Jet Skis Banned in Alaskan Park

Outrage over jet skis has led the state to ban personal watercraft in most of Kachemak Bay State Park while it launches an inquiry into restrictions in other sensitive wildlife areas.

“Residents of the Kachemak Bay area raised valid concerns about the impact of personal watercraft to critical marine and waterfowl habitat, as well as noise pollution in this important recreation area,” Gov. Tony Knowles said in a prepared statement this week.

He said the move was to head off jet ski conflicts and impacts on sensitive areas. “These regulations will not affect traditional uses and access such as motorboat use for hunting and fishing in any way,” Knowles said.

The minispeedboats have stirred objections across the country in recent years, giving rise to bans and restrictions in many lakes and rivers. Even though such personal watercraft are newer to Alaska, conflicts have erupted from Homer to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Those who like them praise their utility and say they are fun. Opponents depict jet skis as dangerous, noisy machines that startle nesting waterfowl as well as people trying to enjoy the outdoors.

Cavorting vs. Clout

State officials say the angry phone calls, letters and e-mails from people upset over jet skis in Kachemak Bay started pouring in a couple of years ago. Jet skis are a rarity among the coves and lagoons, but the few riders who have played there apparently made a strong impression.

The Kachemak Bay Coalition, a mixture of conservation groups and tourism businesses, collected more than 2,200 signatures from people opposing jet skis, won support from the Homer City Council and wrote several letters asking Knowles to take action.

The bay’s coves shelter healthy populations of marine mammals and sea birds. Lodges in the same areas offer quiet getaways.

“I think people across the bay had a problem with people cavorting in front of their camps,” said Marvin Peters, chairman of the Homer Fish and Game advisory committee. The committee took no position on the issue.

“Biologically, I think their evidence was pretty feeble,” he said. “Basically, I think it boils down to an aesthetic thing, and if people with clout want the quiet aesthetic, then that’s what we get.”

Not a ‘Witch Hunt’

A yearlong review of the Homer controversy indicated 70 percent local support for restrictions on the bay, which is why the state took action there first, said Jim Stratton, director of state parks.

A similar process, to see if and how jet ski use fits with the rest of Kachemak Bay as well as other critical habitat areas and parks, will take place later.

“There are places appropriate for jet skis to ride, and this is not a jet ski witch hunt,” Stratton said. “This is an evaluation of critical habitats and important recreation areas to see if there is a conflict. And if there is, should something be done about it?”

Stratton’s order banning the machines within Kachemak Bay State Park goes into effect Tuesday. The 400,000-acre state park encompasses only a small fraction of the bay — the scenic coastline featuring well-known destinations such as Sadie Cove, Tutka Bay and Halibut Cove Lagoon.