Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 5:56 PM on Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Watercraft group deserves apology

By Capt Brenda Hays

Prior to the Sept. 17 Parks Advisory Board Meeting, I was asked to present on behalf of the Personal Water Craft Association of Anchorage, advocating on their behalf. I was late, arriving in the middle of a slide show. After the PWC Association presented, I was informed the public could speak only if "representing a group."

I could see the deck was stacked against the PWC Association. I was impressed with how the meeting was reined in by the board chairman, and I was going to go home, until I heard Shannon McBride Moran speak on behalf of "women and men from around town, parents, concerned citizens in the community, people that recreate and do business in the state park and lots of other businesses" (there were other groups she represented). That's when it became personal.

I, too, own a fishing lodge/B&B and Memory Maker Charters. At that moment in time I had as much to say as she on behalf of tourist-related industries; not so much for PWCs, but for the tourist industry in general. I regret saying I represented the B&B Association rather than the industry. Also, I was not speaking for the Alaska Charter Association (thanks, Donna), but for the "Homer Halibut Association," a coalition meeting the first Tuesday of every month at 3 p.m. at Cosmic Kitchen and open to businesses or individuals who did not receive a CHP permit and are committed to fighting legally for the right to charter for halibut in area 3A.

Among others comments, Shannon stated she opposed PWCs on the grounds of "safety to wildlife." I found this amusing. Having worked on a variety of vessels in the last 30 years, I know in the last few years one of the biggest threats to marine life around here is the orca. I have witnessed several of their blood baths on otters and king salmon in Eldred Passage. I know of fast ferries taking out otters while dodging debris; a charter vessel hitting a humpback whale; commercial longliners dynamiting whales; numerous porpoise, and seals and sharks caught in Cook Inlet gillnets. These incidents are minor compared to the big problems our critical habitat is facing.

Apparently, in creating the critical habitat laws, people were so interested in keeping one boating group out (PWCs) they never considered damage to the habitat tankers and cruise ships do every day.

Does Exxon Valdez ring a bell? Oh, that could never happen here. Just like it was never supposed to happen at Bligh Reef. Tankers and cruise ships empty gray water in our bays, (sometimes it is kept in holds and arrives from a foreign country, then released into our pristine waters). This could be why we see new types of marine life.

Black water (raw ground-up sewage) is allowed to be dumped three miles off shore for some vessels, six miles for others. Ferries, cruise ships, tankers, charter vessels, etc. dump three miles off our shores and sometimes in our harbor and upper bay.

Tankers meet their pilots several miles off of hazards to navigation, islands, shoals, rocks, and the Homer Spit all for the convenience of picking up or returning pilots to the pilot station off Yukon Island. Most of these tankers are not double-hulled. They drag anchor, and can and do lose power at times. There have been accidents and incidents in our bay, and there will be more.

There are no escort tugs for tankers entering our critical habitat, but we better keep jet skis out of our bay or they could do some real damage.

If you complainers of PWCs really cared about critical habitat, why wasn't the pilot boat station asked to be moved out of the critical habitat zone? Why are tankers allowed into the upper bay? When it comes to pollution, all the jet skis in the world couldn't produce pollution to equal one tanker discharging its ballast.

I apologize if I offended anyone or any organization. Some things regarding critical habitat laws do not make sense and should be revisited.

I am passionate about equal rights; discrimination on any level makes me crazy; having my person threatened, my business threatened, receiving obscene phone calls and nasty emails makes me want to fight harder for equal rights for all mariners and all tourists who visit Homer, even if their arrival is by tanker or jet ski.

I'm totally embarrassed threats were made to the PWC Association of Anchorage at this public meeting, and I believe the city of Homer, the Homer Chamber of Commerce, and the Parks Advisory Board, should write this group a note of apology.

Capt. Brenda Hays is the owner of a fishing lodge/bed and breakfast and Memory Maker Charters.