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Boat dealer and boaters sue Alabama boating ban

By IBI Magazine/Michael Verdon

An Alabama boat dealer and six boat owners have filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama for a law passed in April that bans boats over 8.2m (27ft) on three of its largest lakes. The six plaintiffs from Autauga, Elmore and Tallapoosa counties all have boats more than 27 feet in length and use them on Lake Martin, according to the suit. The suit claims the plaintiffs' constitutional rights will be violated by the boat ban and raises a civil rights protection claim.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the state agency that will enforce the law, is named as a defendant, along with Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley and others.

Conservation Department chief counsel Jim Goodwyn told the Associated Press on Friday that he wouldn't comment in detail until he reads the lawsuit. "Generally, we assume that state laws are constitutional and appropriate, and if it appears that they are, we defend them," he said.

The Alabama legislature banned from Lake Martin, Lake Harris and Weiss Lake large houseboats and boats that can run faster than 60mph and that are 26 feet, 11 inches or longer. It was done, say proponents, to cut down on damage caused by wakes.

Jasper boat dealer Robert Nelems of Nelems Marine, which joined in the lawsuit, said that makes little sense. "By their logic, you can't go down to your local dealer and buy a new Corvette because it will exceed the speed limit," he told AP. "There are plenty of laws that have been on the books for years that take care of loud boats, fast boats, reckless-driving boats, big boats, boats that pollute with sewage and boats that make wakes."

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and state trade associations lobbied against the proposed law. They were able to persuade legislators to have a number of proposed lakes removed from the ban, but the current law specifying the three lakes was passed in April by the Alabama legislature.

(31 July 2006)


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