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Keeping the waterways safe and dry

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The inviting blue water of Foster Lake lures boaters from throughout Oregon to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend. Linn County Sheriff marine deputies are hoping that when doing so they leave their alcohol on shore.

Sheriff Deputy Dan Graybill along with deckhand Lexi Heyerly spent Friday afternoon keeping a keen eye for signs of impaired boaters while patrolling the 1,220-acre reservoir on the first day of Operation Dry Water. 

In a cove on the South Santiam River arm of the lake, Graybill made contact with a boater after noticing an expired tag. Although not visibly impaired, the boater admitted that he had one beer. 

In Oregon, it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, according to a press release on Operation Dry Water from the Oregon State police. 

After educating the boater, Graybill turned his boat upriver motoring past anchored boats with youngsters diving into the 75-degree water to cool off from the upper-80 degree heat.

While Graybill patrolled Foster Lake, a second marine deputy was active patrolling Green Peter Reservoir. 

Over the weekend waterways throughout the state will see an increase in patrols during the Operation Dry Water Campaign. The focus is on preventing incidents related to impaired boating and educating boaters about safe boating practices, including sober boating. 

Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths, according to the U.S. Coast Guard 2019 annual report. 

"Boating under the influence continues to be a problem on our waterways. Each year we are faced with incidents and tragedies that could have been avoided if it weren’t for the presence of drugs or alcohol,” said Oregon State Police Lt. Ryan Howell in a press release.

“Those are the people that take their boat out of the water and get in their truck and drive it home,” deputy Graybill said.

After making contact and citing a boat with 11 college football players that were short on life jackets, Graybill turned his patrol boat toward the dam, often giving waves to boaters, tubers and the occasional personal watercraft operators. 

As the evening waned, Graybill’s patrol led the marine deputy up the Middle Fork of the Santiam River. 

There he noticed two paddle boarders with no life jackets. 

The veteran deputy then told the pair from Corvallis that he would give them life jackets.

“But it comes with paperwork,” he said. The paperwork was in the form of a $115 citation. 

Deckhand Heyerly placed whistles on the two life jackets handed them to the pair and after receiving the citation they were on their way. 

During Operation Dry Water law enforcement will also be on the lookout for intoxicated non-motorized boaters. 

 “A lot of people don't realize it, but you can’t be intoxicated and paddling a boat, kayak, canoe, paddle board,” Graybill said. “They’re treated exactly just like a motorized boat.” 

“As a part of the community ourselves, we want to ensure that recreational boaters, paddlers, and anyone enjoying our waterways are safe,” Benton County Sheriff Jef Van Arsdall wrote in a press release.  “That is why the Benton County Sheriff’s Office is joining hundreds of agencies nationwide to do our part in keeping boaters safe and preventing incidents and fatalities related to boating under the influence.”

The fine for BUI is a class A misdemeanor punishable with a fine up to $6,250 and 364 days in jail. 

“If you see drinking and boating call 911,”  Graybill said. “If you see someone smoking weed and driving a boat, call 911.”

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