Oregon paddlers, the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB), and non-motorized advisory committee members met June 3 at the Portland Building in downtown Portland for a 2½-hour meeting to discuss matters of importance to the paddling community. OSMB and the advisory committee members wanted to hear from paddlers their concerns about safe and easy access to paddling sites, safety once on the water, paddling education, and funding options for these services. It was also OSMB’s opportunity to inform paddlers about its new mission and strategic goals.
In a press release, OSMB Director Scott Brewen declared, “Now is the time that we need to bring paddlers to the table and talk about the services they need and want. We hope that together we will set a new course forward that will help us manage, support and encourage diverse non-motorized activities on Oregon’s waterways that promote safer and more frequent boating recreation for all boaters.”
Since 2011, non-motorized boat use has exceeded motorized boat use. With the increase in non-motorized boats has come the demand from motorized boaters to have canoeists, kayakers, rafters, SUPs users, and other paddle craft operators to pay their fair share for using the boat launches.
It has also been 11 years since boater registration fees were last raised, and the agency is facing a budget shortfall in the next biennium. OSMB is a totally self-funded agency receiving no general funds from the state. Motorized boaters feel they’re footing the entire agency funding bill and that non-motorized boat owners don’t pay anything.
The evening started with Scott Brewen addressing an audience of approximately 35 paddlers about OSMB, how it gets its funding, and where those funds go. The audience then broke into three groups to discuss three key areas that OSMB wanted to address: access to the water, safety, and boater education.
Parking and adequate access to the water were big topics. Paddlers in attendance favored sandy or grassy beaches over concrete boat ramps, citing the damage concrete boat ramps can do to the bottoms of their boats. Also important was camping accessibility along the rivers. In the case of the Tualatin River and Willamette Rivers, it was suggested that public boat access be available every 5–10 miles. Of concern is how to make sure that additional parking spaces allocated to paddlers are used by them and not by non-paddlers simply looking for a parking spot at the boat ramps.
Participants discussed the need for better education about wearing PFDs and why paddlers are required to have an AISP and why they pay more—the AISP program was based on Idaho’s program. They discussed having signs and maps at the boat ramps that show navigation hazards and launch points.
The biggest concerns people expressed about safety were issues dealing with boat wakes from power boaters and the reluctance of boaters to wear PFDs, especially when new to paddling or paddling in unfamiliar waters. OSMB reported that 80 percent of paddling fatalities are due to people not wearing a PFD.
Following the break-out into the three groups, the audience reconvened to hear from Scott about the permit fee proposal. The Marine Board in its desire to mitigate conflict between users of non-motorized and motorized boats has proposed instituting a fee on all paddle craft. OSMB proposed assessing a permit fee of $25, which would be levied on all owners of paddle craft. The fee would work somewhat like the current aquatic invasive species permit (AISP) that paddlers currently are subject to.
Some paddlers in the audience were completely opposed to being assessed a permit fee, others were more receptive to the fee provided it was used to improve accessibility to the water for paddlers, increase parking, and there was agency accountability and transparency in how OSMB spent the money. It was suggested by some that the fee be based on boat length so owners of smaller paddle craft weren’t paying the same that owners of larger canoes and kayaks paid. Powerboat owners are currently accessed a fee based on the length of their boats. A dollar per foot feet was one idea. Since the permits would be assigned to the boat owners and not the boats, the permits would be transferable like the current AISP.
In addition to the meeting in Portland, OSMB held further June meetings with the paddlers in Central Point, La Grande, Tillamook, Springfield, and Bend.
OSMB will use the comments it received from paddlers during the June meetings, along with comments from an on-line survey, as a baseline for preliminary thinking and development of ideas for a non-motorized boater program. Additional public meetings throughout the state will continue in the fall beginning in September. In July 2015, OSMB will be presented with a comprehensive report outlining recommendations for a non-motorized boater program and funding source options, which will be available on OSMB’s website: www.oregon.gov/OSMB/pages/admin/strategicplan.aspx.
Once the fee is decided upon, OSMB will present the Oregon Legislature with its request. Since the Legislature meets in January 2015, and any fees assessed would begin on January 1, the earliest paddlers can probably expect to start paying the fee is January 1, 2016.
November 2012: Non-Motorized Advisory Committee convenes.
January 2014: Outreach planning begins.
June 2014: Public listening sessions and Web survey begin.
July 2014: Collate and analyze public inputs.
September/October 2014: Continue public listening sessions.
December 2014–April 2015: Internal analysis and draft report.
May–June 2015: Prepare for July 2015 board meeting.
June 2015: Finalize and publish report.
July 2015: Present findings and recommendations to the board.