On Watch

Rules of Thumb for Boat Politics

Peter Schrappen On Watch

What’s the best boating advice you have ever received? Maybe it’s “red, right, return” or as my former colleague Tony Floor would say, “If you can see the bait [in the water], you are too late [in your fishing excursion].” Verbose people have a fancy word for these guidelines: heuristics. I prefer the more plain-spoken synonym: rules of thumb. These devices simply provide a shortcut to what could be a complex situation, and rules of thumb are abundant in politics.

Weigh In Early…

…Even on decisions that seem far down the road. For example, did you know that there will be an extension of the Sound Transit light rail from West Seattle to Ballard, which could (if the current alignment is accepted) mean a bridge over Salmon Bay running parallel to the Ballard Bridge? That may concern you if your boat needs the drawbridge to open.

Fortunately for you (and unfortunately for my evening schedule), I now serve on the Sound Transit advisory panel that will be looking at the various options to connect riders to these neighborhoods. Yes, there’s time (the route will be completed around 2038), but the earlier you help frame the message, the more you are generally heard. If you have an opinion about a tunnel option as opposed to the current bridge option, I’d like to know so I can better represent the boaters and marine trades.

Move Fast

Speed is the name of the game (in Olympia) if you want to get a (legislative) win.

Conversely, if you are losing, do what you can to draw out the clock. The Legislature adjourned on March 8, making this the first session in about six years to end on time. When it comes to boating, my biggest priority was to improve the copper-bottom paint ban that commenced on January 1, 2018 for new vessels.

To make the switch from copper, boaters have few options and the Department of Ecology (Ecology) has concerns the replacement chemicals are, “as bad if not worse for the environment than copper.” What to do, you ask? I’d answer, get to work with a proposal (aka bill) to improve the current law. What passed was an exemption for wooden boats and a new date for the phase-out to 2021. In the meantime, Ecology will study what other states are doing and put forward an alternative to this ban.

The rule of thumb here speaks for itself. In a short 60-day session, like this one, and an urgent situation staring us in the face with the current ban on the books, the solution revolved around wording in the bill that industry, boaters, environmentalists, and Ecology could agree upon.

That meant this bill could move through the process and get passed in one short session. Looking at the numbers, we are in special company with this legislative success. Of the 3,650 bills introduced these past two years, only 375 have become law. I wasn’t a math major, but a 10% bill-to-law rate is a good reminder that the process is fraught with pitfalls (and often that’s a good thing).

Sometimes There Are No Rules

That reality is front and center with the No Discharge Zone (NDZ). Park logic and science at the bike rack. Accept the fact that regulators regulate what they can regulate. Add in a “never underestimate the power of an easy, cheap headline like Let’s get poop out of Puget Sound” and you’ve got the makings for the nation’s largest NDZ. This new regulation is set to take effect by April 16.

Meanwhile, a coalition called the Marine Alliance is taking the Department of Ecology to court to stop it. Expect to hear more about this issue. Given the NDZ has been a part of my life for the past six years, I’m both excited to work on other issues but still wondering why our “Let’s go with targeted No Discharge Zones” didn’t appeal to Ecology’s better sense.

Speaking of never-ending issues, the fish fight that started in December between Washington’s Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) Director and the WDFW citizen-led commission culminated with the director resigning. As the negotiations heat up about the upcoming salmon-fishing seasons, it looks like there’s stability at the helm. Acting director Joe Stohr and anglers following this issue are cautiously optimistic that we, the recreational anglers, will have a chance to catch some salmon this year.

So where does that leave you and me? If you have an issue about any of the above topics, drop me a line. If you have a federal question or two, I’m headed to Washington, D.C. for the annual American Boating Congress in mid-May.

Peter Schrappen

Written by

Peter Schrappen currently works for the Northwest Marine Trade Association as their Government Affairs Director and the Clean Boating Foundation as their Executive Director. Additionally, he serves on boards of the Boating Safety Advisory Council, the Washington Boating Alliance and the U.S. Superyacht Association.

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