Rally Rips Curbs for Watercraft

THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE Sunday, September 15, 2002

PAGE, Ariz. -- About 100 riders swarmed over the surface of Lake Powell on Saturday in a protest of federal moves to ban personal watercraft usage as early as November.

    With music booming from the speakers aboard an American-flag draped houseboat bobbing near Glen Canyon Dam, the riders took part in a rally by several pro-watercraft groups to oppose the possible permanent ban, which could take effect if an environmental group that sued the National Park Service prevails.

    A ban was supposed to go into effect today, until new guidelines regulating the watercraft are put in place, but the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network, which filed the suit in August 2000, agreed earlier this month to extend the deadline.

    On Nov. 7, all of the craft will be banned until a final decision is made concerning their use.

    The extension will last through the public comment period on a draft environmental impact statement issued by the Park Service on Friday. The study was required as part of a settlement agreement between the Park Service and Bluewater .

    The environmental group sued the Park Service in federal court after Lake Powell and 20 other bodies of water around the country were exempted from a total ban the agency imposed in March 2000 on personal watercraft on all the waters under its jurisdiction.

    Kitty Roberts, superintendent at Glen Canyon, said Saturday the environmental study suggests three alternatives for the future use of the craft on Lake Powell.

    * To ban all of the watercraft from the 186-mile long reservoir on the Arizona-Utah state line.

    * To leave things as they are, which allows the watercraft in all areas above Glen Canyon Dam with a few exceptions on some tributaries.

    * The one preferred by the Park service, which would prohibit the craft from portions of the Colorado, Escalante, Dirty Devil and San Juan rivers, which feed the lake. To help reduce visitor conflict, speed restrictions would also be imposed on additional areas of the Escalante and Dirty Devil Rivers. In addition, educational programs would also be enhanced.

    ''Our goal is to have the rules regulating [the watercraft] in place by the start of the next visitor season, which, depending on the weather, is usually between the middle of April and start of May,'' said Roberts, noting the riders make up 26 percent of the types of craft that use the lake.
    Sitting on a houseboat before the rally began Saturday BlueRibbon Coalition president Jack Welch said the rally was planned to bring awareness of the issue to the public.

    The BlueRibbon group, which promotes the rights of recreationists hoped the event would provide an impetus for riders to comment on the environmental study and to lobby their congressional representatives to take a stand against any ban on personal watercraft.

    He said manufacturers are cleaning up the two-stroke machines, notorious for discharging fuel into the water, and in the process are making them quieter.

    ''Since 2000, every manufacturer [of the watercraft] has exceeded standards of the Environmental Protection Agency,'' said Welch. ''As far as the issue of [rider] education goes, there are two standards now, one for Arizona and another for Utah, but Utah controls 80 percent of the lake and is more strict so that might be the one to go with. All these issues are contained in the [environmental study, located for review and comment on the Web at: www.nps.gov/glca/plan.htm].''

    Dean Slavens, the mayor of Page, Ariz., located near the south end of the dam, said a ban would have devastating economic consequences for the 6,000 residents of the town whose lifeblood flows from the lake that gets between 2.5 million and 3 million visitors a year.

    Riders swirled around the houseboat Saturday to the strains of country singer Lee Greenwood's ''Proud to be an American,'' to hear short speeches of encouragement from speakers including Welch and Page radio personality and writer Jerry Puckett.

    ''All the Bluewater 'Hootenanny' want to do is create an issue so they can raise money. Well, to hell with them. Let's give them a stick with a nail on the end and send them around to pick up trash.'' said Puckett to approving hoots and hollers.

    No one representing Bluewater was present at the rally. When contacted Friday at the group's offices in San Francisco, Sean Smith, the group's public lands director, said it could be dangerous for members, who regularly receive threats over the issue.

    ''They have the right to express their concerns just as we do using the tools available to us through the legal system,'' said Smith.

    He said charges that environmentalists represent an elitist minority imposing their own agenda on others is not true. Comments on a similar environmental study at Nevada's Lake Mead show the majority of people approve of a ban on the watercraft, said Smith.

    ''The public is the majority,'' he said. ''Not the minority.''



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