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Mixed use of Auke Lake defended at open house

PRAC holds public meeting to discuss lake management

Posted: November 29, 2012 - 1:08am

Members of the public who spoke up at an “open house” public meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to discuss the management of Auke Lake said they support the continuing use of motorized vehicles on the lake, even as many acknowledged that more can be done to regulate how the lake is used.

Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer and PRAC Chairman Jeff Wilson described the meeting as an opportunity to get the public’s input on Auke Lake management.

“It’s an opportunity for Parks and Rec to really listen to the community,” said Fischer.

Several people, the first among them University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh, attended the meeting to give their thoughts on how the lake should be managed.

Pugh referred to meetings PRAC held in 2006, 2007 and 2008 to discuss the management of Auke Lake, a roughly 160-acre body of fresh water overlooked by the UAS campus in Juneau. Those consultations ultimately led to two ordinances adopted by the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly to impose limits on motorized vehicle use on the lake.

“It’s been a while since we had the hearings, and there have been changes (to the area),” said Pugh. “And I think it’s important over time for public bodies to review the policies that they’ve had in the past and to consider what might be better policies in order to manage an area.”

Ordinances restricting motorized vehicle use have not been enforced, Pugh told the committee.

“I think we have never had any enforcement of the ordinance,” Pugh said. “The ordinance is a good rule. It’s sort of like seat belts — you know, you can put it out there, but ultimately, you do have to have some enforcement or people still may not use them. And I think that’s been a problem. There are people using the lake with boats that are over 16 foot, there’s people who come in from the salt water and run their engines to run out the salt water in the lake.”

Pugh said many students at UAS, which does not provide motorized vehicles for rent on Auke Lake, use the lake for canoeing, kayaking and swimming. During winter, he added, some ski on the ice.

Another member of the public, Ron Flint, said he water-skied on Auke Lake as a teenager and still uses the lake, both as a boater and as a trail runner.

Flint said he supports mixed uses on Auke Lake, but in an oblique reference to the death of 16-year-old Savannah Cayce in a jet ski versus inner tube collision in June, he said, “Given the tragedy, I think things need to be addressed a little bit.”

In response to questioning from Wilson, Flint said both enforcement and additional regulation should be considered as options to make sure the lake is safe for users.

“I hate to ask for additional regulations and rules and like that, but I think that possibly needs to come out of this process,” said Flint. He added, “Hopefully we don’t have to have the guy out there with a badge watching over everybody.”

One longtime resident who said he has lived on Auke Lake for 50 years, Dave Hanna, also said he wants to see mixed uses continue on the lake, but that a different approach may be needed.

“I do think we need some enforcement,” Hanna said. “The rules are no good if you don’t enforce them.”

Hanna suggested that if the Juneau Police Department were to begin issuing citations to people who violate Auke Lake rules like the no-wake zone, “I don’t think you’d have to write many tickets before people start playing by the rules.”

“Unfortunately, though, we don’t really have a boat,” Wilson replied.

Fischer said it would be more cost-effective to have CBJ staff issuing citations, rather than the police, though he said they would probably require “support” from the Assembly to do so.

Speaking next, Gerald Grant suggested asking the U.S. Coast Guard to make occasional appearances at the lake to enforce the rules.

“You never know what you can get unless you ask for it,” Grant added.

Stu Robards said he thinks some sort of required “education” for Auke Lake users could be mandated, a suggestion to which Wilson responded favorably.

“I think that is something I want to look into more,” said Wilson. “I think that is a good idea.”

Fellow PRAC member Tom Rutecki agreed, comparing the use of a jet-ski on the lake with the use of a shotgun in the Mendenhall Wetlands. He said the sign posted at the lake laying out rules and regulations is not sufficient.

“The sign, I think, is not very good,” Rutecki said. “A 17-year-old kid is not going to stop and read the sign. Why should he? He wants to go out on the lake.”

Marion Hobbs, the last member of the public to offer his testimony, argued against more regulation of Auke Lake.

“I want this lake to be as open as possible,” said Hobbs. “I think that this basically just needs to be as left wide open for kids to make decisions, to do what they’re going to do. It’s inevitable, no matter where you are, accidents are going to happen. I mean, you as the government can’t stop that. And I don’t think a lot of restrictions — too many restrictions — is going to make things any better.”

At the end of the meeting, Wilson thanked participants for offering their thoughts. He said the comments heard at Wednesday’s meeting and two earlier open houses held on the subject, as well as comments sent to either Fischer or Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf, will be considered as PRAC works to craft and submit a recommendation to the Assembly by February.

“Our goal is to have a plan to the Assembly before the ice thaws and the users are back on the lake,” said Wilson.

Auke Lake is owned by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, but is managed by Juneau Parks and Recreation. Fischer said CBJ staff have been working “arm-in-arm” with the DNR on Auke Lake management.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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