Committee sinks houseboat rules

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HELENA — The Montana Legislature won’t be passing limitations on houseboats this session.

Rep. Mark Noland, R-Bigfork, said Thursday he won’t attempt to revive his bill to enact regulations on houseboats after a House panel tabled it this week.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday tabled House Bill 489 on a 9-3 vote.

Noland said he brought the measure after hearing from residents in the Somers and Lakeside areas, who objected to the permanent presence of a pair of floating homes stationed off the North Shore.

Houseboats, however, don’t fit cleanly into existing boating regulations, and officials from the state’s three natural resource and environmental departments said their jurisdiction was limited to ensuring proper waste disposal and enforcing a requirement that the vessels maintain a visible light at night.

“Having something on the water for more than 18 months and nobody having any legal authority to even question them is not right,” Noland told the Inter Lake previously. “Let’s make that right, let’s figure that out and then work through the process.”

His measure would have authorized the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to require vessels moored in state waters to move at least 1 mile every two weeks and created a new fee schedule to charge owners of houseboats and other large vessels registered in the state.

Two houseboat owners from Somers Bay testified against the measure in the Senate committee hearing the previous week.

“With this bill, I feel like we’re directly being targeted,” Ben Lard, owner of the Kee O Mee II, said during the April 7 hearing. “The lakes in this state are for everyone, not just for waterfront homeowners.”

Lard and other opponents also objected to the two-week mooring limit, arguing it could place boaters in danger if they were required to relocate while a storm sweeps across Flathead Lake.

The bill’s proponents included residents of Somers and Lakeside, as well as the Flathead Basin Commission, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the state natural-resource departments.

Michelle Ahern, who lives on Somers Bay within view of the vessels, recounted raucous parties she said occurred during the summer on Lard’s live-aboard, which he operates as a short-term vacation rental.

“I had to listen to everybody yelling and screaming and cursing and peeing in the lake,” she said, adding that the owners didn’t pay property taxes. “This bill would offer property owners across the state a bit of a reprieve.”

But lawmakers expressed concerns that the bill’s provision to broaden the definition of “vessel” under state law could require registration of floating docks and other structures if it passed. Noland said Thursday that he had also spoken with several committee members who felt that the measure unfairly targeted individuals.

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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