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Montana Legislators Propose Registration Fees for Kayaks, Canoes and Rafts

Posted: 02/04/2003
By: John Gangemi
Republican State Senator Mike Sprague from Billings has drafted a bill (LC0975) for the Montana Legislature requiring an $8.50 decal for vessels powered by paddle, oar or sail. The decal is required for any boat used on the waters of the state. If you own more than one boat, you need a separate decal for each boat. In addition to the decal fee, the state is going to charge a service fee to issue the decal. Only inflatables 7 feet or less in length lacking an oar frame are exempt.

The fees collected are supposed to be used by the department for:
(a) managing water-based recreation, including education and enforcement;
(b) operating, maintaining, and developing public boating areas; and
(c) administration of the decal requirement.

Montana residents and non-residents alike should contact Senator Sprague requesting he either withdraw the bill from consideration or amend the current language so that watercraft powered by paddle, oar or sail are exempted from the registration requirement. You can view the bill on the Montana Legislation website http://www.leg.state.mt.us/css/default.asp.

Key reasons for opposing the boat registration fee proposed in draft bill LC0975:

1. Most or all revenue generated will be consumed by the cost of administration and what little remains will be consumed by enforcement. Do the calculations: 30,000 registrations times $8.50 equals $255,000. This is hardly enough to fund administration costs, 2-3 enforcement officers for the state plus vehicles and mileage. In a state such as Montana, 30,000 boat registrations under this policy is an optimistic number.
2. Montana has not established a single agency with clear jurisdiction for managing water-based recreation let alone draft a Montana river recreation plan. As a result it is premature to establish a revenue mechanism for a non-existent program lacking a management plan and associated annual budget.
3. Ironically, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks convened a 22 member River Recreation Advisory Council charged with developing a guidance document for management of river recreation. This draft bill was never presented to the River Recreation Advisory Council for review. Ideally in the development of potential government regulations, if needed a management plan would be developed to resolve user conflicts and protect natural resources then the revenue mechanism would be tailored to meet the plan and the user groups being managed. No research was done in the drafting of LC0975 to determine if the revenue mechanism actually targets the appropriate user groups that will benefit from a "management plan". Clearly, LC0975 does NOT benefit the whitewater boating community and further penalizes the angling community.
4. There is no estimate on the number of human powered watercraft meeting the bill's definition and therefore no clear estimate of the revenue potentially generated.
5. The draft bill does not guarantee allocation of a fixed percentage of the revenue toward access site improvements or facilities maintenance.
6. Most kayakers and canoeists need very little if anything in the manner of infrastructure and certainly no need for enforcement.. In fact, most human powered boaters prefer more pristine settings with few if any facilities that would detract from the natural beauty of the river itself. The few rivers that receive heavy use in the state already have access areas. Most of the whitewater boating in the state occurs in areas where the concept of a public boating area 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 that type of development along the river corridor.
7. Registration numbers will not remain attached to kayak hulls very long because the boats are subject to heavy abrasion from rocks, trees and other objects found on rivers and streams.
8. Whitewater boaters typically own more than a single canoe, kayak or raft. As a result, they will 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 will make it difficult for either the owners or the administering agency to keep up with registration paperwork.
9. The bill will increase the operating costs for civic organizations, university programs, tour operators, commercial angling outfitters and whitewater outfitters.
10. Since very few states require the registration and numbering of canoes, kayaks and rafts it will create an inconvenience and added cost for paddlers visiting Montana. This will discourage paddlers from coming to the state spending money for campgrounds, motels, food and gas eventually causing a decrease in tourism revenues further impacting the state economy.

In short we would like to see boats powered by paddle, oar or sail to be exempted from the legislation. In it's present form it will not generate sufficient revenue to fund river management or access improvements for human powered river recreation. Furthermore, for anglers this equates to an additional fee to access Montana waters. The state is looking for revenue sources to make up for budget shortfalls. This bill is simply a funding mechanism with no clear plan for administering the funds fairly and equitably to those that are taxed.

If you oppose this legislation, please contact your state legislators and let them know what you think. If you are not a state resident, contact Senator Sprague and Senate President Bob Keenan and let them know this fee would change your mind about boating in Montana, you have other choices, and Montana will lose your tourist dollars. Ask Senator Sprague to withdraw this bill. Encourage Senator Keenan not to let this bill move forward. Feel free to use the letter template attached below.

Senator Bob Keenan, Montana Senate President bob@bigforkinn.com

Mike Sprague (no email address given)
174 Erickson CT S
Billings, MT 59105-2347
Home: (406)252-6027

You can send letters directly to state legislators at this address.
General Legislature
Senator/House Members Name
P.O. Box 201706
Helena, MT 59620-1706
Voice: (406)444-3064

Senator Sprague's home number is posted on the Montana legislative website, so feel free to call him there. He doesn't really use email, so that is not the best way to contact him.


Letter Template


<>

Senator <> <> <>
P.O. Box 201706
Helena, MT 59620-1706

RE: Draft Bill LC0975: Bill to establish Montana Boater Registration Fee

Dear Senator <>,

I urge you to contact Senator Sprague (Billings) requesting he either withdraw Draft Bill LC0975 from consideration or amend the current language so that watercraft powered by paddle, oar or sail are exempted from the $8.50 decal registration requirement.

This Bill requires an $8.50 decal be attached to all watercraft powered by paddle, oar or sail and be registered with a yet to be named state agency. The fees collected are supposed to be used by the agency for:
(a) managing water-based recreation, including education and enforcement;
(b) operating, maintaining, and developing public boating areas; and
(c) administration of the decal requirement.

Unfortunately, there is no state management plan in which to apply these revenues coherently and systematically. In addition, the Bill will not generate sufficient revenue to fund development or implementation of a management plan let alone secure new access sites, improve existing sites and maintain facilities. Furthermore, the Bill includes no provisions for allocating percentages of the revenue generated to specific user groups or water body types. Clearly, river runners will be taxed but receive none of the benefits. For anglers this equates to an additional fee to access Montana waters. Most importantly, this Bill will discourage water-based recreationists from coming to the state causing a decrease in tourism revenues further impacting the state economy. This Bill is simply a funding mechanism with no clear management plan in place for administering the funds fairly and equitably to those that are taxed.

Below is a list of the reasons I oppose this bill.

1. Most or all revenue generated will be consumed by the cost of administration and what little remains will be consumed by enforcement. Do the calculations: 30,000 registrations times $8.50 equals $255,000. This is hardly enough to fund administration costs, 2-3 enforcement officers for the state plus vehicles and mileage. In a state such as Montana, 30,000 boat registrations under this policy is an optimistic number.
2. Montana has not established a single agency with clear jurisdiction for managing water-based recreation let alone draft a Montana river recreation plan. As a result it is premature to establish a revenue mechanism for a non-existent program lacking a management plan and associated annual budget.
3. Ironically, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks convened a 22 member River Recreation Advisory Council charged with developing a guidance document for management of river recreation. This draft bill was never presented to the River Recreation Advisory Council for review. Ideally in the development of potential government regulations, if needed a management plan would be developed to resolve user conflicts and protect natural resources then the revenue mechanism would be tailored to meet the plan and the user groups being managed. No research was done in the drafting of LC0975 to determine if the revenue mechanism actually targets the appropriate user groups that will benefit from a "management plan". Clearly, LC0975 does NOT benefit the whitewater boating community and further penalizes the angling community.
4. There is no estimate on the number of human powered watercraft meeting the bill's definition and therefore no clear estimate of the revenue potentially generated.
5. The draft bill does not guarantee allocation of a fixed percentage of the revenue toward access site improvements or facilities maintenance.
6. Most kayakers and canoeists need very little if anything in the manner of infrastructure and certainly no need for enforcement.. In fact, most human powered boaters prefer more pristine settings with few if any facilities that would detract from the natural beauty of the river itself. The few rivers that receive heavy use in the state already have access areas. Most of the whitewater boating in the state occurs in areas where the concept of a public boating area 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 that type of development along the river corridor.
7. Registration numbers will not remain attached to kayak hulls very long because the boats are subject to heavy abrasion from rocks, trees and other objects found on rivers and streams.
8. Whitewater boaters typically own more than a single canoe, kayak or raft. As a result, they will 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 will make it difficult for either the owners or the administering agency to keep up with registration paperwork.
9. The bill will increase the operating costs for civic organizations, university programs, tour operators, commercial angling outfitters and whitewater outfitters.
10. Since very few states require the registration and numbering of canoes, kayaks and rafts it will create an inconvenience and added cost for paddlers visiting Montana. This will discourage paddlers from coming to the state spending money for campgrounds, motels, food and gas eventually causing a decrease in tourism revenues further impacting the state economy.


Please ask Senator Sprague to withdraw or amend LC0975. The bill was drafted prematurely without a management plan in place identifying the user groups that should fund the program as well as allocation of the revenue fairly and equitably.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact me.


Sincerely,




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