Point of View: Kachemak Bay is a special place — let’s keep it that way

Gina Poths recently submitted an opinion piece on the Jet Ski issue in Kachemak Bay, and the piece contained so many inaccuracies and downright fabrications we felt compelled to reply.

Ms. Poths represents a small group out of Anchorage calling itself the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska, and she and her group have been outspoken opponents of the ban on Jet Skis and other personal watercraft (PWC) in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.

While Ms. Poths tries to make Jet Skis seem just like boats, the fact is, anyone who’s driven a skiff and a PWC can tell you they are wholly different beasts. PWCs can rapidly obtain speeds over 60 mph, and they are designed to make tight turns and jump waves. Where skiffs and boats typically transit from point A to point B, PWCs linger in bays and lagoons, buzzing back and forth in groups, criss-crossing and jumping wakes.

PWC’s are a heck of a lot of fun. But they are recreational thrillcraft which are — based on their inherent design and intended use — radically different than skiffs and boats. As a result, they pose unique threats to birds and whales and other critters, and they create a variety of safety and noise concerns for campers, beach-goers, private property owners, boaters and fishermen.

Perhaps the most troubling part of this whole process is that Ms. Poths and her group are using their inside-relationships with the governor’s office to get special treatment. In 2001, thousands of Alaskans spoke out to protect Kachemak Bay from the unique impacts from Jet Skis, and strong majorities spoke out again in 2011 and 2016 to retain the Jet Ski ban. It’s clear to anyone following this issue that the people have spoken, and they want to protect the things that make Kachemak Bay unique.

But after private conversations with Ms. Poth’s group and others, the governor’s office is now trying to ram through a controversial rule change over the holidays with no public hearing. Not surprisingly, the governor’s office and political appointees at Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) have completely ignored lengthy scientific reviews by ADF&G staff that support the Jet Ski ban.

In fact, ADF&G biologists and resources managers concluded in 2017 that “based on our review of information available since the PWC prohibition was adopted in 2001, 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. A draft of this memo was circulated to affected staff in all [ADF&G] department divisions and this recommendation was widely supported.”

In other words, this is clearly a political decision by the Dunleavy administration designed to reward a small group of its friends, and the governor has no problem tossing basic science and sound public policy out the window for political expedience.

Finally, the most amazing part of Ms. Poth’s argument is her call for a “compromise” on Jet Ski use in Kachemak Bay. Yet Ms. Poth conveniently ignores the fact that over 99% of Alaska’s waters are already open to Jet Skis and similar thrillcraft. While she asserts that her small group of PWC enthusiasts simply want access to Kachemak Bay, we all know there’s already plenty of access to Kachemak Bay and the State Park using traditional vessels. So, Ms. Poth’s calls for “access” are simply another way of saying “we want to be able to do whatever we want, wherever we want” — with little concern or regard for other people who use and enjoy Kachemak Bay.

Kachemak Bay is a Critical Habitat Area for a good reason, and the safeguards currently in place draw hundreds of thousands of people to our community to spend money every year. People come to Kachemak Bay to enjoy its stunning beauty, its quiet beaches and its rich fish and wildlife. It makes no sense to destroy the very values that make Kachemak Bay unique just so a few folks can race their Jet Skis around our beaches, bays and coves.

Robert Archibald is Chair of the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board and a volunteer with the Kachemak Bay Water Trail. Bob Shavelson is Advocacy Director at Cook Inletkeeper and a member of the Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park.