Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:16 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Parks advisory board recommends continuing personal watercraft ban


In a letter released last week, the Kachemak Bay State Parks Citizen Advisory Board unanimously recommended no change in current rules banning personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay. The board made its decision after listening to representatives from the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska make a pitch for changing rules at its September meeting. Representatives from environmental organizations also spoke, urging the board to keep the rules.

"I'm not surprised," said Gina Poths of Anchorage, the secretary and cofounder of the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska.

"The members of the board, probably 60 to 70 percent, are the same members who were on the board before," she added, referring to the decision about 10 years ago by the advisory board first recommending a personal watercraft ban.

Poths and other personal watercraft users, sometimes called Jetskis, after the brand name of one company, argued that modern personal watercraft with four-stroke engines have quieter, less polluting engines and not as much impact as noisier, two-stroke engine power PWCs of the last century.

"Their whole issue is based on behavior," Poths said of opponents of PWCs. "It's discrimination."

In a letter to Ben Ellis, director of the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, David Taylor, the chairman of the board and a pastor at Christian Community Church, addressed Poths' argument.

"Despite recent improvements in technology, personal watercraft use conflicts with the traditional uses and values of Kachemak Bay State Park," he wrote. "Personal watercraft are wholly different vehicles than traditional skiffs and boats, and when operated as intended, their use presents unique impacts to wildlife, habitat and park users."

The Personal Watercraft Club went to the parks advisory board after Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan advised them to first approach the board as a start to possibly changing the rules. DNR suggested the club try to educate the Homer community about the issue, and that DNR would listen to what the board and community had to say, said Jack Sinclair, superintendent of parks, Kenai area.

"He's not hearing a lot of people howling about changing it," Sinclair said of the commissioner. "I think we fulfilled our obligations of saying we'll listen to you. ... We may or may not do anything at all based on what we heard."

Sinclair pointed out that DNR is only one of the agencies involved in administering and enforcing rules in Kachemak Bay. The bay also is a critical habitat, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game enforcing critical habitat rules.

Poths said the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska hadn't yet received a copy of the advisory board's letter and she couldn't comment specifically on it. She did say the club and other PWC advocates plan to pursue the process of changing rules in Kachemak Bay.

"This is just one step," she said. "This is one minor bump. We're totally not letting it drop."

Other state parks have PWC bans or bans on other boats, such as air boats, Sinclair said. Most of the Kenai River is closed to PWCs except for part of Kenai Lake. The upper part of Shoup Bay in Shoup Bay State Marine Park near Valdez also is closed to PWCs.

"It's not unheard of," Sinclair said of PWC bans in state parks. "It's a performance-based boat that really is meant for high performance and doing a lot of fun stuff with. It doesn't really mix well with critical habitat ... It doesn't mesh well with the present user groups that are out there."

Poths said marketing of personal watercraft has changed, and they're not marketed as a thrill craft. Poths uses her boat to go fishing and for transportation.

"They're family boats," she said.

Poths said her group was open to a partial relaxation of rules, such as allowing PWCs in the open bay so operators could go from Homer to Seldovia.

"We would like someone to sit down with us, take a map of the whole bay and say, 'This is where you should and should not go,'" she said.

In its letter, the advisory board also said it made its decision based on investments by businesses in Kachemak Bay State Park and surrounding waters as a unique destination.

"The prospect of Kachemak Bay as a haven for personal watercraft will adversely impact these local businesses and economies," Taylor wrote in his letter.

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