NMMA calls potential Oregon lawsuit ‘frivolous’

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Opponents say wakesurf boats threaten steelhead trout and other species.

Opponents say wakesurf boats threaten steelhead trout and other species.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association said that a possible lawsuit that would restrict wakesurf boats on Oregon’s Willamette River is “baseless.”

“The litigation is particularly troublesome because it’s the purest form of a frivolous lawsuit,” Nicole Vasilaros, NMMA senior vice president of government relations and legal affairs, told Trade Only Today. “We’re involved because we represent the manufacturers, and this would be a huge loss of access.”

Trade Only Today reported this week that the Oregon nonprofit Willamette Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue the Oregon State Marine Board and the Oregon State Department of Lands for threatening river habitats. The suit would restrict areas where wakesurf boats can be used on the river.

The suit cites the Endangered Species Act in stating that wakes generated by wakesurf boats threaten such species as Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout. The organization said it would give the state agencies 60 days to reply. If no solution is provided, the Willamette Riverkeeper said it will file suit.

At issue for the NMMA is a letter sent by the west coast regional NOAA office to the chairwoman of the Oregon State Marine Board, Val Early. The letter contends that wakesurfing regulations have focused on the impact on boating congestion and private-property damage, “but [have] paid little attention to the impacts that wake sports have on aquatic life, including salmon and steelhead species designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and their critical habitats.”

The letter further states that “noise and wave actions are frequently a threat to juvenile salmon and steelhead. Therefore, we expect that wake sports are likely to have a significant adverse impact on those listed species and their critical habitats by injuring and killing individual fish when, for example, the surge and wakes caused by artificial waves from passing boat and wake-sport participants wash juvenile fish onto the shore.”

Vasilaros called the claims “baseless,” adding that NMMA has performed its own studies about wakesurf boats. NMMA and the Water Sports Industry Association assert that when wakesurf boats are operated at least 200 feet from shore, the wave action doesn’t damage property or fish habitats. “We’ve done the study on the shoreline,” Vasilaros said. “We’re looking at turbidity and the claims being made.”

She said NMMA expects that NOAA will perform “sound environmental studies if there are going to be any claims. This is not an [Endangered Species Act] issue. It was ridiculous for a regional office to insert itself.”

The main concern for NMMA is restricting access. “We’re working with the Oregon board to make sure there is reasonable access for these types of vessels to recreate on the waterway,” Vasilaros said. “When you start to restrict that access, it has an impact on the economy.”

NMMA statistics show that 450 businesses employ 6,000 workers in Oregon’s boating industry.

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