The Register-Guard by Kelly Ardis
SPRINGFIELD — The spirit of early Oregon preservationist John Breckenridge Waldo was alive and well at a public hearing in Springfield Thursday night that could help decide whether seaplanes will be allowed on Waldo’s namesake lake.
Bruce Johnson of Bend and Brian Johnson of Monmouth — two of Waldo’s great-grandsons — were among those who showed up at the Willamalane Center to express support for a seaplane ban on the lake that bears their great-grandfather’s name.
About 80 people showed up at the hearing before the Oregon Aviation Board, and roughly three-fourths of those who spoke agreed with the Johnson brothers: Waldo Lake’s pristine condition can only be sustained if seaplanes are banned.
Lake users have fought for years over engines on Waldo, a pristine body of water high in the Cascade Range north of Highway 58.
Kayakers, canoers, environmentalists and other advocates of a ban on motorboat internal combustion engines on Waldo largely won that war last spring, when the state Marine Board voted 3-2 to maintain the ban.
However, the Marine Board ban doesn’t cover aircraft. Last April, the board specifically exempted seaplanes from the ban, leaving that matter to the state Aviation Board, which sets policy for the Aviation Department.
Seaplanes’ “mere presence makes a mockery of the Marine Board’s ban on motors,” Brian Johnson said at Thursday’s hearing.
The Aviation Board last summer put in place temporary rules regulating seaplane use on the lake. If approved, the aviation board’s temporary rules would become permanent. The board has not said when it expects to render a decision. Thursday’s hearing was the last opportunity for public comment.
Specifically, the board’s proposed rules would allow seaplanes on Waldo but ban use of the lake for pilot training; limit planes to landing or taking off between 8 a.m. or 30 minutes after sunrise, whichever is later, and 8 p.m. or 30 minutes before sunset, whichever is earlier; restrict landings to the eastern half of the lake; ban high-power taxiing in the water, except where required for safety; require pilots to look for and remove invasive species from their aircraft before using the lake; and require pilots to notify the aviation department whenever they use the lake.
To claims that seaplanes are no different than other vehicles that drive to the lake, Brian Johnson evoked the image of a car driving 70 mph into the lake, drawing laughter and cheers from ban supporters.
Meg Mitchell, supervisor of the Willamette National Forest, spoke in favor of a full ban of seaplanes, listing four reasons: visitors expect a quiet environment; the noise that seaplanes create; damage to water quality; and the lake’s history.
“Waldo Lake is a unique setting … and it’s been kept that way through the voluntary behavior” of its visitors, Mitchell said. She noted that many pilots respect that legacy and so choose not to land on the lake.
Columbia Seaplane Pilots Association president Aron Faegre and vice president Bill Wainwright spoke in support of the proposed rules that would conditionally allow seaplanes to use the lake.
One of ban supporters’ arguments against seaplanes is the potential for invasive species to be carried into the lake via the aircraft. Faegre and Wainwright both addressed the training they said seaplane pilots undergo on how to screen for such species and keep from transporting them.
“Seaplane pilots are also environmentalists,” Faegre said. “We care about the lake — we feel — as much as anyone does. Seaplane pilots are environmentally concerned citizens, too.”
Brett Brownscombe, natural resources policy adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber, expressed the governor’s sympathy for both parties. Last summer, only four seaplanes used Waldo Lake — not six as had been earlier reported. The governor, Brownscombe said, pondered two competing thoughts: If it’s such a low number of seaplanes using the lake, why prohibit them? And if it’s such a low number, why side with the wishes of so few despite the impact on so many?
“The latter is more persuasive,” Brownscombe concluded.
Residents from communities across the state attended the hearing. Some raised the issue of kayakers’, canoers’ and swimmers’ safety if seaplanes are landing nearby, citing a 1994 accident where a couple was killed by a landing seaplane whose pilot didn’t see them. A few posed the question about whether a seaplane, while in the water, might be considered a boat — and one with a motor, thus banned from Waldo Lake.
Others raised the impact the seaplanes could have on the lake’s water, so known for its clarity. Seaplane pilots responded with comments about car pollution and oil that inevitably ends up in the lake.
The noise disrupts the serenity of the lake, several ban supporters said. Seaplane pilots also train in noise abatement, several pilots noted.
Lane County resident Michael Williams said he doesn’t doubt the seaplane pilots’ desire to keep the lake clean but asked the board what’s in the public’s best interest.
The environmental effects of the seaplanes might not be seen for five, 10 or 15 years, he said, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
“It’s like lighting a long fuse,” Williams said. “Why light it?”