WASHINGTON – Before
Sandy Purdon could steer his 55-foot Fleming powerboat out
of a Maryland yacht club last month for a voyage through
the Panama Canal to San Diego, he had to pay documentation
fees, Coast Guard fees, customs fees, FCC licensing fees,
sales tax and personal property tax.
Were Purdon to embark on the same adventure a year from
now, he also might find himself paying as much as $1,500
for a federal environmental permit every time he crosses
into a state's waters.
ENVIRONMENTAL BOAT FEES
A federal court has ruled that a fee on large
commercial vessels implemented to help deal with
pollution and foreign species that are dumped with
ballast and bilge water also applies to private
recreational craft. The fee is charged when boats
travel from state to state.
Pro: The pollution and invasive-species
problem is cumulative, and smaller boats
contribute to it; owners should pay.
Con: The regulation targeted cargo ships
and tankers. Many recreational boat owners can't
afford the fee; fewer boats will have a rippling
That can add up to a chunk of change. Although Purdon
can probably afford it, he, like many of the 18 million
recreational boaters in the nation, worries that the
court-ordered permit will scare off existing and would-be
“Every time you add a fee, it knocks a certain number
of people out of recreational boating,” said Purdon, 64, a
Point Loma resident and owner of San Diego's Shelter Cove
Marina. “Once you kill people from buying boats, it's a
trickle-down effect on all businesses.”
A ruling last year by the U.S. District Court for
Northern California required the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency to regulate “effluent discharges
incidental to the normal operation of vessels.”
The idea was to prevent damage to domestic waters from
foreign marine species lurking in the ballast water that
large vessels such as cargo tankers and cruise ships dump
after using the water for stability. The invasive species
are generally plants, fish and marine animals such as
mussels that attach themselves to a boat and travel from
one port to another.
The court order also covered discharges from smaller
recreational boats, including water used to cool the
engine, the “bilge” water that collects at the boat's
lowest point and must be pumped out, the “gray” water from
a boat's sink or shower, and the deck runoff. The order
also could cover sailboats if they have automatic bilge
The EPA has until September to create a permitting plan
for all vessels covered under the court order, which
includes the nearly 1 million recreational boats
registered in California. Many owners, including Purdon,
are battling the new requirement with help from
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee, has pledged to
seek an exemption for recreational boats.
“Recreational boating and sport fishing should be
allowed to continue as they always have,” Boxer said.
Asked about boaters' complaints, an EPA spokeswoman
referred to a document spelling out her agency's
responsibilities under the court order. The document
acknowledges that the new permitting plan poses “unique
challenges” and that the EPA “lacks practical experience
permitting” recreational boats. On the other hand, the EPA
is the nation's principal pollution-prevention agency and
enforcer of the federal Clean Water Act.
The group that filed the initial lawsuit, Northwest
Environmental Advocates, argues that the cumulative
discharge from many vessels, even smaller ones, can harm
“The motivation behind the lawsuit was ballast water,
but the petition addressed the regulation as a whole,”
said Nina Bell, the group's director. “The court agreed
with our position.”
Purdon said that's going overboard.
“Every time you exhale, you're polluting the air. How
crazy do we want to get?” said Purdon, who was appointed
to the California Boating and Waterways Commission by Gov.
Under the new permit structure, critics argue, a boater
wanting to travel from California to Oregon to Washington
must get a separate EPA permit for each state. Although no
one is certain how much the permits might cost, boating
experts estimate that they would range from several
hundred dollars to as high as $1,500 per permit.
“It's something the average boat owner would not
tolerate,” said Dave Geoffroy, executive director of the
Southern California Marine Association, the nation's
largest regional marine trade group. “It would take
thousands and thousands of pleasure boats off our
For manufacturers of recreational boats, marine engines
and boat accessories, the new requirement potentially
means far less business for the $33 billion-a-year
“This presents a huge barrier to people continuing to
boat or new people getting into boating, because it adds
significant expense and complexity,” said Thom Dammrich,
president of the 1,700-member National Marine
Dammrich's organization, which runs the annual San
Diego Boat Show, represents as many as 30 boating groups –
from the Recreational Boaters of California to the
American Sportfishing Association – that have banded
together to fight the EPA permits.
Dammrich's group said California ranks No. 2 in the
nation after Florida in the number of registered
recreational boats, with nearly 1 million mechanically
propelled boats – which includes sailboats with motors –
and an additional 71,036 sailboats, canoes and kayaks.
California also is second in the nation in boat sales:
In 2006, Californians generated $1.21 billion in new
powerboat, motor, trailer and accessory purchases. The
state has 83 boat builders and more than 8,000 employees
in the boating industry.
“A lot of people in the lower-income brackets survive
off boat maintenance and boat repair, and the fewer you
have out there to repair, the more people you have out of
jobs,” Purdon said.