Watersports bill dies, but wake debate continues

Clackamas County

SB 857 would have limited the loading weight of watersports boats in the Newberg Pool Congested Zone

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A bill that would limit the weight of motorboats on a stretch of the Willamette River died in the 2021 legislative session, leaving boaters with temporary relief and supporters of the bill still on the hunt for change. 

Sen. Bill Kennemer, R-Canby, sponsored SB 857 after a similar bill did not pass out of the House. 

While the bill was progressing through the Senate, it did not make it to the floor in time for a vote before the session came to an end. 

“I hated to see it die,” Kennemer said. “We had put tremendous effort in… a whole huge team of people who share the concern.” 

SB 857 would have limited the loading weight of watersports boats on the Newberg Pool Congested Zone to 5,000 pounds if they hoped to obtain a towed watersports motorboat certificate. It also prevented them from using devices to increase wakes, the waves created behind a boat. The zone extends from Willamette Falls to the mouth of the Yamhill River.

Kennemer said watersports boats and the wake they create can be dangerous to other river users, cause extreme erosion on the shoreline, and damage house boats and docks. He said the eroding shoreline is resulting in silt buildup along the bank, changing the natural environment surrounding the river. 

“We’re talking about very substantial impact. The shorelines have now turned from nice soft silty soil to what I call muck,” he said. 

Dr. Pedro Lomonaco from the wave research laboratory at Oregon State University submitted testimony on the bill saying that boat wakes can contribute to an imbalance in sediment transport, meaning more sediment moves into an area than moves out of it. In his testimony he said, “Individual wakes reaching the shoreline may not cause significant damage, but intensive repetition of the same event will end up producing irrecoverable loss of material, erosion and damage.” 

Advocates against the bill, such as Matt Radich, president of Active Water Sports, pointed out that other experts conducted research on the erosion as well. They said boats are not the main concern. 

David Gorman, an ecological engineer said the arguments in favor of SB 857 were made on unsupported claims. After touring the Newberg Pool Congested Zone, he said the areas with the most significant erosion were those located in areas of residential development. 

He recommended the Senate support a more scientific investigation of the bank conditions before approving legislation. 

Radich said he felt the proposed legislation wasn’t a solution that worked for everyone. 

“It was really biased towards, towards a group that just wanted the boats off the water, so they targeted just one section of boating,” he said. 

Radich said if the loading weight is ever reduced to 5,000 pounds, only half the watersports boats that use the Newberg Pool Congested Zone now will be able to continue to recreate on it. 

He said the boating community doesn’t want to be fighting restricting legislation every year and still hopes the two sides can reach a better compromise. 

“The boating community understands that, once again, there are user conflicts out there, and I will continue to say that the first step in this should be increased education and enforcement,” Raddich said. 

He said he feels a lot of issues in the area could be resolved by making sure boaters are aware of the rules that are in place and that those rules are enforced. 

While Kennemer isn’t sure yet if similar legislation will be created again in the 2022 session. He said he does plan to meet with the director of the Oregon State Marine Board soon to discuss changes that would better protect people on the water and the environment. 

“We’re all environmentalists at heart. We want to just survive, we want the river to be healthy,” Kennemer said. “Why would you live here if you didn’t love the environment?”

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