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Flip-Flopping on Waldo Lake 

Whether Waldo Lake will continue to provide a near-pristine wilderness experience for Oregonians and visitors is far from clear.

Waldo Lake, in the high Cascades west of the Deschutes County border, is one of the most ultraoligotrophic lakes in the world. That fancy nine-dollar word means the water is clear - amazingly clear. Experiments have shown that objects in Waldo Lake can be seen at a depth of nearly 160 feet.

But whether Waldo Lake will continue to provide a near-pristine wilderness experience for Oregonians and visitors is far from clear. The state Marine Board appears to be on the verge of doing a flip-flop that will threaten the clarity and tranquility of the lake and its surroundings.


In 2009, after a debate that went back and forth for nearly 15 years, the Marine Board finally banned gasoline-powered motors from Waldo Lake. That action, predictably, delighted canoeists, and kayakers and enraged people who like to zoom around in power boats. The motorized recreation advocates have filed a legal challenge to the ban; that challenge is now pending in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

But even before the court has had a chance to decide the issue, the Marine Board is talking about rolling back the ban. An advisory committee is now reviewing it. By the end of the month that committee is expected to make its report, and if it advises the board to review the rule there will be a public hearing and a decision this spring.

The arguments for reopening Waldo Lake to noisy, pollution-spewing gasoline motors have all been heard before, and they're all flimsy.

One of them is the "elitist" argument - that the motor ban in effect allows only young, physically fit (and presumably tree-hugging) folks paddling kayaks and canoes to enjoy the lake and excludes the old, the disabled and the less-able. But there are literally dozens of other lakes in Oregon where people can putter around with outboard motors.

Another argument is that small businesses dependent on recreation are losing money because of the ban. But small businesses all over the country are hurting - even ones that are miles away from any lake. There's a recession going on, in case anybody hasn't noticed.

Some sailboat owners say they need to use small outboards to maneuver their craft in and out of docks. But electric motors can serve the same purpose.

Finally, float plane owners say they need to be able to land their craft on the lake in emergencies. There might be some merit to that claim, but it should be easy to carve out an exception for emergency landings without tossing out the whole no-motors rule.

Weighed against those feeble arguments is the economic and emotional value of having a place within reach of the urban centers of Bend, Eugene and Portland where people can experience peace and quiet undisturbed by the roar of motors and the stink of gasoline. Such places are increasingly rare, which makes it all the more important to protect the few that remain.

So we're applying THE BOOT to the Marine Board for being so eager to fold under pressure. If it surprises us by not folding, we'll gladly un-BOOT it.

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