PWC ban creates stir

PWC ban creates stir John Gors, left, of Vermillion, makes a comment to Paul Hedron, superintendent for the Missouri National Recreation River, O'Neill, NE, during a public meeting in which Hedron explained the National Park Service's ban on personal watercraft. by M. Jill Karolevitz The National Parks Service ban of personal watercraft on certain stretches of the Missouri River has created a stir among area residents � from jet ski owners to fishermen and landowners � as evidenced by the gathering of about 200 people at a public meeting Tuesday night at the Summit Center in Yankton.

State Sen. Garry Moore of Yankton arranged for the meeting, and invited Paul Hedron, superintendent for the Missouri National Recreation River, O�Neill, NE, to explain the ban and take questions from the audience.

Personal watercraft (PWCs) are small vessels commonly known by their trademark names � Jet Skis, Waverunners or Sea-Doos. The federal rule, which went into effect April 20, prohibits the use of personal watercraft on all NPS waterways, including portions of the Missouri River from Fort Randall Dam to Niobrara, and from Gavins Point Dam to Ponca. The combined 98 miles of river are part of the Missouri National Recreation River, and fall under the management of the NPS.

The proposed PWC ban was published in the Federal Register for public comment on Sept. 15, 1998, with the comment period lasting until Nov. 16, 1998.

�There are those who have called and said we did this without public knowledge,� Hedron said. �It wasn�t that way at all. We�ve been engaged in this process for two years and through the course of that two years we received 20,000 responses from people who participated in the various aspects of this rule-making procedure. This was a public process, and the opinions we received were roughly equally divided. There was very little middle ground.�

Hedron explained that the NPS took the stand for the ban for several reasons, including fuel spillage, safety, access and noise.

�By the nature of the craft, they put a good deal of unburned fuel into the drink. And nobody disputes the fact that these craft have a deplorable safety record across the country,� Hedron said. �Those are issues that drove this decision to impose the ban. They also give access to places you cannot normally get to, such as critical habitats. That was an issue. And as this issue divides user groups and anti-user groups, it�s clearly a fact that as much as some people love them, there are people that hate them just as much because of the noise and they way they disturb the solitude of fishermen or homeowners.�

Exceptions to the ban, Hedron said, are possible for NPS reservoir waters, if the superintendents of those parks follow procedure.

�But there is no provision for exceptions on a wild and scenic river, and that�s what we have here,� he said. �There is no intention to accommodate opening it up to personal watercraft use.

�You may ask, ?doesn�t a recreational river mean anything?� Well, when Congress made that designation for the Missouri RIver in 1978, it was a measure for development,� Hedron continued. �It was not that recreation was the primary use as a God-given entitlement according to Congress. The designation was for habitat and public use, all to be managed equally.�

Although the PWC ban went into effect April 20, the NPS does not have enforcement staff on location to patrol for violations.

�We�re not going to ask your local sheriff or the state Game, Fish and Parks service to handle this,� Hedron said. �This is ours to deal with � no one else�s.�

A NPS office will be opened in Yankton in the future, he added. In the meantime, NPS efforts will be focused on informing and educating the public to ensure a smooth transition.

�Since we don�t have the staff to enforce the ban, many people will say, ?to hell with you, I�m going out anyway�,� Hedron said. �Others say ?I guess I�ll go someplace else.� I encourage that. There is lots of other water in the world.�

Public concern voiced during the meeting included the question what will the future bring?

�Will two-cycle fishing boats be included in future bans? Will jet boats be next?� asked Joe Gillen of Vermillion.

�No,� Hedron replied. �This is for personal watercraft. There is nothing to suggest that fishing boats and big jet boats will be next.

�I can�t tell you what�s going to come tomorrow,� he added. �There is no way to forecast the possibility of future bans. Two years ago we could see this one coming. But we see nothing looming about any other type of craft. But I can�t guarantee what will happen in the future. I can tell you about today and I have to deal with the personal watercraft ban today.�

�Editorial comments� rather than questions were common during the meeting. One man noted that he owns property along the river and his dock has yet to be disturbed by a PWC.

�I�ve had boats go by that have made it jump two feet,� he said. �But I have yet to see a jet-ski make it jump six inches.�

He added that PWCs make less noise than weed-whackers.

John Gors of Vermillion was concerned with discrimination. In the 35 years that he has boated on the river from Sioux City to Yankton, he said he has seen water disturbed by giant wakes made by bass boats and unruly people on sand bars creating noise and litter.

�You�ve carved out a small unit of people with this ban,� he said. �Why don�t you enforce safety instead? This ban on personal watercraft alone makes no sense.�

Phil Campbell, Hedron�s assistant, noted that the NPS has banned many types of activity on its lands and waterways, including helicopter landings, hang-gliding and bungee-jumping.

�We�ve been taken to the table by the environmental community that we�re not paying attention to protecting the environment, but we�re changing that with management such as this,� he said.

State Sen. Joe Reedy of Vermillion is concerned with the lack of enforcement of the ban.

�It seems that you�re penalizing the good boaters,� he said. �There are a lot of people who abuse personal watercraft, but have you taken into consideration that 90 percent of the people who have them enjoy them and use them carefully? They should be permitted to use them. And until the National Park Service is in a position to enforce the ban, you�ll be keeping the good people off the river, but the abusers will still be there.�

Several people, including State Sen. Frank Kloucek, asked how to repeal the ban. The question was never really answered, except by the people attending the meeting themselves. Communication with South Dakota�s senators and congressman in Washington, DC, seemed to be the best answer, according to several audience members. Hedron also encouraged continued communication with the National Park Service.

�We could continue this debate forever,� he said. �But ultimately someone had to make a decision and that�s what the National Park Service did. But if you want to continue this discussion with my agency, it�s your prerogative to do so.�

Hedron noted that he is clearly in favor of the NPS ban and that PWC users have alternative waterways on which to enjoy their craft.

�I believe the National Park Service made a good decision with this ban,� Hedron said. �I believe there are some waters in America where personal watercraft should not be allowed to exist. The National Park Service manages about 5 percent of America�s waters where that ban is in effect, meaning there is about 95 percent more where there is no ban.�

The cost of manning the proposed NPS office in Yankton was also raised.

�How much money will be wasted by putting a ranger station in Yankton?� asked Cliff Deverell of Vermillion.

Hedron said six permanent rangers will be hired to patrol 125 miles of waterways of the MIssouri River year-round � enforcing the ban and working with environmental and resource management.

�In 2000 dollars, that�s a $399,000 bill,� he said.

�Some people say it will be good to have rangers,� he added. �Is it a waste? That�s a value judgement.�

Other audience members said they have been �violated� by the ban, because they believe the Missouri River is �their river� and they should be permitted to use it.

�It sounds like this discussion could go �round and �round forever,� said one audience member. �You tell me this is my river, but I can�t use it. It�s like giving me a piece of pie, but telling me I can�t eat it. I am a taxpayer and I feel like I have been violated.�

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