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No motor, no free pass

Nonmotorized boats, which for decades have sidestepped fees to fund boating facilities, will get hit with a $12 annual bill to help pay for boat ramps and other water-access opportunities beginning next year under a bill headed to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.

Senate Bill 47 would create a Waterway Access Fund that would raise $1 million in its first year to fund access projects such as expanding the Shady Cove boat ramp on the Rogue River and a whitewater park on the Rogue near Gold Hill.

The $12 would be assessed on all nonmotorized boats 10 feet and longer, with raft liveries paying less under sliding scales based on boat numbers. The money would go to a new Waterway Access Fund specifically to fund lake and river access projects.

The fee would piggyback the current $5 annual fee for these boats to help fund protection against invasive species in Oregon waterways, so these boaters would be charged $17 a year or $30 for two years for a single permit to cover both programs.

Like the current invasive species permit, the new permits would be transferable to other boats, and one permit must accompany each boat used on public waterways, with exceptions for such things and federal Wild and Scenic waters, boaters younger than 14 and residents of adjacent states.

For years, the Oregon State Marine Board has collected license fees from motorized boats to build and maintain ramps and other waterway access portals also used by rafters, sailboaters and others not licensed in Oregon but eyed by legislators to start paying their own way.

The Oregon Legislature in 2015 told the Marine Board to look into such a funding mechanism, and the nonmotorized boating community has sought better launching facilities tailored to more than motorized boats.

“The concept has been brought to us by stakeholder groups for quite a while,” Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey said. “And part of this is to fulfill what we’ve been asked to do by the Legislature. This is the best way to do it.”

The Marine Board, on a list of 16 possible “concept” projects that could be built under the new fund, includes reworking the Shady Cove boat ramp to create more space for launching and taking out boats, and possibly a staging area for loading and off-loading vehicles.

Another possible project funded from the new fees includes the proposed Whitewater Park at the Ti’lomikh Falls area outside of Gold Hill. The former Powerhouse Rapids area, which is the site of the annual King of the Rogue rafting, kayaking and stand-up paddleboard races, has been eyed for a world-class whitewater park that could lure national and international whitewater events.

The fee is begrudgingly accepted by Steve Kiesling, the owner of the Gold Hill Whitewater Center, a longtime backer of the Ti’lomikh Falls development, and King of the Rogue founder.

“I’m not in any hurry to start charging people, but the reality is we probably have to,” Kiesling said. “It’s not my favorite proposal at all, but it’s probably the only way to get some things done for non-motorized boaters.”

The Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill May 16, repassed the bill Thursday with some amendments added by the state House when it passed its version of the bill Monday.

The Legislature’s revenue office estimated that the fee would add just shy of $1 million to the fund in 2020 and almost $1.39 million in the 2021-23 biennium.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Rafters enjoy the sun Friday near Shady Cove. The Legislature passed a bill this week to charge nonmotorized watercraft $12 a year to provide money for boating facilities around the state. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune