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River motor debate revs up

Advisory board to propose 50-horsepower limit, smaller boats

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006

As fall sets in and residents begin to look ahead to future fishing seasons, the proposal to raise motorboat horsepower limits on the Kenai River has re-emerged as a focal point in management debates.

On Thursday, community members gathered to address the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board, and many questioned the proposal to change regulations to allow boats with 50-horsepower motors on the river, up from the current limit of 35 horsepower.

“I was kind of on the fence about it, but I’m not this year. I’m against raising of the horsepower to 50 horsepower,” said Dwight Kramer, who testified early in the meeting. “If you add more speed to this river, you’re adding more danger.”

Proponents of the recommendation to raise the horsepower limit, however, say the change would create a safer river.

The recommendation was based on results from the first phase of a Kenai River boat wake study, which suggests increased horsepower could play a role in reducing boat wakes by helping boats plane over the water rather than plow through it.

Opponents, however, argue the proposal is based on an incomplete study and that a push to change horsepower limits is premature and misguided.

The boat wake study is being completed in two phases, the second of which KRSMA has not yet received.

“I think the answer isn’t bigger motors, I think the answer might be smaller boats,” said Dick Marshal, who also testified Thursday.

To gather more public input on the issue, KRSMA and Alaska State Parks will hold a public hearing Sept. 28 discussing a KRSMA resolution.

The resolution recommends the horsepower limit be raised to 50 and that boat lengths be limited to 21 feet, with a provision to grandfather in current boats measuring more than 21 feet, until 2010.

In his public testimony at the beginning of the meeting, however, Ken Tarbox said he thought the Sept. 28 meeting should be canceled and further discussions over a possible change in horsepower limits delayed until the study has been completed.

“The (Alaska Department of Natural Resources) leadership, Department of Fish and Game leadership, from the beginning, have said, ‘We need to look at this comprehensively,’” he said. “I think this meeting on the 28th is premature, I think it will create a culture of conflict between those people who want the 50-horsepower limit and those who don’t, because it will be out of any comprehensive context.”

The resolution also recommends new emissions requirements for boat motors.

When Thursday’s meeting began, the resolution recommended all motors meet 2006 emissions standards.

But after several people spoke out against the blanket requirement, the advisory board voted to change the resolution and limit the requirement to new 50-horsepower motors.

“It’s hard to be against lower emissions,” Marshal said early in the meeting. “On the other hand if a boat owner doesn’t already own a motor, it’s probably because he or she can’t afford it. And I’ve got a lot of reservations about forcing those people off the river.”

The Sept. 28 meeting will be held in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration Building at 6:30 p.m.

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