Coalition of environmental groups says Fish and Game’s process to rescind JetSki ban was illegal

Earlier this month, a coalition of environmental organizations sued the State of Alaska, challenging a decision by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang last year to rescind a ban for personal watercraft, also called JetSkis, in the Fox River and Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Areas.

Vincent-Lang made a decision last November to open up the critical habitat areas to the highly maneuverable watercraft that are straddled and steered like motorcycles. Personal watercraft became permissible to ride in Kachemak Bay on Jan. 9. They remain prohibited in Kachemak Bay State Park and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park.

The lawsuit came about after Cook Inletkeeper, the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park and the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition sent Gov. Mike Dunleavy a letter in March asking him to re-do the decision making process that led to the repeal of the ban. The groups argued that the process had been flawed. They argued that ADF&G officials engaged in private correspondence with JetSki proponents and ignored an established public process. After that letter got no response from Dunleavy, the groups sued.

The lawsuit alleges that ADF&G officials made a unilateral and illegal decision to change the rule before any public notice to the public; that officials ignored science and the recommendations of its own staff; that officials helped JetSki proponents draft a letter to Dunleavy urging him to change the law; and that they worked behind closed doors to circumvent the public process for revising the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Management Plan. That process had already begun looking at revisions to the plan.

JetSki proponents argue that the watercraft are no different than boats, and sought access through Kachemak Bay to other areas where they’re legal to ride. Opponents said the JetSkis are used differently than boats, and should be considered “thrill craft.”

In a joint press release, the organizations released official statements.

“The Dunleavy administration has no regard for facts or law when it comes to special favors for its supporters,” said Cook Inletkeeper. “It’s hard to imagine a more biased, illegal and undemocratic process for managing our state’s public resources.”

“The JetSki ban was removed without going through proper state procedures, and this protective ban was in place for years because it has been proven that JetSkis are disruptive and often damaging to ecosystems, wildlife and other park users,” the Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park said.

“Kachemak Bay Conservation Society does not accept management of these precious areas that has zero basis in data or sound public process,” it said in the press release.

“Allowing high speed, fast maneuvering and noisy JetSkis in the area will shatter the natural soundscape and natural quiet, and disrupt wildlife and destroy the experience for people the area was designated to protect,” the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition said.

Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for Dunleavy, replied in an email that the governor does not comment on pending lawsuits.

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