Maine Seeks to Require Boat Registrations

posted March 18, 2003
by Jason Robertson

The Press Herald reported on March 18, 2003 that Maine is considering a $6 registration fee for canoes and kayaks. American Whitewater is concerned about the new fee primarily because it does not appear that it is designed to improve access for canoers and kayakers. Instead, the fee appears to be designed to retain the jobs of wardens who are responsible for managing motorboat use and fishing.

The early responses to AW's calls and letters indicate that the negative public response is working and that the registration requirement is NOT likely to be included in the Governor's budget. However, your letters to the Governor are still needed. Please send an email to the Governor expressing your opinion.

This is the latest in a flood of boat registration requirements that states are proposing around the country. MORE INFORMATION.

The Press Herald article, titled "Baldacci proposes registration fees for canoes, kayaks" was written by Deirdre Fleming and published on Tuesday, March 18, 2003. The article describes how Governor John Baldacci has proposed a $6 registration fee for canoes and kayaks. The article explains that "The money raised from the fee - an estimated $861,385, according to the Legislature's Office of Fiscal and Program Review - would help the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife close a $5.3 million budget shortfall" and would "allow the department to retain some of its staff." Fleming reports that the "Department now sells registration stickers for motorized boats and receives 75 percent of the revenue... The other 25 percent goes to the Department of Marine Resources.

SAMPLE LETTER

Tom McIntire, an AW member in New Hampshire, wrote this sample letter to the Governor. Consider modifying this letter to reflect your opinions about the proposed registration fee and sending it to Governor Baldacci at Governor@maine.gov
Governor Baldacci,

It was with great disdain that I read in today's Portland Press Herald that you have proposed a $6 per boat tax (registration fee) on canoes and kayaks. As a whitewater kayaker who frequents Maine, I am upset to see this considered. As a Maine Native (born & raised in Wiscasset, educated at UMaine in Orono, and now a property owner in Greenville, ME), I am very sympathetic to issues in Maine, some would say moreso than in New Hampshire, my current state of residence. There are many reasons I do not feel this is in the best interest of the State of Maine in addressing the current financial crisis. I will highlight the ones I consider to be the most important.

First and foremost, there are many whitewater kayakers who travel to Maine only once or twice a year for paddling events, but when they do, they spend significant amounts of money in Maine. It is not uncommon for a kayaker to spend over $100 in food, drink, and lodging for a single weekend (which easily provides $6 - 8 of revenue to the state of Maine through sales and restaurant taxes). Most of these individuals also travel the highway system, bringing another $1.50 each way in York, another $0.50 in Gray, and another $0.50 in Gardiner ($5.00 of tolls round-trip). As strange as it sounds, much of the paddling public will instead go to rivers in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachussetts, and even Canada to avoid paying the $6 tax.

Whitewater kayaking brings significant money into small towns which cater to the paddling community, such as The Forks, Ripogenus Dam (ask any of the people from the towns affected by an issue like this, representatives and senators of whom I have copied on this message). Route 201 on a Friday night is a highway of northbound kayakers and canoeists. They spend money to stay at Webb's Campground, buy munchies and beer at Berry's Store, and eat dinner at either Northern Outdoors or The Marshall House. The situation with the Penobscot River, and the money it brings into either Millinocket or Ripogenus Dam is similar. These are classic whitewater destination towns, some of the best in the Northeastern United States. A tax on a person's boat is just a way to deter them from entering the state in the first place.

Then there is the gem of Maine, Moosehead Lake. When people here in New Hampshire talk about the expanse of Lake Winnepesaukee, I just look at them and laugh, and remind them that it will fit many times over in Moosehead. Moosehead is a classic flatwater paddling destination for good reason. It is big, and it is beautiful, and will remain more or less in it's current state due to forward thinking by many good Mainers over many years. Anyone doubting the draw of Moosehead Lake just needs to stop at Indian Hill Trading Post on a Friday night to get a corrected view.

What does all of this have to do with a boat tax? Money added to a tax is money that will be taken away from the community. The worst part of a tax like this is that the money taken away from the communities is being taken from ones which can least afford to lose any incoming money. Taking money and paddlers away from towns like The Forks is a poor idea at best. These people depend on the tourism business. Kayakers are environmentally friendly tourists. Look around a whitewater put-in, and you often will see kayakers walking around with trashbags cleaning up worm containers left behind by the inconsiderate few among the fishing community.

What benefit is the warden service going to provide to the paddling community in general as a result of this? My guess is nearly none. They have been living on a starvation budget for longer than I can remember. This is not to doubt the value of the warden service. I have known more than one warden over the years, and have yet to encounter a bad one, or one who didn't have a true passion for their work. They are (unfortunately) a rare breed. It is instead just an acknowlegement of the reality that they are stretched far too thin already, and asking them to patrol kayakers looking for registration stickers is one more distraction that they do not need.

I would propose that instead of a tax, make a public relations effort to remind people of the fact that the warden service is the primary provider of search & rescue within the State of Maine. Suggest that people buy fishing licenses in support of the warden service. Each year, I buy a non-resident fishing license (a full season one) despite the fact that I am lucky to get more than two days of fishing in with my grandfather at Moosehead Lake over Memorial Day Weekend. I do so because I know the state warden service needs the money, and that it is helping out where the need is great. Many other paddlers would do the same and feel good about it if they knew that this was beneficial to the warden service. A tax on their boat, on the other hand, they will resent, and show their resentment by not coming to the state... If you insist on a tax, put a deposit on the worm containers that fishermen buy their worms in. Make it $0.10 per container. Much of the money would end up in the state coffers as unclaimed deposits, and it would also make our rivers a bit cleaner.

I do not doubt that this has been proposed with the best of intentions. It is, however, misguided in my opinion. If the state were to work with the paddling community, they could definitely find ways to reach positive ends to benefit all involved. I personally am willing and able to help with the public relations issues as they relate to the Merrimack Valley Paddlers, of which I am a director. Paddlers are generous with their dollars where they perceive need, and very tight fisted with them where they do not. I only can hope that the state takes the positive route in addressing this issue.

Individuals copied on this message:

State Senator Pam Hatch (representing The Forks) at pamhatch@yahoo.com
State Representative Monica McGlockin (representing The Forks)at mcglocklin@midmaine.com
State Senator Stephen Stanley (representing Millinocket) stanleyss@prexar.com
State Representative Joe Clark (representing Millinocket) RepJoe.Clark@legislature.maine.gov
State Senator Paul Davis (representing Greenville) SenDavis@midmaine.com

AW's Letter

Dear Governor Baldacci,

I am writing on behalf of American Whitewater, a national 501.c.3, in regard to your proposal to institute a registration fee or tax on canoes, kayaks, rafts, and other human-powered water craft. I strongly encourage you to reconsider this plan.

In American Whitewater's experience these registration fees are not just unpopular, but make poor business sense.

First, the fees rarely benefit the public that is being taxed. Instead the fees are typically diverted to pay for programs that are intended to benefit the fishing or motor boating communities. For example, it is our understanding that the fee you have proposed is intended to pay for wardens whose primary task is to monitor fishing and motor boating regulations, rather than to improve access or services for canoers and kayakers.

Second, the registration programs are rarely cost effective. Most or all revenue is consumed by the cost of administration and what little remains is consumed by enforcement. For example, Arizona finally dropped boater registration requirements in 2000 after years of operating in the red.

Third, regulators rarely know who will be impacted by the new fees. Regulators should not consider a registration requirement without first obtaining a realistic estimate of the number of human powered watercraft meeting the proposal's definition. As a result fees on canoe and kayak owners tend to be more punitive than for motor boat owners since flatwater and whitewater boat owners typically own more than a single canoe, kayak or raft. Thus they pay a disproportionate share of boating fees as compared to the owner of a single, much more expensive powerboat. There is also a high rate of turnover of whitewater boats that make it difficult for both the owners and the administering agency to keep up with registration paperwork.

Fourth, without realistic participation estimates, there can be no clear estimate of the revenue potentially generated.

Fifth, heavily developed public access and boat ramps are not typically desired by canoe and kayak owners. Most whitewater boating occurs in areas where the concept of public boating areas is unnecessary and obtrusive (the many creeks, trailheads, road crossings, pullouts, etc). Simply put, most boaters would rarely benefit from their registration expenditure nor would they want heavy development along the river corridor.

Sixth, registration laws increase the operating costs for organizations. Thus the overhead expenses increase for church and civic organizations, university programs, tour operators, commercial angling outfitters and whitewater outfitters. This increase in overhead costs is likely to chill participation in the sport and the market.

Seventh, registration requirements deter tourism. Currently only six states require the registration and numbering of canoes, kayaks and rafts. Of these six states, only one, Minnesota, has managed to maintain a viable market for tourism as a canoe and kayak destination for tourists. Registration requirements create an inconvenience and added cost for paddlers visiting a state, and thereby discourage paddlers from coming to the state and spending money for campgrounds, motels, food and gas.

If Maine is seriously considering a proposal to require canoe and kayak registrations, then we encourage the bill's proponents to ensure that the bill includes:

  1. A budget dedicating the specific allocation of funds (with percentages) to natural resource protection and non-motorized river recreation programs including safety, education, acquisition, development, and maintenance of river access sites for paddlecraft.
  2. The establishment of a single agency with clear jurisdiction for managing river recreation throughout the state and the development with public participation of a comprehensive river recreation plan to manage use and funding needs.
  3. Requirements that the recipient agency for the registration fees have staff with expertise in whitewater education, safety, and rescue.
  4. A requirement for the immediate development of a statewide management plan to manage use, resolve potential user conflicts, and protect natural resources. Further the legislation should only allow for the design and implementation of the fee after the plan is complete so that the revenue mechanism will be designed and tailored to meet the plan and benefit the user groups being managed.
  5. A realistic estimate of the number of human powered watercraft meeting the bill's definition. Without this information, there can be no clear estimate of the revenue potentially generated or impact to the state's residents.
  6. A realistic estimate of the impact to the state's economy from negative impacts to tourism.
We at American Whitewater understand the funding difficulties your state is facing; however a registration fee on human-powered watercraft is not the solution. If you would like to discuss the issues and concerns that we have raised, please call me at 866-BOAT-4-AW or send me an email at Jason@awa.org.
Sincerely,
Jason

Jason D. Robertson
Access Director
American Whitewater
Jason D. Robertson
635 Joseph Cir
Golden, CO 80403-2349