Oregon kayakers given warning about permit fee

MEDFORD — Marine officers across Oregon will usher in the summer boating season this weekend by enforcing a new $5 licensing rule on historically unlicensed nonmotorized boats as part of a stepped-up effort to keep area waters free of invasive species.

Operators of inflatable kayaks and other nonmotorized boats more than 10 feet long have been warned since the law's Jan. 1 starting date that they must carry an Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention permit with them whenever that boat is on a public river, lake or stream.

But those warnings could start turning into $142 tickets this Memorial Day weekend for boaters who have yet to comply with the rule, which is one of two rules crafted to keep boaters from unwittingly infesting waterways with species such as zebra or quagga mussels that have wreaked environmental and financial havoc elsewhere.

"We'll keep a sharp lookout this weekend," said Lt. Pat Rowland, who runs the marine patrol program for the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

"So far, we haven't seen that much of a problem," Rowland said. "That's because we haven't (seen) the pleasure boaters. It's going to be a headache."

Permit sales are expected to raise about $1 million a year to help keep Oregon from suffering the plagues of invasive aquatic plants and animals such as those that have infested Great Lakes states and, most recently, Lake Mead in California.

These plants and animals can be transported from between waterways and across state lines in boat bilge water or affixed to hulls and motors.

The program will focus on public education largely centered around ensuring that boaters keep their boats clean of plants or animals before they launch in area lakes or streams.

Administered jointly by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State Marine Board, it will include five teams of boat inspectors who will visit boat ramps across the state on weekends to do voluntary inspections.

The teams, which also will do voluntary inspections at places such as Interstate 5 rest areas, will have a mobile boat-decontamination unit to wash boat hulls of owners who request it.

The permit program is in tandem with Oregon's so-called "Clean Launch Law," enacted by the Legislature last year, that now makes it illegal to launch any boat with any aquatic species on the exterior.

The law includes native weeds of Oregon as well as non-native species. Violations could lead to tickets totaling $287.

"The message here to boaters is they must keep their boats clean," said Glenn Dolphin, the Marine Board's program coordinator.

One permit is required to be matched with any boat over 10 feet long while in use, regardless of who owns the boat and who owns the permit. They are transferable, so anyone loaning an inflatable kayak to someone also can loan him the permit.

The transfer rule allows a single owner of several boats to buy one permit, provided just one boat is used at a time.

Rental liveries like those in Shady Cove have a discount program in which they can get permits for 21 boats or more for $100, Dolphin said.

The permits are made of paper, making it easier to transfer, Dolphin said.

But that has turned into a potential nightmare for kayak renters such as Dennis Enriquez of Rapid Pleasure raft rentals in Shady Cove.

Enriquez owns as many as 70 rafts and inflatable kayaks that all get rented on hot summer weekends. He's afraid his rafters will ruin or lose the permits.

"I understand paying a tax. That's the way the world works," Enriquez said. "But how the heck do you keep something like that on a boat?"

Dolphin said the Marine Board plans to offer the option of stickers or transferable permits beginning next year.

"We realized that was a burden and oversight by us," Dolphin said.

Until then, Rowland said, Jackson County marine deputies plan to verify with the various rental outfits that they've purchased enough permits to match their stock. That way, they will not have to check those rafts or kayaks each time they're seen on the water.

"That will be good enough for us," Rowland said. "At least they got the permit. That's the point."

The annual permits are available at any ODFW Point of Sale computer-licensing provider as well as from the Marine Board and some boating businesses. The sellers can charge up to a $2 administration fee.

Owners of Oregon's roughly 170,000 registered powerboats will see their invasive-species permit fee rolled into their biannual registration, Dolphin said.

Through April, the fee has been collected from 61,048 powerboat registrations for 2010, Dolphin said, and 13,309 permits have been sold for nonmotorized boats 10 feet or longer.

The Marine Board has no idea how many of those permits it will sell because those boats have never been registered or counted in the state.

"We have no clue. We really don't," Dolphin said. "We've tried to estimate, but it would be like grabbing at air."

Dolphin said the fee scale mirrors that of Idaho, and that the 10-foot limit also was set in Idaho and recently in Wyoming.

"You don't want to require a permit for every little pool toy you put on the water," he said.

Dolphin said the program has seen some "push-back" from nonmotorized boaters so far.

"At first they see it as just another fee imposed by the government," Dolphin said. "But when I tell them what we're doing, they're pretty receptive to this.

"Hopefully, by the end of the summer, people will see some of our activities and they'll know what we're doing," Dolphin said.

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