Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:04 PM on Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Comments due soon on Wet Dog Race permit

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

Comments are due Jan. 26 for a state permit applied for by an Anchorage organization seeking to run a 2,000-mile personal watercraft race from Whittier to Iliamna that passes through Cook Inlet. The Alaskan Wet Dog Race has put together a 46-page proposal and application seeking a land use permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to run the race in state waters in April and May of 2013.

Kachemak Bay State Park and Critical Habitat regulations prohibit personal watercraft, sometimes known as Jetskis by the brand name of one popular model, from operating in the bay.

The Wet Dog Race won't come into Kachemak Bay or the Homer Harbor, but does plan to have checkpoints at Port Graham and Kenai on the east side of Cook Inlet. Anchor Point will be an emergency haul-out stop but not an official checkpoint.

"I totally respect the fact that Homer doesn't want personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay," said race organizer John Lang of Anchorage.

Lang describes the Wet Dog as a timed long-distance endurance event. The route runs from Whittier across Prince William Sound to Valdez and Cordova, west to Seward, up Cook Inlet to Kenai and west to Williams Port across the inlet, south to Kodiak, around the Alaska Peninsula through False Pass, up to Bristol Bay and into Lake Iliamna. Checkpoints are no more than 180 miles apart, within the range of the 4-stroke engine personal watercraft.

Lang said he hopes to get 1,000 riders or 500 two-person, two-boat teams. He's already received letters of intent from some professional personal watercraft riders.

Long-distance PWC events have been held in Dubai, South America and the Mediterranean. Each team would pay an entry fee of about $35,000 that would fund the race purse and expenses. Racers would get survival suits and other gear, fuel supplies at checkpoints and other support services.

Lang said teams plan to do "paving the way" expeditions this year to scout out the race route.

He already has ridden about 800 miles of the route.

It makes several ocean crossings, such as across the Shelikoff Strait between the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island.

Riders would go out at 2-minute intervals in groups of about 35, with intervals between groups, so that large numbers of riders would not overwhelm communities and wildlife along the way, Lang said. The event would take about a week to finish, with the last riders leaving about the same time the first riders would be finishing.

Safety support boats would be along the way to respond to emergencies and to take broken-down boats out of the water. Riders would have marine radios, satellite phones and emergency locator beacons. Personal watercraft also would have monitoring beacons for officials to track boats, Lang said. Riders would not camp along the way and sleep only at checkpoints.

The proposal submitted with the permit application details procedures such as fueling protocols. All checkpoints would be at established harbors with fuel docks and riders would go off the clock during fueling so as not to rush, Lang said. Fuel would be barged into towns so as to not tax local supplies. Race organizers would have a barge following the route to pick up trash, broken down boats and other debris associated with the race.

Environmentally sensitive areas such as sea lion haul outs would be mapped, with riders warned to respect wildlife on threat of disqualification, Lang said. Riders would take a required wildlife training class, too.

"I'm very aware and very acute to the wildlife out there," Lang said.

The Kachemak Bay Coalition, a Homer organization that follows issues like personal watercraft use in lower Cook Inlet, reviewed and commented on the permit application and proposal. George Matz, a member of the coalition, pointed out one concern: the race's timing in May. The Wet Dog race would leave May 1 and take five to six days to reach Iliamna.

"Lake Iliamna is frozen that time of year," Matz said, citing historical breakup records. "That needs to be pointed out. I think they have a little problem there."

Lang said he was aware of the breakup issue and the race would end at Naknek if Lake Iliamna had not thawed.

The coalition also questioned the impact of 1,000 personal watercraft checking in at the Anchor Point beach, a state campground and parking lot used by fishermen, tourists and area residents. Since Anchor Point isn't an official checkpoint, that wouldn't be an issue, Lang said.

Another big concern is the race's impact on migrating birds, particularly the shorebirds that come into Kachemak Bay and Cordova in early May, Matz said. Homer and Cordova both hold shorebird festivals in early May.

"The timing of the race could not be worse in terms of serious disturbance to wildlife, particularly pelagic birds and marine mammals," Matz wrote in a letter to DNR.

Matz said the Wet Dog organizers don't seem to understand there are large concentrations of sea birds and other waterfowl in coastal waters in late April and early May.

Lang said riders would be a mile or more offshore. Coming into villages, riders would follow routes used by other boats.

"There's really the thought these things are disturbing," Lang said of personal watercraft. "In reality, the only time a bird would be disturbed is if you saw one on the water and stopped to take a picture of it."

Matz also criticized the Wet Dog application for not including information on bonding and insurance. Lang said he's already received quotes on bonding and insurance.

"Neither the permit application nor the supporting proposal gives us any confidence that the race organizers have the knowledge or financial wherewithal to manage the Alaska Wet Dog Race without substantial risk to not only their participants, but other user groups, water quality, and fish and wildlife resources," Matz wrote.

The proposal can be viewed on DNR's public notice website at dnr.alaska.gov/commis/pic/pubnotfrm.htm. Search for "Land Use Permit application received from John Lang for the Alaskan Wet Dog Race Event."

Comments are due Jan. 26 to Candice.snow@alaska.gov, or by mail to Candice Snow, Resource Specialist/Department of Natural Resources, 550 7th Ave. Suite 900C, Anchorage, AK 99501-3577. Call Snow at (907) 269-8569.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.