Point of View: The process should not be rushed on JetSki ban change

Last week the Gov. Mike Dunleavy administration announced that it plans to overturn the ban on personal watercraft, also known as JetSkis, on Kachemak Bay that has been in place for almost 20 years. The repeal of the ban will be done separately from the administration’s ongoing review of a management plan covering the Kachemak Bay critical habitat area.

However one feels about the JetSki ban, the suddenness of the decision to overturn it, and the short, over-the-holidays period allowed for public comment is not a responsible way to handle this significant policy change.

On Monday afternoon, as I sat down to provide my public comment to the designated State of Alaska email address, I happened to hear Rick Green, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s point person on this matter, being interviewed by KBBI. In the course of his comments, Mr. Green suggested that there is no significant difference in terms of impact on wildlife between a “personal watercraft,” or JetSki, and the many skiffs that are already permitted on the Bay.

To me, this claim does not ring true. I have ridden JetSkis in areas where they are permitted, and they operate at speeds — up to 65 mph —that are many times faster than those of the skiffs that many of us use on Kachemak Bay.

It is hard to see how such high speeds would not make impacts with wildlife, including sea birds, marine mammals and smaller creatures like fish and invertebrates, much more likely than would be the case with a traditional skiff.

Mr. Green also stated that the goal in opening up Kachemak Bay to JetSkis was to allow access to all Alaskans.

This is another statement that appears rooted in a false assumption, in this case that there exists a population of Alaskans who are able to buy and operate JetSkis, but are not able to operate, or afford access to, a kayak (which rent for under $75 a day), a water taxi ($85 round trip to most points across the Bay) or any other type of watercraft.

I think what Mr. Green is really getting at is that there are people who are not interested in being on Kachemak Bay absent the adrenaline rush that comes with operating a powerful, high-speed machine that is specifically designed to “catch air” under the right conditions, regardless of the effect this might have on wildlife (not to mention other boaters) in the vicinity.

I am not opposed to a conversation about whether there is a place for JetSkiers to join the many people who are already out on the Bay going about their business in stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, skiffs, cabin cruisers, charter boats and commercial fishing boats. But pretending that we need this conversation because the Bay is currently closed off to a certain category of people is not an honest way to start the conversation.

Mr. Green told KBBI that the State would be tallying public comment as a yes-no toggle, without regard for any reasoning provided. As frustrating as it is to know that arguments for and against the proposal will not be considered, this policy does have the effect of making public comments much less time consuming.

I urge anyone who feels strongly about this matter to set aside just a minute or two, ideally right now and certainly before the Jan. 6 deadline, to send a quick “for” or “against” comment to the Dunleavy administration.

The designated email address for public comment on this matter is rick.green@alaska.gov.

Jason Davis is a kayaker and boater who grew up in Soldotna, spent 25 years, mostly in the Middle East, with the U.S. Department of State, and then settled in Homer in 2017.

Editor’s note: In a phone call to the Homer News, Rick Green clarified that his office welcomed full comments on the proposed PWC repeal, and that people could comment “yes” or “no” if they wanted to simplify the process.