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Meetings set on new fees for paddlers

The Oregon State Marine Board is coming Thursday to Southern Oregon to hear ideas on how best to usher in the new $12 annual fee for those paddling boats 10 feet or longer.

It’s the first time paddlers have been asked to help fund the facilities they use.

Beginning in 2020, the new Waterway Access Fund is expected to raise $1 million in its first year from most nonmotorized boaters to fund future access projects such as expanding the Shady Cove boat ramp for Rogue River paddlers and perhaps a planned whitewater park on the Rogue near Gold Hill.

The Marine Board asked for it, the Oregon Legislature passed it, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it.

Now boating officials want to hear how they should craft the language that makes the new law float.

“The fees? We can’t change that,” Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey said. “But do you want that permit to be paper or electronic? Those are the things we want to hear.”

Also up for comment is new language for livery registrations, as well as amended language to the aquatic invasive species program permit and various other definitions in boating rules.

Also open for comment is language for safety requirements for whitewater river outfitters and guides and the watercraft rental safety checklist.

“It’s all part of the process,” Massey said.

The meeting will run from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Jackson County Roads auditorium, 200 Antelope Road, White City.

Other meetings are planned for Aug. 29, in Bend, and Sept. 11, in Portland.

Written comments will be taken until 5 p.m. Sept. 20, via email at osmb.rulemaking@oregon.gov.

The Marine Board will meet Oct. 24 and either adopt the draft language, amend it or take other action.

If adopted, the new rules would go into effect Jan. 1.

The new $12 fee will be assessed on all nonmotorized boats 10 feet and longer, with raft liveries paying less under sliding scales based on boat numbers. The money will go to the fund explicitly to pay for lake and river access projects.

The fee will piggyback on the current $5 annual fee for these boats to help fund protection against invasive species in Oregon waterways, so nonmotorized boaters will be charged $17 a year or $30 for two years for a single permit to cover both the access fund and invasive-species prevention program.

Like the current invasive species permit, the new permits will be transferable to other boats, and one permit must accompany each vessel on the water.

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.

For decades, the Oregon State Marine Board, which gets no state general-fund money, has collected license fees on motorized boats and gets gas-tax money to build and maintain ramps and other waterway access portals also used by rafters, sailboaters and others previously not licensed in Oregon.

But for years, state legislators have eyed ways to start having these boaters pay their way.

Commodore Mark Warwick of the Rogue Yacht Club said those nonmotorized boaters who have used facilities largely paid for by powerboat licenses and sailboats 12 feet and longer need to get on board.

“If the nonmotorized want more access — which this will fund — they need to be willing to pay for it,” Warwick said. “If the powerboaters feel they’re subsidizing them, it will take some of that burden off them.

“Nothing is free anymore,” he said.

The 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.

Marine Board officials concluded that this fee — with the single fund — was the best approach, and it highlighted the agency’s concepts heading into this year’s legislative session.

When pitching it to legislators as part of its budget package, the Marine Board listed 16 possible “concept” projects that could be built under the new fund. That list included 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 is the proposed Whitewater Park at the Ti’lomikh Falls area outside of Gold Hill. Formerly known as Powerhouse Rapids area, the area is the site of the annual King of the Rogue rafting, kayaking and stand-up paddleboard races. The whitewater park is proposed as a world-class facility that could lure national and international whitewater events.

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

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