June 6, 2007

Kenai River Outboard Motor Rules Overhauled By State

By Brandon Loomis, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska

Jun. 6--SOLDOTNA -- Boaters on the Kenai River can rev up bigger, 50-horsepower motors starting next year because of a new state regulation that is supposed to make the river cleaner and safer.

The move up from a maximum of 35 horsepower, announced Tuesday, is coupled with a required modernization away from older, polluting two-stroke motors and a cap on boat lengths at 21 feet.

Presented by state officials as a way to reduce both fuel pollution and riverbank erosion, the new rules are getting mixed reviews on the Kenai Peninsula.

"It addresses not only the hydrocarbon (pollution) issue but also safety," said Mike Fenton, a river guide and president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association. Bigger motors, though faster, will improve safety because they allow boats to get "on step" or plane across the water surface faster, which levels the bow and improves visibility, he said

"With 35 horsepower, it takes me a considerable amount of time to get out of the hole, get up on step, so I'm pushing more wake and my visibility is definitely impaired."

These arguments, while echoed by the state officials who announced the new rules, struck some others as a cloak for the alleged real motive: moving fishing clients around the river faster.

The guides used their economic clout to push the issue with state officials, said Dwight Kramer, a Kenai angler who uses a two-stroke motor on the river and leads the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition.

"Money talks," Kramer said.

Kramer said he can live with the elimination of two-strokes, because the state is giving people a couple of years before they must buy the new, cleaner motors. But he's especially galled by the state's claims that using bigger motors to expedite a typical Kenai River guide's efforts at planing across the water will decrease wake and erosion by 12 percent. He acknowledged that studies indicate it's true -- but only when three people are in the boat. Most guides put five or six people in their boats, he said.


The new regulations, still subject to review from the Alaska Department of Law and the lieutenant governor, go into effect Jan. 1 and cover the river's special management area from Kenai Lake to four miles above the river's mouth, at the Warren Ames Bridge. They boost horsepower and phase out old two-strokes as follows:

--On Jan. 1, 50-horsepower motors will be allowed, provided they are either four-stroke models or cleaner direct fuel injection (DFI) two-strokes.

--Older two-stroke motors will continue to have access to the river through 2009 except in July of 2008 and 2009. During July, the height of the fishing season, motors must be either four-strokes or the cleaner DFI two-strokes.

--On Jan. 1, 2010, only four-strokes or DFI two-strokes will be allowed year-round.

The rules are part of a plan to clean fuel pollution in a river that the state recently listed as an impaired water body requiring a cleanup plan. Clearing the river of the older, polluting motors is expected to end the cycle of July water-quality infractions and enable the state to remove the river from the federal list, said Lynn Kent, director of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Water.

"What we learned is that what's way more important (to pollution prevention) is not the horsepower but the type of motor," Kent said.

Chris Degernes, chief of field operations for the Department of Natural Resources, said people with two-stroke motors may not realize how much harm they do.

"A two-stroke motor can be 10 to 20 times more polluting," she said.

The length restriction is meant to address the wake that boats produce when guides fill them with more clients and, therefore, more weight, Degernes said.

"Americans are getting heavier," she said. "If (boats) are loaded with five big guys, it's really hard to get up on step."

The new regulations contain both a welcomed cleanup effort and a disappointing bow to commerce for Robert Ruffner, executive director of the nonprofit Kenai Watershed Forum. The prohibition on the dirtiest motors likely will clean the area well enough to remove it from the federal list of polluted rivers, he said, but increasing the horsepower has several negative effects and only serves to appease those who think they'll fit more clients into their fishing days.

"I don't think we should kid ourselves that the reason we're going to 50 horsepower is the river," Ruffner said. "It's money."

One likely outcome is that people using the larger motors will put them on larger boats, inching the average size up toward the limit and thereby undoing any reduction in wake, he said. He also doubted that faster-moving boats would improve safety.


Reporter Brandon Loomis can be reached at [email protected]


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Copyright (c) 2007, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska

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