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State enters fray over Waldo Lake.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Arguing under a states-rights banner, Lane County timber heir Steven Stewart - and his father, Stub, before him - have long stalled the U.S. Forest Service's 20-year effort to banish gas-powered boats from pristine Waldo Lake.

But now the state is exercising its right to regulate the lake by proposing a gas-powered motorboat ban that's just like the Forest Service's sidelined proposal.

The five-member state Marine Board will decide at its Jan. 14 meeting whether gas-powered motorboats will be allowed to ply the lake in the high Cascades east of Oakridge.

The marine board is seeking public input and will convene in Lane County on Nov. 23 to hear testimony on the issue. If the board approves a ban in January, it's likely to take effect upon snow melt in Spring 2010, said Randy Henry, the board's policy analyst.

"Motors are contrary to the vision and type of experience some people want to create for this area," according to a Marine Board staff report. "The mere idea of a motor is upsetting to some users who seek a wilderness experience on the water, on the trails around the lake, or in the adjacent developed campgrounds."

Waldo Lake is immensely popular with kayakers, canoers and all manner of other boat paddlers, along with campers. About 5 percent of Waldo's visitors use boats with gas-powered engines, according to Forest Service documents.

Stewart and his Portland-based attorney, James Mountain Jr., could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In recent years, Stewart told The Register-Guard that the states-rights issue was important to him - and that he would abide by a ban if that's what the state Marine Board decided.

He also said a ban would violate the rights of the disabled - including himself in old age - because the disabled would lose access to the lake without a gas motor to propel them. His critics have responded that the disabled can use electric motors, which would be allowed.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski gave impetus to the proposed motorboat ban by the Marine Board. He ordered the Marine Board to work with the Forest Service to clear the way for the ban. Waldo Lake is surrounded on all sides by Forest Service property, but whether the lake itself is controlled by the federal government or the state has long been disputed. The Stewart family has fought the Forest Service to a standstill in recent years with arguments that the Forest Service doesn't have legal standing to regulate the lake, and that the state controls the body of water.

"The governor strongly supports the Marine Board's proposed rule to ban (gas) motors on Waldo," Kulongoski spokesman Rem Nivens said Wednesday.

The Marine Board is appointed by the governor to set state boating policy, provide safety education and enforce marine laws.

The board delegates the enforcement of marine laws to county sheriff marine patrols and to the Oregon State Police, Henry said. He wasn't immediately able to say what penalty a violator of the proposed ban would face.

The Forest Service was pleased with the Marine Board's proposal, spokeswoman Judy McHugh said. "This is going to offer the opportunity that many folks in the public have requested, so that we can have a wider spectrum - a greater diversity - of recreation opportunities on the forest," she said.

The Forest Service first drew up plans calling for Waldo Lake as a quiet site in 1990.

The agency eventually designated the lake as a "semiprimitive, nonmotorized" place where the public can experience tranquility.

The agency never succeeded in putting a gas-engine ban in place. It did, however, set a 10 mph speed limit that deters many gas-motorboat owners from using the lake.

In 2000, Steven Stewart's father, Stub Stewart, the late founder of the now-defunct Eugene-based lumber company Bohemia Inc., successfully stopped the Forest Service's initial ban on gas-powered motorboats. He argued that the federal government had no authority to impose the ban.

In 2007, the Forest Service again adopted a ban - to take effect in the summer of 2009. The rules still allowed electric-powered motor boats.

Steven Stewart took up his father's fight and successfully sued the Forest Service in U.S. District Court in Eugene.

Last July, Judge Michael Hogan ruled the Forest Service acted improperly in adopting the ban. Motorboats were still legal at Waldo through the summer.

The McKenzie Flyfishers appealed Hogan's ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The non-profit group entered the ongoing case in support of the Forest Service. "The Forest Service was within its rights when it regulated surface uses of Waldo Lake," said Pete Frost, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, who represents the fishing group.

If the Marine Board adopts the ban, Frost said his client will consider asking for dismissal of the case.

"We'll see which one of these two trains gets into the station first. Either way - whether the route is the state Marine Board enacting a ban or the Ninth Circuit deciding (the Forest Service) was within its right - either way, it's a good thing for the future, our future and the future of the lake."

The environmental group Oregon Wild, also party to the case, likes the Marine Board's proposal. "This is the best scenario we can hope for protection of the lake. It's encouraging to see that the governor's office has pursued it, because clearly it's what lake users want."

HOW TO COMMENT

The Oregon State Marine Board is seeking comment by Dec. 15 on whether it should ban gas-powered boats and float planes from Waldo Lake. Here's how to comment:

By mail: Send letters to June LeTarte, OSMB, P.O. Box 14145, Salem, OR 97309

By e-mail: osmb.rulemaking@state.or.us

By fax: (503) 378-4597
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Title Annotation:Environment; The marine board may soon vote to ban gas-powered boats on the pristine body of water
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 5, 2009
Words:956
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