Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kickoff to boating season, but high water and debris from a fast snowmelt will keep boaters on Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene rivers at an idle.
Kootenai County has issued a “no wake” zone on all three water bodies, meaning boaters can’t travel faster than about 5 mph. That rules out waterskiing, wakeboarding and fast cruising.
“It’s unfortunate, because it affects commerce and recreational boaters,” said Nick Snyder, Kootenai County Parks and Waterways director. “I feel bad that (boaters) aren’t able to get out there.”
The lake is expected to reach about 7 feet above its summer level by today.
Coeur d’Alene closed access to its Independence Point docks Tuesday, and city officials anticipate that the parking lot will be closed entirely today because of rising water. Other ramps are closed throughout the county.
And water recreationists in Kootenai County face another change this season: Boaters now face a fee to launch at 10 of Kootenai County’s ramps and docks at lakes and rivers to help maintain and improve facilities. The county isn’t yet charging the fee at its other 10 launches, which are more rural and undeveloped.
And in Washington, a new state law is making boat safety certification mandatory, as waterways become more crowded.
New launch fees
The Kootenai County Commission voted in September, with little opposition, to charge boaters whose watercraft are registered in Idaho a $4 daily launch fee or $20 for an annual pass. Owners with boats registered out of state pay double: $8 a day or $40 a year.
Officials expect the fees to raise about $30,000 in fiscal year 2009.
Snyder said he’s received few complaints; he thinks that’s because boaters want the facilities to be maintained. He added that Washington boaters who use Kootenai County waters and register their boats in Idaho won’t have to pay the out-of-state launch fee.
“People have been unbelievably understanding,” Snyder said.
About 23,000 boats are registered in Kootenai County. The county has sold about 100 annual passes.
The 10 launch sites with a fee have pay stations. Boaters should put their money in the envelope at the pay stations and detach a receipt that goes on their vehicle’s dashboard. County waterway workers, along with sheriff’s and marine deputies, will patrol the launches. Boaters who fail to pay the fee will face a citation. A county attorney is still determining the size of the fine. Repeat offenders can be banned from a specific launch for up to a year.
The new launch fee puts Kootenai County on par with the state and the city of Coeur d’Alene, which already charge a $4 launch fee.
Kootenai County resident Dan Howard said he thinks the fees are too expensive – he would rather see a $2 launch charge. He also dislikes the idea of charging out-of-state boaters more.
“I believe this sends the message that out-of-state boaters are not welcome,” Howard wrote in a March e-mail to The Spokesman-Review. “They do not cause any more wear and tear on the boat ramp than I do when I launch.”
In Washington this season, boaters ages 12 to 20 must have a Washington state boater education card in their possession while operating a vessel.
The state is phasing in the law over nine years. By January 2009 all boaters younger than 25 must obtain the education card. By 2015 all boaters born after Jan. 1, 1955, will need a card.
Agencies, groups and businesses are sponsoring boating safety courses. An eight-hour America’s Boating Courses taught by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Spokane Sail & Power Squadron satisfies Washington’s new requirement.
These courses also might qualify boaters for discounts on insurance.
Online classes that satisfy Washington’s requirement are available for $15 at www.boat-ed.com/wa. Private classes are available for about $40 a person, including manuals, through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. (Call (509) 921-0449 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.) For information on the new boater education law go to www.parks.wa.gov/boatsafefaq.asp.