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Alaska News

Lawsuit filed to block Dunleavy administration decision allowing personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay

The Homer Spit stretches out into Kachemak Bay in August 2016. (Anne Raup / ADN archive)

Four conservation groups have sued the state of Alaska in an attempt to restore a ban on personal watercraft, often called Jet Skis, in Kachemak Bay near Homer.

The ban, in place since 2001, was rescinded Jan. 9 after a yearslong effort by personal watercraft users, including the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska.

“We had instant support for a lawsuit as soon as the official action was announced. We gathered enough funds, I think, in that week, to move forward,” said Penelope Haas of Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, one of the four groups that filed suit Tuesday.

The groups are asking an Anchorage Superior Court judge to reimpose the ban and award legal fees.

In their legal complaint, Cook Inletkeeper, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition and Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park say the decision to lift the ban was flawed and the process violated both the state’s Administrative Procedures Act and laws that put the state Board of Fish and the Board of Game in charge of regulating area waters.

Because neither board was involved in the decision to repeal the personal watercraft ban, the state acted inappropriately, the lawsuit says. It also claims that Rick Green, a special assistant appointed by Dunleavy, drove a biased process with a predetermined outcome and inappropriately helped watercraft advocates.

Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, said the lawsuit demonstrates “just how completely lawless the Dunleavy administration has been.”

Green said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet and isn’t able to comment. He told the Homer News in March that he did help the president of the Personal Watercraft Club write a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, but doesn’t think that rose to the level of collusion. He said he spoke with groups on both sides of the issue.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law said the state has not yet been served with the lawsuit and cannot yet comment.

Alaska Personal Watercraft Club president Gina Poths did not immediately answer a voicemail message.

Haas and Shavelson said support for keeping the ban has been high in Homer. Since the state changed the rule in January, the local city council has been working on attempts to expand local restrictions.

Shavelson said the groups are concerned both about the impact of personal watercraft on wildlife and about the noise and disruption they cause for local residents.

“They completely destroy the experience, and they have a unique impact on fish and wildlife,” he said.

Shallow-draft personal watercraft can operate closer to shore than most boats and can operate directly from beaches. That fact, combined with the noise they create, can disturb birds and animals that rest on shore, Haas and Shavelson said.

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