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HOMER—Local businesses, voters and property owners Tuesday responded to the Dunleavy Administration’s abrupt decision last week to unravel safeguards to Kachemak Bay.
On November 19, ADFG staff notified its planning team the “governor’s office decided to repeal the PWC [Personal Watercraft] prohibition” for the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area. The notice named right-wing radio personality Rick Green as ADFG’s “point of contact on the repeal.”
“This is yet another stick-in-eye from the Dunleavy Administration to Alaskans who rely on our protected areas for jobs, recreation and peace and quiet,” said Rick Harness, a local property and small business owner. “Why doesn’t the Governor fix our budget and take care of our kids and roads and seniors instead of pressing a political agenda Alaskans have opposed for years?”
In 2001, thousands of Alaskans spoke against allowing jetskis and PWC’s into the rich and productive waters of Kachemak Bay. In response, the state banned these vehicles in Kachemak Bay. Alaskans spoke-out again in 2011 to support the ban, and the state again retained it.
“Alaskans are sick and tired of politicians like Mike Dunleavy who ignore the will of the people,” said Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson. “Alaskans have spoken, and this Administration just doesn’t care.”
Now, under pressure from the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska, the Dunleavy Administration has made the political decision to revisit the issue, heaping additional costs on the state to undergo an expensive and time-consuming rule-making process.
Yet according to a May 2017 memo from ADFG staff to ADFG leadership (attached), “… the nature of PWC traffic, especially the capability to execute rapid changes in speed and direction in nearshore shallow waters, continues to have a high potential to impact habitats, marine organisms, wildlife, and other traditional user groups and those cannot be easily mitigated.”
The memo relies on a literature review covering more than 220 articles on PWC impacts, and concludes “… based on our review of information available since the PWC prohibition was adopted in 2001, we feel there is no new information that would warrant rescinding the prohibition, and in fact the newer information highlights most of the concerns identified when the prohibition was adopted.”
PWC’s and jetskis are “thrillcraft” that can obtain speeds over 65 mph, and because users tend to congregate and remain in concentrated areas, they create loud noise for local property owners and unsafe conditions for other users when compared to normal skiffs and boats, which transit from point “A” to point “B.”
As ADFG has noted “PWC are intended for a type of use associated with certain behavior and movement patterns that are distinct from traditional boat use. Rapid changes in speed, erratic turns, traveling in groups, travel in shallow draft areas near shore, and recreational riding in wave features are activities that differ from traditional boat traffic.”
For these same safety and noise reasons, these thrillcraft are banned from many lakes in the Mat Su Valley – where Mike Dunleavy resides and finds his political base – including Nancy, Bonnie, Blodgett, Ravine, Carpenter, Christiansen, Doubloon, Florence, Island, Jean, Liten, Long, Marion, Neklasen, Paradise, Shirley, Stevens, Three Mile, Whiskey and Wolverine Lakes.
“The areas with bans in the Mat Su Valley are no different than Halibut Cove or China Poot Bay in Kachemak Bay,” said Shavelson. “So if Mike Dunleavy wants to ram jetskis into our local waters, let’s be fair and open all these Mat Su lakes up to thrillcraft too.”
Despite the current bans on PWC’s in Kachemak Bay and around the state, PWC’s can legally access more than 99% of Alaska’s fresh and marine waterbodies.
“Kachemak Bay attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, who spend a lot of money in search of the real Alaska,” said Mako Haggerty, owner of a water taxi business. “They don’t come here to get harassed by a pack of thrillcraft buzzing around their kayaks or camp sites.”