Thousands of people weigh in on proposal to allow personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay

Close to 3,000 people sent letters telling the state of Alaska their opinions about a proposal to abolish an 18-year ban on personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay.

The decision mostly falls to the man who proposed lifting the ban: Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. And Vincent-Lang’s special assistant said the number of comments will not influence his decision.

After moving to lift the ban, Fish and Game opened up a nearly two-month comment period in December to allow the public to weigh in.

Those wanting the ban to remain submitted 1,005 comments. Over 1,600 commenters asked for the bay to be opened up to personal watercraft, often called jet skis. Forty-one commenters did not take a position.

Rick Green, special assistant to Vincent-Lang, said past comment periods on the same issue brought in a similar number of comments. It’s something people feel strongly about, he said.

“It’s an attention-grabbing, passionate-on-both-sides rule change," he said.

The volume of comments carries minimal weight, Green said.


“This isn’t a numbers game, and it’s not an advisory vote," Green said.

Many of the comments advocating for the ban to stay referenced issues documented in previous Fish and Game reports. Those concerns are that fast, agile personal watercraft could harm sea life, such as whales, otters and waterfowl.

“Jet skis pollute the air, make sound pollution, damage shallow water habitat for aquatic life, and create a personal physical threat to other humans wading swimming, kayaking, and floating and fishing in small minimally maneuverable watercraft," wrote a Wasilla resident. "Jet skis also interfere with virtually every other human, as well as animal, enjoyment in the area in which they operate.”

Green said Vincent-Lang was aware of those issues before he proposed the change. He said the public comment period was intended to draw out new information, not serve as a straw poll on public sentiment.

Green said in the rare event that comments alert a government official to something they didn’t know, it can make them second-guess a decision.

[State proposes lifting ban on personal watercraft in Kachemak Bay]

“That’s kind of why you have public comment periods, for those moments,” he said.

Bob Shavelson, advocacy director of Cook Inletkeeper, said he does not have faith in Fish and Game’s way of considering public sentiment in deciding whether personal watercraft belong in the bay. Cook Inletkeeper is a primary proponent of keeping the ban.

“If the commissioner of Fish and Game goes by the law and the science, there’s no debate that the law should stand,” Shavelson said. "But if this is going to be a wholly political process, which it’s been since the beginning, then we’re going to see them throw facts and science under the bus.”

Green said Vincent-Lang will go through all of the comments, then make a decision. There’s no deadline on that, Green said.

If Vincent-Lang decides to move forward with lifting the ban and requests approval, the decision will have to be approved by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer within 30 days.

Most of Alaska’s shoreline is open to personal watercraft. In 2001, Fish and Game determined small watercraft could be a detriment to wildlife in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area and imposed a ban. Shavelson said overturning the ban is going against the advice of agency experts.

Since then, the Personal Watercraft Club of Alaska has worked to repeal the ban.

Spearheaded by member Gina Poths of Anchorage, the group lobbied for equal access on Alaska’s waterways. People fighting for personal watercraft use in the bay point to other allowed motorized use — everything from skiffs to oil tankers.

Poths said she finally found an advocate in Gov. Mike Dunleavy, as well as Vincent-Lang. Since the state proposed lifting the ban, many have come out to support Poths.

“These water craft pose no significant risk to the habitat or wildlife, it’s unreasonable to say that they affect the area any differently than any other water craft,” an Anchorage resident wrote in his public comment.

Others made broader arguments.


“Personally I don’t understand the reason that there is a ban on what people are calling thrill crafts. I feel that just like the mind set, guns are taking the blame for killing people or the spoon made people fat,” wrote a resident of Klahanie, Washington.

They weren’t the only one from Outside to weigh in. People submitted comments from across the Lower 48, from California to Virginia, Illinois to Georgia.

The vast majority of personal watercraft ban opponents who commented submitted form letters or signed online petitions. An online petition on change.org garnered 1,180 opposition signatures. Another 207 were form letters, about half being from a form letter created by the nonprofit Alaska Outdoor Council.

Those in support of the ban largely submitted original letters, but Green said those won’t be weighed more heavily than the petition signatures.

Aubrey Wieber

Aubrey Wieber covers Anchorage city government, politics and general assignments for the Daily News. He previously covered the Oregon Legislature for the Salem Reporter, was a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune and Bend Bulletin, and was a reporter and editor at the Post Register in Idaho Falls. Contact him at awieber@adn.com.