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News >  Pacific NW

Oregon activists seek river safety law

Associated Press

SALEM – With her father’s death in the swirling rapids of the Rogue River fresh in her memory, Julia Clark is hoping for a new law that would regulate who works as a guide on Oregon’s whitewater rivers.

Chapin Clark, a legal scholar and former dean of the University of Oregon Law School, loved Oregon’s rugged beauty.

He was 71 and an experienced river rafter when he went on a guided fishing trip down the Rogue in October 2002. It was in a narrow canyon-walled stretch of roiling water known as Coffee Pot that the drift boat got into trouble.

Clark, another passenger and the guide were pitched into the river. Clark was wearing a life jacket but was pinned under the boat.

Julia Clark and her brother Jeff are seeking a law requiring river guides and outfitters be equipped with training and safety devices for swift water rescues.

She said that according to the guide’s deposition, he was not wearing a life jacket and the boat lacked other safety equipment such as a buoyant bag that could be tossed to someone during a rescue.

In addition, the guide had said he had no practice in group rescue and had no plan for such mishaps.

She said she and her father had assumed such preventative measures were in place.

She contacted Mari Anne Gest, a lobbyist who walked her through the legislative process and briefed the Oregon Guides and Packers Association.

The guides and outfitters said they had no problem with the part of Senate Bill 579 that requires them to equip boats with throw bags and that rafters wear life jackets in rapids Class 3 or above.

But Phil Donovan, a guide and the lobbyist for the guides’ association, said his clients balked at requiring certification in whitewater rescue techniques for guides and outfitters.

Such training is costly, requires medical insurance, and is meant to equip first responders such as police, not guides, Donovan said.

But the guides and packers worked with the Clark family and the Oregon Marine Board to craft a compromise.

It was passed by Senate Business, Labor & Consumer Affairs Committee Thursday and may be voted on this week.

It calls for guides to be trained in a variety of whitewater boating skills including river-rescue techniques.

It doesn’t stipulate who would provide the training.

Julia Clark said she’s been impressed with the willingness of guides and outfitters to collaborate.

The guides favor raising safety standards, said Donovan. Oregon’s law would be similar to that in Washington state, he said.

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