New regulation would allow jet skis in Kachemak Bay

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will soon propose a regulation that would allow jet skis on Kachemak Bay, frustrating some environmental groups that say they pose a risk to wildlife.

Kachemak Bay_MaryEllen Fritz May 2018

Personal watercraft, better known as jet skis, have been banned in the critical habitat area of Kachemak Bay since 2001, an area that encompasses all the water around Homer and into Kachemak Bay State Park.

On Thursday, ADF&G is set to put forward a stand-alone regulation that would repeal the personal watercraft ban, opening it up to a 30-day comment period. The regulation change is separate from a new management plan being designed for the area.

The Fish and Game Commissioner would need to sign off on the new regulation and file it with the lieutenant governor.

Rick Green, known to many as former radio talk show host Rick Rydell, works at Fish and Game as a specialist appointed by Gov. Michael Dunleavy and is heading the effort. He says the planning committee hadn’t spoken about the issue of jet skis for “the past few months” and now it would be decided on its own.

Green said holding the regulation open for public comment now is about allowing jet skis to be potentially used next summer. He says the issue comes down to public access.

“The Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area is a piece of trust land owned by all the citizens of Alaska, there is a segment of them that are banned from accessing it with their watercraft,” he said. “And this opens it up to them.”

The ban on jet skis in Kachemak Bay has long been opposed by the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska. Green says the group, along with some others, were responsible for pushing the regulation change forward.

Bob Shavelson, the advocacy director at Cook Inletkeeper, speaks about the environmental risks that jet skis pose in the area, citing a 2017 Fish and Game memorandum that detailed some potential issues for wildlife.

The memo references two studies into the possible impact of personal watercraft on wildlife: one came to the conclusion that they likely didn’t disturb waterbirds more than boats, while another in New Jersey found they did.

Biologists with Fish and Game concluded that “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 recommended in 2017, that “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.”

Questions about jet skis in Kachemak Bay have been put to the public before.

During two public comment periods between December 1999 and October 2000, a wide margin of people supported imposing the ban. In 2016, the question of whether to lift the ban came up again, from September to November of that year, 133 comments were filed in support of the ban and 78 were received against it.

Shavelson says that shows there is "overwhelming" public support for the ban. "How many times does the public have to speak before the government listens?"

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