Friday, January 18, 2013

Should seaplanes be allowed on Waldo Lake? It's under discussion

A proposal would make permanent a set of temporary rules allowing aircraft to land and take off at the lake

The state is getting ready to set permanent rules for how seaplanes can use Waldo Lake, and state Department of Aviation officials want public comment.

The department has set a public hearing in Springfield for Jan. 31.

The state has banned motorboats on the lake for a couple of years, but seaplanes would be allowed under the proposed rules.

Lake users have fought for years over engines on Waldo, a pristine body of water high in the Cascade Range north of Highway 58.

Kayakers, canoers, environmentalists and other advocates of a ban largely won the war last spring, when the state Marine Board voted 3-2 to keep its ban on motorboat internal combustion engines on Waldo.

The vote came after the board was inundated with comments supporting the ban. A small number of people had been pushing for the board to allow engines.

For decades, authorities had allowed engines on the lake, with a speed limit. For years, the U.S. Forest Service had tried to implement a ban on engines on the lake, but was thwarted by a small number of motorboat advocates who waged legal appeals. The fight then shifted over to the Marine Board.

No one has filed legal challenges against last April’s Marine Board vote, said board spokeswoman Ashley Massey.

However, the Marine Board ban doesn’t cover aircraft. In April, the board specifically exempted seaplanes from the ban, leaving that matter to the state Aviation Board, which sets policy for the Aviation Department.

The state Aviation Board last summer put in place temporary rules regulating seaplane use of the lake.

During last summer, six seaplanes used the lake, said Mitch Swecker, aviation department director.

Now, the Aviation Board wants to make the rules permanent, he said. Before doing that, it needs to gather public sentiment.

Already, the department has received a few e-mails asking for the agency to ban seaplanes, and a few from seaplane supporters, Swecker said.

Under the proposed permanent rules — which are much the same as the temporary rules — the state would:

Ban the use of Waldo for pilot training.

Limit planes to landing or taking off between 8 a.m. or 30 minutes after sunrise, whichever is later, and 8 p.m., or 30 minutes before sunset, whichever is earlier.

Restrict landings to the eastern half of the lake.

Ban high-power taxiing in the water, except where required for safety.

Require pilots to look for and remove invasive species from their aircraft before using the lake.

Require pilots to notify the department whenever they use the lake.

Swecker said that before approving final rules, the agency wants to gather more information about invasive species and what procedures pilots would need to follow to ensure that their floats didn’t bring invasive species into the lake.

Swecker said his agency doesn’t know how much the lake has been used over the years by seaplanes.

Before last year’s temporary rules, the state didn’t require pilots to report whether they landed on the lake.

“Now with that data in hand, we’ll do permanent rulemaking,” he said.


When/where: Jan. 31, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Ken Long Conference Room, Willamalane Center, 250 S. 32nd St., Springfield

More information: Contact state Aviation Department at 503-378-4880 or toll-free at 800-874-0102

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