Saturday, January 19, 2013

EDITORIAL: Ban seaplanes from Waldo ... Why risk exposing a pristine lake to invasive species

Published: January 19, 2013 12:00AM, Today

The Oregon State Marine Board made the right call last year in continuing its 2010 ban on motorboats on Waldo Lake. Now, the state Aviation Board should jettison its ill-advised plan to allow the use of seaplanes on one of the cleanest and clearest bodies of water not just in Oregon, but the entire world.

Bordered by wilderness on two sides, Waldo’s extraordinary beauty and purity deserve an equally extraordinary level of state protection. That’s why first the U.S. Forest Service and later the state Marine Board made the controversial but necessary decision to phase out gas-powered boats on the lake.

Last April, the Marine Board voted 3-2 to continue its ban on gas-­powered motorboats on the lake. But in a little-noticed move, the panel specifically exempted seaplanes. Last summer, the state Aviation Board put in place temporary rules allowing seaplanes to use the lake, and later this month it will conduct a public hearing on its plans to make the rules permanent. The board should reconsider.

Many of the same arguments that applied to gas-powered motorboats apply to seaplanes, which pose a modest but still very real risk of pollution from fuel and oil spills. An even stronger argument can be made on the aesthetic benefits of a seaplane ban. The ban on motorboats was based in part on surveys of visitors that showed a majority favored a ban and cited noise as the main reason. Seaplanes make noise — a lot of it — and that noise is not welcome on one of the few large lakes in Oregon that offers a tranquil, nearly primitive experience to hikers, paddlers and campers.

But the most persuasive argument against allowing seaplanes is the increased risk of introducing invasive species.

Under proposed rules under consideration by the Aviation Board, pilots of seaplanes would be required to check for and remove invasive species from their aircraft before using the lake.

Sounds reassuring. But it’s hard to see how the pilot of a seaplane that’s taking off from a lake in, say, Northern California could check the pontoons or other submerged portions of the plane before taking off and landing in Waldo Lake.

It’s also hard to understand why state regulators think it’s worth the risk of pollution and the introduction of invasive species to open Waldo Lake to what would probably be a small number of seaplanes — seaplanes that have numerous landing options on nearby lakes.

Under temporary rules set by the Aviation Board, just half a dozen seaplanes used the lake last summer. That’s not many, but a policy allowing landings on the lake would invite more — and any number would run the risk of damaging some of the purest, most glorious waters anywhere.

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