Ban on personal watercraft unpopular idea

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

BULLFROG, Utah (AP) -- They can be annoying, even a nuisance on busy days, but not so much that personal watercraft should be banished from Lake Powell.

That was the consensus last week of boaters and watercraft owners randomly surveyed as they launched and retrieved craft near the courtesy docks at Bullfrog Marina.

Cite violators, even restrict where they can travel and the hours they can run, and encourage manufacturers to quiet the noise, but forget the ban, boaters said.

For the most part, the results were the same as those in a much more thorough survey taken last year by the National Park Service.

''What we heard is that not everyone is wild about (personal watercraft), even among the users, but in the very next breath they said they were against management,'' said Suzy Schulman, environmental specialist for the NPS at Glen Canyon Recreation Area.

Over the past 10 years, PWCs, those small jet-powered machines holding one to three people and popularly referred to as Jet Skis (a trade name), have been indelibly painted into the recreation picture of Lake Powell. In fact, in a survey of several hundred people taken in 2000 by the NPS, one of every two had or planned to ride a PWC.

In little more than a year, if opponents have their way, the thrill machines will be permanently erased from the picture.

In March of last year, the NPS published its long-awaited rules on the use of PWCs, which allowed their continued use, subject to possible restrictions. In September, the Bluewater Network, a San Francisco-based environmental group, filed suit, demanding a total ban in all parks.

In April of this year the judge approved a settlement between the environmental group and the NPS that provided for a ban by Sept. 15, 2002, unless each park can prove they are not a threat to the environment and receive public approval.

The approval process started this week with three public meetings.

Public opinion, said Schulman, will weigh heavily in the decision-making process.

''Before this,'' she continued, ''nothing prompted us to do these studies. We've collected water samples, but we still haven't done noise and air studies.

''There's a lot of literature out there and we've gone through much of it. But, for every claim of an impact, there's something else to dispute it. So we're collecting what data we can to make sure we make a good decision about Lake Powell and only Lake Powell.''

Sean Smith, public lands director for Bluewater, said the suit followed a number of concerns the group holds, including air and water quality, impact on public enjoyment and injury to wildlife.

''Even with new technology, researchers are finding the machines have a significant impact on water quality and wildlife,'' Smith said.

The group is also attempting to get a ban on snowmobiles and off-highway vehicles in national parks. A scheduled ban in Yellowstone was recently put on hold.

The PWC industry says steps are being taken to address the concerns. It says, for example, that 2001 model PWCs are 75 percent cleaner and 70 percent quieter than 1998 models.

Utah's position is that it will not place additional emission requirements on PWCs because the Environmental Protection Agency has already come to an agreement with manufacturers to meet established air emission requirements by 2006 ''on all two-stroke engine, not just for PWCs.''

Smith also said public safety is a concern and said 70 percent of all collisions involving personal watercraft are with other PWCs.

The U.S. Coast Guard said that in 1999 there were 5,500 collisions involving small vessels, 43 percent of which involved PWCs.

Nationally, PWCs make up about 10 percent of the boating traffic. In Utah, there were 10,248 registered PWCs in 2000.

On Lake Powell the PWCs are as common as houseboats. In fact, about half of the moving houseboats have PWCs in tow.

About half of the small vessels launched during a two-hour period last week were PWCs.

Boaters interviewed at that time called them noisy and annoying, but said they feel problems could be solved with stricter enforcement. Only three owners of more than a dozen interviewed said they would push for a ban.

PWC owners unanimously were against the ban.

Brad Johnson of Fruit Heights called the craft ''an important part of our annual family gathering'' of about 25 people.

Craig Bartlock of Avon, Colo. said if the ban held, ''I'll stop coming to Lake Powell ... I'll go elsewhere or sell the boat and (PWCs) and do something else.''

Schulman said all environmental studies will need to be completed in three months and that a draft proposal would have to be out by next spring to meet the Sept. 15 deadline.

Whatever the decision, there is certain to be an appeal.

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