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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 7 - 13, 2003

Opinion Columns

Jet Ski ban is extreme and unwarranted

Guest opinion by DAVID HOLD

David Hold is executive editor and president of Broadband Publishing Corp., based in Ketchum.

If Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michaels has her way, my family, along with many other Idaho families, will soon be banned from boating on Sawtooth Mountain lakes. What crime did we commit to warrant exclusion from our favorite summertime activity? Well, it seems we bought the wrong sort of boat a few years ago, one that has the unforgivable characteristic of lacking an external propeller.

Commissioner Michaels is backing a proposed county ordinance that would outlaw the use of "personal watercraft," more commonly known as jet skis, on Alturas and Pettit Lakes. She has also vowed to use her influence to encourage Custer County officials to ban the craft from Redfish Lake. If Michaels prevails, operating our boat on these lakes would become a crime punishable by fine and even imprisonment.

Why I oppose the ban

As a professional journalist, I deal in facts. Based on the facts that have been presented so far, I believe this course of action is both extreme and unwarranted. For example, no evidence has been presented that the small number of jet skis on Alturas and Pettit Lakes is creating a safety hazard. Nor has any evidence been presented that they are contributing a measurable amount of pollution to the waters in question. In addition, there is no reason to believe that jet powered boats, when properly operated, are incompatible with other "traditional" forms of recreation. The main complaint seems to come from people who find the noise objectionable.

I am also concerned about the timing of this proposed ban, presented with no advance warning, and offering no transition period that would allow working people with limited economic resources to replace their boats. The voters and taxpayers of Blaine County and the State of Idaho certainly deserve to be treated with more consideration by elected officials.

Finally, there are a number of alternatives that could alleviate the most common complaints and should be tried before resorting to draconian measures that would criminalize a common form of recreation.

Why I bought a Jet Ski

After spending many pleasant summers in the valley, my wife Karen and I settled in as full-time residents about seven years ago. One of our favorite activities is visiting the beautiful lakes adjacent to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. At first we enjoyed canoeing, but eventually we tired of just paddling around. Since a number of our friends had ski boats, we set our sights on acquiring a larger and more capable powerboat.

Both Karen and I grew up sailing on Cape Cod and the Chesapeake Bay. Lacking experience with powerboats, we wanted to start with something small and easy to operate. Having had first hand experience with the tragic consequences that occur when a propeller hits a person in the water, we decided on a "jet" powered craft. These have an internal "impeller" which is much safer around people or animals in the water.

Our 2000 Bombardier "Sea Doo" is 13 feet long, has a 130 horsepower engine, weighs 825 pounds, and can carry up to four adults. It features state-of-the-art sound reduction technology and does not become airborne, as some have alleged. With 850 gallons of storage, we can fill it with picnic supplies, including coolers, folding chairs and tables, as well as water-skis and tubes, and cruise to remote beaches not accessible by road. When family visits, we can take them water-skiing or tubing. In short, we use our boat in much the same manner as larger powerboats.

Should that be a crime?

An alternative proposal

First, letís not rush this important legislation through during the slack season, when many people are out of town. There should be a 60-day public comment period, so the entire community can debate the issue.

Second, lets consider more moderate alternatives that could go a long way towards solving the majority of complaints with minimal cost or need for enforcement. For example:

A. Watersking on Pettit Lake is already regulated to the hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Why not try limiting Jet Ski hours on Alturas Lake from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.? That would be easy to implement and would ensure quiet mornings and evenings.

B. People seeking a quiet weekend should have a place to camp away from noisy boat engines. Letís designate some campsites as nonmotorized boating areas. Post easily visible notices and place warning markers offshore to keep power boaters away.

C. Consider extending the "wake-free" zones further offshore, especially near popular beaches, swimming areas and campsites. Boating areas already have buoys indicating where these zones begin. Just move the markers further out from shore.

I further propose that the summer of 2003 be a summer of experiment and education. Implement some or all of the above proposals. Conduct water quality tests and sound level measurements. I will even volunteer the use of my boat for testing by the appropriate authorities. During this time the entire lake-user community should be engaged to determine if the situation could be improved before threatening local citizens with imprisonment.

This is called compromise, which is the heart and sole of our democratic government.


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