and the protection of the land when we consider new rules or are looking at current rules," said Josh Mulhollem, manager of the Oregon State Marine Board Policy and Environmental Program. "It allows us the ability to protect the rivers edge in our regulatory processes."

The bill was co-sponsored by Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, passed through the Oregon House of Representatives and the Senate and is awaiting approval from Gov. Kate Brown.

"I spoke to a lot of people who were very concerned about erosion and property damage and this bill seemed to be as close as we could get to address that," Neron said.

And Oregon River Safety Preservation Alliance President and Wilsonville resident Katie Farrell said ORSPA, which helped influence recent Marine Board rule changes in the Newberg Pool (roughly from West Linn to Newberg) that created designated zones for different water users, is working with Oregon State University and University of Portland engineering departments to conduct a Willamette River erosion study and hopes that the marine board will consider the information in the study, which is expected to be completed in October, when deciding what new rules to impose. ORSPA also facilitated a Willamette River wave energy study last summer.

"Once we have that data and data from the study done last year, then the Oregon State Marine Board can take both of those pieces of data and come to some conclusion about the effects that are occurring as a result of man-made waves and wave energy in general," Farrell said.

House Bill 2352

This bill, also co-sponsored by Neron, would require boaters in congested sections of Oregon rivers, including the Newberg Pool, to obtain a watersports endorsement by taking a water safety course or passing a water sports examination. Currently, boaters are required to take a boater safety course to use the river but those engaging in towed water sports activities such as wakeboarding and wakesurfing do not need to obtain additional certification.

"The special endorsement class is going to give boaters more detailed understanding of how to operate the boats, where they can be used, best practices and any type of safety concerns will be addressed too. Right now, there's no one that is teaching that to them," Farrell said.

It also would require boaters to provide the marine board with "information regarding the motorboat's make, model, length, dry gross weight and maximum factory ballast capacity specifications" and that boaters dis-

play the endorsement on their boat.

"By getting data, we then can understand how many boats are on the water that are creating the type of wave energy we're concerned about," Farrell said.

The endorsement fee would cost boaters $90 per biennium, which would go toward the cost of conducting the program ($475,000 per biennium) and increased law enforcement.

"This could get expensive for some boaters and be seen as punitive," Active Water Sports President Matt Radich wrote in public testimony. "For HB2351 to be effective it needs to shed much of the text regarding boat information and renewal costs. It should focus on how to efficiently educate and certify boat operators."

Farrell said that a lack of law enforcement along the river has consistently allowed boaters to break rules without repercussions.

"There is a huge problem with law enforcement and if we can't raise any fees we can't get more funding for law enforcement out on the river and therefore the cycle continues of boaters being noncompliant with rules and regulations along the river," she said.

The bill was recently approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources with a do pass recommendation and referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Neron, for her part, recently heard a story of a riverfront property owner who was standing on a ladder while fixing a lightbulb and almost fell over due to his dock rocking as a result of nearby wake-inducing activity.

She said that HB2351 was probably more controversial than the erosion bill but would help create a safer river.

"I think it's OK to include a policy of education around that (towed water sports). There's a safety component with wake surfing, having a respect for property and (considering) the general health of the river," she said.

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