Monday, January 16, 2012

Committee to debate reopening Waldo Lake to float planes, gas boat motors.

Facing legal challenges to its ban on gas-driven motor use on Waldo Lake, the state is considering reversing the controversial rule it established two years ago.

An advisory committee composed of stakeholders is reviewing the rule and the impact it’s had on small businesses, said Scott Brewen, director of the Oregon Marine Board. The committee’s report on the impact should be out by the end of the month, and the committee will also advise the board whether the rule — which bans gas boat motors and float planes at Waldo Lake — should be reconsidered.

If the board decides to review the rule, he said, there could be a public hearing in April. The board would then vote on whether to keep the ban.

“So whatever the board decides, it’s done before the summer boating season,” Brewen said.

Legal challenge

In October, advocates for a less-restrictive ban on gas boat motors teamed up with a group representing seaplane pilots to file an appeal to the ban. The appeal is pending in the Oregon State Court of Appeals, but Brewen said the court will wait to see whether the state reconsiders the rule.

The more-than-a-decade-long debate about gas-powered boats at the Lane County lake about 40 miles southwest of Bend centers on concerns about noise and pollution, said Keith Kendrick, vice president of Waldo For Everyone! The group is involved with the appeal because it wants low-horsepower, four-stroke gas motors allowed on the lake.

“We are talking about slow-moving boats,” he said.

The lake has a 10-mph speed limit for boats, Kendrick said, so there wouldn’t be any ski or power boats.

Clear and deep

Flanked by wilderness on three sides, the lake is known for its clear, deep water. The second deepest lake in the state, behind Crater Lake, Waldo has an average depth of 128 feet, and its deepest point is 420 feet, said Duane Bishop, Middle Fork District ranger for the Willamette National Forest. The nearly 10-square-mile lake is encircled by trails and has three shoreline campgrounds as well as a picnic area.

“People go to Waldo Lake to have a pseudo-wilderness experience,” he said.

The state implemented the gas motor ban, which had been discussed for about 15 years, in early 2010. In the two summers since, lakegoers have been able to experience Waldo in a new way, said Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild, a Portland-based conservation group.

“This crown jewel, spectacular world-class lake got to be enjoyed with peace and quiet,” he said.

He said gas motors from boats and float planes present a danger for spills in the lake.

While Waldo Lake was only lightly used as a recreational stop for float planes, Columbia Seaplane Pilots Association president Aron Faegre said it is important to have it as an emergency-landing option for float planes traveling over the Cascades.

“We want to support the goals of the lake, but we don’t think it needs to exclude us,” he said.


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