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Bills Seek to Put Fees on All Boaters 
At least two bills expected to come before the Oregon Legislature this year are aimed at imposing fees on all boats and boaters. One, HB 2320, is aimed at imposing registration fees on all non-motorized boats. The other, HB 2321, has the intent of expanding the Aquatic Invasive Species Permit program to boats under ten feet in length. Both bills are Oregon State Marine Board initiatives.

This is hardly the first time the board has attempted to impose registration on paddle craft. One significant difference this time around is the agency has made an attempt to identify ways in which it might serve the paddling public. Unfortunately, it is hardly clear that public was well represented in the process. The advisory committee formed by the board was heavy on members with commercial interests in paddlesport, and very light on private boaters. The interests of the two groups often intersect, but far less commonly are they in harmony. The result of this imbalance seems to have left the concerns and welfare of many, if not most private boaters in the margins.

The board has invested heavily in trying to remain relevant as motor craft use has declined. While their efforts appear to be in good faith, the approach these bills take is heavy handed and overly broad. For instance, rather than focus fees on facilities users, like a Sno-park permit, they seek facilities fees from every boater. The idea behind “pay-to-play” is paying for your own play, not someone else’s. And, of course, all of it runs contrary to the mandate given the State of Oregon upon statehood, by the federal government, to maintain our state’s waterways as “freely navigable”.

Of course, many predicted that the AISP fees would prove to be the camel’s nose in the tent. HB 2321 seems to confirm that view. While the statistics I’ve seen on the boat inspections suggest that non-motorized boats over 10′ comprise a fraction of 1 percent of the problem, such boaters pay for their permits at a rate 200 percent that of their fuel-burning peers. Now, with no apparent factual evidence to support the action, we see an attempt to force the smallest of boats into this inequitable arrangement.

While it makes sense for the Marine Board to realign its thinking with the new realities of 21st Century boating, the agency’s approach this time around relies on the same big-government thinking of the past. The benefits the agency can provide the paddling public are nuanced and limited. Any programs to serve that public need to reflect this fact. Instead, these two bills try to indiscriminately pull revenue from every boater, and offer little but vague justifications and with little specification as to how the money will benefit Oregonians. Indeed, parts of the proposals make it sound as if the board wishes to turn our waterways into fun parks, with the OSMB as gatekeeper and concessionaire.

Of course, you are welcome to come to your own conclusions about this legislation. If, though, you feel as I do, I would suggest you make your legislators aware of your position. Otherwise, you may soon be paying for someone else’s fun.

The text of HB 2320 can be found in this PDF: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2320/Introduced

HB 2321’s text is here: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2321/Introduced

As the session proceeds, the status of the bills will change. To fully follow their progress, you can find the main tracking page, here: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/citizen_engagement/Pages/Find-a-Bill.aspx

Festival of Sail Dates Set 
The festival brings historic sailing vessels to coastal ports, which includes Coos Bay, June 1-4: http://festofsail.com/

Minto Island Bridge Opening Delayed to April 
The bridge is now expected to open in April for foot and bicycle traffic, it will close again in summer for the removal of the construction support structures. The final completion of the project is expected in July. The Statesman has more: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2017/01/19/minto-island-bridge-open-april/96722680/