December 6, 2019

Residents lash out at recently proposed small watercraft registration fee


NORTHERN MICHIGAN — Recently the Michigan State Waterways Commission introduced a resolution that, among other things, proposed mandatory registration and a fee up to $10 for small watercraft like kayaks and paddleboards.

Many Michigan residents did not react favorably to that resolution. The initial uproar prompted Michigan representatives and senators to pass their own resolution in opposition to the waterways commission.

Chairman of the commission Dennis Nickels said the proposed fee is something that would benefit users of paddleboards and small watercraft.

“This is what we think paddlers want and need as far as safety and accessibility,” Nickels said. “… We had two conference calls with paddleboard groups. The paddlers were not averse to a fee, but they didn’t know where the money was going.”

State Representative Tristan Cole said the majority of his constituents view this as nothing more than a money grab.

“I view it completely different (than the commission),” Cole said. “There are hundreds of thousands of small watercraft out there. There is no way this wasn’t a money grab.”

Nickels said although there were other issues discussed in the resolution, most of the opposition latched onto the small watercraft fee. He said through discussions with the state senate, the proposed fee has been lowered.

Nickels said the proposed fee would be used to benefit those who use small watercraft. Half of the money would go toward accessibility of waterway trails. The other half would go toward creating a sustainable funding source for water trails. He said although this may be a new concept for watersports, there is a similar program involving offroad vehicles.

“We did not intend to create a paddlesport bureaucracy in Lansing,” Nickels said. “We were hoping to build something like what was recently done with snowmobiles and ORV trails.”

One issue the commission aimed to remedy with this resolution was the hit that local first responders take to the budget when called out to incidents involving abandoned kayaks. Nickels said with no registration on kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards a first responder has no idea if there is someone drowning nearby, or if the vehicle became untied and floated into open water of its own accord. He said this has taken a toll on first responder’s budgets.

“Their budgets are being eviscerated by accidents with watercraft,” he said. “We need to find a way to get them more money.”

Cole said he doesn’t believe this is having much of an effect on first responders bottom lines.

“I think that is a little bit overblown,” Cole said. “I think there is a cost there, but it is not that bad. As far as breaking the budget, I don’t buy that.”

Cole said he does believe identifying small watercraft is reasonable and responsible, however he thinks it can be done without imposing a fee.

“That is a valid concern,” Cole said. “There is an easy fix to that issue though. Make it mandatory to have a name on your watercraft, like a fish shanty.”

Nickels said a very similar idea was instituted by the Coast Guard within the last decade, but it did not have the intended results.

“(At environmental conferences) the Coast Guard sets up a booth handing out placards to be put in a kayak where the owner lists contact information on a voluntary basis.” he said. “After five years I asked them how many people they find with them. He said zero were in kayaks, zero.”

Nickels said roughly 43 percent of the watercraft on Michigan waterways are paddle vessels. He said the commission is seeing an annual 6 percent increase in those vessels. He believes that within the next few years there will be more paddlecraft using the water system than motored vessels.

Although there may not be a definitive answer to the issues raised in the commission's resolution yet, Cole said he is convinced his constituents will not support it as it stands.

“I do a fair amount on social media,” Cole said. “The outpour of attention I got on the infographic I put out on this was 10-times what I usually get, and most of that was negative. … I’ll generally get around 3,000 views on an average post, this saw over 30,000.”

Nickels said even before the resolution saw the backlash from Michigan residents, this proposal was always meant to be a talking point to build off of.

“Anytime public policy is encouraged or proposed both sides of the argument need to be engaged,” Nickels said. “We didn’t have the ability to include everyone. … This is on us, partly.”

Cole said he thinks this issue is a great example of how legislators, commissioners and residents could all communicate better in the future. He said it’s important that ideas are debated not just between peers, but between groups as well.

The resolutions passed by the commission and the government on this issue are not yet law. There is no change this year to how paddle vessels are registered, and there are no new charges that will be imposed on users. Although Nickels and Cole may not agree on how to fix the issues raised by the commission, they do agree on one thing. It is imperative there be far more public comment on this resolution before any action is taken.


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Boy, is this like opening a can of worms!...The Waterways Commission has seen over the past few years how popular kayaks, paddle boards, etc have gotten with the public.. Remember, these members on Commissions are appointed and approved by the reigning Governor. This move is simply a money grab and trying to take advantage of citizens. I don’t believe much thought has gone into this and a reality check needs to be put in place. Who would enforce the registration, the DNR?. Anyone who thinks they have time for this is very naive. Out of staters traveling to Michigan with kayaks or paddle boards, think they are going to pay a fee?. It shouldn’t be no cheaper than a resident fee.. Where will the money go? Access sites?...Do canoe liveries pay the same price per kayak, etc?..Next, Govt will want a registration for bikes on Bike Paths...The Pure Michiganders need to step up on this one.. Let your Area Rep know how you feel on this nonsense.

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