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For the week of May 28 - June 3, 2003


Blaine County
institutes Jet Ski ban

Alturas, Pettit lakes
watercraft use restricted

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a ban of personal watercraft use on Alturas and Pettit lakes in the Sawtooth Valley at the conclusion last week of its second public hearing on the contentious issue.

The ban was formally adopted Tuesday morning at a regular commissionerís meeting.

The first vote on the decision came immediately after the final public hearing May 21 on the proposed "Jet Ski" ban at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey. Residents had been asked to limit comments to three minutes.

The ban will go into effect as soon as the ordinance is published in local newspapers probably next week, said Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael.

The all-out ban will be easier to enforce than a ban limiting use to certain times of day, said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. "The impact on law enforcement is that it is easier to say no. The likelihood of (people) not going is greater."

According to commission reports, Jet Skis on the lakes generated concerns about safety and adverse impacts to people and wildlife.

A clause to review the ban in September 2004 was entered into the ordinance to get feedback about the impact of the ban after the first two seasons. County commissioner Mary Ann Mix also recommended that scientific data that accompanied the commissionís final decision, particularly in regards to potential degradation to fish and wildlife, be submitted in the ordinances.

At the hearing, citizens argued both sides of the issue. One ban detractor said that the technology would improve over time and that there were not really that many Jet Skis being operated in the Sawtooth Valley. Others called the ban discriminatory and unjust. A supporter said that the ban was an opportunity to stop a problem before it becomes a bigger issue.

For many residents the issue came down to noise.

"When the lake gets calm and peaceful . . . they go out," Blaine County resident Mitch Brody said.

"Blaine County is pro-active," said Michael. "Before there is a conflict, we respond."

As complaints about Jet Skis increased leading up to the hearings, supporters of the industry did not materialize as expected.

Michael said several people who opposed the ban had called her to say there would be organized vocal opposition at the hearings, but no organized opposition materialized.

Some residents protested that the ban was an extreme measure and that just because the commission has the power to pass the measure doesnít mean it should.

The hearing was civil and both sides presented their views politely within the three-minute time limit.

Blaine County now plans to approach Custer County, about banning Jet Skis on Redfish and Stanley lakes. Although the county did at one time receive a petition for a Jet Ski ban that it never acted on, last summer the Custer County Commission voted unanimously to restrict all motorized watercraft use on Stanley Lake between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

"Custer County needs to hear from their residents before taking action," said Michael.

Jet Skis are involved in 55 percent of all collisions between vessels occurring on U.S. waters, according to American Canoe Association research. They comprise less than 10 percent of all vessels. Studies by the U.S Coast Guard affirm this research.



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