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  Comments (2) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
Whitefish to Ask State for Non-Motorized River Designation
The city is seeking restricted access along the popular recreational artery
The Whitefish River near Riverside Park. - File photo by Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
Local administrators with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks came around after discussions with Whitefish city officials last week and are now recommending the state commission to consider designating a non-motorized stretch of Whitefish River.

The city is seeking restricted access along the popular recreational artery near its origin at Whitefish Lake to the bridge at JP Road. The proposal, adopted by the city council in November, would amend the current no-wake regulation and restrict the stretch of river to manually powered vessels like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards or boats with electric motors.

“I think Whitefish is unique in the fact that throughout most of the community we have this slow, meandering scenic waterway that essentially bisects our town,” Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld said last week in a meeting with FWP agency officials.

“For years or decades now it hasn’t been the focus of the community because the impact of diesel spills back from the BNSF days. Now we’re at a point where that’s cleaned up and we’re trying to embrace the river and embrace that corridor as an amenity. For our town, the non-motorized designation plays into that.”

City manager Chuck Stearns and councilor Richard Hildner, who has spearheaded the designation since 1989, will be in Helena this week to present the request to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission at its Feb. 13 meeting. The five-member commission, which oversees regulatory measures involving fish, wildlife and recreational resources across Montana, will vote whether to move forward with the amendment process and open a public comment period before making a final decision later this year.

Initially, Whitefish did not have the support of FWP’s regional office, making the proposal almost certainly dead on arrival.

In a meeting with city officials last week inside City Hall, FWP regional director Jim Satterfield and Warden Captain Lee Anderson said the agency did not feel changes were necessary due to safety and resource concerns.

“We just didn’t feel there was enough of a problem,” Anderson told Stearns, Atkinson and Muhlfeld.

FWP law enforcement officers have received a limited number of complaints over the years of boats disobeying the no-wake regulation, and several individuals have been cited, according to the agency. But the volume of problems did not appear to justify adding more regulations, Anderson and Satterfield both said.

“Is this really necessary to be adding more regulation or more education?” Satterfield asked.

But then Hildner raised another question: what if the community simply wants it and the designation involves a social factor?

In the summer months when Whitefish Lake attracts fleets of motorboats and jet skis, Hildner and others would like a stretch of water set aside that welcomes paddlers or other non-motorized users seeking refuge from choppy waters.

“I want to be proactive to make sure the city encourages a use that’s compatible to families or people seeking a quiet place to take their boat,” Hildner said.

The social issue was not included in the initial proposal to FWP, and after it was raised as a contributing factor, both Satterfield and Anderson said it should be formally acknowledged in the application.

“If this involves the values of Whitefish and is a social issue — if that’s part of it — then that should be part of the discussion,” Anderson said.

Before presenting the request to the commission, FWP officials urged Whitefish to wait until a later date and gather public input to ensure that indeed there is consensus in the community in support of the non-motorized designation.

Muhlfeld countered, asking for FWP’s local support to move forward and hopefully gather broad comment through the rulemaking process, which involves a extended statewide scoping period.

“I feel if we don’t have the local support on this it’s probably not going to get very far,” Muhlfeld said. “Rather than the city of Whitefish initiate another public process to your recommendation, why not provide your support and initiate the public process through rulemaking, which in my opinion would be a much more robust process than the local process. We’re really not risking anything or asking a lot. Then we’ll see how the public comment shakes out.”

Satterfield said he would mull it over, which he did. The following morning he revised FWP’s memo to the commission, stating, “In talking with the City of Whitefish, they are interested in adopting this regulation to address social desires to create a unique opportunity for non-motorized users and feel there is major support for this proposed regulation. Moving forward to rule making would provide the ability to determine public sentiment for this regulation.”

The commission’s meeting on Feb. 13 will be streamed live at the FWP office in Kalispell starting at 8:30 a.m.
On 02-16-14, reggie commented....
Wouldn’t outlawing motors eliminate the ability to go upstream, and thus substantially reduce fishing access and opportunities?
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