Seaplanes could bring the end of Waldo Lake as we know it

Bruce Johnson /

Published Jan 22, 2013 at 04:00AM

On Jan. 31, from 6 to 8 p.m., the Oregon State Aviation Board will hold a hearing at the Willamalane Center in Springfield to consider public input on regulation of seaplanes on Waldo Lake. However, the board members and the director of the Department of Aviation have made little effort to disguise their intent to rule in favor of permitting the seaplane operators to land on the lake.

Waldo Lake is considered one of the purest lakes in the world. It is frequently described as a place of rare beauty and solitude, a true gem in which Oregonians can take pride. It is a favorite among kayakers, hikers, campers and sailboat operators.

Those qualities will be compromised if seaplanes are allowed to land on and take off from the lake at will. Airplanes’ noise, exhaust and potential for a single, catastrophic accident that could cause irreparable harm to the lake make them even more disruptive than already-banned motorboats.

Boats can be subjected to roadside inspections, mandatory cleaning and even impoundment when leaving lakes known to harbor invasive species. How can we prevent a plane from taking off from an infested lake and importing species that threaten the health of Waldo Lake?

Last year the Oregon Marine Board held a similar public hearing to consider readopting rules prohibiting motorboats on Waldo Lake. After thorough consideration of staff research, studies by the National Forest Service, scientific data, surveys, letters from the public and pressure from the boaters they regulate and from concerned environmentalists, the Marine Board decided that it would be in the best public interest to prohibit fuel-powered motorboats on Waldo Lake.

However, due to conflicting authority over the regulation of seaplanes on waterways in Oregon, the Marine Board decided to defer the decision to regulate seaplanes on Waldo Lake to the Oregon Aviation Board.

In contrast to the methodical approach taken by the Marine Board, the director of the Oregon Department of Aviation and members of the Aviation Board have made it clear from the start that their primary responsibility is to protect the rights of the seaplane operators.

In May of this year, the Aviation Board established a temporary rule to allow seaplanes to land on the lake for “empirical data gathering” before making the rule permanent. Under the temporary rule, seaplane operators were required to obtain a permit from the Department of Aviation before, or within 48 hours after, landing on the lake. The rule required seaplane operators to inspect their own aircraft and remove any invasive species before landing on Waldo Lake. Only six landing permits were filed during the entire summer season.

Unlike the Marine Board’s process, no studies have been made to determine the effectiveness of the regulations, no effort was undertaken to verify the inspection for invasive species, and no surveys have been conducted to consider the response of the public to the seaplanes during this trial period. In fact, when I called Department of Aviation Director Mitch Swecker on Jan. 8, he admitted that the only evidence he had to share with the public prior to the hearing was the number of permits submitted.

There are numerous lakes in Oregon on which seaplanes can land, including nearby Odell and Davis lakes. The rights of a handful of seaplane operators to land on one more lake should not be allowed to trammel the rights of countless recreationists to enjoy the clarity and beauty of Waldo Lake in peace.

I urge anyone interested in keeping Waldo Lake pure to write to the Oregon Aviation Board, or better yet, appear at the hearing in Springfield on Jan. 31 to let them know your opinion.