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Water safety worries in Whittier

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

WHITTIER (AP) -- The imminent opening of the Whittier highway tunnel has boating safety officials worried that novice boaters will get in over their heads in Prince William Sound.

''We are extra concerned about the sound this year because we don't know who is going to show up,'' said Dave Brubaker, flotilla commander of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Whittier. ''Tides ... obstacles ... rocks. ''There is a lot to boating out there.''

In the past few years, no recreational boater has died in the western part of the sound, Brubaker said. Volunteers, law enforcement officers and private boaters have handled emergency response. Now, with an influx of novice boaters, Brubaker worries that someone may be hurt.

That prompted creation last spring of the Whittier Task Force, a multiagency effort to educate and, if needed, rescue people.

Whittier's has a four-member police force, six firefighters and the volunteer U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla that patrols the waters from Friday through Sunday.

Four Alaska State Troopers are based in Girdwood, and they may be able to help in an emergency, but for now, there's no plan to station a trooper in Whittier, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

Coast Guard cutters from Cordova, Seward and Homer will visit Whittier, but will not stay permanently.

''Our resources are pretty thinly spread around Alaska and we have to prioritize,'' said Sue Hargis, state Coast Guard representative in Juneau. While the Coast Guard does see Whittier as a ''pretty high'' priority this summer, there will not be a continuous presence, she said.

Weather in Prince William Sound can be treacherous, said Brubaker of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

''The sound is not like boating in Big Lake and Lake Louise,'' Brubaker said. ''Hopefully people will say, 'If the weather is not so good, we shouldn't go.'''

In addition to power boaters, an estimated 2,500 kayakers visited the sound last year, Brubaker said.



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