State rejects water ski course

Chieftain file photo

Picture an August afternoon on Wallowa Lake with roaring motorboats, a water skiing course and multitudes of skiers on the formerly placid waters of Wallowa Lake. Turn off the picture; it’s not happening. The Oregon Marine Board recently shot down an April 25 application by Wilsonville resident Steve Gregg to install a temporary slalom course from Aug. 10-29.

The proposed course ran 400 feet off shore and parallel to the lake shore and was approximately 850 feet long and 75 feet wide. The preferred location was at the west side at the foot of the lake, with a proposed alternative location on the west side of the lake near the state park. Buoys marked the course, and the application stated that access was open to anyone.

Once word of the request got around, it didn’t take long for several residents to voice their protests to the Oregon State Marine Board. Resident Geoff Whiting, who is an attorney for the Nez Perce tribe and lives on the west side of the lake, wrote a letter to the Oregon State Marine Board outlining his objections to the ski course. Whiting cited several Article 37 provisions in the Wallowa County Land Development Ordinance that stipulate maintaining the unspoiled character of the lake, including regulating the placement of portable docks or floats more than 200 feet from the high water mark of the lake. He also cited concerns for local wildlife.

Randy Henry, Boating Safety program manager for OSMB who reviewed, and ultimately denied the application, said he was very surprised at the overwhelming response from local citizens regarding the course. He said the state encourages community input on such permits, including the sheriff, local land managers and adjacent landowners.

Henry emphasized that the state does not deny permits simply because a respondent to the permit doesn’t like the sight of water ski boats. “I did, however, see a lot of concern about impacting the traditional use of the waterway,” Henry said. As some of those uses include fishing and paddle boating, Henry said that installing a ski course during the height of the season would be disruptive to those traditional purposes.

“We decided that it’s not a benign use, it will have impact, and we denied it. It’s really a judgment call between reading letters and talking to local law enforcement, and there wasn’t any support expressed anywhere, but by the individual (who made the application),” Henry said. He added that no application would have been required if the individual had daily installed and removed the course.

Henry said his department received over 30 letters and six to eight phone calls about the application. “I’ve spent more time on this application than almost any other because of the volume of responses and trying to sort out what was relevant,” he said.

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