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Free Ride For Washington Boaters? Changes In Idaho Permits Has Some Gem State Sailors Questioning Fairness Of System

Mon., Dec. 23, 1996

An abundance of Washington license plates at Idaho boat ramps during the summer has some local boaters grumbling.

It’s been two years since Idaho stopped making Washington residents pay to play on Idaho waters.

But even though a change in boat licensing rules has raised tens of thousands of dollars for North Idaho, some locals believe too many Washington boaters are getting a free ride.

“The occasional users should pay to get a permit, and pay their fair share,” said Sandy Emerson, chairman of the Kootenai County Waterways Committee.

In 1994, Idaho eliminated the requirement that non-residents purchase $5 permits to boat in Idaho.

“When the law first went into effect, most members of the Kootenai County Waterways Committee felt it would be detrimental to northern Idaho,” said Red Halpern, a member of the committee.

Despite state Parks and Recreation Department assurances to the contrary, Halpern remains skeptical that the law - which also raised in-state boat license fees - was an improvement.

However, Kootenai County has come out ahead.

The county lost about $15,000 with the elimination of the more than 3,000 permits, but it gained more than $80,000 in one year from the higher license fee and an increase in the total number of licenses purchased.

While much of the increase is from the change in license fees, a portion is because more Washington boaters are licensing their boats in Idaho, said state boating program coordinator Mark Brandt.

A statistical breakdown for 1996 is not available, but the state reported that in 1995, more than 5,000 boats licensed in Kootenai County belonged to Washington residents.

Statewide, the number of Washington residents licensing their boats in Idaho increased by 4,000 when the law changed, Brandt said.

“The non-residents are paying because they’re buying registrations now,” Brandt said. “You don’t know it when they’re out there, because they have an Idaho decal.”

As the lakes become more crowded, and facilities and services are stretched thin, Kootenai County boaters are feeling the crunch.

The sheriff’s marine division is getting more and more calls, and often can only respond to the highest priority ones, said Sgt. Dan Soumas.

“There is a tremendous increase of boaters on the lake,” Halpern said. “Everybody wants more supervision. With the demands we have, I don’t think our financial resources are sufficient to adequately patrol the lakes, but I do think the marine division has done an outstanding job with the funds that they have.”

More than three-fourths of all boating violations in 1996 were by people with boats licensed in Idaho, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Most of them were Idahoans.

About a quarter of all violators were Washington residents with boats licensed in Washington.

Although he doesn’t know the exact breakdown between Idaho and Washington licenses, “I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, most of the boaters who live in Washington are registering their boats in Idaho,” Soumas said.

Over the years many Washington boaters have discovered if they boat more in Idaho than in Washington, it’s cheaper to license their boat in Idaho.

Under U.S. Coast Guard rules, boaters may license their boats in the state of their primary use.

A $16,000 boat that’s over 16 feet long would cost about $67 to license in Washington and about $22 in Idaho. If the boat is less than 16 feet, it only costs $15 to license in Washington.

The reason Idaho changed its law in 1994 is two-fold. The state boating program already was proposing an increase in the licensing fee.

At the same time, the state of Oregon protested Idaho’s practice of forcing out-of-state boaters to purchase a permit, and considered imposing its own use-permit on Idaho boaters, Brandt said.

Idaho was the only state requiring non-resident permits, and “the Coast Guard was questioning our ability to do it,” he said.

At the suggestion of a legislator, the parks department proposed eliminating the permit and raising the license fees in one bill, which became law.

Some people still insist that because of the high use of North Idaho lakes by out-of-state boaters, it makes perfect sense to ask them to pitch in.

“Frankly, I was glad to be the only state doing it,” Emerson said. “I thought it was very appropriate. We have a very big lake.”

That sentiment hasn’t taken over the North Idaho legislative delegation, however.

“It’s like saying if we see a car from California, we ought to put a sticker on it,” said Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Permits are gone, but income is up

MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: Boaters think out-of-staters gettting free ride

IDAHO HEADLINE: Boaters think out-of-staters gettting free ride

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