Driftboaters, kayakers, sailors and others running boats without motors may soon — for the first time — start paying toward their playing on Oregon's public waterways.
The Oregon State Marine Board will ask the Oregon Legislature to create and fund a new nonmotorized boating program that would help pay for upkeep of boat ramps, other facilities and marine patrol programs heretofore paid largely by fees charged to motorized boaters.
The program would also offer grants to public agencies to buy, build, expand or renovate facilities for nonmotorized boats as the Marine Board currently does through its facilities program. Money also would be available to put marine patrols on waterways heavily used by nonmotorized boats and fund removal of navigational hazards such as "strainer" trees dangerous to the summer flotilla on the upper Rogue River.
House Bill 2320 would authorize the program and establish fees for transferable permits boaters would have to carry when rowing or sailing their boats.
A one-week permit would cost $4, an annual permit would cost $12, and a two-year permit would cost $20.
This would be in addition to the $5 annual Invasive Species Program permit users of boats over 10 feet long must purchase to fund efforts to keep aquatic invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels out of Oregon waterways and control those already here.
Under the proposal, anyone 14 or older would have to carry both permits when operating any nonmotorized boat. Companion bill HB 2321 seeks to remove the AIS exemption for nonmotorized boats less than 10 feet long.
The Marine Board said nonmotorized boat activity now equals or exceeds motorized activity, and nonmotorized boaters account for, on average, half of Oregon's annual boating fatalities, the agency said.
The Marine Board estimates there are about 110,000 unlicensed, nonmotorized boats in Oregon, along with 155,629 licensed boats.
Some owners of nonmotorized boats have told the Marine Board they would accept modest fees if they see results on the water from it, Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey said.
"It's really about meeting the needs they told us they had," Massey said.
The 2015 Oregon Legislature told the Marine Board to come up with a program addressing nonmotorized boats. The agency formed a public advisory committee whose suggestions led to development of the proposal, Massey said.
"In our committee, they understand that in order to play, they have to pay, too," Massey said.
One of those on the committee was Eric Weiseth, managing partner of Orange Torpedo Trips, a rafting and outfitting company in Merlin.
Weiseth said he realizes that covering at least some of the costs of Marine Board programs makes sense.
"I use boat ramps all the time," Weiseth said. "Nobody's for having another thing to buy. But it does make sense to me to help pay for what we use."
The Marine Board estimates that the fees would generate about $2.17 million over the next two years.
The proposal calls for two full-time employees and one part-timer, and the program would have a biennial cost of $1.87 million. The excess money, Massey said, would be available as grants.
HB 2320 currently does not have a legislative sponsor, Massey said.
The bill would also, for the first time, define and regulate for safety those using inner tubes, floating mattresses and other pool toys when floating Oregon's rivers and streams.
The term "nonmotorized craft" would be used to describe items not defined as a boat and not propelled by equipment such as oars, yet still capable of supporting a person on the water, according to the Marine Board.
Anyone floating a river or stream on a nonmotorized craft would be required to wear a life jacket, according to the bill's draft.
However, that designation and requirement would not abolish those floaters' exemption from rules banning the operation of a boat while under the influence of intoxicants, Massey said.
Jackson County sheriff's Sgt. Shawn Richards said there is a contingent of people who use large floating islands while on the Rogue to sidestep BUII rules.
"They're thumbing their noses at us, because they don't fit the definition of a boat," Richards said. "We can't do anything about it."
Massey said the committee discussed expanding the BUII rules for nonmotorized crafts but opted against it.