Riverways seeks public comments on boat motor proposal

Wednesday, January 12, 2022
A boater runs a section of the Current River north of Van Buren in this file photo.

VAN BUREN — The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is looking for public comments through early March on a proposal to modify the motorboat horsepower limits in sections of the Current and Jacks Forks rivers, as well as creating new seasonal non-motorized zones.

The proposals were part of the Riverways’ general management plan preferred alternative when it was approved in 2015.

“None of this should be a surprise unless somebody wasn’t engaged in the 2015 process,” said Dena Matteson, chief of interpretation, planning and partnerships at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

“It’s just a very long, drawn-out process, with several levels of bureaucracy,” Matteson added. “We didn’t anticipate when the plan was finalized that it would take near this long to get it to the federal register.”

Under the proposal, the use of 60/40 horsepower motors with jet propulsion would be legalized.

“They aren’t legal, and that’s the issue we ran into in 2010 or so, when they were in the process of developing that general management plan. The regulation was 40 horsepower,” Matteson explained. “For some reason, there was a solicitor opinion sought.

“The solicitor opinion determined the 60/40 was outside of the regulation because it’s supposed to be based on whatever the manufacturer rates the engine near the motor’s powerhead.”

What the proposal now would do, if approved, is “basically clarify the difference between what horsepower you can run if you’re using a jet and what horsepower you can run if you’re using a prop,” Matteson said.

“The 60/40 has become so common and is what everybody is running currently, and this will just formally legalize that,” she added.

Another portion of the proposal calls for horsepower limits in the lowest reaches of the park, where currently there is no limit.

A limit of 150 horsepower for jet-propelled boats and a 105-horsepower limit for propeller-driven boats is proposed between Big Spring and Gooseneck at the park’s southern boundary.

“There’s been no limit on larger and larger motors, and that was one of the comments that was addressed in the general management plan,” said Matteson, who noted there’s been a “growing concern by people operating boats in the area on how motor size was expanding.”

The proposal, if passed, she said, could cut down on complaints about safety.

The restricted Van Buren Pass area, which falls outside the scope of the National Park Service, Matteson said, would remain without motor restrictions.

The final portion of the proposal would create seasonal non-motorized zones in the upper reaches of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.

“These zones would provide areas without conflict between motorized and non-motorized users during peak visitor season,” Matteson said in a news release.

Anyone can comment on the proposal, but must do so by March 7, Matteson said.

Comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov. In the search box, enter 1024-AE62.

Written comments also can be delivered by hand or mail to: Superintendent, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, 404 Watercress Drive, P.O. Box 490, Van Buren, MO., 63965.

Given the proposed regulations have been in the public eye for several years, Matteson does not expect any big issues during the comment period.

“I don’t think the 60/40 is going to be an issue at all,” she said, “but I think the 150 horsepower limit as well as the seasonal non-motorized zones are likely to get some new interest at this point.”

Once the public comment period ends March 7, Matteson said, the federal rule-making process will continue.

“At that point, there’s a regulations division that will review the comments with the park service,” Matteson explained. “Decisions will be made whether we are actually going forward with exactly what was proposed, or if there will be changes to what was proposed.

“Then it gets approved by the park service director and the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. Then, it would be published again in the federal register as a final rule.”

Once a period of time has passed after final publication, typically 30 days, the new rules would go into effect and would be enforceable, Matteson said.

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